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Save Our Seine paddles into 30th year cleaning up the river

A grassroots organization has been cleaning up and maintaining the Seine River for well over three decades.

Thirty years ago, the first Save Our Seine summer team assembled. In the decades since, Save Our Seine teams have spent their summers paddling the river.

Their goal – clean up the waterway, which winds through southeast Winnipeg.

“It’s right in the heart of Winnipeg, but when you’re canoeing it and walking the trails, you don’t feel like you’re in the city,” said Monique Ellison, the Save Our Seine summer team coordinator.

“We canoe the river. Remove log jams and fallen trees and collect garbage and any debris that’s in the river.”

In the 20th century, the Seine River became a dumping ground for everything from household garbage to industrial waste.

“For many years or even centuries, I would say the rivers were seen as something that we turned our back on and rivers were forgotten,” said Ryan Palmquist, the group’s managing director.

But in 1990, residents had enough and formed a group called Save Our Seine. Four years later, the first summer team set sail.

“It was foundational work,” said Jared Whelan, who joined the following year in 1995. “It was beginning work for Save Our Seine, and it was fun being part of it. It was my first environmental job.”

Whalen said the ongoing work of Save Our Seine is vital.

“The people who live along it appreciate it. But the rest of the city doesn’t necessarily know how important it is or how beautiful it is,” he said. “I’m glad I had that first job. I’m glad they’re still here. I’m glad it’s getting cleaned up.”

The current team doesn’t only fish out trash. Ellison said they’re working hard to help preserve this ecosystem.

“When you remove a log or any obstruction in the river and you just watch the river start flowing again, it’s just so beautiful.”

With three decades in the books, Palmquist said the group has no plans of slowing down.

“Tremendous work has been done in cleaning up the Seine. But every single year we bring staff out, the trash is back every June,” he said. “So if this work were to ever stop, if Save our Seine would ever stop existing, someone would need to create a Save Our Seine.”

To mark the milestone, Save Our Seine is getting volunteers, team members and residents in the community to sign an oar that will be sent to France for the Paris Olympics. Palmquist said it will commemorate Paris’ efforts to save the other Seine River.

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