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Maleea Acker

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  1. Langford has been scraping away its native ecosystems at a furious pace in the last year—but change may be afoot. ON A SMALL TRIANGLE OF LAND bordered by McCallum Road, Leigh Road and the Island Highway, piles of slash line a dirt entrance road. Stumps of Garry oak, cedar and Douglas-fir trees lie upended. Bulldozer tracks criss-cross the higher areas, but when I visit on May 9 there are still unbroken areas, where mossy bedrock gives way to clusters of shooting stars, fawn lilies, and flowering camas—the traditional carbohydrate food source of Coast Salish peoples—a lily that has been cultivated for thousands of years. A patch of licorice fern just clipped by a bulldozer’s cat tracks lies exposed and spattered with upturned soil. The undisturbed patches look like they could be from Thetis Lake Park, and in actuality, the park is just down the road. But outside of the park border, it seems every inch of the municipality of Langford is up for grabs by developers. And native species are quickly disappearing. It’s in this few-acre parcel, named as part of the 1100/1130 McCallum Road Development, that residents of the region are mobilizing to salvage native species. When I arrive, Adam Birch and his wife Katie, with their infant daughter, are already at the site. A post on Facebook, written by Jodie Densmore, advised members of the Saanich Native Plants Restoration Group that the site had been logged but that many native species remained unmolested. “It’s heartbreaking to see the excavators plow over the camas,” she writes, “Next step is for them to scrape the top soil off so no guarantee [the plants] will be there next week.” Over 60 comments resulted from the post; one musing whether this was the last intact Garry oak meadow in Langford. Rescuing native plants in Langford. Photograph by Kylie Buday The McCallum site was offered for sale as part of a 50-acre land assembly by Colliers in 2019. The land was rezoned for mixed-use Employment Zone 3 in 2020 for KeyCorp Consulting Ltd, on behalf of owner Leanne Kramer. Rezoning and approval occurred even though a First Nations midden was identified on part of the property in 2000. The midden was likely near Florence Lake’s shores, which means that the upland site, where I and others harvested, was likely a camas production meadow, cultivated and maintained by First Nations for millennia. While Katie holds their child, Adam and I teeter over the freshly plowed soil, searching for patches of intact native plants. I focus on the rocky fringes, where, using a pitchfork or a hari-hari knife, I can fulcrum entire chunks of soil off the rock, including native grasses, camas bulbs, liquorice fern, and mosses. The feeling is sickening. I am used to treading lightly in these ecosystems, not forcing 10,000 years of post-glacial accumulations of biomass off the bedrock. “I feel a bit horrible doing this,” Adam concurs. Even though we are rescuing plants that would otherwise be scraped away or buried, there’s something sacriligious about the act of stabbing down to find an intact camas bulb, then pushing its neighbouring species out of the way while the flowering top of the bulb waves tenderly above. It’s difficult to see how this development site could become an inviting place to live or work, given its proximity to the highway. It’s even more difficult to see how identification of archaeological remains could warrant this sentence in the February 10, 2020 staff report to Langford’s Planning, Zoning and Affordable Housing Committee: “Council may wish to have a covenant registered to require a qualified archaeologist to assess the site, prior to site disturbance, and have the applicant complete the recommendations of the archeologist’s report as a condition of development.” Nowhere in the report is development not recommended. Basically, staff urge the committee to check the boxes, then continue on with the destruction. Langford has been destroying and scraping away its native ecosystems at a furious pace in the last year, and now these remnant sites are some of the last left to develop. One need only look at the face of Skirt Mountain, where a grey rocky moonscape now looms over Costco and Millstream road. But the pace of development, which won Langford “Best City” award from Maclean’s Magazine and an economic development award, isn’t appreciated by everyone. A new Facebook group, “Langford Voters for Change,” has gained over 1100 members in the last four months. On it, residents of the municipality complain about the breakneck pace of development, the clearcutting of forests they used to walk through, the viewscapes obliterated, the noise from blasting, the fake green astroturf Langford uses instead of living grass on boulevards, and the loss of biodiversity. The group’s aim is to “coordinate, motivate, and facilitate positive change in Langford’s policies and decision making” and to address “the deep-seated systematic problems underlying our rapid growth.” READERS MAY BE FAMILIAR with my endless battle to naturescape my own front yard. Recently, I’ve moved on to the boulevard (Saanich issues boulevard gardening permits if you provide a drawing and a plan; in Victoria no permit is needed). Road work left the patch in front of my house bare and I’ve started a project to restore it into a native plant meadow, adding to the camas seeds I’ve been scattering for the last few years around the boulevard Garry oak tree. It’s been a long process. In February, Saanich’s contractors mistakenly reseeded the boulevard with invasive grasses, covering up over $200 in native plants and seed I had just added. But Saanich isn’t Langford. Kristen and James Miskelly of Saanich Native Plants donated a new spring wildflower seed mix and Saanich refunded me the cost of my first flat of seedlings. I purchased another couple of flats and planted and seeded the meadow again in April. After my visits to McCallum road, the camas, fawn lilies, shooting stars, Pacific sanicle and nodding onion I rescue also make their way into the meadow. Spring is the worst time to transplant native bulbs, but many seem to weather the trip. I also gave camas to friends, and donate more to PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ (The Blossoming Place, a native plant nursery in W̱SÁNEĆ territory). Maleea Acker's boulevard, replanted with native plants, some from Langford. Many know the statistics of Garry oak meadows: less than 4 percent remain in BC; many of the species within their ecosystems are red- and yellow-listed by the BC Conservation Status Rank and COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). The Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is also highly endangered, with less than one percent still existing in its natural state. Langford used to contain vast swaths of both of these. Now, not so much. Many in the Langford Voters for Change group ask why there aren’t protections for these species and habitats. It’s because there is no tree protection bylaw in Langford, and because zoning is a municipal issue, not a provincial one. Could Langford residents fight for a tree bylaw? Yes, if there was enough support. The CRD’s urban containment boundary also encompasses the entirety of Langford, meaning there is no curb to urban development within the municipality’s boundaries. I MEET A FRIEND, Kylie Buday, at the Langford site a few days later, when I come back for more plants. She takes a picture of her daughter carefully removing an Oregon grape shrub from the rubble. Around her, the heaved meadow soil glints dry in the late afternoon light. One might ask how a species like the Garry oak (Quercus garryanus), which is red-listed, or the pink fawn lily (Erythronium revolutum), which is yellow-listed, could end up being destroyed by the thousands if they are part of an endangered ecosystem. That’s a good question. Maybe it’s time for us to stand up for what’s left, rather than dragging the remnants all over the region and hoping they’ll survive. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which is in its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  2. Image: Frances Litman in 2012 at the first CUP festival Frances Litman has a passion for bringing people together and fostering conversation around creative solutions to environmental problems. Go to story
