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MOUNT FOREST, Ont. – In November 2015, when Jean Swanson’s well ran dry, it did not seem too unusual. The hand-dug well on her older, rural property near Mount Forest, in Wellington County Ontario, was shallow, and it was not the first time in 17 years that she and her husband Barry had experienced decreased water levels. However, their concern came when, despite a very wet and rainy autumn, the well failed to replenish itself.

Mount Forest, Ontario. Courtesy Photo

Mount Forest, Ontario [Courtesy Photo]

Swanson and her family immigrated to Canada from North Yorkshire, England in the 1950s. From a very early age she was fascinated with all things related to Witchcraft. Information on the subject was hard to find, so she searched her local libraries, hunting for anything she could find to read about the Craft.

Then, on one fateful day in October at her new home in Toronto, Swanson, then 21 years old, saw a Witch on television. It was nearly Samhain, and Pierre Berton, an iconic Canadian broadcaster, was interviewing a real life Witch. Try as he might to provoke and insult his subject, the woman remained calm, polite and dignified. Swanson had finally found a lead. There were real Witches in Toronto, and she was determined to contact them.

Swanson wrote to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, begging to be put in touch with the Witch she had seen on TV. Eventually, someone in the mail room felt sorry for her, and disclosed the address of the Witch. Swanson traveled across town, to the Beaches neighbourhood and knocked on the door. Standing in the doorway was the woman who would be her first High Priestess and mentor for many years.

Now in her 70s, Swanson and her husband Barry both suffer from serious medical conditions. When their well failed, a drilling company was called, and the initial quote to re-drill the well was $6000. But when the drilling went down to an unprecedented 196 feet, the cost of the well skyrocketed to $12,000.

In addition, they were informed that the well would also require a filtration system to deal with the silt, iron and other contaminants in the water. A salesman came to their door a few days later, offering to have such a system installed for them within a day. But the price tag for this was another $7000. Barry Swanson has since discovered that he can get a comparable system at a local hardware store for a greatly reduced price.

When Durham Well Drilling came to re-drill the Swanson’s well, representatives reportedly informed them, that in the last 30 years, they have not had to re-drill so many old wells as they have had to since Nestlé, the water bottling giant, has moved in and started extracting mass quantities of water from the local aquifer.

Photo by Dreamstime

[Photo Credit: Dreamstime]

At present, Nestlé has government permission to extract water from two wells in Wellington County. One is located at Hillsburgh where they have a permit to take up to 1.1 million litres of water per day. The second well is located at their bottling plant in the community of Aberfoyle, 50 kilometers away from Hillsburgh. Here they have a permit to take up to 3.7 million litres of water per day.

Nestlé also has an offer to purchase a third well in Middlebrook, near the town of Elora. If this permit is granted, and the sale proceeds, it will be allowed to extract up to another 1.6 million litres of water per day. The price that Nestlé has negotiated with the province is $3.71 per one million litres. The total cost for 6.4 million litres of water would be $23.74. By comparison, the residents Elora pay $2,140 per million litres. On top of this, all of the water is moved to Aberfoyle by tanker truck, where it is bottled. If the water, for example, gets packaged into single serve containers, this would equal 12.8 million plastic bottles per day.

All of these locations are within a 45 minutes drive from the home of Jean and Barry Swanson, who are now responsible for the $12,000 bill to re-dig their own well, plus the cost of a new filtration system they did not previously need.

Swanson’s coven and friends have joined forces, and have started a GoFundMe page. They have also created a raffle to raise money for the cost of re-drilling the well.

Liz Souster, a coven member and proprietor of local shop The Raven’s Rune, said:

Both Jean and Barry have spent their lives helping others, mentoring and teaching, volunteering at the Humane Society, and despite her illness Jean still volunteers to drive for the local community services. Helping them was an easy decision, our only worry was how do we reach enough people…many of our elders have spent their entire adult lives not just teaching us the Craft but mentoring our lives in general. I know I’m a better person for having known Barry and Jean. There are lots of others in the same situation and until this problem becomes news, people in rural Canada will continue to face financial ruin while the big water companies get huge tax breaks and incentives.

In a recent phone conversation with The Wild Hunt, Jean Swanson agreed that rural people are the most affected. She said:

Its amazing, I’m gobsmacked sometimes, there is so much misinformation and misunderstanding. Rural people are more aware of this problem than town people, we aren’t on the civic water supply, we depend on these wells

Pagans in the area have responded to this alleged threat to their water supply in the past. In November 2015, high profile author and teacher, Brendan Myers, pledged to donate the profits from his November book sales to Save Our Water, a community activist group from his hometown of Elora.  His campaign was successful and resulted in some of his best social media coverage to date.

The efforts being made by the Swanson’s friends and coven is an effort to not only help Elders in need, but to raise awareness about the sacredness of our water supply. Natalie Davis Jones, one of the GoFundMe campaign organizers, said:

By starting a GoFundMe campaign, we’re able to leverage the greater Pagan community through social media, and bring attention to the plight of this couple, and highlight how important clean water is for everyone. It’s also a great parallel to the fact that clean water isn’t a legally protected human right in Canada, and companies such as Nestlé would like to see it made a commodity – which would have disastrous results globally.

There are so many causes we can all support, and this one is special to me not only because I know the couple in question, but because it centers on something many of us take for granted in clean water, and supports two of our pagan elders.These are the wise ones that we hope to become. There is a wealth of knowledge that they possess, and we are blessed if we have the opportunity to learn from them, and carry on the traditions that would otherwise be lost.

The controversy surrounding the water supply in Wellington County is ongoing. Nestlé Waters is heavily invested in the region, with two wells operating and a third in the works. They are the largest commercial taxpayer in the county, contributing $1.2 million dollars in taxes last year. They are also a major employer and help to support many local charities. Despite this, community members are still rallying to halt Nestlé, and block them from furthering their water extraction operations, in the name of saving a natural resource for future generations.