Still Creek meanders through Burnaby and the eastern edge of Vancouver, and isn’t exactly going to inspire any romantic poets anytime soon. It is a scrappy creek, disappearing in and out of culverts, channelized, buried, and surrounded by blackberry vines. However, as only one of a very few waterways remaining in the city, groups have been pouring labour into the creek. The result is cleaner water, a healthier stream, and for the second year in a row, a tiny run of salmon that was previously absent for 80 long years.
I went to see these most urban of fish, and spent a happy half hour watching them splash about in a pool in a gritty industrial neighbourhood. Despite the surroundings, there was a deep sense that the salmon belong in Still Creek. The city, where we talk endlessly over the value of tiny boxes in the sky, somehow needs to make room for these residents as well. The salmon were here when Vancouver was a rainforest, and the landscape remembers. The lost streams buried beneath clever restaurants and bike lanes and solutions for modern living remember.
I’ve written about stream restoration elsewhere, and in that article I explain how difficult stream restoration is, how expensive, how ultimately it is less about reclaiming nature than building new spaces for the “other” within our urban fabric. That said, I think stream restoration is one of the most valuable activities we can undertake. Vancouver had hundreds of small streams within its boundaries, and on a quiet night one can hear them dancing beneath the streets, lost but not gone. We should work to bring more of them to the surface, for the salmon among us are more than good neighbours. They inspire hope that things can get better, that it isn’t all loss, an inevitable heat death beneath a mountain of cheap consumer goods. Salmon in the city remind us that we can share the planet if we want to. So here is to the Still Creek salmon, and to the people who helped them come home. May they be the first of many.