  3. Litman has a passion for bringing people together and fostering conversation around creative solutions to environmental problems. LIKE MANY OF US, FRANCES LITMAN receives a lot of emails—about saving salmon streams and protecting water rights or forests; from environmental and human health organizations looking for support. As a photographer, she is used to seeing the world through many lenses. She thinks a great deal about the relationships between the arts, the environment, health, even the disappearing old-growth forests in BC. To Litman, it all seems connected—all facets of planetary health. But by 2012, with so many organizations asking for support, Litman’s despair was beginning to grow. The problems seemed insurmountable. “I [felt I had] to do something,’” she tells me over a Zoom call this spring, while Indian plum was beginning to bloom in gardens and parks between my house in Saanich and hers in Esquimalt. “What can I do?” A communications and arts professional with a glowing personality and a large network of friends and community members, Litman also has a tonne of drive. “I want to be a good human and a good ancestor,” she says, her eyes shining at me through the screen. Litman wants us to stop feeling smug about our position here on the west coast of Canada, enjoying the Indian plum blossoms and luxuriating in the relative peace in our part of the world, while many other regions go up in flames or disappear under massive floods. “We need to recognize our privilege, put our energy into creating a future that’s livable for everyone.” Recognizing that climate change and ecosystem protections don’t happen unless people feel inspired, Litman decided to build an annual event—tied in with Earth Day in April—that would allow the public to meet and interact with people she calls the “hero workers”: artists, environmentalists, activists, musicians. She called it “Creatively United for the Planet (CUP)”; the festival’s first year in 2012 provided concurrent entertainment and education—inspiring people with good music while teaching people about climate change, biodiversity and a whole host of other environmental issues. “We had Daniel Lapp, The Getting Higher Choir, Paul Horn, and films, music, exhibits. It was the first opportunity for new food trucks in the region. And the whole thing was zero waste.” The event drew thousands; they had only “a bag and a half of garbage” by the end, she proudly tells me. Frances Litman at the 2012 Creatively United for the Planet Festival. Photo by Daniel Etiene Litman held eight more years of CUP festivals, helping to bring visibility to non-profits and provide an outlet for positive action in the region. Then in 2020, a familiar refrain: COVID hit, and along with the rest of the world, she had to pivot to an online event using her website [creativelyunited.org]. She held a week-long free festival that included First Nations Elders, youth panels, a webinar series and a whole new website to connect residents and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The pivot, however, took its toll. Now, she needs help to continue her mission. CUP’s website features a variety of solutions to today’s complex environmental and social issues, including food, housing, nature, arts, conservation, transportation, zero waste, energy and climate. Many topics contain tips and fact sheets, articles and documentaries. She has led initiatives on environmental stewardship with Rock Heights School and the Esquimalt Climate Organizers. The CUP site also hosts several standalone organizations within its pages: the Ecoforestry Institute Society, the new iteration of Merv Wilkinson’s Wildwood forest in Yellowpoint; Project Drawdown, a collaboration to reverse global warming; and Conversations for a One Planet region, UVic Professor Trevor Hancock’s informal network of citizens. Litman wants the site to function as a community resource, where organizations can post upcoming events and contribute to the community blogs. “A lot of people maybe think this is an ego thing for me; but someone has to be the spokesperson,” she emphasizes. Her climate partners include organizations like the Sierra Club but also groups of her own devising, like the Community Trees Matter Network which advocates for respectful development and urban tree preservation and protection in the Capital Region. No one who volunteers with Trees Matter had the money to create a stand-alone site, so she folded it into CUP. Litman smiles: she admits she has a habit of picking up on what needs doing in the region and just doing it if no one else comes forward. “We need to recognize that solutions for a better world are possible. We need to let go of the fear of change.” This spring, CUP is also featuring a Climate and Artists webinar series, which will continue every Wednesday from 11am-noon until May 19th. The breadth and depth of Litman’s site is prodigious. It also provides an environmental events calendar on which non-profits can post their events. She says, “I’d truly like to see [the site] become a community solutions hub, where everyone wins. It’s meant to lift everyone up.” But Litman doesn’t have staff. Other than the webmaster, volunteers keep the site running, but what she really needs is an expert in coding, someone who could set up automatic curation and display of events from websites across the region, and someone who could organize, streamline and clarify the site’s pages. “We really need people with the ability to get this [information] out. But when you’re on a limited budget, it’s hard.” The festivals, the website and the outreach are all labours of love, done off the side of her desk while she continues as a photographer and communications professional. She laughs, her enthusiasm bubbling through the computer screen, “I thought, ‘I’m going to kill myself if I keep doing this.’” Last spring, Litman was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since surgery, she has taken a step back from the work of Creatively United, and tried to find balance in her life. “It was too much work and too little self care,” she admits. “I find this work so energizing and encouraging, and a positive lift, but I’ve been totally out of my comfort zone. COVID has made me realize I’m an introvert. I can’t do everything. I can’t do it all.” Still, Litman appeared in Saanich News just this week, miming pulling the winners for a draw for the Mountain Road Forest fundraiser. CUP partnered with three artists to enhance the fundraising efforts led by Habitat Acquisition Trust for the protection of a 49-acre forest in Saanich. (Go and donate if you haven’t already; the forest is beautiful and the fundraiser ends at the end of April.) Litman’s next episode of the Climate and Artists Series, on energy, climate and transportation, airs on Wednesday, April 7 from 11am-noon. Registration is free. “I feel that people need to wake up,” she tells me, her hand to her chest and her curls shaking. She smiles again, “We don’t sense [the urgency] on this beautiful island, but climate change is going to wreak havoc in ways we can’t even imagine. I feel it’s a moral obligation to help people recognize that solutions exist.” There’s an exhaustion hovering over many of us after after a full year of pandemic stress and uncertainty. We’re all tired. But somehow, Litman is still egging us on toward a liveable future. “This is the perfect opportunity for us to pivot.” Explore Frances Litman’s labour of love at https://creativelyunited.org/ Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which is in its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  4. Image: Some local suppliers of wood treated with arsenic warn customers; others don't. Allan Galambos’ fight against CCA treated wood products. Go to story
