Mark Mattson doesn’t like a sign that says “don’t swim, don’t drink, don’t fish” on a waterfront.

As the president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Mattson has been leading a crusade against water pollution along with other grassroots Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper organizations across Canada for almost a decade. So, when the time came to step up the battle for cleaner shorelines and waterways, the choice for naming the latest salvo was clear.

“What we are really fighting for is public access to clean water — fish habitat, drinking water and recreation. So, we took off the ‘don’t’ and that became sort of our model,” Mattson, 47, tells Metro.

With some rock ’n’ roll thrown in the mix, Swim Drink Fish Music ( was born.

Launched in June this year, the online music and audio project brings together activists, musicians and artists who care about clean water. The website features exclusive songs from iconic rockers such as The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie and Bruce Cockburn as well as indie artists like Stars and Apostle of Hustle. These tunes are made available to anyone who wants to become a part of the water conservation movement.

In fact, Downie, with a little help from alt-country rockers The Sadies, is Swim Drink Fish Music’s featured artist for this month with a rousing rendition of Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927, a song that has deep significance for water issues.

“As an environmental justice group, we are small and we need a lot of people, not just environmentalists involved. (We need) musicians … lending their talents, singing songs, helping us with concerts. People like Downie, (Canadian singer-songwriters) Sarah Harmer and Dave Bidini started understanding and getting to know the issues, being more than just creative inspirations.

“It just seemed like a natural way to not underutilize their time and at the same time not turn Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and the other groups into concert venues,” says Mattson.

True to Mattson’s words, there’s a lot more to Swim Drink Fish Music than just hanging out at a virtual rock club. The online forum also sheds light on some of the burning issues at hand in conventional ways — through radio shows and podcasts, including a Canadianized version of celebrity environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s Ring of Fire program.

But Mattson acknowledges that the musical hook works as a calling card for the fledgling Waterkeepers.

“(Swim Drink Fish Music) has been effective for us. I have it everywhere I go. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to our work. Then, if you are more interested in getting involved, you can become a member of the actual organization,” Mattson explains.

Bidini echoes a similar sentiment. Swim Drink Fish Music’s featured artist for September, the former Rheostatics guitarist contributed a 30-song suite about “the water/the lake/the land” to the website. He hopes that his set will draw his fans to the cause.

“Come for the music, stay for one’s conscience,” Bidini says.

Getting involved
• Membership for Swim Drink Fish Music is $10 per year. Visit for more information.

• For information about Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and other Canadian Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper organizations, visit

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