Sight of chum salmon cause for celebration

Volunteers and streamkeepers watch the salmon that have made their way up Riverview Creek in Coquitlam. - TIM FITZGERALD PHOTO
Volunteers and streamkeepers watch the salmon that have made their way up Riverview Creek in Coquitlam.
— image credit: TIM FITZGERALD PHOTO

By Tim Fitzgerald

Rarely would the sight of a few fish swimming in a creek cause so much optimism.

But as salmon make their way back to the creeks on the Riverview Hospital grounds, the group advocating for the preservation of the 244-acre site point to yet another reason why it must remain in public hands.

"This property is so much better than just another housing development," said Norma Gillespie, a member of the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society.

She and husband Don Gillespie have spent countless hours over the past 20 years making the public aware of the value of the land and as they make their way along the banks of the creek inhabited by the chum salmon, they point out restoration work done on Riverview Creek as compensation for development of Cypress, Cottonwood and Connolly lodges. The work, they say, is a significant step to returning the area to what it once was.

But it's likely a bigger catalyst for the return of spawning salmon to Riverview Creek is the completion of a $4-million habitat enhancement project at Colony Farm, below Riverview, where tidal function was restored and a rearing area for fish was dug out. The project, including tree planting, was carried out as mitigation for the Port Mann Highway 1 highway widening project.

The improved fish habitat is encouraging fish migrating up the Fraser River to duck into the Coquitlam River and its tributaries to spawn.

On their trip to check out the returning chum, the Gillespies brought fellow RHCS member Laura Dupont and David Mounteney of the Burke Mountain Naturalists. Both were ecstatic to see the return of the chum.

"It was amazing to see how many fish were in the streams today," noted Mounteney, who also volunteers with group Coquitlam River Watch. "There are so many creeks and streams on the property that have been mowed right to the edge that could be re-enhanced, have riparian areas added to them, and a number of streams that could be day-lighted."

All four on site said not only do they want the work to continue on the watershed but the grounds as a whole have such significant environmental and historical importance. The arboretum on the grounds is one of the oldest in the country. Their sentiments were backed up earlier this summer when the Heritage Canada Foundation released its top 10 list of most endangered historical sites for 2012 and Riverview was included.

Don Gillespie says the key will be to keep up the pressure on those who ultimately hold the fate of Riverview in their hands.

"Politicians are going to make the final decision, so we need people to get up on their hind legs and say, 'You're not touching that bloody place, you're not taking one-square centimetre of this place,'" he said. "It's all we got left. It used to be 1,000 acres, now it's 244. Come on, let's get real."

They will have to wait and see what will become their beloved lands. But for today, victory swims upstream

Said Norma: "We're all totally encouraged to see the fish come back."

– with files from Diane Strandberg


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