Outreach Sunday

Photos of Mimico Creek were taken by Zach DeConinck in West Deane Park, Etobicoke

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Zach, Mary Louise, Cathy, Taye, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Romance Impromptu” (Benjamin)


God, you touch our lives
with mystery and hope.
We come to this place today,
ready to see your power working through us.
Help us to be open to your Word,
and to answer your call among us.
Help us to mend the earth you made,
and learn to live lightly upon land and sea,
and beside the river that defines our neighbourhood.
Help us remember and celebrate the Humber,
as we remember and celebrate all of the natural world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Shall we gather at the river”

Shall we gather at the river,
where bright angel feet have trod;
with its crystal tide for ever
flowing by the throne of God?
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

Ere we reach the shining river,
lay we every burden down;
grace our spirits will deliver,
and provide a robe and crown.  
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
soon our pilgrimage will cease,
soon our happy hearts will quiver
with the melody of peace. 
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.


God of all creation,
you love us into being,
yet we often flee our rightful place in your creation.
We confess that we exploit the gifts you place around us,
and dominate the richness of the natural order.
Forgive us.
We confess our part in the devastation of our planet home,
the sea, the sky, and every land.
Forgive and restore us, O God.
Nurturing God, remind us of other ways to live
and of a place called home,
where creation reflects your goodness
and each thing lives in balance with all others.


God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Down in the River to Pray” (African-American Spritual)


Blessed is the one
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;[b]
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.
Does not the ear test words
as the palate tastes food?
Wisdom is with the aged,
and understanding in length of days.
“With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “As the deer pants for the water”

As the deer pants for the water
So my soul longs after You.
You alone are my hearts desire
and I long to worship You.

You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my. hearts desire
And I long to worship You.

I want You more than gold and silver
Only You can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy giver
And on You I can rely

You’re my friend and You are my brother
Even though You are the King
I love You more than any other
So much more than any thing


Many thanks to Mary Louise Ashbourne for sharing the story of our heritage river.

Today, rather than speak of the 200 year heritage of Central United Church which has already been dealt with by the Archives Committee, I am going to talk of the Humber River which is part of the environmental heritage of our community and the story of how it came to be designated a Canadian Heritage River.

My personal involvement began In 1984. I was  a member of the City of York Local  Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) and a press release from the Federal Government was received for our information. A new heritage category “Designation as a Canadian Heritage River” had been created. 

We jumped on the news – what an opportunity – our Humber River is a Heritage River if there ever was one. We will nominate the Humber River.

The Clerk of the City of York was requested to notify the communities in the Humber Watershed (13), Regional Municipalities (5) and all heritage organizations (many), the Provincial Government  and of course the Metropolitan Toronto Region Conservation Authority (now TRCA) of our intention to nominate and asking their support. 

Letters came back. The Historical Societies were solidly in favour. The Municipal Governments wanted further information. The Province was non-committal. 

To our surprise, the Conservation Authority turned the idea down flat.

Undeterred the City of York LACAC planned a Conference in the City of York with special invitations to all “interested parties”. Speakers were invited from the Six Nations,  La Societe d’histoire de Toronto,  and United Empire Loyalists. The following year Etobicoke Historical Society held a follow-up conference in support of  designation. 

In the meantime all the watershed communities were asked to appoint a representative to a liaison committee, to keep everyone in the watershed informed and to co-ordinate support for each other. Environmental groups such as The Toronto Field naturalists (Helen Juhola) and ARCH (Luciano Martin, an environmental engineer) attended as members. The MTRCA was asked to send a representative to our meetings which they did, as did the Provincial Ministry of the Environment. Eventually MTRCA would even provide a meeting room for our monthly meetings.

Humber Hertage, as it came to be known, was one of the best groups I have ever been associated with. We planned walks and gave talks, the possibility of twinning with the Humber in England was explored. Pamphlets were prepared and printed. We received a grant from “Friends of the Environment” and were able to produce a large pamphlet for the schools as a teaching tool. Individual communities were encouraged and supported in sponsoring Humber River events. And in 1993 Metro Toronto, MTRCA and Humber Heritage sponsored Humber Heritage Day as an official Toronto 200 Activity along the Humber.

What we overlooked, and what made the Conservation Authority so cautious, were the criteria for the Federal Heritage River designation.

There were three main requirements.

