WALKERTON, Ontario, Canada


Walkerton Life Vest. 2002.


Wearing the Walkerton Life Vest while canoeing on the Saugeen River.

In Walkerton, Ontario, Canada during May 2000, two deadly bacteria (Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and Campylobacter spp.) entered the town’s drinking water supply when the Saugeen River overflowed its banks contaminating a well with cow fecal matter, killing seven people and infecting another 2,300 residents. Reports about the amount of chlorine in Well #5 had been falsified, adding political bungling to the town's list of problems. A small rural farming community one and a half hours north of Toronto, Walkerton had become synonymous with water-borne disease and death.


Fishing is an important component of this community, so the donated fishing vest became a repository for objects, newspaper articles, and personal stories about the tragic events related to their water supply. Rolled into a clear plastic tube sewn on the back of the vest is a strip of birch bark inscribed with the names of the seven Walkerton citizens who died: Their only crime was drinking a glass of water, an activity each of us takes for granted every day.

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