Lost creeks seeing the light

The old waterways are still there. You just have to listen for them

A picture of the waterway historically known as Glen Creek in New Westminster. The location has been identified by the donor of the picture, believed to be the woman in the photo, Elsie Baber, to be the Sixth Avenue Bridge. Taken in the 1920s, in today’s terms, this is on the river side of Sixth Avenue (between McBride and Cumberland) looking toward where the Justice Institute is located with the No. 1 Fire Hall to the left and the Canada Games Pool to the right.

A picture of the waterway historically known as Glen Creek in New Westminster. The location has been identified by the donor of the picture, believed to be the woman in the photo, Elsie Baber, to be the Sixth Avenue Bridge. Taken in the 1920s, in today’s terms, this is on the river side of Sixth Avenue (between McBride and Cumberland) looking toward where the Justice Institute is located with the No. 1 Fire Hall to the left and the Canada Games Pool to the right.

Even in 1936 the oldtimers recall Guichon Creek being culverted.
The Burnaby waterway was diverted beneath new roads and homes, but popped out near where Moscrop secondary school stands today.
From there, as it made its way to Burnaby Lake it was an open watercourse.
It was a great place for young boys to play.
Neighbourhood boys—former Burnaby Mayor Bill Copeland among them—would explore the creek and if someone had a string, safety pin and a stick, they could catch a 10-inch long trout.
In the fall, large salmon would spawn in the creek and, if you were wading in it, they would bump against your legs.
But by the late 1950s, Guichon Creek was all but gone beneath the streets as Burnaby rapidly became urbanized. It’s a common tale in the growth of cities in that era, burying rivers and streams to make way for growth. But in the last 20 years or so, there’s a new trend afoot. More and more, creeks and streams seeing the light of day as activists and new development aims to bring them back to life, reviving fish stocks, creating wildlife habitat and providing sanctuary for residents.

•••••

Around the same time as Guichon Creek was vanishing beneath concrete, in New Westminster, Glen Creek was also disappearing in the name of progress.
Historical photos show the creek was the city’s largest and also a fish-bearing stream.
Along its banks, First Nations people had established the Skaiametl fishing village, located downstream from the former B.C. Penitentiary grounds.
When European settlers arrived they built bridges over the deep ravine it traveled through. It was a place for picnics and for anglers to hook trout.
Glen Creek wasn’t the only waterway in the Royal City. Like tentacles, creeks spread across the city, flowing downhill until they reached the Fraser River. Streets like Carnarvon, Columbia and Clarkson were once patched together with bridges crossing the many streams.
Glen Creek, also called Glenbrook Creek, still exists today—but you can’t see it. You can only hear it.
It flows through large drainage pipes underground until it reaches the river. Even though the creek runs through the forested green space of Glenbrook Ravine Park, it still travels in a pipe.
And good luck finding its headwaters, near 10th Avenue at New Westminster secondary school; it has been completely lost as the ravine was infilled.
New Westminster’s creeks were viewed as a nuisance, causing flooding and taking up land that could be used for homes or streets. So as much as possible they were covered over, said historian Archie Miller.
You also can’t find the headwaters for Guichon Creek, believed to have started near Willingdon Avenue, several blocks south of Kingsway.
Guichon was also “undergrounded,” with much of that occurring when BCIT was built around 1960. But before that, it had been “channelized” (straightened) and used as a drainage ditch, the vegetation around it stripped.

•••••

Guichon and Glen are by no means unique in the Lower Mainland.
A similar fate has fallen on many other streams in the lower Fraser River region, which once boasted more than 750 streams. Of those, 117 have vanished, according to the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.
And only 106 are considered healthy, fish-bearing streams while 530 are classified as endangered or threatened.
The lifeblood of the Fraser River, creeks must be revived where possible and kept healthy, said Mark Angelo, head of BCIT’s Fish, Wildlife and Recreation program.
“When you talk about sustainability pertaining to rivers, that means not only protecting rivers and streams but trying to restore those that have been damaged or lost,” said Angelo.
“That’s a way of trying to correct some of the environmental abuses that have taken place in the past.”

•••••

To that end, Angelo is helping lead the charge as BCIT works to “daylight” Guichon Creek.
The development of BCIT resulted in the creek disappearing and now, in an interesting twist, redevelopment of the campus is resulting in Guichon being brought back.
When several buildings and parking lots were rebuilt, the post-secondary institution used that opportunity to uncover the waterway.
In addition to bringing back the main stem of the creek, they’ve also added some off-channel habitat and streamside vegetation, brought in boulders and other in-stream habitat and introduced cutthroat trout, which are now surviving as a resident population.
And BCIT isn’t alone.
The City of Burnaby also uses redevelopment as a catalyst to bring back lost creeks.
Developers are encouraged to daylight creeks when feasible. The city also has an open watercourse policy, stopping creeks from being culverted or covered.
“It’s a no net loss policy where there has to be compensation for any loss,” said Robyn McLean, Burnaby’s ecosystem planner.
In New Westminster there is little chance of creeks being daylighted because the city is so compact—only Vancouver more densely populated.
“To do that you’d have to have a fairly large property,” said Jim Lowrie, New Westminster’s head of engineering. “It’s pretty unlikely.”
But the creeks still exist, says Archie Miller, despite being buried and forgotten.
Miller was recently in the underground parking lot of a highrise and heard water from an ancient creek running through a pipe deep beneath the concrete.
“There is a lot of water still flowing in those underground streams,” said Miller. “It gives you a good idea of what it was like.”

• Burnaby will celebrate World Rivers Day Sept. 28 on the banks of Guichon Creek. The public can take part in a tour of the creek plant native species of shrubs and trees and release cutthroat trout fry into the creek.
For more information please call 604-294-7530.
mmcquillan@newwestnewsleader.com

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One response to “Lost creeks seeing the light

  1. Pingback: City of (Lost) Streams

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