“Do you have any McDonald’s restaurants up there?” is a question I hear from time to time. Now what is that actually supposed to mean? That’s a pretty straight-forward question. But what is the meaning behind it?

Does the person really want to know if we have any McDo’s back home? Or does he want to know if we’re “civilized”?

What does it mean to be civilized? It depends on which factor you use. Take, for example, the McDonald’s factor—is the person asking if we have a strip mall and all the trappings that go with it? What about factories and power plants? But what do these usually accompany? Undrinkable water.

Up north, drinking water was the norm. Dipping your cup into any pond or stream was taken for granted. Coming home from James Bay toward the river you can taste the difference in the salinity. Tasting occasionally, you could taste the fresh water from the river getting fresher. Now you think twice before doing that. Even the rainwater which collects on the rocks is questionable, with all this talk about acid rain and cadmium and so on.

So now we have to use the “Native Factor” (common sense): “Is there any drinking water there?” When was the last time anybody drank straight from the St-Lawrence or the Hudson River for that matter? When will it be safe, if ever, to drink from those rivers again? Now up north we have to start asking if it is safe to drink from this or that river.

As “progress” rolls along, so with it the rivers also. For the sake of our children and those not yet born, I hope we don’t have to keep asking that Question for every river.