First: Cultural Heritage – the interaction of human life with the river. This was more than covered. The Carrying Place Trail ran the length of the watershed.  And the MTRCA had been actively protecting the archaeological heritage of the watershed with more than 250 sites recorded and protected.  The Humber Heritage members had done their historical research.

Second: Recreational value. This was a bit more problematic. The park lands in the flood plains along the river and the bicycle paths and the conservation areas such as Boyd Park and Albion Hills were wonderful. But apart from a short stretch of the Lower Humber up to Bloor Street, the river itself was never good for canoeing, swimming was forbidden as dangerous and if you caught the rare fish, you were warned not to eat it.

The third criteria, and most difficult, was water quality.

The Humber Watershed is generally shaped like a huge funnel stretching from the Niagara Escarpment in the west along Highway 9 to Richmond Hill in the east. It is composed of myriad small creeks draining into larger streams and eventually into the three main branches of the river. The main branch begins near Orangeville and flows south. The East Branch joins it near Woodbridge.  The West Branch joins the now enlarged main branch just above Highway 401 and from there  the river flows on through the high banks of Weston.  Black Creek is the last tributary to join the main river in the Lambton Golf Club area.

Roughly the top half of the watershed is agricultural or rural. Farmers pastured their cows near the streams for convenience and the fields were fertilized and sprayed with pesticides which leach into the streams and find their way to the river. 

Along Weston Road and Highway 400 industry has been established and some are careless in disposing of waste. After testing, Emery Creek where it joined the Humber was found to be the worst source of pollutants. These were traced back to specific industries. 

The Thistletown Hospital was viewed with suspicion as another source of careless disposal of waste. 

And the further south you got, the more urbanized the landscape became. Subdivisions were being built with small back yards, large roofs and paved driveways. This prevented absorption of rainwater and resulted in flooding of the sewers, and included the grit and debris gathered by the runoff along the way. In the winter salt keeps the roads clear but the melt runs down into the drains on its way to the river and the trucks taking snow, dump it in the ravines beside  the river. 

And we cannot exclude the golf courses and their well tended green space.

Add to that, the average resident who says my little bit won’t hurt and you have a Heritage River with big problems.

Our “Heritage River” was polluted. Very polluted.

All our publicity about how important the river was was nothing compared to the remediation which would be required for designation if the Conservation Authority, which was the party responsible, took on the job.

The public had to be onside as partners if there was any hope of designation.

And a Watershed Management Plan had to be developed. 

I am sure a lot of thinking had gone into the decision when October 14, 1994 the Conservation Authority announced the formation of the Humber Watershed Task Force. The Task Force was to be a broad group of stakeholders from the watershed representing all communities. It was intended to assess pollution problems across the width and length of the watershed.

Members of the public were invited to apply and after applicants were interviewed, 13 residents of the watershed were appointed. Elected officials from 12 local and 3 regional municipalities were appointed. Nothing would be done without municipal buy-in. Representatives from 5 Agencies and 11 interest groups (Humber Heritage, Toronto Field Naturalists, Action to Restore a Clean Humber ARCH, Black Creek Project) were appointed  The Task Force was chaired by the Chair of MTRCA. The first meeting was February 1995.

Goals were set for the Task Force: Identification of issues, opportunities for regeneration and proposals or recommendations on how to achieve a healthy watershed. 

You cannot solve a problem if you do not understand the size and source of the problem.

We toured the watershed to have some understanding of the issues and their complexity. A series of public consultation meetings were held to identify key issues and nominations for Community Action Sites held. Eventually 3 sites were chosen to test possibilities of community involvement and commitment in remediation projects. 

5 subcommittees were struck and each member of the Task Force chose one.  The sub-committees met monthly, each third month being a meeting of the full task force to keep everyone informed. The committees met monthly for 21 months and their reports resulted in a book “Legacy: A strategy for a Healthy Humber” which was formally endorsed by the Task Force November 12, 1996.

Having established the goals, the Humber Watershed Task Force was disbanded and  October 1997 the Humber Watershed Alliance was established, Now a new goal was included – the implementation of the Management Plan with enough successes to make possible the nomination and designation of the Humber as a Canadian Heritage River. 

By 1997 we were not alone. A number of Conservation Authorities in Ontario had decided to nominate their rivers for designation and in fact the Grand River achieved designation before the Humber River . 

