About The Play

The Watershed by Annabel Soutar is a documentary drama that takes place in Canada, more specifically Northeastern Ontario. Soutar was motivated to write this play due to the decrease of freshwater in Canada. Throughout 2012 and 2013 Soutar and her husband, Alex Ivanovic, daughter Ella (10 years old) and daughter Beatrice (8 years old) conducted a series of interviews to understand more about the lack of resources given to environmental research projects in Canada. Soutar was concerned, and the closure of the Experimental Lakes Area is what truly prompted her research. 

Annabel Soutar along with her husband, daughters and daughter's friend, Hazel went on a trip, travelling from their home in Montreal to the Oil Sands of Northern Alberta. After speaking with many different reporters, environmentalists, and people working in the oil sector, Soutar thought this trip would help further her research. Soutar saw her family's trip across Canada in their Winnebego as a chance to educate people on the importance of water research as well her personal feelings about the closure of the Environmental Lakes Area. 

Annabel Soutars main goal is to understand why the government is cutting the funding to scientists trying to solve the problems behind the lack of freshwater in Canada. She found that there was a sense of selfishness as to why funding was being cut and that many scientists are afraid to speak out against someone of higher power. This is play based around freshwater in Canada but when looking at freshwater oil must also be in the conversation. It is our job to educate and also our job to learn in order to improve the environment and water in Canada. 


Greenturgical Analysis: Eco-hubris

Cless’s notion of eco-hubris stemmed from Greek Tragedies when looking closely at the relationship between power and nature. Eco-hubris is more closely looked at as an excessive zeal to control or dominate nature by acting selfishly without limit. This Greek term is used for someone or a group of people that “act with excessive pride or arrogance toward the natural environment, and violate external nature as greatly as they do internal, human nature with their hubris. Governmental positions and advances in technology are seen at the forefront to have absolute power and control over the environment. The Watershed by Annabel Soutar highlights how governmental power causes selfishness and therefore is not beneficial for the people not in the government nor the environment. Observing The Watershed through an eco-hubris lens allows us to understand how human power can affect nature and more specifically how human power can affect our source of freshwater. 

The idea of running out of freshwater is not something that we as humans think about often because it is an idea that many don’t believe is possible. Soutar however stresses that it is something that should be on everyone's mind. Freshwater is a large part of human existence and therefore is something that we should never take for granted. If the Canadian Governments decision to cut funding and shutdown the Environmental Lakes Area went through it would have had a huge impact on the environment and would have affected the supply and quality of freshwater. Before this could fully go through the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) stepped in to take over and fund the Environmental Lakes Area. 


Leaders of many societies often make decisions that are seen as good in their eyes but do not care to think about how these decisions may affect the people within the society they are controlling. Soutar was inspired to write The Watershed due to the government's idea to defund the Experimental Lakes Area. Due to the possible shutdown of the ELA, which is a very important freshwater research center, Annabel Soutar set out on a journey to understand more about the government's decision and to educate people across Canada on the importance of the ELA in order to help stop this from happening to future generations. 

When looking at The Watershed in terms of eco-hubris we are focussing on the selfish decision of the government. However before doing that it is important to see other parts of the play that highlight why this governmental decision has such an impact on the environment. Educating younger generations is a big part of preventing eco-hubris actions. Early on in the play the plumber came over to Soutars house and was educating the two girls (Beatrice and Ella) on why having a reliable source of freshwater is so important. Elliot (the plumber) told the girls, “they calculate that about 50 percent of our drinking water that they pump outta the river is lost into the ground” (Soutar 9). Understanding this fact helps to show how much of an issue it would cause if the Environmental Lakes Area was shut down. 


Early on in the play Maude Barlow who is a national chairperson for the council of Canada spoke to the ELA rally audience. Barlows statement was very strong and was all against the government's plans. She talked about how we are losing groundwater for future generations and then went on to target the government directly, basically saying that they are making an awful decision and it is hurting everyone around them. Maude Barlow closed out her speech by saying, “So we are tonight to build resistance to these actions, to point out that these actions add up to a carefully crafted agenda- an assault on independent science, which is an assault on the foundation of democracy, because without evidence based science we will all remain ignorant. Well, I for one refuse to be ignorant and I for one refuse to be quiet” (Soutar 30). Barlow is pissed off and realizes that as a society they need the work these scientists do and if the funding is cut because the government is selfishly using their power then it is going to create a real issue. She is not afraid to speak out and I think this speech sent a clear message that no one should be afraid to speak out on an issue that is affecting many. 