  5. Allan Galambos’ fight against CCA treated wood products. IN 2016, PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER Allan Galambos and his wife moved to Cordova Bay to enjoy retirement. His wife was hoping to garden but the back yard had a significant ash pile. Rather than mixing the ash into the ground, they made the decision to gather it for disposal and test a sample. It was a good thing they did. The testing revealed an extremely high level of arsenic—344 parts per million (ppm), nearly 14 times the allowable level for livestock grazing in BC—and high levels of chromium and copper. One tablespoon of the ash would have killed a person; 5 tablespoons a cow. The ash was a result of burning chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treated garden posts; the water-soluble inorganic pesticide is used to make posts more rot resistant, as it repels both fungi and bugs. You have probably seen CCA treated wood—it has a distinctive green stain and pressure treatment marks. And you might remember when it was removed from use in playground construction, in the early 2000s. Over 4 million CCA treated posts are still produced each year in BC. The International Journal of Women’s Dermatology links skin cancer in the USA to CCA treated wood. Galambos found a disposal company to remove the ash and several tonnes of soil, as Hartland Landfill wouldn’t take it. Leachability for the ash was shown to be 4.13ppm, almost twice the landfill’s limit. Thousands of dollars later, Galambos had a new retirement project: figure out why this poison-laced wood was still being sold, unlabelled, at hardware stores around the region in 2020. Treated fence posts and ties read for sale at a local supply outlet The issue has turned out to be an all-consuming bureaucratic tangle for Galambos. But now, residents also have an opportunity to weigh in on the sale and regulation of the posts. The Canadian Standards Association Group has opened a public review on wood preservation. “What really worries me is that these ties are the perfect size for building raised beds,” Galambos told me when we met for tea on my back deck last fall. They are especially tempting because they often cost less than a less toxic post (treated with copper azole), they last longer without decaying, and they’re not individually tagged with a warning label. The two types are often sold side-by-side. “The residential lumber industry now requires copper azole treated lumber to be labelled with an end tag,” says Galambos, but “nothing like that has evolved for wood treated with CCA.” I have four posts in my garden, holding up my raspberry canes and supporting an aging pear tree. Fortunately, they’re not the green ones; but they easily could have been. Allan Galambos poses in front of arsenic-treated garden posts at a local supplier’s yard In 2003, the wood treating industry agreed worldwide with authorities, including Canada, to voluntarily withdraw CCA treatment of residential lumber, but would continue to treat wood for industrial use (utility polls, bridge beams) and for agricultural purposes (where the posts are used in fencing or staking). The sale of the posts is supposed to be restricted, but a government game of “pass the buck” has meant that the posts occupy a limbo zone that leaves residents at risk of buying and handling these pesticides without knowledge. Burning, touching or cutting these posts without using personal protective equipment can mean inhalation or absorption of arsenic. Poisoning results in skin swelling and lesions, abdominal pain, cramping, tingling, and increased risk of cancer. Galambos reached out to various levels of government in 2018 to get clarification on the regulation and labelling of CCA treated posts. He shared the responses he received with me. Through his correspondence with the Federal Minister of Environment and the Minister of Health, and the BC Provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Galambos discovered that though regulations for use are in place, sale and labelling regulations are not preventing local hardware stores from offering the posts; neither are they mandating labelling. The Minister of Health argues that “most residential uses of CCA treated wood were voluntarily withdrawn in 2003 by North American CCA producers.” But as Galambos discovered, this doesn’t mean it still isn’t being sold to residents. Galambos toured hardware stores around the region last summer; he found green posts at most stores, including Buckerfields, Slegg Building Materials, Integrity Sales, Russell Nursery, and Rona. In some cases, they were side by side with end-labelled Copper Azole treated brown lumber, which is significantly less dangerous to health but costs more. If you didn’t know the history or dangers of CCA, wouldn’t you choose the cheaper wood product? Another problem is that the CCA posts aren’t labelled. In 2018, the Federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) responded to another letter from Galambos saying that “there is no requirement…to afix a pesticide label to the [CCA] treated lumber” because the wood is only sold for agricultural use. The Federal Minister of Health wrote that “CCA-treated wood must not be burned, except in authorized disposal facilities,” but wood products “are specifically excluded from…the Federal Hazardous Products Act,” which would mandate their labelling as toxic. The Provincial Ministry of Climate Change Strategy also passed on the issue, writing that “labelling inquiries concerning the protection of workers, are managed by the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, under the Federal Hazardous Products Act and Regulations.” After Galambos found the CCA posts in local lumber supply stores, he sent letters to all of them, copying the PMRA, explaining the loophole and lack of labelling and asking them to voluntarily stop stocking the posts, since their residential use couldn’t be guaranteed. As of last fall, two stores had changed their practices: Slegg Building Materials and Buckerfields both put signage in place (a stapled tag on one out of 100 posts) identifying CCA treated wood products and advising customers on how to handle them. Warning to would-be customers of treated posts Galambos was also worried about the protection of workers who might be handling the posts without gloves, which he discovered is a WorkSafeBC responsibility. But WorkSafeBC, when Galambos contacted them, passed the responsibility for protection of workers on to the employer. The Federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency is in charge of inspections to make sure CCA treated products are being handled properly. When Galambos wrote to them asking for findings of noncompliance, there was no response. Various regulatory bodies seemed to be pointing the finger at one another, while Wood Preservation Canada (WPC) quietly kept producing and selling the posts. When Galambos wrote a post on the issue on the Canadian Standards Association Communities page, WPC contacted him. “They called me, saying ‘I will handle this offline with you. Let’s talk, but stop writing,’” says Galambos. In 2019, Green Party MP Elizabeth May wrote to the Minister of Health on behalf of Galambos. She outlined his concerns and urged the immediate requirement that all agricultural posts treated with CCA be labelled. She also made a call to restrict the sale of the posts, while aiming toward a stop in production. Minister Petitpas responded, writing “CCA treated wood is not generally available at lumber yards that serve the general public.” When I phoned around this February, Slegg, Buckerfield and Rona said they no longer carried any green posts, but a visit in person tells a different story. Slegg, Integrity and Buckerfields all had green posts available in the yard. One post in the pile had an arsenic warning label. Online, Rona lists the CCA posts as “round posts”; their ends have been sawn flat, making them perfect for garden bed planters or retaining walls. There is no mention of the posts’ toxicity on their website. Has Galambos’ persistence scared distributors into at least identifying the arsenic content? “I’ve talked to the Saanich Environment Committee, to the City of Victoria, and I’d like to get a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities,” Galambos tells me. Back in the fall, he rued that “the only way might be to tackle the individual stores and post negative informative reviews online for each green post sold.” This seemingly endless process of whack-a-mole may have increased labelling, but it has not prevented the sale of the posts. Meanwhile, the government bodies continue to refer Galambos to one another. Until February 18, anyone can write in support of more stringent regulations for CCA treated wood. Email your comments to Kat Crew, Project Manager for the Canadian Standards Association, which is currently reviewing standards for treated wood. Here, you can voice your support for the removal of CCA treated posts from any residential lumber stores. In the meantime, we have Galambos and his wife to thank for choosing not to till that ash into their backyard soil. Kat Crew, Project Manager with the CSA, can be reached at kat.crew@csagroup.org. Galambos recommends also copying the Federal Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu at hcminister.ministresc@canada.ca. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  6. Posted January 25, 2021 Gerald Harris and other volunteers are making progress towards introducing chum to the meandering city creek. Go to story
