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Coquitlam MLA and Fraser River champion picked for Hall of Fame

Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Fin Donnelly is being inducted into the Fraser River Hall of Fame at an upcoming gala
Fin swimming 2
Coquitlam–Burke Mountain MLA Fin Donnelly swam the length of the Fraser River twice to raise awareness about environmental concerns. He’s now being inducted into the Fraser River Discovery Centre Hall of Fame.

A Coquitlam politician and former marathon swimmer is being honoured for his work in raising awareness about the importance of protecting the Fraser River.

Fin Donnelly, MLA for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, is being inducted into the Fraser River Hall of Fame at a gala on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

Originally scheduled for May 2020 but postponed because of the pandemic, the Hall of Fame gala will take place online and in-person from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Fraser River Discovery Centre (FRDC) in New Westminster.

“I am honoured to be inducted into the Fraser River Hall of Fame," said Fin Donnelly in a press release. "The Fraser has meant so much to me through my life and I continue to strive to help make sure it gets the recognition and priority it deserves."

Donnelly, who was an MP for 10 years before being elected a Coquitlam NDP MLA, is known for his marathon swims across huge bodies of water under threat from development, climate change and pollution.

Beginning in 1990, Donnelly made  14 environmental marathon swims, covering more than 3,200 km in B.C.’s rivers, lakes and ocean.

He has twice swam the 1,400-km length of the Fraser River (in 1995 and 2000), as well as Quesnel Lake, Pitt Lake, Williams Lake, Raush River, Georgia Strait (four times) and Juan de Fuca Strait to draw attention to the declining health of these water bodies and to encourage communities to engage in environmental advocacy.

However, he’s best known for the Swim for Life, an epic trip down the Fraser in 1995 that took Donnelly three weeks to complete. 

Swimming the length of B.C.’s longest river, from the headwaters to the mouth, Donnelly encouraged people to pay attention to its environmental problems. “I should be able swim in that river freely,” Donnelly said at the time.

A year after accomplishing the swim, he went on to found the Rivershed Society of BC.

Since 1995, Donnelly has spoken to more than 60,000 people in hundreds of B.C. schools and communities about sustainable living. He was honoured by the Squamish Nation with the name Iyim Yewyews, which means strong swimmer in the animal world or orca. 

Donnelly’s advocacy helped him earn a spot in the Fraser River Discovery Centre’s Hall of Fame, said Mark Rizzo, chair of the FRDC society.

"He has dedicated most of his life to the living, working Fraser River, from swimming the full length of the Fraser multiple times to raise awareness of its importance to his advocacy work as an elected official in both the provincial and federal governments." 

As the MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam, Donnelly founded the All-Party Oceans Caucus and, as the NDP’s fisheries and oceans critic, he introduced many bills to protect West Coast waters including legislation to ban oil tankers off B.C.’s north coast, as well as legislation to transition West Coast open-net salmon farms to land-based, closed containment. 

He was also instrumental in banning the importation of shark fins to Canada, which became law in 2019.  

The FRDC established the Fraser River Hall of Fame to recognize and honour individuals or organizations that have made significant and noteworthy contributions to the health and sustainability of the Fraser River, as well as its culture, people, industry and environment.  

Past inductees have included First Nations leader Wendy Grant (1996), founding FRDC patron Lucille Johnstone (2000), founder and chair of both BC Rivers Day and World Rivers Day Mark Angelo (2014), the City of New Westminster (2017) and Dr. Brian Riddell, former CEO and president of the Pacific Salmon Foundation (2018). 

More information about the event and its silent auction can be found here

All proceeds from the gala go to support the operations and programming at the FRDC.