SRA’s 25th Anniversary – Speech by Mat Wynott

Speech – Mat Wynott
Sackville Rivers Association – 25th Anniversary Event
7 p.m., June 6, 2013, 45 Connolly Road Sackville.

“I ain’t hugging any trees, and I ain’t kissing any whales!”

That’s what Walter Regan told his neighbour, Shane O’Neil, back in 1988, when Shane asked him to join a Sackville River clean-up.

But Shane kept asking, and one day, just to be neighbourly, Walter agreed to go along.

That first clean-up was at Walkers Pit in Sackville—just twenty minutes from Walter’s house. It was August, and it was hot. In one day, Walter helped pull 50 cars out of the river.

That was 25 years ago—when his knees were still good.

What struck Walter at that first clean-up was the contrast. One side of the river was complete devastation–an abandoned pit, where thieves rolled burned-out cars right into the water. The other side was pristine, with chirping birds, lush moss, and 100-foot trees.

Afterwards, Walter thought about the devastated side…and he got mad. That’s when he made his ‘first mistake’—he went to a Sackville Rivers Association meeting.

Walter’s second mistake–the one that turned his wife, Ann, into a “River Widow”—was putting up his hand when they asked for volunteer committee members.

There have been three especially memorable moments in Walter Regan’s life–marrying Ann, the birth of their first child….and holding a thrashing, 20-pound, wild Atlantic salmon for the first time.

Walter says when he looked into the eye of that salmon, he saw into its very soul—and it was angry.

Perhaps that was the moment he found his vocation.

For 35 years, Walter was a stationary engineer with the Department of National Defence–that was his job. But his true vocation—the place where a person’s deep passion meets the world’s deep need–is to advocate for the Sackville River watershed and its inhabitants—specially the angry ones.

On behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia, and the provincial Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Sterling Belliveau, I congratulate the dedicated members of the Sackville Rivers Association and your indomitable president, Walter Regan, on your achievements, and thank you for your outstanding work on behalf of the Sackville River Watershed.

I know you work closely with my colleagues at Inland Fisheries, and they sure appreciate your efforts. They say you are tireless advocates of sport fish and their habitat, and a great support to the Division:

• You represent the interests of the watershed at our Recreational Fisheries Advisory meetings;

• You assist our staff with sport fish enhancement, helping to stock and sharing your expert knowledge;

• You were instrumental in establishing Nova Scotia’s Sportfish Habitat Fund;

• And you remain strong supporters and advocates of the Fund and its programs—like Adopt-A-Stream.

But we know you do much more than this.

For a quarter century, members of the Sackville Rivers Association have protected floodplains and wetlands, constructed wild salmon pools, restored salmon habitat, counted salmon, stocked trout, built trails, planted trees, thrown rocks, and conducted clean-ups.

All your projects are important, but as a youth advocate involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, adolescent mental health, and youth at risk, I am particularly impressed by your work with elementary school children.

Through your River Rangers and Fish Friends programs, you have engaged nearly 20 elementary schools and 6,000 children in stewardship activities.

These programs work because they build relationships between kids and the local watershed.

Walter still talks about the calls he got back in 2002, when a water main broke, lowering the pH level in the Little Sackville River—an accident that killed over 50,000 fish.

When the story made it to CNN, Walter got calls from former program participants in Vancouver, the US, and even the UK. The caller from Vancouver asked if his fish had been killed.

Ladies and gentlemen, before I go, I’m going to let you in on something—Walter Regan has a reputation within the provincial government—folks say it’s hard to say ‘no’ to him. When you ask them why, they say it’s because of his passion—his personal commitment.

Walter has maintained this passion and commitment for 25 years—since 1988, when a neighbourly whim turned into an unforeseen vocation. Walter explains this vocation best: “I speak for the river”, he says. “I speak for the salmon.”

Tree hugger or not, they couldn’t have a better spokesperson.

Enjoy your evening.