Hyde Creek is teeming with salmon right now as thousands of coho and chum work their way upstream to spawn in their final days.
It's a far cry from the creek of about 30 years ago, when those looking for signs of salmon life were hard pressed to see much of anything, and much of that success has been at the hands of dedicated volunteers led by Shane and Jean Peachman.
They are the president and secretary, respectively, of the Hyde Creek Watershed Society, a group that grew from a handful of Port Coquitlam residents tending a makeshift backyard hatchery in the 1990s to a registered society with dreams of a proper facility in the early 2000s.
The Peachmans came on board in 2003; Shane had just retired from a career in highrise construction and immediately began calling in favours.
"Nobody escaped," Jean recalled, smiling.
Everything from pipes and plywood to the large decorative salmon on the walls was donated.
The small group put a name to their dream — the Hyde Creek Education Centre and Hatchery — and, with a focus on teaching everyone they could about salmon and the need for a healthy watershed, managed to raise $400,000 in three years.
And as the salmon came home in the fall of 2005 so did the society, holding the first meeting in their new home with the sound of tanks, pumps and incubation trays humming below them, on Sept. 7.
Little did Shane and Jean know, however, that their own education was just beginning.
Originally from Ontario, they admit to knowing very little about salmon when they arrived in B.C. in 1971.
"I've always been a fisherman and outdoorsman, so it was kind of natural to be wandering the creeks and trails," Shane said.
"But we weren't salmon people because we didn't grow up here," added Jean. "It's been a bit like osmosis."
The duo got up to speed quickly, though, and often share the role of field trip leader and salmon educator for the nearly 230 classes that visit the facility each year.
These days, they put in 20-hour weeks at the education centre, and twice that during the busy fall months for school visits, festival preparations and hatchery operations.
It's not always smooth sailing, however, despite the significant growth in salmon returns at Hyde Creek since the 1990s. A decade ago, the group faced more urban pollution challenges — people dumping paint, garbage and pool chemicals into the creek — but those catastrophes have fortunately dwindled thanks to community education efforts, Jean said.
More recent difficulties have stemmed from development further up Burke Mountain, which despite the best intentions of storm water management plans, has altered water flows into the creek system from a steady trickle to periodic deluges, causing fluctuating water levels and bringing sand and silt into the stream.
Changes in the weather, particularly with hotter springs and summers, means Hyde Creek can dry up entirely in some areas and force volunteers to truck smolts further downstream.
But the tremendous volunteer work is paying off, visible in the populations of chum (in the thousands) and coho (in the hundreds) returning to Hyde Creek in remarkable numbers, said Maurice Coulter-Boisvert, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada advisor in this region.
"Without the dedication and tireless work of the Peachmans, Hyde Creek would not be the crown jewel that it is in our community," said PoCo Coun. Brad West, who chairs the city's sustainability committee. "Because of their efforts, so many people have been educated about the importance of our watercourses and wild salmon, and thousands more have enjoyed an enhanced Hyde Creek."
SALMON COME HOME
Hyde Creek is a busy place these days as thousands of salmon, both chum and coho, swim to their birthplace to spawn, and the public can celebrate their return at the 17th annual Hyde Creek Salmon Festival this Sunday.
The family-friendly event gives visitors of all ages a chance to observe salmon up close and learn about their life cycle through in-stream demonstrations care of DFO and even a salmon dissection.
Children will enjoy live entertainment and activities, nature walks and a visit from the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society with a live raptor. There will be loads of displays and interactive exhibits along with a fundraising salmon barbecue, burgers, hot dogs and salmon chowder and chances to win prizes.
The free event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hyde Creek rec centre (1379 Laurier Ave.) and the hatchery (3636 Coast Meridian Rd.). Visit www.hydecreek.org for a full schedule of events.