The History of the Watershed Sentinel

In the Beginning…

It was the winter of 1990 and MacMillan Bloedel, one of the largest forestry companies in BC, had volunteered to share their five-year logging plan with the small community of Cortes Island. The Cortes Island Forest Resource Committee was formed to discuss alternatives to clear-cut logging on the Island and represent the views of the community. This was the beginning of 20 years of commitment and effort to secure local stewardship of Cortez Island’s land base (which has now culminated in a pioneering community forest partnership), which at times included direct actions such as blockades. What better way to bring information to Cortes residents than the series of newsletters produced by our editor, Delores Broten?

In the course of producing the newsletter, Delores received a lot of information across her desk that pertained not only to forestry issues, but fisheries, toxins, sustainable living, and a slew of other topics that were interconnected and needing to be shared. Ideas for a local environmental magazine became a reality in January, 1991, with the first issue of the Watershed Sentinel.

Published by Friends of Cortes Island, volunteers contributed ideas, stories, artwork, money, time and support to the 12-page magazine that was photocopied on recycled paper and distributed to community outlets on Cortes and neighbouring Quadra Island. After wearing out a couple of photocopy machines, it was decided that a proper press job was needed, as well as the addition of subscription forms, since people from off-Island kept requesting copies. The Watershed Sentinel was on to something!

What’s in a Name?

Twenty years ago the word “watershed” was hardly heard, and stream stewardship groups were in their infancy. Delores’ partner, Don Malcolm, came up with the name, the Watershed Sentinel. As the editorial from the first issue explains, “We all live in a watershed; we all live in a series of watersheds nested inside one another like Chinese boxes. Water runs from the land and road beside my house into the ditch, which drains into the creek, which tumbles its way into the sea at Whaletown Lagoon…. When we each look after our watersheds, the earth will look after herself. And us.”

The interconnectedness of nature is reflected in the web of topics over WS’s first year. A peek into the second issue reveals local news such as the Cortes Firehall rezoning and updates from the Cortes Forest Committee alongside articles on BC Social Credit government’s bid for bulk water exports, the Manantlan Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and a detailed definition with hand drawn graphics of the chemical, benzene. Canada promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 – the discussion on carbon capture and storage continues.

Voices in the Wild

In the mid-1980s, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began to play a stronger role in Canada, no longer satisfied to simply call for, or rely on, the leadership of governments. Hence, the BC environmental scene was very connected during the nineties and it was a busy time.

Once organizations became familiar with the Watershed Sentinel they began sending updates on environmental initiatives. As a board member of the Georgia Strait Alliance, Executive Director for Reach for Unbleached, and attendee of British Columbia Environmental Network meetings, Delores found that there was no shortage of topics to report on and the Watershed Sentinel became, as it is now, a voice from the environmental movement.

The advent of the electronic information age was upon us and although we were still gathering information the old fashioned way via books and articles, we opened our first email account in 1993 and in 1996 we began to put WS articles on the website of Reach for Unbleached, an organization which worked on pulp mill pollution from 1995 to 2017.

When good ol’ Rev Canada would not allow Friends of Cortes to operate the Watershed Sentinel magazine as a charitable activity, Delores bought it for $1 and ran it as a private business for a few years before the non-profit Watershed Sentinel Educational Society was formed in 2004 to continue publication of the magazine and expand its educational mandate. Friends of Cortes continues to support the magazine by paying for articles and buying subscriptions for their members.

Indeed, friends of the magazine are the lifeblood of our mag and it was the nineties that first saw sustaining subscribers begin to offer donations and advertisers such as Banyen Books, Hollyhock, and the Quadra Credit Union forged committed relationships. We are very thankful to them – and for the volunteers that kept Delores company, most notably Yendor Hurst – whose dedication and persistence led to the existence of our online archive that he began in 1997.


Through most of the nineties the magazine was laid out by hand with a ruler and wax, and mailing was done by a volunteer bee on Cortes Island.

In January 1995, in a move dictated by the economics of printing, the circulation jumped from 1000 to 3000 copies and the paper changed to newsprint on a web press. The additional copies coupled with increasing donors meant that we could increase awareness by distributing bundles to libraries and cafes in the city centres. Much to our disappointment we were still published on virgin newsprint throughout the nineties because we could not find recycled paper for a web press.

By 1999 the magazine had moved to a printer in Vancouver and we were experimenting with colour photographs. With the addition of a regular graphic designer, colour, and increasingly well-researched articles, the Watershed Sentinel had become a “real” magazine.

While the 20th century was marked by both the recognition and creation of a host of environmental problems, the Watershed Sentinel heralded the 21st century with a look at the larger picture. Logging, mining, and pollution continue to impact our communities, and although we report on the local battles, we also reflect the change within the movement by highlighting the overarching structural issues that allow these situations. Public policy, privatization, and world economic institutions are inextricably linked to the sustainable use of resources, climate change, and biological diversity. The discussion towards solutions continues.

Moving On Up

2003  saw the hiring of our graphic designer, Ester Strijbos, a Cortes Island resident who brought a wealth of ideas and expertise to the layout and design of the magazine.

Speaking of wealth, Delores was finally able to pay herself a small stipend in 2005 due to the gradual financial improvement of the magazine. One of the biggest changes for WS occurred in 2006, when Delores and Don left the forests of Cortes Island for city life in Comox, where the magazine continues to be produced.

Production changes included the addition of 100% recycled paper both for the inside and cover. Over time the production team also gained a circulation manager, managing editor, ad outreach person, and most recently, an editorial assistant/staff reporter.

The Watershed Sentinel received two awards for leadership in sustainable publishing, in 2006 and 2012, and has received many thank-yous for our activism by organizations and our dear readers – which is the best recognition of all.

The magazine continues to be a labour of love for everyone, and a HUGE thank you goes out to our volunteers who make up the backbone of the magazine – from writers and proofreaders to the the WS Board and volunteer distributors – and of course to our donors and subscribers.

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