Mark Mattson

By Elizabeth Ann Kerr

Mark Mattson is a man of gentle demeanor but don’t be fooled by his calm, cool collectedness. This man moves mountains, lakes and rivers to make sure Canadians will be able to swim, drink and fish anywhere in Canada from coast to coast to coast. 

Like many of us, Mattson’s love of the water and boating started at an early age. And during his career as a criminal lawyer, Mattson had an opportunity to work on a case with the Ministry of the Environment that whet his appetite for wanting to protect Canadian waters. This and a chance meeting with Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. during a case involving Hydro Quebec fueled his appetite, and in 1995 Mattson left Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP to form the Environment Bureau of Investigation (EBI). 

EBI was created to offer pro-bono legal services to help protect public resources through: enforcing environmental laws; investigating pollution concerns; launching campaigns to publicize problems; alerting government regulators; and, launching private prosecutions, all of which was largely driven by requests from local citizens. 

For example, in 1996, EBI investigated a closed, city-owned landfill in Kingston, Ontario that was leaching contaminants into the Cataraqui River. The city was convicted on seven counts of violating the Federal Fisheries Act, three of which were upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. No further appeals were permitted.

The ripple effect begins.

In May 2000, propelled partially by the devastating Walkerton fiasco, Mattson invited Krystyn Tully to join him in creating Lake Ontario Waterkeeper (LOW) – a Canadian charity whose mission it is to provide swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters everywhere. No more signs that say NO SWIMMING or NO DRINKING or NO FISHING.

National Water CentreTully, Co-founder and Vice President, continues to work with Mattson. She has written several articles on water and environmental policy. In fact, she is a current contributor to Canadian Yachting and is writing a six-part series on distilling the myths of water pollution and protection and hopefully inspiring our readers to do more to respect and defend their home on the water. Tully has also been instrumental in the design and development of the SWIM GUIDE and the DRINK GUIDE and the just-launched Watermark Project.

LOW is a member of Waterkeepers Canada along with eight other riverkeepers and baykeepers. Waterkeepers Canada is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance – the world’s fastest growing environmental movement, with over 260 Waterkeeper organizations protecting rivers, lakes and coastal waterways across six continents.

So, what started out, at least in theory, as an organization of investigation into and enforcement of pollution rules and laws has organically and very successfully morphed into an organization that empowers and educates. And clearly it’s working.

And so it continues.

Long-time friend to Mattson and Canadian rock musician, writer, lead vocalist and creative force behind The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie has been a loyal supporter of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper for the past ten years and has volunteered his time preparing submissions, conducting and participating in public workshops and fundraising for the cause. 

Several other notable stewards of the SWIM FISH DRINK family include novelist and short story writer Joseph Boyden; musician, author and filmmaker David Bidini; renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky; physician-scientist, author and deep-sea explorer Dr. Joe MacInnis; and Canadian business executive, television producer, host, and member of the Order of Canada, Denise Anne Donlon, CM. 

Bluffers BeachMore ripples. More effects.

Now in the planning stages for the 5th Waterkeeper Annual Art Auction and Gala Dinner – presented by the RBC Blue Water Project – this event has raised more than $1.7 million through the sales of original works by as many as 25 North America artists each year such as Vivian Maier, Michael Adamson, Barbara Cole, James Lahey and Robert Polidori. This evening features a fantastic venue, great food, and acclaimed speakers and performers…not to mention the art. It is an event well worth attending. (Details for 2016 will be announced soon.)

It was through another chance meeting with an environmentally keen RBC employee that Mattson was connected with the RBC Blue Water Project team. In addition to its support of the Waterkeeper Gala, RBC Blue Water Project has also provided support for the SWIM GUIDE and DRINK GUIDE and the Watermark Project – a digital platform for storing, exhibiting, and share all of our watermarks across the country. I’d say that RBC’s ongoing support is a true testament to the work being done.

It’s time for us to add more ripples.

Mattson believes that boaters (and those who work within the boating industry) do have a clear understanding of the impact they make and do want to help protect the waters we call home. However, there seems to be little impetus to speak up. And that’s just not right. Boaters are not just boaters and they have a vested interest – or definitely should have – in the future of Canada’s watershed. It cannot be left to the politicians and the environmentalists alone.

More people. More impetus. More action. More results. More ripples.

Sadly, there continues to be a very significant disconnect between the enjoyment of water and the protection of water. When asked a few simple questions such as: where does your drinking water come from; name three fish that live in water; or list three rules that protect our waters – many just don’t know how to respond. Granted, we stock, promote and buy green products. We pay attention to the winds, waves and weather. But it's time to create more leaders (Waterkeepers) within the boating community to help protect and defend our waters.

Waterkeeper GalaLake Ontario Waterkeeper wants to help make that happen by embracing more individuals – one voice and one Watermark at a time. Everyone remembers the very first time he or she interacted with a body of water whether swimming, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, boating or sailing. And we all have a story (a Watermark) to tell about ourselves that triggered our lifelong connection to it.

Avid Lake Ontario Waterkeeper supporters Blair and Kathy McKeil of McKeil Marine – a Hamilton-based, family-owned innovative marine solutions provider – invited Mattson to speak to their employees and, as a result, many started sharing their Watermarks. McKeil Marine is also a founding member of Green Marine, an industry-leading program to improve environmental performance in the maritime sector and the recipient of the 2013 HPA Environmental Excellence Award, recognizing the company’s dedication to environmental stewardship.

