One Thing Leads to Another: The Built and the Natural Environment


The next campaign involved protection and enhancement of three river systems that ran through the urban landscape of St. John’s – rivers that had been badly polluted in the early l980s, destroyed fish habitat, and degraded to the point of disuse by the general public.

In her role as a city councillor, Shannie invited a river guardian group to make a presentation to Council and city staff that showed the full extent of deterioration in the Quidi Vidi Rennie River system.

At the same time that Council and staff were educated, the Director of Parks and Recreation became interested in developing a system of trails in the city to promote active living.

An unexpected opportunity to push the river protection agenda forward came in the form of Shannie’s appointment to the National Parks Centennial Committee, whose federal government mandate was to organize centennial celebrations and raise awareness of the Parks System and the importance of the natural environment.

Coordinating concerned groups and the Department of Recreation, Shannie spearheaded development of a legacy project for the Centennial that proposed trails, a demo project on reversal of erosion damage to create trout habitat, and a glassed-in Fluvarium for scientists and public. The project was approved and became an immediate catalyst for greater things.

The Quidi Vidi Rennie’s River Development Foundation emerged, chaired by a friend of Shannie’s who agreed on condition she would assume the role of secretary – both are still on the Board. St. John’s can boast of a world-class environmental treasure in the restored river system and Fluvarium that serve as a freshwater interpretation and education centre and leading tourist attraction. The city now has 250 kilometres of the Grand Concourse Trail System, connecting lakes and river valleys with key destinations throughout the city.

St. John’s had never been a walking city but now people are on the trails everyday. "Linking the trails and the river systems has given the rivers back to the people and helped them understand that the health of urban rivers is a good indicator of the health of the urban environment," says Shannie. "The rivers are now protected because people have taken ownership – and this is the best kind of protection possible."

Social change can be accomplished from small beginnings, by recognizing opportunities and bringing together people and resources so that the whole becomes much greater than the sum of the parts.