  7. Gerald Harris and other volunteers are making progress towards introducing chum to the meandering city creek. IN 1978, GERALD HARRIS wrote a short series of articles on Vancouver’s buried and long lost watercourses. The articles were eventually collected and published as a short book: Vancouver’s Old Streams, and offered by the Vancouver Aquarium in 1989. In the book, Harris weaves stories from fishers and “old-timers” with research from the Vancouver Archives into a compelling portrait of a city of salmonberry-lined pools and streams, laden with coho, chum and rainbow trout, including steelhead. Forty years later, it seems fitting he has become one of the chief caretakers and protectors of Bowker Creek and its watershed. Now, he’s set to try to bring spawning salmon back to the heart of Victoria. Bowker is a small creek that stretches from its headwaters at the University of Victoria, down to its mouth in Oak Bay, near Glenlyon Norfolk School. In 2011, the Bowker Creek Initiative, a multi-jurisdictional effort, published the Bowker Creek Blueprint, a document endorsed by almost a dozen community associations and municipal governments (including the Friends of Bowker Creek Society [FBCS], with whom Harris volunteers). The blueprint sets forth a 100-year plan of action to support creek restoration. Harris has volunteered with the FBCS since 2009. A tall, genial man, he worked as a fisheries technician, then a special education instructor until retirement. We walked the creek edge this winter, strolling from the Oak Bay Recreation centre along a daylighted section below Oak Bay High, then over a culverted portion near the Oak Bay Fire Hall, ending at the Monteith section of the creek. Passionate but a slow talker, he loves the teamwork that volunteering with the society allows. “I’m realizing that this work is moving along my consciousness and my philosophy,” he mused. He understands humans as beings within a larger ecology. “We’re ecosystems ourselves, and we’re part of larger ecosystems.” His volunteer work actualizes these life beliefs. Gerald Harris holds up a sample of water taken from Bowker Creek Bowker Creek has suffered under over 100 years of urbanization, including stream channel degradation, culverting of the creek waters, clearcutting of the watershed for development, runoff that pollutes the water, habitat loss, invasive species, and flooding, which causes erosion of the creek bank. It’s one of many creeks in the Victoria area that almost completely disappeared under a tide of development in the early 1900s. Part of the creek runs under the Hillside Mall shopping centre parking lot. Other areas have been daylighted but remain encased in artificially straightened and deepened corridors. All of these factors increase the creek’s flow speed, which results in less water soaking into the watershed, flooding and big variations in flow. In winter, the creek is too high; in summer, it’s too dry. The Victoria area’s named watersheds. The Bowker Creek watershed is on the far right side (click to enlarge) Harris’ work involves completing habitat assessments of various sections of the creek, restoring sections by removing invasive species such as yellow flag iris and planting native species like Skunk cabbage, cattail and willow, and monitoring flow and water quality. But this past year, he’s set his sights higher. Harris is working with about 35 volunteers, scientists and with Derek Shrubsole, a teacher at Oak Bay High who has won a national teaching award for his work building stream ecology into his classes. Together, they want to reintroduce chum salmon into Bowker. They are currently completing a streamkeepers assessment of the creek. Gathering data to prove the stream has good water quality and sufficient natural habitat to support salmon is key to getting support from DFO. “It’s an interactive process,” he explains, “even applying [for funding] creates interest and will and opens doors.” Harris is also working with Peninsula Streams Society, which helps to coordinate stream restoration and habitat conservation in the region. Peninsula streams “really know small urban and rural salmon streams. They know how to put funding together, and they have lots of friends in the community. They have ways of getting boulders or gravel” for restoration work. The chum salmon’s lifecycle is ideal for the habitat, he tells me, “they’re a low hanging fruit, because they are in the ocean for the summer, when the flow gets low and the water heats up.” The chum return after the mid October rains wash pollution into and then out of the creek. Unlike coho, juvenile chum salmon also exit the stream for the ocean immediately after they hatch. Harris hopes to introduce the first baskets of eggs into gravel in winter 2022 in the Monteith area of the creek. It sits downstream of a long culverted section of the creek, which passes under the Oak Bay Fire Hall parking lot. Salmon most likely wouldn’t brave the culvert. But below it, a soft-banked area, overhung with snowberry and red osier dogwood, burbles. Several years ago, a group of volunteers helped remove invasive species, planted a garden and now maintain the section. “Teaching people about native gardening has been interesting,” he says. They’ve had to accustom themselves to a wilder look than much of Oak Bay cultivates. Deer also continue to be a problem—native bushes that should be 10 or more feet tall are small and heavily browsed. But Oak Bay Parks helps by bringing tree sections and mulch. Last fall at Monteith, they found invertebrates, including caddisfly and dobsonfly larvae, which aren’t found in poor water quality. “Findings like that are equivalent to a year’s worth of water sampling,” Harris says. Crayfish also live in the creek, as well as a small fish called three-spined stickleback. A natural, healthy creek meanders. Its flow is moderated by soft banks, good permeability of surrounding soils and an ability to expand widthwise rather than shoot down a narrowed channel. The only reason Bowker continues to be a year round stream is because of the underlying geology, Harris tells me. Underlying the UVic and Gordon Head areas is a large swath of glacial gravel that came down from Howe Sound and across the Salish Sea during the last Ice Age. Called a drumelin, the gravel collects, holds and then slowly discharges this water, releasing it out of the sides of the hill UVic sits on. “Mystic Spring and Mystic Vale and, I suspect, Mount Douglas are all benefiting from this pile of water.” Restoration of Bowker Creek can help control what happens to this water, says Harris. But people can also control what happens to rainwater the region (and the creek) receives over the winter. Impermeable surfaces, including pavement and building roofs, contribute to flooding, preventing the water from soaking in where it lands. Planting native species, using rain barrels and avoiding concrete can help a lot. Harris wants to start a campaign called “Does a raindrop feel wanted?” which would provide real time monitoring of flow rates and compare them to precipitation levels, so a game could actually be made of trying to slow a raindrop down as it moves from where it lands to the sea. Before COVID, the Friends of Bowker Creek Society did some creekside concerts as a fundraiser. During one, they set up an art table where people could write a message on a “fish” (a shape cut out of a rhododendron leaf), then take their fish down to the creek and let it take their messages. “It was a way of giving people a connection to place,” Harris remembers. Now, he wants those fish to actually swim. To support restoration on Bowker Creek and receive a tax deduction, donate to the Peninsula Streams Society and ask that the funds be directed towards Bowker Creek Restoration: https://peninsulastreams.ca/ Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is a PhD student, a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  8. Posted December 3, 2020 Photo: Bob McMinn at Mary Lake in the Highlands Without his stewardship, it’s unlikely Victoria would have the nearby forests it has. And at 96, he’s not finished yet. Go to story
