The Gleaner
Breaking News

McGill research project exposes severity of waste dumping in the Valley

Editor’s note: The reporter on this article has contributed to the Leadership for the Ecozoic project as a local consultant.

In 2021, McGill University began a graduate-level course that centres on studying the Chateauguay River aquifer, the one that provides all the fresh water feeding the wells and farms of much of our MRC. The course is at the doctorate level, part of a complex graduate degree project called Leadership for the Ecozoic (L4E) that is jointly offered to students at McGill and the University of Vermont. The original director is Dr. Peter Brown, who lives here in Franklin and who recently retired. Dr. Colin Scott, the current director, says, “The idea behind L4E is that a number of disciplines in conventional academic training are not solving environmental and social problems; they’re reproducing and often worsening them.” 

L4E has been set up to “train professionals in the fields of economics, law, governance and ethics, so they don’t continue with mindsets and practices that are driving us towards environmental collapse.” Scott continues, “We want to teach students to think across disciplines. For example, the way economists imagine a world where growth is endless does not connect to the laws of nature and the realities of ecosystems.” Everyone, he says, “has shared collective interests in the places we live, so we need to adapt our institutions, so they look after these shared interests.”

Because the project recognizes the expertise of local communities and indigenous groups, they reached out to include local people, their skills and knowledge, in providing lectures, tools and other forms of research material to the students. Scott says, “We feel that knowledge is not the privileged domain of academia; local knowledge is needed to address the problems occurring around us.” When asked why the Chateauguay Valley, which was formally selected as the focal area for the project in 2022, the answer was that this area is accessible to the McGill students for field trips, is well-known to the professors, and that “We feel that both our universities have a responsibility to the places where we’re located. Our students and professors come and go, but we share these environments on our doorsteps that are feeding us and providing all our water.” For this reason, the Vermont branch is studying threats to the Champlain/Richelieu aquifer.

With these principles in mind, local knowledge was recruited the way it always is on the rural level: by word of mouth. Scott was already acquainted with the late geologist Blad Hansen, who began geological research on the aquifer for the project in 2020. Hansen introduced Scott to Jess Elwell from les Jardins de la Resistance in Ormstown, and her partner Jovan Mercier, because it was important for the students to know something about sustainable businesses and farming practices in the area. Elwell mentioned that her neighbour, Dan Garand, was a retired cartographer, and map-making was considered a wonderful talent for the project to acquire.

Scott says, “A major tool that L4E wants to provide is the ability to think locally – to have students bring their models and theoretical knowledge but engage them with real issues. These issues should be felt as important by local people. So, if our partners tell us that waste dumping on or near the aquifer is a local issue, we’ll take that seriously and see what research skills [and] models for explanation and for action might be useful.”

This is how the maps that illustrate this article were made; by the local cartographer working with other local sources together with the students and professors. They are based on readily available public material, much of it from the Quebec government, or satellite imagery, brought down to the local level so we can see what’s happening to our aquifer. A set of before-and-after shots of the dumping on Rang Dumas are particularly telling. A wetland that allows rainwater to percolate through porous rock to refill the aquifer has been blocked with fill from, most likely, construction sites.

The location of the dump sites in the municipality of Franklin which borders on the municipality of Ormstown SOURCE Public sources and Leadership for the Ecozoic McGill University Department of Anthropology


The Rang Dumas dumpsite and its proximity to Ormstown wells 6 and 8 The concentric polygons from closest to farthest represent the highly sensitive zone the bacteriological zone and the virological zone as well as a lesser but equally sensitive zone SOURCE Leadership for the Ecozoic McGill University data MRC du Haut Saint Laurent and Department of Anthropology


Jess Ewell’s farm is across the road from another dump site, on the Rang Botreaux in Ormstown. She is very concerned about dumping on the aquifer recharge. “It’s a question of long-term sustainability. Consequences are dire for us, and for all the other farmers of any kind – if the aquifer goes, we all do.” She equates it to individuals putting separate straws into a bathtub of water with poison poured in at one end. “Your well isn’t separate from anyone else’s. I can’t believe, with the case of the Mercier toxic plume so close, that people aren’t more freaked out.”


