Imagine living beside one of the world’s most ecologically significant waterways, one that can be reached within minutes of home, waiting to be discovered anew with each passing season. This dream attraction—the Fraser River—lies at our doorstep.
Without giving the 1,375-kilometre-long river more than a passing thought—sure looks muddy—many of us regularly cross the Fraser for work, pleasure, or both. New approaches, such as TransLink’s Golden Ears Bridge between Langley and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows and the Canada Line crossing between Vancouver and Richmond, have just opened.
It’s time to reward yourself for the turmoil inflicted by Canada Line construction. Head to the south end of Ash Street, where panoramic river views unfold along the heel- and wheel-friendly concourse. Behold the Fraser’s North Arm. Given the changes that occurred around False Creek after Vancouver hosted Expo 86, ponder what this soon-to-be redeveloped stretch of shoreline will look like decades from now. Large tracts of land where industrial activities once held sway currently lie vacant. Suddenly this stretch of the river is approachable again.
By far the most intimate manner in which to get acquainted with the Fraser is floating on its surface. Only those aboard a motorized vessel should trifle with the strong tidal currents in the North and South Arms, though. On the other hand, a kayak or canoe is the ideal craft in which to discover the superb natural beauty of the Fraser estuary around Ladner, where a group of low-slung, thickly vegetated islands beckon offshore. With its tranquil, historic waterfront augmented by a fleet of eclectic float homes, Ladner shows how life was once lived in dozens of small river communities along the Fraser’s last leg to the ocean.
Tony Dales runs Kaymaran Adventure Tours on Ladner’s Elliot Street public dock. Thanks to local volunteers who participated in “Operation Shoreline Cleanup” this summer, the long-time resident told the Georgia Straight, the harbour looks better than it has in years. On the phone from his watercraft rental office, Dales proudly described how decrepit boats, half-sunken float homes, and mounds of marine debris were hauled away in order to beautify adjacent Ladner Harbour Park’s surroundings.
Clearly delighted by the sight of salmon leaping beside his dock as the fall run of pinks begins returning to the Fraser in their millions, Dales was equally thrilled by the impending winged migration that during the next two months will see millions of birds pass through the Fraser Estuary, one of the most important rest and feeding stops on the Pacific flyway.
Every autumn, a new group of kayakers is drawn to witness this natural abundance. Dales noted the number of families that have recently signed on for a first-time paddle. By far the biggest segment of his business comes from women in their 40s to late 60s, an age range that accounts for 80 percent of all new sea kayakers in North America. Dales described this cohort as having the time, money, and guts, and gumption to get out on the water.
Why do women, in particular, take to paddling? At first blush, the sport offers the pleasure of a quiet atmosphere plus an opportunity to get back to nature. But after women join the Kaymaran-affiliated Ladner Paddling Club for an outing or two, Dales has noticed, their perspective changes. Sea-kayaking becomes even cooler because of its self-powered simplicity that can be mastered independently or with other like-minded adventurers on the river.
At the same time as Vancouverites take pride in living beside this great natural attraction, the Fraser has consistently ranked at or near the top of the annual Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.’s most-endangered rivers list. In 1980, the council orchestrated the first B.C. Rivers Day. Thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of Burnaby’s Mark Angelo, the September celebration evolved into World Rivers Day in 2005.
Prior to this year’s events, Angelo spoke with the Straight from his office at BCIT’s fish, wildlife, and recreation program. He lauded the Ladner harbour facelift both for its positive results and for the tangible community benefit of bringing people together. Angelo’s words echoed the sentiment of all who discover this corner of the Fraser. The estuary is a magical place. Once you’ve spent time exploring there, you’ll better appreciate the value of where we live, which, in turn, makes life in Vancouver special.
Access: Ladner lies 30 kilometres south and west of Vancouver in the Municipality of Delta. To reach Ladner, drive Highway 99 to the south end of the George Massey Tunnel and take the first exit (#29) onto River Road or the next exit (#28) onto Highway 17 South, then turn right onto Ladner Trunk Road (48th Avenue) for the short drive into town. By taking the River Road exit, you approach Ladner on a back road rather than through the community’s newer neighbourhoods on Ladner Trunk.
For information on Kaymaran Adventure Tours, including tours and kayak and canoe rentals, as well as membership in the Ladner Paddling Club, call 604-946-7507 or 604-946-5070, check www.kaymarantours.com/, or stop by Ladner’s Elliott Street Wharf.
On October 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stanley Industrial Arts Theatre, Mark Angelo will host a multimedia presentation, “Wild Water, Wild Earth”, created for those with an interest in the outdoors, adventure travel, and the need to protect vanishing wild places. For tickets, call 604-629-8849 or see www.vancouvertix.com/.