  9. Without his stewardship, it’s unlikely Victoria would have the nearby forests it has. And at 96, he’s not finished yet. Bob McMinn at Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary (Photo by Koi Neah) “I’M A FIRM BELIEVER IN FOREST BATHING,” Bob McMinn tells me as we sit in the house that hangs over the green and pristine edges of Mary Lake in the District of the Highlands. The lake stretches out from the windows, framing the November colours of the far shore’s forest. “Two reasons I have lived to 96,” he tells me, “is my mother’s genes and I’ve lived in the woods all my life.” I’m in quarantine so that I can care for my 84-year-old father, so McMinn agrees it’s safe to meet me in person, albeit at a 6-foot distance. No worries there—I have to race to keep up with his long stride as we walk around Caleb Pike Heritage Park. I race again when I follow his car from Caleb Pike to Mary Lake. I feel a little decrepit beside him, a bit COVID-weary: too much teaching from the couch. At age 96, he demurs, he can’t walk as easily through a pathless wood without thinking about his balance. I feel my feet grow roots. McMinn has been a resident of the Highlands since 1953, when he and his wife Nancy first bought an old stone-faced log house on Millstream Road, but it burned down thanks to a chimney fire. The next year, they moved to 360 acres surrounding First Lake, or Mitchell Lake, which they purchased for $20,000. With a doctorate in ecology from UBC, McMinn went to work for the federal government, a researcher in forest ecology in the Kootenays first and then the white spruce forests in the Prince George Forest District. But part of his heart stayed in the forested area just north of Victoria, where one can still, even today, get lost in the woods. At urging from his wife, who realized that as Victoria grew, so would pressure to develop the Highlands, McMinn started the Highland Ratepayers Association in 1967, which transitioned to the Highlands District Community Association a few years later. Working with local community he built up interest in greenspace protection and a regional trails system with the CRD and the provincial government. He was a founding member of the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society (GVGS) in 1979. “I was reading about the city forests of Europe and thought they were an excellent idea.” City forests are woods within easy distance of urban areas which can be used for timber needs, though now mostly serve recreational needs. As more of Vancouver Island was logged (his doctoral dissertation focused on the Nanaimo River Valley, the giant trees of which were cut a few years after his research was completed), McMinn realized the need for conservation. In the 1980s, Langford and Highlands were both part of the Langford Electoral Area, similar to the current Juan de Fuca Electoral Area. In 1986, McMinn had left the federal government; he retired from contract work in 1992. His second career saving the Highlands began in earnest. As development pressures grew in the early 1990s, incorporation separate from Langford seemed the best way forward. McMinn assisted with an incorporation study and supported a referendum, which voted 70 percent for incorporation and 80 percent to incorporate as a separate municipality from Langford. It was an amazingly prescient decision. In 1993, the year the two areas parted ways, McMinn became Mayor of the Highlands. Construction and bulldozing of natural areas in Langford hasn’t stopped since, while Highlands has maintained large tracts of older second-growth forest and has increased its protected areas from 6 to 40 percent parkland. Today, the two municipalities could not look or feel more dissimilar. McMinn became first chair of the Highland Heritage Park Society when he formed it in 1983, 10 years before Highlands incorporated. Restoration of the first dwelling in the West Highlands, the Caleb Pike House, and its heritage orchard, provided Highlands with a community centre even before incorporation. McMinn has provided over $400,000 in land and cash, as well as secured grants towards restoratiing and developing the Pike House property. He also served as Chair of the CRD’s Parks Advisory Committee, and as a director of the Christmas Hill Association and the Thetis Lake Sanctuary Association (as well as other boards too numerous to name here). Over the years, he has carved off pieces of his property for donation to the Land Conservancy of BC (which was later transferred to the Nature Conservancy of Canada). He was instrumental in beginning the work to create Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. It was his work with Mary Lake which inspired me in 2010 to donate to a conservation project even though I was a student. The Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society, chaired by McMinn, was trying to acquire a large property in the south-west Highlands with rare wetland and riparian habitats in the Millstream Creek watershed. McMinn, though in his 80s, set up an online fundraising initiative that saw people from around the globe “buy” square metre parcels of the Mary Lake property as a contribution to the land’s purchase price. I remember clicking on my three metres, right on the edge of the lake. McMinn donated $100,000 to support the challenge. Later, he provided $300,000 more to secure a mortgage with Vancity to purchase the land. The mortgage was recently paid off by the sale of some of the land to the CRD for a trail corridor connecting Thetis Lake and Gowlland Tod Parks, and by a grant from the Province. “My family is very good natured about it. They understand that the money they might have inherited is no longer there,” McMinn tells me. McMinn closes his eyes as he remembers dates and places. He takes me through his childhood in England, after his birth in Toronto and a brief spell in Vancouver. His time in Somerset, in WWII in India and Palestine. His studies at UBC and Washington State University. The whole story has the charmed feeling of the generation born in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the terror of a world war, its aftermath brought his generation opportunities never seen before (or since): education, jobs, low land prices, and the chance at a new life in a land that still held remnants of the beauty and diversity First Nations stewarded here on Southern Vancouver Island for millennia. In short, he was lucky beyond belief. At 96, McMinn looks a spry 70. But he says he no longer has the vigour to do the conservation work he used to do. I ask if he plans to donate his own acreage. “That’s up in the air,” he demurs. In the meantime, he is saturating the property with protective covenants so that “it will be worthless, with no building allowed.” As we talk, I feel my feet root into a municipality that, through a stroke of luck and foresight, managed to free itself from Langford’s clutches. “You’ve seen West Hills?” he asks me. “The whole of the Highlands would have been a West Hills if we hadn’t incorporated.” There is the sense, despite his protests, that he isn’t quite finished his work. McMinn closes his eyes again, “Politics is the art of the possible. My feeling is that although parks can disappear, at least if there’s a significant area of park, the Highlands can remain predominantly green.” His ambition is to see the percentage of parkland in the municipality continue to climb—to 50 percent, like the City Forest of Hannover. And to get a letter of congratulations from the Queen on reaching 100 in four years. Donations to the Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary can be made at: https://www.marylakeconnections.ca/donate/ Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  10. Posted August 6, 2020 Image: Map of the meadow Sonya McRae helps Shoreline students honour and learn about biodiversity and the Songhees and Esquimalt Peoples. Go to story
  11. Sonya McRae helps Shoreline students honour and learn about biodiversity and the Songhees and Esquimalt Peoples. AT THE FAR EDGE of Shoreline Community Middle School’s fields, which run from the Old Island Highway down to the inner reaches of the Gorge Waterway, a Kwetlal ecosystem, or meadow sits atop a rise. Kwetlal is the Songhees name for camas, one of the key plants in native Garry oak ecosystems. The garden’s approximately 500 square feet abuts a vestige coastal Douglas-fir forest, with remnant species of arbutus, oak, fir and maple. When I visit with Sonya McRae, the garden’s co-creator, there are swaths of yarrow in bloom, as well as seeds forming on shooting stars, camas, barestem-desert parsley (Qexmim), and miner’s lettuce. Small stepping-stones mark a path through the thickest parts. This is where the kids are taught to step, McRae tells me. McRae is an art and outdoor education teacher at Shoreline Middle School, where Songhees Nation kids number over half of its English program students. “It’s really important to honour [their culture],” she says, on a grassy knoll next to the garden project she has stewarded from idea to reality over the last two years. “We speak to that on a daily basis.” McRae tells me that Sarah Rhude, the Indigenous Art and Cultural Facilitator