What used to be the most polluted waterway in the Burnaby is now home to spawning salmon returning to Still Creek for the first time in decades.
"That's been just really exciting to see," said Mark Angelo, chair emeritus at BCIT's Rivers Institute. "The fact I can take my grandson, and take him to a creek right in his own community, ... to see his first salmon, that's something incredible. That's something I'll always remember."
Angelo, a world-renowned conservationist and founder of Rivers Day, has been involved in rehabilitating Still Creek for nearly 40 years. The 12-kilometre creek runs through Vancouver and Burnaby and empties into Burnaby Lake. Its path is in an area that has been largely industrial since the early 1930s. Angelo remembers how the smell of sewage was still on the creek 40 years ago, when it was connected to a combined sewer and storm drain.
"When it rained, we'd often get sewage flowing directly into the system," he said.
According to Angelo, there has been an extensive effort on the part of groups such as the BCIT Fish and Wildlife Program, the City of Burnaby, BCIT's Rivers Institute, the City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and streamkeeper groups,
"In recent years, water quality has improved noticeably - both in-stream and streamside habitat has been enhanced - and an improved fish ladder was installed downstream at the outlet of Burnaby Lake," he said.
Angelo said he's seen the first major chum salmon return on possibly 80 or 90 years. "The big chum run this year took a lot of people by surprise," he said. "We would not have seen the number of fish in the upper parts of Still Creek had the habitat not been improved."
Angelo hopes this year's salmon run is the just the start of a regular phenomenon, and he regards Still Creek as a sign of hope. Angelo said witnessing the public's reaction when they spot the salmon has been great.
"I saw school children who had just learned about the salmon lifecycle in school and were incredibly excited to be able to see it in real life. I've also seen some longtime residents get quite emotional about seeing this amazing spectacle unfold right in their own community. And to see this right in the middle of a very developed part of our city is special," he said. "From my perspective, to see this once severely damaged stream come back to life highlights the fact, that if there's a will, and a plan is put in place and adhered to, then we can turn things around. So we should never give up on any river."