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UPDATED: Vows to rebuild Port Moody's Mossom Creek hatchery after fire
Burned buildings can be rebuilt but the 100,000 chum salmon and close to four decades of history lost in a fire Wednesday night at Port Moody's Mossom Creek Hatchery cannot be replaced.
Records, photographs, press clippings, research and student work were all destroyed in the blaze, according to George Assaf, vice-president of Burrard Inlet Marine Enhancement Society (BIMES), which operates the hatchery.
"That's the biggest heartbreak," said Assaf, who said he was devastated by the news. "We had 37 years worth of records stored here."
Ruth Foster, a retired teacher who was helped found the hatchery, first learned something was wrong at around 7 p.m. when she was notified that the security alarm at the building had been triggered.
When she arrived, the hatchery's gates and doors were locked and everything seemed normal. But soon she noticed smoke inside the building and called 911.
Port Moody Fire Chief Remo Faedo said icy road conditions leading up to the hatchery meant that firefighters could not get their engine on the property.
After the first engine got stuck, crews began the time-consuming task of carrying 850 m of hose up to the facility to fight the fire.
"We eventually got there, but the building was fully involved," Faedo said.
It took Port Moody's full compliment of firefighters and members of the Sasamat Volunteer Department to get the blaze under control.
And Faedo noted that had the fire occurred in the summer months when the dense forrest that surround the hatchery is drier, it is likely that things would have been much worse.
For teacher Melanie Mattson, who heads the Centennial Salmon Club and teaches several related courses, the loss is heartbreaking.
Not long before the fire started, she had tried to negotiate the winding, snow-covered road to the hatchery in the school bus she drives to transport students. She and the 35 students who are in the club this year had to turn back, never getting their last chance to work in the education building.
"It's a hit to all the students that are in the program," she said. "It's devastating."
On Thursday morning, hatchery members were still surveying the damage in an effort to determine what had survived the flames. The only structures remaining were the shed and the outhouse. Everything else, including the education centre that was built by volunteers in 2003, was destroyed.
BIMES' Assaf said 56,000 coho eggs were lost along with incubation trays containing more than 110,000 chum. Another 4,400 coho were lost as well.
But there was some good news. Emergency funds from the Pacific Salmon Foundation are being allocated to help rebuild the education centre. The hatchery is insured but Assaf said the money from the organization will help speed up the reconstruction process.
"It will be a big help," he added. "We are hopeful that we can get this rebuilt and incorporate a new classroom here."
HOW TO HELP
• An account has been set up with TD Canada Trust for donations. Those wishing to contribute can make a deposit at any branch of the bank into account 539-5000965. Businesses can be issued tax receipts. A fundraiser is expected to be announced in the new year.
• People with photos, newspaper clippings or any other material related to the hatchery are asked to email the images to email@example.com.
The Mossom Creek Hatchery was started by Ruth Foster and Rod MacVicar, both biology teachers at Centennial secondary, in 1976.
In a story in a November 2011 edition of The Tri-City News, MacVicar recalled that the hatchery was set up to teach students the importance and fragility of the environment.
"Both of us are experiential educators," he said at the time. "We believe that getting out there, smelling the forest, hearing the seas, it has more impact for students."
They started out with an incubation box for salmon eggs at the bottom of the creek, eventually growing into the facility that was just destroyed.
The hatchery has touched many lives over the years, with thousands of students visiting and tending to the salmon at various stages of development.
Foster and MacVicar were also instrumental in the development of courses that incorporated the facility, including Fisheries Ecology 12, Wildlife of B.C. 11 and Fisheries Ecology Career Preparation 12.
The two are now retired but the courses are still taught by Melanie Mattson, a Centennial teacher and the school's hatchery club sponsor.
Foster and MacVicar keep in touch with their former students, including Roy Argue, who is now a community advisor for Fisheries and Oceans Canada working on the upper Fraser River out of Williams Lake.
“When I graduated in 1981,” he wrote in an email, “it was the positive energy and support of both Ruth Foster and Rod MacVicar which instilled in me the desire to work for DFO upon completion of my post secondary education.”