for the Indigenous Education Department in School District 61, dreamed up the idea of planting camas meadows in multiple schools across the region. Rhude found funding through a Harvest 4 Knowledge Grant from the Horner Foundation. Then McRae and fellow teacher Brenda Pohl applied for and received a grant from Farm to School BC for the Shoreline site in 2018. Since Rhude’s initial work, gardens have gone in at Esquimalt, Spectrum, Vic High and Arbutus school. McRae also notes that both Butch Dick, as the cultural Liaison for SD61, and Cheryl Bryce worked on the project. The Shoreline garden is a way of bringing Songhees culture to life within the school grounds, says McRae, and of offering children the opportunity to learn about biodiversity, history and relationships to the land. “This is my passion project,” McRae says, “It’s super rewarding being out here in this space.” Another of the school’s projects is to slowly remove invasive ivy and blackberry from the adjacent forest. McRae chose the location so that the borders of meadow and forest could eventually blend. She wants to see edge species like thimble berry and salmonberry mingling at the meadow’s perimeter, allowing an existing ecosystem to merge into the new one she and her students have planted. McRae has also produced a suite of learning resources about the meadow, including a map which goes beyond basic cartography. The map charts the history and importance of many of the species found within it. The Spelxen meadow is divided up into four quadrants, representing the seasons of the year and the stages of growth and rest of a Garry Oak meadow. In each coloured frame, there are drawings of people digging, planting, harvesting and tending camas, miner’s lettuce, bare-stemmed desert parsley, nodding onion, stinging nettle and yarrow. Drawings of birds and insects crowd the spring and summer quadrants. Wintering bulbs fill the “Earth Getting Cold” quadrant. Small stories detail the seasonal burning of the meadows to keep them clear of woodlands, pitcooks, varieties of grasses, and an acknowledgement in Lkwungen of the lands that South Islanders share with its many plant and animal species. “Hay’szw’qa,” or “Thank you” in Lkwungen (pronounced hai-sch-qua) concludes the map. The Spelxen Meadow map. (Click image to enlarge) “A lot of it was off the side of my desk, but the kids did all the work,” McRae demurs. She also gives credit to others, like Edward Thomas (Esquimalt Nation) and Diane Sam (Songhees Nation), for the knowledge they shared. McRae and her students sheet-mulched the grass, shovelled soil, spread seeds, and continue to weed and tend the plot, which has expanded from its original smaller circle into a larger plot as further grants came in. The map she helped create with others, including students Marcus Atleo-George and Calvin George, will soon stand as an interpretive board by the meadow. She hopes to install split rail fencing to further highlight and protect the spot. “I would love the public to know that this is here, and there’s a very specific purpose for it being here. It’s not just landscaping. We’re trying to actively re-establish biodiversity on a plant and cultural level—a physical presence of what was here before settlers came and changed the land. To honour that in a way that’s beyond just plants,” she says, is integral to understanding kinship and relationships for the Songhees and Esquimalt Peoples. “It’s about the plant and animal nation all interacting together.” McRae uses the garden as a teaching location with her students, learning about bugs and plants, harvesting techniques and propagation. At some point, she hopes that “we can cook [camas bulbs] and taste them and pass them around.” Site by site, schools are incorporating experiential learning opportunities for students on their grounds, helping to form a set of ecosystems that will help support this region’s species and its cultural legacy. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  12. Posted June 20, 2020 Photo: Victoria's Owl Clover, a red-listed (Endangered) plant Join a group of volunteers working to restore the Upland Park Garry oak meadow. Go to story
  13. Help restore—or just enjoy—one of the most intact Garry oak meadows on the island. LOOKING FOR MORE nature-bathing time? Residents can now socialize while staying safe during BC’s Phase 2 reopening. Margaret Lidkea, president of the Friends of Uplands Park Society is looking for more volunteers to help restore and maintain the beauty of Cattle Point and Uplands Park in Oak Bay. A 30.6 hectare municipal park, Uplands contains 17 rare plants in its vernal, shallow and deep soil meadows, and is one of the most intact representations of a south coast Garry oak meadow ecosystem on the island. In spring and summer, wave after wave of wildflowers bloom in its meadows. It’s one of the most spectacular wild areas on the South Island. Lidkea’s education and restoration programs came to a halt in March during BC’s COVID-19 lockdown. During the spring’s sensitive wildflower season, the society managed to get materials to rope off the most delicate and threatened areas of the park—including the main meadow—in anticipation of increased traffic from residents looking for places to escape their homes while physically distancing. Still, damage was done, as is being recorded in parks around the region. “Camas and other plants have undergone a challenge this year. There were many new visitors, and some trampled the wildflowers on the edges of the paths” in their attempts to distance from others. “We are hoping [the plants] will recover,” says Lidkea. Now that BC has graduated to Phase 2 of its reopening plan, Lidkea has restarted the Society’s volunteer program, as the park gives residents a perfect opportunity to physically distance while helping contribute to restoration projects. “It’s important we honour everyone’s needs,” she tells me by phone, “as some people are very anxious. We have to be cautious.” Still, Lidkea feels comfortable, given the precautions she is now taking. All materials are quarantined between events. No tarpaulins are being used, and a limited number of people can join each work party. Lidkea’s funding comes from the Federal Habitat Stewardship Project, Trees Canada, Telus and Oak Bay municipality. This past year, the Society began a larger restoration project in an area of the park overgrown with invasive species, including Norway maple, blackberry and Sow thistles. They removed 307 maples last year, and this August, a few more will come down. When I visited in April, the newly cleared area was already thick with new plantings of native sea blush, camas and other native species, as well as several sapling Garry oaks. Wylie Thomas and Matt Fairbairns, two local ecologists, serve on the Friends of Uplands Park board. “I feel very, very blessed to have such expertise,” Lidkea says. Thomas is keeping a record of rare plants and their yearly numbers. “COVID is going to trigger austerity,” says Lidkea. She worries that environmental programs and protections will be the first to be cut as the country attempts to restart the economy. Uplands has one of the greatest concentrations of rare species in all of Canada, including tall woolly-heads (Psilocarphus elatior) and Macoun’s meadowfoam (Limnanthes Macounii), and until recently was home to one of only four populations in the world of Victoria’s owl clover (Castilleja victoriae). The latter was destroyed by foot traffic in Uplands Park’s vernal pools. Victoria’s owl clover (Castilleja victoriae). (Photo courtesy of COSEWIC) The park has also been plagued with invasive species such as Daphne laureola, Himalayan blackberry, English ivy and carpet burweed, all of which have had special removal attention from volunteer parties since the Friend’s formation in 2009. In June, volunteers have been working in a rare species meadow, helping to remove crow garlic. Crow garlic sends up a stalk of tiny purple flowers that emerge from a cluster of bulblets, The bulblets develop green sprouts like the tails of a meteor, then eventually fall and colonize the surrounding area. Lidkea thinks that its presence may have resulted in decreases in the number of native flowers, which compete for space in the meadows. If you would like to help, send Margaret an email and grab some gardening gloves. “I know people are finding out the value of families and friendships during this pandemic,” she says. She hopes they also recognize the value of parks, and the volunteer hours that keep them beautiful. Events will continue every couple of weeks through the summer. Check the Friends’ website at https://friendsofuplandspark.org and watch a video here. To join a volunteer party, email Margaret Lidkea at mlidkea@shaw.ca. