On a cool fall day last October Bev Ramey from the Nature Trust of BC led a group of people to Ecological Reserve #76. Sometimes called Wellington Bar, it’s in the middle of the Fraser River in what is called the Heart of the Fraser and lies just offshore from where the old channel of the Chilliwack River enters the river, just east of Chilliwack Mountain. It’s one of dozens of islands spotted throughout the river. These islands are constantly changing, subject to spring high waters, and the changing channels of the river. Lining the shores of Wellington Bar were the rotting carcasses of hundreds of dead pink salmon. Eighteen bird species were spotted that day along with several dozen plant species, including blue and yellow listed plants. Despite the apparent richness of the gravel reach, it’s a landscape that is threatened. For 18 of the last 19 years the Fraser River has made the Outdoor Council of BC’s endangered river’s list.
A new exhibit at the Chilliwack Museum explores the reasons why this section of the Fraser has managed to attain this dubious distinction for so many years. The Fraser River; Its Spirit and Place begins with the formation of the river 12,000 years ago when melting glaciers led to a torrent of water being released from the interior. Once this water entered the valley, its pace slowed but it was still strong enough to move debris, and tons of sand and gravel into the gravel reach section.
Simon Fraser was the first to record his observations about this section of the river. In his 1808 diary he wrote “…the river expands into a lake. Here we saw seals, a large river coming in from the left [likely the Chilliwack River] and a round mountain ahead, which the natives call shemotch [likely Sumas Mountain]. After sunset we encamped upon the right side of the river. At this place the trees were remarkably large….Musketoes are in clouds, & we had little or nothing to eat” (Orchard, Imbert. Floodland and Forest, Memories of the Chilliwack Valley, Sound Heritage Series, Provincial Archives, 1983. Page 8).
The Museum’s exhibit focuses on the years after Fraser’s journey. Fort Langley, the gold rush, railway building, early sturgeon fishing, dike building, deforestation, and wetland destruction are topics that receive attention in the exhibit. Each activity has impacted the river’s integrity in various ways. Fraser would not likely recognize the river if he was travelling today.
A message of hope that springs from the exhibit is that there are many groups who are actively involved in educating and acting on initiatives to ensure that the river is eventually removed from the endangered list.
The Fraser River; It’s Spirit and Place will remain at the Chilliwack Museum until the end of 2012. For further information call the museum at 604-795-5210 or visit the museum’s website at chilliwackmuseum.ca.
-Submitted by Ron Denman, Director Chilliwack Museum and Archives