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The last free tree tour at səmiq̓ʷəʔelə / Riverview is on Sunday

The Riverview Horticultural Centre Society’s last free tree tour on the Coquitlam grounds is on Sunday, Oct. 22, from 1 to 3 p.m.

The last free tree tour at səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview will be held on Sunday, Oct. 22.

And the nonprofit that's been hosting the tours on the Coquitlam grounds for the past 30 years is none too pleased.

Starting next year, the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society (RHCS) will be required to pay $825 for an administration fee and a BC Housing liaison — plus more to rent a portable restroom — to conduct two-hour long educational tours for the public.

This Sunday's round, which starts by the Henry Esson Young building at 1 p.m., will be guided by Egan Davis, the parks operations manager for the City of Richmond who teaches at the UBC Botanical Garden and VanDusen.

UBC is where John Davidson, B.C.'s first botanist, transferred many of his worldwide specimens after spending years building up an arboretum and nursery at səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview (known then as Essondale).

In an interview at the Serenity Garden yesterday, Oct. 19, RHCS board director Jamie MacQuarrie told the Tri-City News that it's unfortunate BC Housing will be imposing a fee for tours on a world-class site.

As a result, it will be applying for gaming grants from the provincial government — the parent of BC Housing — and the City of Coquitlam through its Spirit program.

"It's silly. It seems like a money grab from their own wallet," MacQuarrie said, "but we've been advised to play the game."

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart and city council have also sent a letter to oppose the new levy, he said.

MacQuarrie alleged relations between BC Housing, the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview land stewards, have soured over the past year: In the spring, the agency turned off the water to the public bathrooms at the Serenity Garden — meaning not only can’t the washrooms be used, but the volunteer gardeners have to trek uphill to the Henry Esson Young building to fill their buckets to water the plants.

With more than 250 people out at September’s tour, MacQuarrie said public interest is strong to learn more about the campus trees and he's puzzled about BC Housing's actions.

Counter response

Still, the MLA whose constituency includes səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview said RHCS has known that an administrative fee was coming and BC Housing has been subsidizing the tree tours for two years in good faith.

RHCS will be required to pay the event fee "just like any other group" that wants to be on the property.

"It's about equity," Coquitlam–Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson said.

She said the need for a onsite liaison is part of a new protocol with the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm First Nation, which has a land claim on səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview and is considered an equal site partner with BC Housing. (The Nation referred its request for comment to BC Housing).

As well, in 2019, the provincial government passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People Act that sets the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples declaration as the provincial framework for reconciliation — a call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

At səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview, the liaison ensures the archaeological sites are protected and safety is maintained, Robinson said.

And while she also enjoys the tree tours, Robinson suggested RHCS ask future participants for a minimum donation to offset the costs.

"I appreciate their frustration," she said, "but we need to shift. We have to find a new model for these tree tours to operate."

Land Stewards

In addition, BC Housing offered the following statement late Friday to the Tri-City News:

"We understand that Riverview Horticultural Centre Society (RHCS) has a long history of offering tree tours at səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview. BC Housing continues to support RHCS to offer their tree tours on-site.

"We provided in-kind funding to RHCS to deliver five tree tours at səmiq̓ʷəʔelə this season. In the interest of equity, fairness and transparency, RHCS is expected to pay a special event fee as of Jan. 1, 2024, like any other group using the site for special events.

"Other groups utilize the site for weddings, photo shoots, reunions and filming. The approximate cost will be $825 per tour.

"As managers of səmiq̓ʷəʔelə, BC Housing has an obligation to protect the privacy of tenants onsite, ensure public safety is maintained and that the site’s environmental and cultural protocols are adhered to. Special event fees are in place to cover the time associated to process event applications and to provide a liaison to oversee that each event complies with our obligations. Any organization that wants to operate onsite must follow the same process."   

As for the water to the Serenity Garden washroom, it was turned off due to a watermain break, an agency spokesperson said.


The Riverview Horticultural Centre Society’s last free tree tour is on Sunday, Oct. 22, from 1 to 3 p.m.

Also on Sunday, from noon to 9 p.m., Mariner Brewing (H-1100 Lansdowne Dr., Coquitlam) will host a fundraiser in support of RHCS tree tours.

Meanwhile, donations are being sought to continue the tree tours in 2024:

And a petition is set up via to keep the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview grounds open to the public and protected.