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  14. March 2020 Two UVic librarians volunteering for Surfrider are leading the battle against industrial plastic on our beaches. DANIEL BRENDLE-MOCZUK takes a small jar from his office shelf and shakes it, his eyebrows knitting together. “This is from one site, one collection, ten litres of sand.” He hands me the 192 millilitres of small plastic pellets, about the size and shape of a Baby Aspirin. They are various colours of white, beige, pale yellow, and grey. They darken as they absorb contaminants from the ocean, he tells me. Brendle-Moczuk’s colleague, David Boudinot, walked into his office with a jar of the pellets in 2016. “I started going to monthly beach cleanups at Willows Beach,” Boudinot tells me. A foot down, the sand was saturated. “I didn’t know what they were.” The beach clean-up Boudinot attended was organized by Surfrider, an international organization started by surfers to clean up the places they love. Brendle-Moczuk soon joined in. Both are University of Victoria librarians, and their investigation into the pellets—called “nurdles,” or pre-consumer plastic pellets—have led them to surprising places. Brendle-Moczuk’s daughter calls him and Boudinot “Nurdle Man 1 and 2.” She’s picked up on their dedication to their work. Together, they are helping to illuminate an unfolding environmental disaster occurring quietly on southeast-facing beaches all over the region. Daniel Brendle-Moczuk holds nurdles found on the shore of the Fraser River near an Annacis Island facility that uses nurdles Pre-consumer plastic pellets are just that—plastic which has been produced by a refinery, but not yet made into the plastic bags, buckets, storage containers, and packaging we see in stores. The pellets are small and oval to facilitate easy transportation (imagine trying to ship, then melt, a giant plastic cube). Plastic consumer products are produced all over the world, including just across the strait, in Port Coquitlam, North Burnaby, and Annacis Island, which lies between Richmond and Surrey. Brendle-Moczuk and Boudinot couldn’t figure out how the plastic pellets were arriving to Inside Passage waters on the West Coast. At first, they looked to Asia. But there’s a commonality to the locations on the mainland: the Fraser River. Brendle-Moczuk took a trip to see his in-laws and stopped by Annacis Island on his way. With a ballcap pulled down low, he shot photos of several plastics manufacturers’ facilities grounds. Though they declined to give me company names, Google map lists Plasticon Plastics, ibox Packaging, Merlin Plastics Supply, and Plasti-Fab Delta as operating facilities on the island. Brendle-Moczuk’s photos show train tracks (where the pellets are unloaded into trucks), yards (where pellets are shifted from truck to facility) and parking lots littered with plastic pellets. At the edges of these stretches of sidewalk are storm drains—which empty into the Fraser River. When Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk took their research to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), they denied responsibility: the pellets, CPIA said, came from Asia. But intertidal movement wouldn’t push plastic pellets that far upriver, and certainly not into the canals of the island, or all the way into the storm drains. “This is an industrial solidified oil spill that’s been happening for decades,” says Boudinot, “and no one is doing anything about it.” David Boudinot holds a nurdle sample retrieved from a West Coast beach Since 2016, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk have spent countless hours researching the spills, the types of plastic the pellets are made from (both high- and low-density PolyEthylene and Polypropylene), and monitoring spill sites. Brendle-Moczuk has watched pellets disappear from parking lots after staff pressure-washed them down the drains. Every time he goes to Vancouver, he does research on the sites he’s been keeping track of. Boudinot spends hours each month combing beaches and sifting sand to get an idea of pellet concentration. Last fall, he spent four hours walking the beach at Goose Spit in Courtney. “This is what we do, every time we go somewhere,” he says. They look for southeast-facing beaches without a hard edge (like a sea wall or rock face) where pellets tend to gather. Esquimalt Lagoon is a prime location. Cadboro Bay, Willows Beach, any southeast facing beaches on the Gulf Islands. Strong winter storms come from this direction, pushing the pellets onto the beaches. They are keeping a map of areas where pellets have been found, which includes locations all over Vancouver Island, the mainland, Sunshine Coast, and the San Juan Islands. It’s estimated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into oceans every year. Over 90 percent of sea birds have plastic in their stomachs. Photos from Midway Island, in the South Pacific, show wildlife that has succumbed to plastic ingestion, literally starving albatrosses to death. By 2050, it’s expected there will be more plastic than fish in the Earth’s oceans. Much of this comes from post-consumer plastic (plastic which has been made into a bottle or disposable food packaging, for example) but pre-consumer plastic pellets are just as dangerous—not to mention a totally unnecessary and preventable form of pollution. Plastic pellets absorb hydrophobic pollutants in water, becoming more contaminated the longer they float. These pellets have been found in 22 percent of marine fish, according to a 2016 Marine Pollution Bulletin study. Ingestion of plastics can induce hepatic stress, intra-epithelial cysts, affect blood calcium levels, and cause endocrine disruptions in animals. Studies on humans wouldn’t be ethical to do, but many extrapolate the effect on animals to include humans. Bisphenol-A, one compound in plastics, has been found to increase anorexia nervosa, disrupt the endocrine system, and impact fetal development in humans. Recently, its replacement, Bisphenol-S, has been found to be just as (if not more) dangerous. This fall, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk made a video, in collaboration with Surfrider, on plastic pellet spills in the Fraser River. Along with scenic shots of the West Coast, the video shows students from the 2019 Geography Sustainability Field School, who found hundreds of nurdles in just an hour of sifting. Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk are also working with law professor Calvin Sandborn to figure out how to best publicize the issue, since the plastics industry is notorious for fighting back against bad press (remember their challenge of Victoria’s plastic bag ban?). They’ve also enlisted the help of UVic’s chemistry students to analyze the pellets, and biology students to research the effects of plastic in fish. Geography cartographer Ken Josephson helped them put together their map. The Canadian Plastics Industry Association promotes Operation Clean Sweep, an international best practices program designed to prevent plastic pellet contamination in waterways and oceans. But participation is voluntary. The Ministry of Environment states that discharge of pollution to the environment is prohibited under the Environment Management Act. But it has not responded to Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk’s findings, other than to say it will be “looking into these concerns and determining appropriate next steps.” Last Fall, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk sent their Surfrider video to the media. They held a media conference on Annacis Island in October. CBC and Global News turned up. Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk recommended that industries should be required to install storm drain covers to collect pellets and prevent them from entering waterways. When Brendle-Moczuk returned to Annacis Island later that fall, he noticed that many of the work sites he had previously documented were suddenly cleaner. Some storm drains had felt filters installed (albeit not all correctly). But he and Boudinot worry this is a temporary measure, designed to ease tensions until media and public attention turns to the next story. “We’re calling on the Ministry of Environment and the Province of BC to investigate these spills and monitor them, and make sure they don’t happen in the first place,” says Boudinot. Their fears were confirmed last month. The heavy rains of late January and early February sent thousands of pellets into Annacis Island’s Audley Channel. According to Surfrider, the piles of pellets were up to three centimetres deep. They also want the public to be aware of the insidious nature of plastics production. “The oil industry is pivoting away from oil and gas for cars, and building plastic manufacturing plants instead.” Despite recent moves to reduce single-use plastics, the material is used everywhere. Brendle-Moczuk and Boudinot would like to see pellets labelled as an industrial pollutant. They encourage the public to call RAPP (Report all Poachers and Polluters) if they see a spill. They plan to liaise with First Nations and make another video about the spills happening in their traditional territories. And Boudinot has a simple solution for what to do when pellets escape. “When a spill happens, clean it up!” Residents can call RAPP to report pellet spills or the presence of pellets on beaches or waterways at 1-877-952-7277. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
