Sunday, October 01, 2006

Richmond Road Trip Jan 2004

Trip Report Richmond BC
Jan 25 2004

Attendees Ed Pedersen and Noreen Gordon

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Noreen and I spent an unusual semi-sunny Sunday meandering through some of the historic sites of Richmond BC. Richmond is a southern suburb Vancouver, and was one of the first municipalities settled by Europeans.

"Settled" is always a subjective term to use, as the Native Indians had already been in the area for 10,000 years.....Richmond is also the terminus of the mighty Fraser River, silt and sediment adds to the river delta an average of six feet a year. And where the river meets ocean is also a favourite place for salmon to feed. Canneries lined the banks of the river from it's mouth upstream for 50 miles. In the late 1800's, over 100 canneries were in operation.

Richmond itself is made up of 5 islands, the main one called Lulu Island, named by Royal Engineer Colonel Moody, (of Port Moody fame, another Vancouver suburb). Lulu Sweet was an actress from a touring theatrical company that visited New Westminster in the early 1860's. Settlers, mostly farmers, claimed land on Lulu, Sea, Mitchell, Twig, and Deadman Islands. Most built their own dykes to hold back the annual flood waters of the Frase rwhen the spring freshet threatened to wash away their homes and farms.

Our starting point was the tiny section of Richmond called Steveston. Manoah Steves came from New Brunswick in 1877 and settled in the area now named after his family. Steveston is also a perfect example of our heritage being preserved. Downtown Steveston looks much like it did in the early 1920's. Merchants are encouraged to maintain and enhance the old time charm of the original town, and it shows! A view along the main street looks like time was held back: old store facades and merchant names bring you back to a time when the town was the bustling centre of the surrounding farmlands.

But Steveston is not all farm heritage, a block over from Moncton street is one of the largest fishing marinas in Canada. No cabin cruisers or Sunday pilots here, this is the home of work boats. Seiners, Gill Netters and Trollers by the scores line the wharves, waiting for the next opening. Some are licensed to sell at the dock, so every morning there are a dozen boats offering salmon, snapper, squid, prawns and mud sharks fresh caught and flash freezed on board only hours before.

Instead of hiding the working area, Richmond has initiated a re-vitalization plan for the area, and many shops and coffee places have sprung up in the area. Of more interest to Noreen and I was the large Georgia Cannery. This was declared a national historic site a few years ago, and was restored to the way it was in 1894 when it began it's life. Unfortunately it is the off season, and we could not go on the tour and see the excellent displays they have inside. Oh well, just another excuse to come back on a summer weekend.

One of the reasons I asked Noreen to come along, is that this is her home town. She grew up in the area, and she shared a few memories with me of her child hood in the community. It was neat to hear her bring to life some of the background of the area we were in. The other reason I asked Noreen along, besides her good looks and wonderful company, is her sharp eyes. As good as an observer of our world as I am, Noreen's ability to note the finer details in the landscape almost embarrasses me. So, getting over that male stuff of being shown up by a girl, it's always a pleasant and more rewarding day when Noreen is riding shotgun.

We drove down what used to be side roads, that are now main avenues into sub divisions and found our next location. Britannia Heritage Shipyard started life as a cannery in 1892, and immediately was surrounded by small and large buildings that served as houses and work shops by the cannery workers. Only 9 buildings now remain, remnants of a bustling time.

A large Japanese population in the area is reflected in some of the gardens and architecture in the area, and to highlight the Japanese culture in early Steveston, the small Murakami residence has been restored to showcase a working families life style in the early days. Along side the residence sits high loft buildings, a still operational boat-building barn, and a roughly built but large two story building used by the Native cannery workers as housing.

Along the south shore of Richmond they have constructed a dyke trail for pedestrians and bicyclists, and it is a beautiful place to walk. It's peaceful along the south shore, and judging by the ducks and cormorants we have seen at the water front, they think so too.

Next stop along the south shore was London Farm. Charles London obtained the surrounding farm land in 1880, and built the first of several buildings on the property. The current large house still standing was built in 1898. Once again we were out of season for the official tour, but just viewing the large two story white house and it's out buildings, we could easily visualize life as it must have been for the original inhabitants.

Across the road from the farm is the south arm of the Fraser River. This is a major shipping lane for the local river traffic, and numerous tugs pulling scows, some heaping full of wood chips, were our constant companions along the shore line. Barrows Golden Eyes and Brandt Cormorants adeptly weathered the large wakes kicked up by the passing river traffic.

Continuing our easterly sojourn, a few more miles along the dyke brought us to one of those places that I have been trying to get to for years, but finally made it today.

Finn Slough is a small back water channel of the Fraser River, but it was a god send for the early Finnish settlers. Land was getting scarce, and all these settlers wanted was a place to dock their fishing boats, and a small shack to live in. They found such a place in this tidal slough. At high tide it is just wide enough to float a small fishing boat through, right past the verandas of your neighbours shack. At low tide, the boats sit marooned on the mud of the slough, keeled over, awaiting the next high tide. In the later years, this area became a haven for the bohemian crowd, and is mostly populated now by folks who don't need much in life. Descendents of three of the Finnish families still live on the slough.

Our final stop of the day was on a finger of land called Deas Island. No longer an island as the inlet has been filled in, it was still a focal point for the early Richmond area. Deas Island is located across the river from Richmond in what is now Ladner, Deas Point was the site of a ferry crossing for many years before Deas Island Tunnel was built for the freeway traffic to go under the South Arm of the Fraser River.

Deas Island was named after a Free Black from the U.S. who began a cannery here that operated for many years. Sadly, back in those days they used tin solder to seal the salmon cans, and John Sullivan Deas died of Tinsmith disease shortly after he retired.

We spent some time exploring the Regional park that is located here. The GVRD (Greater Vancouver Regional District) has installed a large 30' high viewing platform from which you can watch the river traffic float by right at your feet. As well, the platform gives a commanding view of Richmond to the north, and Vancouver even further north.

This is also a popular spot for Bald Eagles, as we could see their large bulky nests in the cottonwood trees along the river's edge. One even flew over us carrying nesting material for some home repairs. This is a very large river side park, with over 5 miles of walking trails meandering along the dykes and through the old fields. They also have a large covered picnic area in Muskrat Meadows, the name conjuring up images of when this area was a remote farm many miles from the city.

This was the end of the tour for us, the cool winter sun was slowly going down, and we had run out of time. It was fun to do some local exploring, and, instead of driving for a hundred miles to get home, Noreen and I were home in time for supper.

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