And another matter had to be rectified. Initially the Canadian Heritage Rivers were the wild unpolluted rivers of the north, beloved of canoe enthusiasts for their rough water challenge and clear waters. The Canadian Heritage Rivers Board now had to recognize the need for a separate category for Urban Heritage Rivers with more suitable criteria which recognized urban problems.

Now firmly committed, with the strong leadership of the Conservation Authority, the Alliance built the case for nomination and designation of the Humber River. The designation ceremony took place in Etienne Brule park near the Old Mill on September 26, 1999. A plaque was unveiled with the suitable inscription in Cree, French and English.

So what were the lessons learned? How does a Heritage River become a Canadian Heritage River? The public have to be involved, including the passionate small “Interest Groups” who bring purpose and dedication to the cause. The politicians have to be in agreement, especially when there are many communities involved. And the body which is ultimately responsible, in this case the MTRCA, (which became the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority – TRCA – in November, 2018), must be fully supported. 

So what are some of the measures which were expanded or newly instituted by the Conservation Authority. 

Some things they could do by themselves such as establishing a water quality monitoring system with 9 stations across the watershed to measure bacteria levels that  ultimately affect the quality of Toronto’s beaches.

But partnerships became very important too.  For instance they partnered with the municipalities in setting building requirements for developers to use storm water management to reduce bacteria levels in the river. 

And they partnered with Friends of the Greenbelt to give grants to farmers to help improve farming practices for storing and generally handling manure and for barriers for restriction of livestock access to the streams. 

They encouraged and installed storm water ponds and preservation of wetlands to prevent flooding and erosion. The wetlands are literally the filters of our drinking water and home to many small amphibious species such as turtles and frogs who eat mosquito larvae. They are a haven for waterfowl. In several cases Community groups have been successfully enlisted as partners in restoration of watershed wetlands.

They planted trees on conservation lands to provided linkages for the habitat of birds and small animals, and encouraged public and private owners to do the same. They encouraged municipal planning to protect woodlots and bylaws to protect trees. 

The Yellow Fish Road engaged schoolchildren and raised general awareness of the many pollutants which find the way drown our sewer drains.

With regard to the river itself, They work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to prevent the sea lamprey from spawning and have built sea lamprey traps near the mouth of the Humber with great success. 

They have notched the weirs in the river to allow passage of salmon and other fish so they can reach their natural spawning grounds. 

And so much more.

Apart from my conviction that the Humber was a Canadian Heritage River and should be recognized as such, I knew so little and learned so much. This was a life lesson for me. Heritage can never be taken for granted. Even more important, our environment, which in this case included the watershed since the pollution came into the river from the surrounding land uses, must be protected.

Finally, we should look at each other, and each of us personally promise “the buck stops here”.


Great Spirit,
still brooding over the world—
as we hear the cry of the earth,
and see the sorrow of land
used and misused
for its varied resources;
as we hear the cry of the waters,
and see the sorrow of stream and ocean
polluted by the poisons
we release into them;
as we hear the cry of the animals,
and see the sorrow of bird, fish, and beast
needlessly suffering to serve us—
teach us, in your love:
sensitivity towards your creation;
simplicity in the way we live in our environment;
appreciation of the connectedness of all things.

Great author of creation,
we thank you for 200 years by the Humber,
and for a growing sense of our interconnectedness
with the river’s source and destination.
Remind us that our time by the river is short,
and that countless generations tended the river first,
and tend the river still.
Help us seek right relations,
and help us mend the fabric of our community and nation.
Open our eyes to the vitality of traditions,
spirituality, and cultures of Indigenous peoples,
and help us set aside ideas and assumptions
that stand in the way of reconciliation.

Creator of all life,
we pray for each other,
and we pray in silence for those in great need this day.
Give them strength and comfort this day, O God,
that they may overcome every challenge,
and live as you intended.
We pray for those who live in the midst of trouble:
troubled nations, troubled communities,
troubled homes and places of work.
Help us speak for the vulnerable,
and give voice to their needs.
We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.


Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “I’ve got peace like a river”

I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river in-a my soul.
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river in-a my soul.

I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain in-a my soul.
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain in-a my soul.

I’ve got love like an ocean, 
I’ve got love like an ocean,
I’ve got love like an ocean in-a my soul.
I’ve got love like an ocean, 
I’ve got love like an ocean,
I’ve got love like an ocean in-a my soul.


Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless
until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Amen.
—1 Thessalonians 5:23

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

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