  15. January 2020 A Fernwood well brings history lessons, community, and precious water together. AFTER A CAPITAL REGION SUMMER of near-normal precipitation and one of the wettest Octobers on record (though one of the driest Novembers), it’s easy to forget the troubles much of the world has with limited water supplies. California’s groundwater supply is dwindling; Cape Town is running dry; even Tofino has run out in the past. Climate change promises to bring water insecurity to much of the world. So when a water source is dedicated by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the people of Victoria for all eternity—a source that produces from a fractured rock spring in the middle of a growing city—it’s best to count your blessings, and perhaps even take a sip. Bill Goers was talking over the fence to a neighbour not long after moving to Fernwood in 1979 when he heard that Fernwood had once been the main water source for Victoria. “This was interesting to me,” he says when we talk at his store, Common Sense Orthotics on Fort Street. The water came from several springs on Fernwood’s Spring Ridge—from which Spring Street takes its name. Flowing from gravel deposits left from the last ice age, the water was collected and delivered first by bucket, and then by wooden pipe until the 1870s. “People have been meeting at wells forever,” Goers muses, “It’s very old stuff.” Less controversial than saving trees or protecting grizzly bears, water is basic. It draws people together and highlights commonalities. The springs in Fernwood—and the wells that were built over them—were a gathering place for 1800s settlers. Bill Goers (Photo by Tony Bounsall) During a Fernwood Community Association radio interview, Joanne Murray, Goers’ wife and vice president of the Fernwood Community Association, recounts the story of Englishman George Hunter Carey, a settler who attempted to privatize the springs. In 1861, Carey bought land that included a popular Fernwood spring. He fenced it off and tried to charge for water. Locals were outraged and burned the fence down. He was excoriated in Victoria newspapers. Carey had the protesters arrested, but the courts sided against him. Over 20 years after first hearing the story of the Fernwood springs, a friend of Goers was doing research in the UVic Law Library and found evidence of an 1866 land conveyance as part of the Act of Union. It dated back to pre-confederation, when the Hudson’s Bay Company passed ownership of Vancouver Island to the Crown. As part of the union, a well on Spring Ridge was set aside and dedicated, forever, to the people of Victoria. The dedication of the well by HBC was likely a result of the public outcry against Carey’s attempt to privatize a public water source. In the 1870s, when the city began drawing its water from Elk Lake, the Fernwood well ceased to be used; its location was eventually forgotten. Much of Spring Ridge itself was turned into a quarry. But Goers’ interest was piqued. He continued his research. Historical maps placed the well just north of William Stevenson Park, near the Fernwood Community Centre. Telling me the story, his enthusiasm spills out, fingers raking his hair until it stands on end. Goers relates how he gathered together local dowser Ron Welch and a few members of the Fernwood community to start planning. Welch dowsed the entire Fernwood neighbourhood, and eventually found water in a corner of Stevenson Park. The Fernwood Community Well project was born, ushering in the return of an old, old practice of gathering around the well. The group won a $3500 neighbourhood matching grant in 2005 and worked with Victoria’s parks department and gained permission to drill a shallow well of 25 feet. They hit water immediately, which explains why even in the heat of summer, you can walk through Fernwood and hear a trickling of streams under manhole covers. The area, says Goers, is one of Victoria’s only dependable water sources. In 2008, Goers was prodded by the City of Victoria to spend the rest of their grant money. He worked with Tri-K Drilling to drill a deeper well of 150 feet. Goers won the fourth annual World Water Day Award for his work in 2008. Yet the well still didn’t have a pump. Spring water, or well water, is still the primary source of water for most who live outside of the Capital Region’s urban areas. I used to live in a house in Willis Point that had one. Iron and calcium turned the linens yellow and scaled the inside of the toilet. It was worth it, though, for the minerals it infused into my garden and for the taste. But for those of us who don’t have our own free source, water remains an uncertain resource in the event of a catastrophic earthquake. Are we prepared to supply water in an emergency in the Capital Region, Goers asked the Emergency Preparedness team in the region? “Not really,” they admitted. Goers had been negotiating with the CRD, VIHA and the City for permission to drill the well, slowly gaining their trust. He finally convinced officials to let him build and fit the well with a pump by appealing to the need for an emergency source of water. At the end of 2008, Goers and the Community Association won funding to install a pump and cement footing. The CRD has stipulated that the pump can’t remain operational, for liability reasons. They tried locking it, but people kept cutting the lock off. So when it’s not in use, Goers keeps the handle at his house. A well dedication celebration took place in October 2008. Goers was joined by MP Denise Savoie and MLA Rob Fleming, Songhees Chief Ron Sam and Lieutenant Governor of BC Steven Point. “Water is a public resource,” Savoie said, “It just flows through, it can’t be owned.” As a crowd observed, the well was blessed in Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and Wiccan ceremonies. Ceremonial cups were drunk by many, including Point and Sam. Goers, who is incredibly modest, watched from the background. “Officially, it’s not for drinking,” Goers tells me, “But it belongs to all of us; no one can take this away from us.” Goers thinks of the well as a 150-year project, and the community as its steward. Eventually, he’d like to see the well earn a series of good testing reports so that officials consent to keeping the well unlocked and available as a dependable drinking source. It could offer what so many towns in Europe offer: drinkable spring water as part of public infrastructure. In the meantime, Goers is out at 9am every third Saturday of the month, rain or shine, to reattach the well handle and pump for anyone who wants some water. You can join him. Many swear their tomatoes grow larger from the mineral content, and bring buckets. Though the water is not officially sanctioned as potable, some stock up, filling glass containers for an iron-rich drink. Some use it for the making of essential oils, which need chlorine-free water for distillation. I’ve joined him a couple of times this fall, and a varied assortment of people always show up. Kids like hanging off the pump while getting the water flowing. “People light up to the idea of what we have,” says Goers. “I’m always pleased to go, because every time, I meet someone I haven’t met before.” The five gallons I bring home tastes of rock and pine and minerals. It’s more thirst-quenching than water out of the tap. I fill my glass every day. Visit Bill Goers in Stevenson Park, below the Fernwood Community Centre, on Pembroke Street. He’s there on the third Saturday of every month at 9am. Bring a container. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
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