Steven Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada was at the forefront of cutting the costs to the ELA. Towards the end of the play there is a conversation between the three girls on the trip that highlights very well why Steven Harper wants to cut the costs and also shows how the notion of eco-hubris is worked into the play. This conversation shows the control that Steven Harper and the Canadian government have and the selfish decisions that they make because they will be beneficial to them. Hazel who is a young girl and a friend of Annabel Soutars girls says, “and also Stephen Harper only really cares about money” (Soutar 145). Money is a huge part of eco-hubris, money talks and makes people do things that ultimately hurt others. Hazel goes on to say that Harper doesn't want to pay money to the ELA because he wants to keep the oil source (Soutar 145).  Towards the end of the conversation they mention something very interesting while talking about how much money Stephen Harper is giving to people everyday and the debt of Canada. Ella says, “the ELA costs only two thousand dollars. Compared to other companies, that’s tiny” (Soutar 146). This conversation is important to understand the control that the government has and how they dominate nature with selfishness. Money gets in the way and so does priority, this case Stephen Harper takes priority in the oil source and wants his money to go into that instead of helping find the ELA. 

These are not all of the parts of The Watershed that we see eco-hubristic ideals coming to the surface but are some of the main ones that are important to understand. The whole idea of defunding the ELA is an example of eco-hubris however it is important to break it down in order to look at The Watershed and understand how human power can affect nature. Soutar’s use of drama in order to shed light on an environmental issue that is going to affect Canada’s freshwater source in the future is both effective and inspiring. Soutar through her work is able to fully show how the notion of eco-hubris is at stake when studying freshwater in Canada. 


The Experimental Lakes Area

The Canadian government started The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in the 1960's in order to research how to sustainably deal with water pollution in the great lakes. The research center is located in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. In 2012 the Canadian Government announced that they were shutting down the ELA due to budget cuts. The closure of the ELA would have huge impacts on the environment and society all together. The ELA's main goal is to ensure a safe freshwater supply while at the same time being cost efficient in what they do. With the ELA covering 58 lakes in Ontario the closure of this organization would be crucial. 

Today the ELA is run by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Since the IISD took over the ELA they have made great strides in their research. The research they do is more affective than any research that could be done in a laboratory. They examine everything from the atmosphere to fish populations and have already made huge decisions for the government and different industries. The IISD took over the ELA in 2014 and say that since then "we have already initiated new ecosystem-based science, responding to today’s threats to our water; collaborations and partnerships with outside researchers and universities; and educational activities that promote and build capacity for freshwater science and policy action in Canada and around the world." (IISD)

What is a Watershed?

Not many people have ever heard of a watershed and those who have do not truly understand what it is. A watershed is a "land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and the ocean." (National Ocean Service) In simpler terms a watershed is a location where water collects and then empties into larger bodies of water. Any contaminants that may be in the water when it is collected will travel with it when it goes into larger bodies of water. Many people believe that there is nothing that can be done however this is how our very own freshwater is being contaminated. There are ways in which we as humans can impact what ends up where and therefore ways for us to save our freshwater. 


Work Cited

Boehm, Diana. “‘a Huge, Summital Moment’: Annabel Soutar on Collaborating with English Theatre.” National Arts Centre, 4 July 2014, nac-cna.ca/en/stories/story/a-huge-summital-moment-annabel-soutar-on-collaborating-with-english-theatre.

Central, ASI. “Canadian Government Proposes Penalties for CERB Fraud.” ASI, 11 June 2020, www.asicentral.com/news/newsletters/promogram/june-2020/canadian-govern….

LiveEvents. “The Watershed – November 8 to December 4, Centaur Theatre.” The Montrealer, 20 Sept. 2017, themontrealeronline.com/2016/10/the-watershed-centaur-theatre/.

Magazine, Smithsonian. “Canadian Scientists Explain Exactly How Their Government Silenced Science.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 30 Jan. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/canadian-scientists-open-about-ho….

Soutar, Annabel. "The Watershed". Talonbooks, 2012. 

“Stephen Harper.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/biography/Stephen-Harper.

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What Is a Watershed?” What Is a Watershed?, 30 Nov. 2017, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/watershed.html.

“Welcome to IISD Experimental Lakes Area.” International Institute for Sustainable Development, 13 June 2017, www.iisd.org/articles/welcome-iisd-experimental-lakes-area.

“What Is a Watershed?” Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District, www.rcrcd.org/what-is-a-watershed