Running 1375 kilometers long, the Fraser River is the largest river in British Columbia, Canada. Home to all five kinds of salmon, the Fraser is one of the greatest salmon producing rivers in the world. And similar to the St. Lawrence River on the eastern side of Canada, the Fraser is a major industrial seaway for products coming in from other countries across the globe.
Friday afternoon, we made the 165 mile drive north from PLU to New Westminster, British Columbia – a city located right on the Fraser River. Waking up to a rainy Saturday, we were ready for a full day of learning about the mighty river. The perfect place to start was at the Fraser River Discovery Centre – located right on the Fraser River.
The Discovery Centre seeks to connect communities up and down the river to provide a place to discuss, debate, and showcase the living, working Fraser River. The centre houses rotating exhibits and hands-on programs about the life, history, and future of British Columbia and its people.
We spoke with Stephen Bruyneel, the Interim Executive Director at the Centre. Bruyneel informed us about the environmental, sociocultural, and economic benefits that the Fraser River provides.
Environmentally, Bruyneel explained that the river, surrounded by an incredible amount of forest, is home to many different species, including salmon and birds that nest in the river’s delta. Socially, the First Nations have lived along the river for thousands of years and have used the river to develop their culture. Economically, the Fraser is a critical transportation asset to industries.
With all of the uses of the Fraser, threats continue to emerge.
“Because the river is used for so many different things,” Bruyneel said, “How do you find and maintain that balance between the economics, the environment, and the socio-cultural? That’s the ongoing challenge with the river.”
To achieve that balance, Bruyneel says that the community has to be aware of the Fraser’s needs.
“People have come to understand that a sustainable river has to have all three things going on for it to function... to continue to find that balance,” Bruyneel exclaimed.
After speaking with Stephen and getting a tour of the Discovery Centre, we ventured steps away to a Streams of Dreams salmon mural along the river. There, we met with Louise Towell and ZoAnn Morten.
Towell, the Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of the Stream of Dreams Murals Society, told us about her organization’s eco-education program that educates communities about their local watershed and encourages behavioral change to conserve and protect water with the blending of art and science. Towell has helped create murals with over 180,000 participants since the year 2000. Their murals stretch across British Columbia, and even into the states.
We’re bringing salmon to kids, and we’re talking to students about what’s in their neighborhood,” Towell said. “We’re bringing awareness.”
This awareness is described as being a “watershed steward.”
“Everyone can be one,” Towell exclaimed. “If you’re aware about what’s going on in your watershed, you’re a watershed steward.”
Next, we interviewed Towell’s friend and fellow watershed steward, ZoAnn Morten, the executive director of the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation. The Federation is a non-profit society committed to community groups involved in Streamkeeper activities throughout B.C. and the Yukon.
Streamkeepers around the area are taking active steps to improve the watershed, by doing research on the Fraser. As Louise said that anyone can be a watershed steward, ZoAnn says that anyone can help maintain the river, whether that’s taking out invasive plants on the banks, or taking water quality samples.
“There’s only so much fresh water around, and only so much fresh water that’s clean,” Morten said. “If we stop caring about our rivers, I think we would basically stop caring about ourselves. I think this is a reflection of how we are as well. It’s like a mirror. If it looks good--we look good.”
To see photos of our time in New Westminster, please visit our Fraser River gallery page.