Our Story

Water First was founded in 2009 and began its work in Uganda, bringing drinking water resources to rural schools. We provided training on the operations and maintenance of the water and sanitation systems we installed.

 

We began working with First Nations in Canada in 2012, after being asked on numerous occasions about why we weren’t helping Indigenous communities in Canada who were experiencing water challenges. Our projects with First Nations communities were initially small, and they grew quickly. Within a few years, our First Nations work accounted for nearly 90% of program resources. We decided to focus exclusively on First Nations water challenges, related to both drinking water and environmental water concerns.

Our Values

Everyone has a right to safe water. The water crisis in Canada’s First Nations is unacceptable.

 

Skills training is critical to building sustainable solutions to water challenges in First Nations communities.

 

Collaborative programs with First Nations communities should integrate Indigenous values, customs and traditions at every opportunity.

Our Team

At every step, highly qualified and dedicated professionals are involved in our operations.

 

Please select a group and click an individual for a brief biography.

Volunteer Board Members

  • Leah Hagreen

    Director

  • With a background in environmental consulting and program management, Leah’s experience and skills inform her passion for education and water, both at home and abroad.

  • Ian Heaps

    Director

  • An entrepreneur with 20 plus years in building brands and sales through creative marketing and communications initiatives, Ian is co-founder of Blundstone Footwear Canada. Starting with one store in 1994, Blundstone’s distribution has grown to over 600 locations across Canada.

  • Edward H. Kernaghan

    Director

  • Ed sits on the boards of four publicly listed TSX Companies, is President of Kernwood Ltd., a private investment holding company and has over ten years experience working in the financial markets. Ed also has a passion for science and the environment, having completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics.

  • Eric King

    Director

  • A recognized leader in adolescent mental health therapy, Eric is Director of family programs at the Pine River Institute, a therapeutic boarding school. Eric also runs a private practice and he teaches at the University of Toronto in the Department of Child Psychiatry and the Faculty of Social Work.

  • Teza Lawrence

    Director

  • Teza is an award winning television and film producer and co-founder of Amaze Film & Television, working with YTV, HBO & Disney among others. She balances the bright lights of the entertainment industry with the bucolic pasture of her Duntroon farm.

  • Heather Murphy

    Director

  • Heather specializes in water treatment engineering at Temple University. Previously, she was a research fellow with the Canadian Public Health Agency and also worked with UNICEF managing large-scale projects bringing water and sanitation resources to over 1000 communities in the developing world.

  • Gary Pritchard

    Director

  • Gary is from Curve Lake First Nation and is an Environmental Project Manager at Neegan Burnside, a First Nations focused engineering firm. He has worked with and travelled to over 280 Indigenous communities and has over 14 years of work experience regarding environmental assessments, policy, project planning and permitting.

Staff

  • John Millar

    Executive Director & Founder

  • John has extensive experience in non-profit management and a track record of organizational growth and capacity building. John has worked with a variety of organizations in education, international development and environmental sectors and has overseen the development and growth of many successful non-profit programs.

  • Carli Lang

    Environmental Scientist

  • Carli’s Ph.D. research in parasitology brought a community-based water sampling program to rural Panama, for greater understanding of the intersection between human and environmental health. At Water First she applies her experience and passion for water and community engagement in her work with First Nations communities.

  • Kendra Driscoll

    Water Quality Specialist

  • Before working for Water First, Kendra was the Environmental Coordinator for Wahnapitae First Nation, and she also taught Environmental Science at Cambrian College. Kendra has a background in water quality monitoring and environmental chemistry. She completed a Masters of Chemical Science from Laurentian University in Environmental Chemistry. Kendra has a passion for water protection through science education.

  • Jag Saini

    Project Manager & Instructor

  • Jag has a background in chemical and environmental engineering and has experience with mining and environmental projects. Jag’s experience with cross-cultural work environments, including First Nations, together with his Operator-in-Training designation and volunteerism with Professional Engineers Ontario, position him to make valuable contributions to Water First’s work.

  • Ted Stableforth

    School Outreach

  • Ted was a Principal in the Simcoe District School Board for 10 years and a teacher for 25 years. Ted brings to Water First a wealth of educational and and administrative experience and a passion for educational program development and school outreach.

  • Brad Holden

    Education Design and Tech Support

  • Brad’s experience and Bachelor degrees in Geography & Education allow him to bring a wealth of knowledge to classrooms. Brad spent a decade working as a community journalist and has experience teaching outdoor education.

  • Jesse Wright

    Fish Habitat Project Coordinator

  • Jesse’s professional background includes extensive work as a wilderness fishing guide and environmental educator. His work at Water First focuses on fish habitat restoration in partnership with First Nations communities. He holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from York University.

  • Riva Dawson

    Accounting

  • Riva’s extensive experience with bookkeeping spans nearly 30 years. With both commercial and non-profit experience, she previously worked for McDonald’s Ronald McDonald House Charities. She also runs her own independent bookkeeping business, Better Bookkeeping Solutions.