This map highlights the location of the Rang Dumas dumpsite in relation to an important aquifer recharge zone in the region SOURCE Leadership for the Ecozoic McGill University Department of Anthropology Data Ministère de lEnvironnement de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques de la Faune et des Parcs


Garand, who lives in Franklin and took on McGill’s mapping as a fascinating geological and historical challenge, was asked how he felt when he first saw the before and after shots of the area. “I felt like I was in a bar, and someone had put poison in my drink. I mean, no consultation! If you look at all the wells surrounding the dump site – these people don’t know. If the soil and water aren’t tested, this is really dangerous.” Garand says he grew up in a rural community and took for granted “that neighbours watch out for and help one another.” He adds, “While I’m sure some landowners may have good intentions, they don’t understand the serious ramifications and long-term damage that can result from toxic materials infiltrating our precious aquifer. It’s important to realize that the health and safety of our community are at stake.” He adds, “What happened in Mercier is a perfect reference.”

Last year’s student, Katrina Joosten, says that her experience researching on the ground in the Chateauguay Valley was “incredibly valuable and should be done at every single step of the research process. These are things you don’t encounter through publications. It’s happening in real time. To be in a place and get a sense of the layout, the landscape… to experience being in the local community and talking to local people changes your outlook. It changed the way I was thinking about our project. What are the stakes, what does it mean for local people, what do they care about?”


Ariel heat map.
A heat map showing the concentration of residential wells within the vicinity of the dump sites SOURCE Leadership for the Ecozoic McGill University Department of Anthropology
Residential wells red dots in proximity to the dump sites on Rang Dumas and Route 201 SOURCE Leadership for the Ecozoic McGill University Department of Anthropology


Scott points out that the maps done so far “are exploratory work that we anticipate will result in an ongoing community-driven research process.” There will be new students for multiple years studying this aquifer and its recharge area. “Each year the students in that year’s seminar will build on what the previous ones did.” He adds, “The MRC and the Valley community will absolutely have access to this work. Our values require that we do solid research that is accessible to the community.” In fact, he says, “There’s lots of areas where local people can contribute. We need more sampling, for example, which would be a great project for local schools to have their pupils test rivers or other runoff.”


Timeline of dumping activities in Franklin

The Gleaner has been closely following dumping activities in the municipality of Franklin for several years. In 2020, the municipality passed a bylaw to clamp down on illegal dumping and backfilling, specifically at a dump site on Highway 201 where huge piles of construction, renovation and demolition waste had been deposited without authorization. The Ministry of the Environment issued an ordinance against 4507380 Canada Inc, also known as Les Entreprises V.A.G. Distribution in 2021, ordering the dumping of construction waste and contaminated soils be stopped immediately and the land remediated.

Reports of small amounts of dumping have been observed in Très-Saint-Sacrement, Havelock, and Saint-Chrysostome; however, the activity seems to be focused in Franklin.

During the summer of 2022, reports surfaced of occurrences of dumping without a permit at addresses on the Rang Dumas and Grimshaw Road. The Rang Dumas site is near two municipal wells serving Ormstown. Backfilling operations were allowed to resume following test results showing the material was mostly clean fill. Meanwhile, the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent introduced a bylaw banning such activity in water catchment protection areas.

In August, the municipality of Ormstown mandated the DHC law office to represent the municipality concerning the landfill and dumping activities near wells 6 and 8. The two municipalities have since been embroiled in a court battle over the situation. The Gleaner will continue to follow this situation as it evolves. Past articles covering this subject can be found on our website.

Arial view of a forested area and dumpsite.
Before and after images of the dumpsite on Rang Dumas in Franklin Satellite imagery SOURCE Maxar Technologies USDAFPACGEO Map Data and public source

Close up arial view of a dumpsite, road and house.

Latest stories

Search and arrests in Godmanchester

The Gleaner

Quebec places Godmanchester under trusteeship

The Gleaner

Police identify victims in East-Hawkesbury double homicide

The Gleaner

Leave a comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

Follow by Email

Read 2 articles per month for free or subscribe and help support local news!



Our Community, Our Newspaper!

Print edition & digital access only $60 per year.


Digital access only $40 per year.

Breaking & Community news are always free!