In the early 1800s, the Grand River was a source of transportation, power and water for local communities. However, as settlers established their farms and built cities and towns, the environment suffered.
The loss of forests and wetlands caused significant changes. The construction of dams reduced water quality and interfered with fish movements.
Floods became more common and bigger. During the summer, rivers and streams dried up. Untreated sewage flowed into the river from cities and towns. Factories used the river system as a dump for chemicals and other waste.
By the 1930s, the floods, drought and pollution were affecting public health and hurting the economic development of communities up and down the river.
Business leaders from several communities formed the Grand Valley Boards of Trade. They pushed the provincial government to pass a law in 1932 to create a water management agency to address the problems.
The law said municipalities would have to work together to create the new organization. They held discussions over the next few years and formed the Grand River Conservation Commission in 1934.
The founding communities were Brantford, Kitchener, Galt (now part of Cambridge), Fergus (now part of Centre Wellington) and Caledonia (now part of Haldimand). Other municipalities soon joined and by 1936, the Grand River Conservation Commission was in business and ready to get to work.
The first project was Shand Dam, near Fergus, which was completed in 1942. It was the first dam built in Canada with multiple purposes - flood control, water supply and water quality.
Other dams followed: Luther Dam (Grand Valley) in 1954 and Conestogo Dam (near Drayton) in 1958.
The success of the commission, its watershed focus and the municipal partnership model were the topics of discussion at the Guelph Conference on Conservation in 1941. In 1946, the Ontario government passed the Conservation Authorities Act, which allowed for the creation of new watershed management agencies throughout the province.
The success of the commission, its watershed focus and the municipal partnership model were the topics of discussion at the Guelph Conference on Conservation in 1941.
In 1946, the Ontario government passed the Conservation Authorities Act, which allowed for the creation of new watershed management agencies throughout the province.
In 1948, the Grand River watershed municipalities took advantage of the new law to create a second watershed management agency called the Grand Valley Conservation Authority.
The old commission continued to exist in order to operate its dams and reservoirs. The new authority put its effort into buying environmentally significant land, such as wetlands and forests.
The new authority also developed conservation areas for use by the public. Many of today's Grand River Parks, such as Elora Gorge, Rockwood, Pinehurst Lake and Byng Island, were developed by the authority.
As time went on, it became clear that the responsibilities of the two agencies overlapped. In 1966, they merged to form the Grand River Conservation Authority.
The new agency continued to build dams, including Guelph, Laurel and Shade's Mills. New parks were developed around those reservoirs, as well as Brant.
The GRCA continues to work closely with municipalities and other partners to protect and enhance the natural resources of the Grand River watershed. It is a member of Conservation Ontario, which represents the 36 conservation authorities in the province.