  • Olga Kalomiris

    Outreach Instructor

  • Olga is an Ontario-certified teacher in the junior, intermediate and senior divisions, specializing in Geography, the Social Sciences, and Health and Physical Education. As an Outreach Instructor with Water First, Olga is committed to engaging and empowering youth, while raising awareness about First Nations water challenges.

  • Ami Gopal

    Director of Development

  • Ami has over 15 years experience and a proven track record in fundraising, resource development and marketing. She is excited to nurture relationships with Water First donors and develop customized strategies to meet their needs.

  • Brittany Smith

    Outreach Instructor

  • Brittany is an Ontario Certified Teacher, specializing in English and History in the Intermediate and Senior Division. She recently received an Eco-Mentorship Certificate from Trent University for incorporating outdoor and inquiry-based education into the classroom. She is passionate about student centred learning and approaching education through meaningful experiences. When she is not running workshops with Water First, she is supply teaching in the Upper Grand District School Board and tutoring students in English.

  • Erica Waters

    Outreach Instructor

  • Erica has a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Sociology with an Emphasis in Teacher Education. She also attended The University of Western Ontario where she obtained her Bachelor of Education for the Primary/Junior stream in the cohort of the Psychology of Mental Health, Achievement and Inclusion. Erica applies her passion for social and environmental issues and teaching by instructing Water First’s water science workshops.

  • Will Pearson

    Communications Consultant

  • Will is a writer, communications consultant, and community builder. His writing is published nationally and he provides communications support to a variety of organizations. Will first became passionate about supporting Indigenous-led water treatment strategies while working with Keewaytinook Okimakanak on their Safe Water Project.

  • Ellen Field

    Lead Instructional Designer

  • Ellen’s Ph.D. is in Education with an emphasis on environmental learning; she is also trained as an intermediate and senior high school teacher in Environmental Science and Outdoor Experiential Education. Ellen has worked as an educational consultant with numerous environmental NGOs in Ontario and she currently balances working at Water First, alongside facilitating professional development for teachers, and as an instructor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University.

Volunteer Advisors

  • Murray Richardson

    Advisor

  • An Associate Professor of Geography at Carleton University, Ottawa, Murray’s research focuses on watershed hydrology and mercury sensitivity, and spans geographic regions from southern Ontario to the Canadian arctic. Murray actively incorporates community engaged scholarship practices into his research at every opportunity.

  • Jonathan VanderSteen

    Water Treatment Engineer

  • Jonathan was an engineering professor at the University of Guelph before he joined Water First to address First Nations water challenges. He has extensive experience related to civil and mechanical engineering, humanitarian engineering, and instructional and training program design.

  • Craig Johnson

    Advisor

  • An Associate Professor of International Development & Political Science at the University of Guelph, Craig’s research and field work has been conducted with the Canadian, UK and Swiss International Development Agencies on numerous aid projects.

  • Jim MacPherson

    Advisor

  • Before joining Water First, Jim practiced commercial law in Toronto from 1972 until his retirement in 2010. Jim’s previous community volunteerism has spanned a variety of roles, such as President of the University of Toronto Schools Parent Association, President of the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce; Chairman of Lawyers Associated Worldwide; and Chairman of the Purple Hills Arts & Heritage Society.

  • Jackie Pye

    Advisor

  • Jackie has been a teacher and guidance counsellor for 20 years and currently works as a consultant designing educational programs and curriculum. She has degrees in Biology, Physical and Health Education, and graduate degrees in Education and Environmental Studies. Jackie has written for Ontario Ecoschools, and is currently developing secondary curriculum with the Katavik School Board and Inspire Nunavut; She’s also developing an Arctic focussed climate change curriculum in collaboration with Darkspace.

  • Bob Rae

    Advisor

  • Bob Rae is a former Premier of Ontario and a former interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He now advocates for First Nations on a number of issues, including the right to safe drinking water.

Operations Volunteers

  • Michael L’Ecuyer

    Designer & Developer

  • In 2010, Michael joined forces with his artist & illustrator wife in order to create coloveration, an art and design company. Together, they cover the gamut of needs, both personal and professional for individuals, companies and not for profits locally, provincially and internationally. Michael’s main focus is editorial, web and identity design and development.

  • Ruth Ann Pearce

    Illustrator

  • In 2010, Ruth Ann joined forces with her graphic designer & developer husband in order to create coloveration, an art and design company. Together, they cover the gamut of needs, both personal and professional for individuals, companies and not for profits locally, provincially and internationally.

    Ruth Ann and coloveration reside in the valley of Dunedin, Ontario inspired by the character of the land and its inhabitants.

  • Katie Campbell

    Water Treatment Specialist

  • Katie has a background in water management and water treatment engineering for remote industrial sites. She brings an in-depth understanding of the interaction between human activity and water, and contributes to the capacity of communities to engage with water science and water management. Katie earned her Masters at the University of Toronto’s Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry program.

Want to get involved with Water First? Contact us!