Ottawa Riverkeeper has a new Riverkeeper and CEO

Award-winning enviro-activist Laura Reinsborough now serves as watchdog and guardian of Ottawa River watershed
Ottawa River Riverkeeper
Ottawa Riverkeeper is a volunteer-driven organization that works to improve, protect and promote the health of the Ottawa River and its tributaries.

Six years ago, when environmental advocate Laura Reinsborough moved back to her home province of New Brunswick, she thought she was returning for good.

She and her partner even bought and renovated a 200-year-old house in Sackville, where Reinsborough is originally from. They planned to raise their two young children there.

It just goes to show, you never know which direction the changing river of life is going to twist or turn. The nonprofit organization Ottawa Riverkeeper made its public announcement Tuesday that, following an extensive national search, Reinsborough has been hired as the new Riverkeeper and CEO.

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Laura Reinsborough is the new Riverkeeper and CEO of Ottawa Riverkeeper. Photo by Martin Lipman/Lipman Still Pictures

Ottawa Riverkeeper is a volunteer-driven organization that works to improve, protect and promote the health of Ottawa River and its tributaries. Its mission is to inspire cooperative action for the betterment of the watershed.

“I’m thrilled to be welcomed into Ottawa Riverkeeper,” Reinsborough said in an interview. “I’m also honoured to hold the title of the Ottawa Riverkeeper. It’s a role I feel I will grow into as I learn more about the watershed and I learn more about the value that it holds for all the folks who live here. I’m excited about that adventure and that journey.”

Reinsborough was aware of the 20-year-old organization and its solid reputation when she applied for the leadership position but, she added, has become increasingly more impressed with Ottawa Riverkeeper and its achievements during the hiring process.

"I had this opportunity to go deeper and deeper and really learn about all the successes they’ve had," said Reinsborough. “To have this invitation to help take the organization to the next level, wow, I can’t get much more excited.”

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The Ottawa River, seen from the shores of Parc des Portageurs in Gatineau. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Reinsborough brings nearly 15 years of experience working for nonprofit groups focused on environmental issues and sustainability. Most recently, she was network director for Food for All NB.

One of her priorities has always been to motivate people to not only care about the environment but to also take action to protect it.

"A common thread throughout my career has been trying to find innovative ways to connect people with environmental issues."

“A common thread throughout my career has been trying to find innovative ways to connect people with environmental issues,” said Reinsborough. “People care, they really care, but there isn’t always that next step in what to do with that, how to focus your attention, how to take action.”

Reinsborough studied environmental studies at York University in Toronto. During her graduate studies, she co-launched an arts-based initiative that creatively connected youth in the city’s most stigmatized neighbourhood of Jane and Finch with the urban river, Black Creek, that divides that community from the university campus.

The environmental educator went on to found and lead a fruit picking project called Not Far From the Tree. Volunteers pick surplus fruit that grows in backyards and public spaces around Toronto and share some of the harvest with more than 30 community partners. 

Reinsborough has won numerous awards and accolades, including The Gaea Environment Award, a Women of the Earth Award and the Toronto Community Foundation’s Vital People Award. She’s also given a Tedx Talk.

In 2019, Reinsborough was inspired to lead change through federal politics. She ran for the Green Party, finishing a respectable second to current Liberal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc in the New Brunswick riding of Beauséjour. It stretches along the Northumberland Strait.

“My wanting to run for federal office and my stepping into this role is about me asking myself, ‘Where can I make the greatest impact?’” said Reinsborough, who relocated with her family to the nation’s capital about a month ago, purchasing a home equipped with solar panels in the east end. Her new job officially began Sept. 7.

'Decade for Climate Action'

The way Reinsborough sees it, society is living in a particular moment in human history where environmental issues need to be heard.

“People are willing to bravely stick their neck out a bit, knowing that this is the decade for climate action, this is the decade where we’re learning how profound our biodiversity loss is, where we’re understanding the impact of protecting our fresh water. There is a moment of awakening.”

The Ottawa River remains the main water source for residents, she pointed out.

“We all drink from the river. We may not think about that on a daily basis, but it’s definitely something that connects us all. We depend on the entire watershed for the health of our drinking water, and that’s a really intimate relationship.”

Geoff Green, longtime board chair of the Ottawa Riverkeeper, called Reinsborough a gifted communicator and passionate leader.

“Her humble, well-informed and inclusive approach will help Ottawa Riverkeeper to achieve its inspiring vision and collaborative mission to make the Ottawa River watershed one of the healthiest in the world,” Green, founder and president of the Students on Ice, stated in a media release.

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The Ottawa River, as seen from the Rideau Canal locks. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Meredith Brown steered Ottawa Riverkeeper for 15 years, taking it from from a grassroots group of volunteers to an organization with a dozen staff and hundreds of volunteers and supporters. She retired as Riverkeeper in early 2019 but continues to hold the position of Riverkeeper Emeritus.

Former executive director Patrick Nadeau and former Riverkeeper Elizabeth Logue decided, independently, to move on earlier this year as the organization looked to recombine the roles. 

“So far, I’ve received such a warm welcome from the team here at Ottawa Riverkeeper and the board of directors,” said Reinsborough.

She expressed her eagerness to meet and hear from the general public and business leaders. She’s also looking to deepen Ottawa Riverkeeper’s relations with the Algonquin Anishinaabe communities within the watershed. 

“My priority is to implement our new three-year strategic plan, and Indigenous relations is a key part of that,” said Reinsborough. “It’s definitely very important to me personally as well.”

caroline@obj.ca