To better understand the importance of the work Lake Ontario Waterkeeper does across the country working both at the provincial and federal level, I have cited a few short anecdotes that demonstrate how significantly water does impact our lives. Although Mattson is not a lobbyist, he is often invited to speak, submit and opine on matters of water such as these. (Just recenty he was interviewed by Global News Toronto’s Mark McAllister about Montreal’s dumping of billions of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River.)

A really bad story. In 2002, Oshawa closed its marina and forced nearly 400 boat owners to move out of its facility with a promise to clean up the harbour and rebuild. In 2014, the City of Oshawa took ownership of the former marina and plans for a park or open space are apparently underway. How is it possible that one of the largest waterfront communities doesn’t even boast a marina? 

A really good news story. With submissions from Mattson in support for Ontario's Action to Protect the Great Lakes along with other key stakeholders, new legislation passed to keep the Great Lakes clean, swimmable and fishable in October. This is a stellar example of aligning with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s mission. Even the nomenclature has synergy.

Another really bad story. The Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA)—one of Canada’s oldest pieces of legislation – protected 98% of Canada’s waterways. On April 1, 2014, the renamed Navigation Protection Act (NPA) came into force and now protects only 2% of Canada’s waterways. As a result of this new Act, no public notices are required for the 1,000s of projects underway that may impact the health of our watershed. 

Maybe a good news story in the making. In the Liberal government’s document entitled Real Change – A New Plan for Canada’s Environment and Economy, there is a commitment to protect Canada’s environment while growing its economy. Three initiatives have been identified: restoring credibility to environmental assessments; preserving and promoting Canada’s national parks; and protecting our freshwater and oceans. 

More ripples. More good news.

As part of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s Canada-wide mission to have swimmable, drinkable and fishable water everywhere, the National Water Centre, more fondly known as the SWIM DRINK FISH house – donated by Kenneth Irving, formerly of Irving Oil in 2013 – was established to provide a water-oriented private arts and education facility in Canada's oldest city. 

In 2014, the National Water Centre hosted a group of writers to a leadership summit assembled with the assistance of Dave Bidini and Joseph Boyden to craft personal Watermarks while brainstorming around key issues. This year, Mattson invited a group of athletes including left-handed Boston Red Sox Bill Lee, and Montreal Canadien left-winger Steve Shutt to meet to discuss ways in which to cultivate Canadians to step up.

Recently, Canadian sports celebrity, Marilyn Bell took the time to pour through all of the Watermarks captured to date and was so taken with each story that she is now reaching out to long-distance swimmers everywhere to take part. 

Once ripples, now waves.

It is clear that Mattson is well respected and trusted. His ability to attract and connect with great Canadians spanning several industries including music, art, journalism, baseball, hockey and even yachting is a testament to his cause. Passion breeds passion and the proof is in our watershed.

His many success stories to date have enabled him to embrace and engage Canadians across the country. But he is not stopping there.

He, along with his many sponsors, supporters, stakeholders, stewards and Waterkeepers will continue to find ways for you and me to connect and reconnect with our watershed and help Mattson make Canada’s water swimmable, drinkable, fishable and boatable in the very near future.


Register your Watermark, Protect your Waterbody

The Watermark Project is an ever-growing tapestry of Canadian water stories that provides a unique window on our way of life. It is also a powerful tool that will help protect waterbodies in the future. 

Here's how:

• When you contribute a story to the archive, you register the waterbody in a national database of important waters. 

• You document the value of that waterbody to you and your community. 

• You help researchers identify waters where people swim, drink, or fish, so that those uses can be protected in the future.

• You provide evidence that ensures environmental laws can be used to safeguard your waters.




Fraser Riverkeeper 


North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper


Lake Ontario Waterkeeper 

Sentinelles Ottawa Riverkeeper 

Georgian Baykeeper 

Moose Riverkeeper 


Fundy Baykeeper 


Sentinelles Petitcodiac Riverkeeper 


Grand Riverkeeper




If you believe that pollution and/or irresponsible management is threatening your community's water resources, or if you are fortunate to live near a water body that is not impacted by major pollution sources and want to ensure its future protection, joining Waterkeeper's "Swim Drink Fish Community" may be the answer. Waterkeeper can provide you with important technical and legal water protection tools, national and international visibility, and connections with other water protection advocates, necessary to ensure vigilant protection of your water body. Contact Mark Mattson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (416) 861-1237. 



Drink Guide

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

National Water Centre

RBC Blue Water Project

Swim Guide

Waterkeeper Alliance

Waterkeeper Gala

Waterkeepers Canada

Watermark Project


Photo Captions:

Photo 1 - Mark on Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's boat, the Angus Bruce. PHOTO CREDIT: Dylan Neild

Photo 2 - Inspired by the work of Waterkeepers and other grassroots water stewards, the National Water Centre promotes swimmable, drinkable, fishable water through community-building, information sharing, research, and leadership development. 

Photo 3 - Bluffers Beach used to have some of the poorest water quality in Toronto. After a study by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and investment from the City of Toronto, the water quality improved dramatically.

Photo 4 - Mark with Canadian photographer, Edward Burtynsky at a recent Waterkeeper Gala, presented by RBC Blue Water Project.