Tom Thwaits has been canoeing his whole life but when he moved to Meaford Ontario twelve years ago, he took his love to a new level by using every opportunity to get out on the water. Thwaits, an elementary and high school teacher, has two passions: working with children and exploring open water on a canoe. Tom began canoeing around Meaford and found he was “completely transported” while on the water, leaving all his worries behind. He thought of sharing these passions, and what better place than a province with over 250 000 lakes. The Big Canoe Project was created.
As the dream manifested, he realised that not only youth and underrepresented groups could benefit, but all generations; in his own words, “There’s room for everyone!” Thwaits realized a “leisurely paddle on the lake” could be turned into an experience, learning about lakes, how special they are and what is happening to them. Thwaits says, “Get people on the water in order for them to be passionate about the water as well.” By giving people an opportunity to see the science of lakes and using a water testing kit, participants in his Big Canoe rides can test PH and obtain alkalinity readings. Thwaits dreams of people falling in love with this experience and becoming full fledged “water rangers,” who have the tools as “citizens and scientists to easily record and analyse water data so that they can use the data to learn about problems, share discoveries and engage with their neighbours.” Thwaits believes his organization can be a passion gateway that leads all Big Canoe participants to become Canadian Water Rangers. He plans to partner with local organizations such as Georgian Bay Forever and the Municipality of Meaford. Thwaits wants to,
“Give people the idea they are actively doing something about climate change, that they can do something.”
Big Canoe connects to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land. By reaching out to the communities in their surrounding area Big Canoe creates a ripple effect of love for the water and awareness of the dangers facing our lakes. This organization is a prime example of how a small social enterprise can start a movement, set the pace for change, and create awareness of the worldwide goals set by a global organization.