By Oliver Berger –
This summer I was fortunate enough to join The Rivershed Society of BC (RSBC) and 11 other fantastic individuals on a journey down the Mighty Fraser from headwaters to mouth. Each participant came with camping gear, a sustainable project for their home community to work and build upon, and an open mind. We had three to four facilitators who educated and inspired us in this beautiful open-air class room teaching about the importance of healthy river sheds and the human impacts on the environment throughout them. Along route we met many more people from other communities, hearing about their local challenges and successes, traditions, and sustainable ways of life. Some days they even joined us on our vessel, raft, or voyageur canoe, providing a new point of view as well as some outstanding networking opportunities for the participants.
This year our posse was extra amazing; I have never felt so much positivity and encouragement in one group of people. Everyone had premier respect for Mother Nature and all her amazing individuals. From life experience levels of 20–55 came vast amounts of knowledge, patience, understanding, and eagerness to learn. Combine that with floating down a constant flow of energy approximately 1,400 km in length, which absorbs 1/4 of the province’s rainfall through her vast watershed, and you seriously only have one opportunity… to grow!
Camping under the bright stars and sometimes rain, we soaked in every bit of eagle, blue heron, big horn sheep, cliff face, hoodoo, rapid, lake, mountain, forest, tundra, rock, and waterfall we could. However, the journey was a whole lot more because of the beautiful individuals I got to share it with.
So we had David from Vancouver, who is the bestselling author of Vancouver Tree Book, founding executive director of a non-profit group called Tree City, and an active member of the Strathcona Community Garden in East Vancouver. Dubbed our Captain Blackstrap, whilst discussing a bottle of molasses at length, he was always full of wit and sarcasm. Using his journalist background, he plans on writing articles about the SLLP program for Destination BC and international magazines, and perhaps may even be inspired to write another book.
Also joining us was Quesnel-born Candice, who spent some time as a conservation advisor for the Federal Minister of Environment and is now currently living in the Tatlayoko Valley working on independent conservation consultant projects. In her extra time, she is a counsellor specializing in wilderness therapy and dance/movement therapy. She always displayed a genuine concern for our group members, making sure everyone was well taken care of. Candice plans on using her background along with the energy from her newest local setting to find better ways to protect the Fraser River Basin, focusing first on the section between Xat’sull and Lillooet.
Simran of Williams Lake, but currently studying medicine in Prince George, shared her amazing smile and constantly reminded our group of proper politeness, through leading by example. Joining the Health Care and Travelling Roadshow next year, which will, conveniently, be coming through the Cariboo, she will find ways to integrate environmental concerns with the medical system, such as combining Healthy Body-Healthy Planet perspectives, and researching current issues and concerns within the system.
Simon, originally from Poland and now in Victoria, is a manager in the Corporate Services Branch of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. He added valuable points of view to our discussions, as well as some timely logical truth to our group’s sarcastic banter. He hopes to create a round table discussion between environmental groups within BC, to find out what the most common concerns are and how to tackle them.
From the Coquitlam area, a river ecosystem technician, the adventurous soul and clerk of the group, was John. He spends most of his time right on the Coquitlam River working on the salmon fry remuneration project. Master of creating inukshuks, in quick time I might add, he plans on taking his creative skills and combining them with his river knowledge into ARTicipation. Using large murals and arrays of colours of paint, hopping from festival to festival, he uses art and the freedom of the brush to educate people of all ages about environmental wonders and concerns.
Also from Coquitlam, born in The Czech Republic, was Petra … aka Czech Momma. At Simon Fraser University she is studying environmental sciences as well as biology. She was a keen learner on the journey sponging up all she could from everyone we met. Her project involves going to classrooms educating students about the SLLP and the environment. Petra will also be compiling a list of avenues for keeners who want to help promote sustainability within their communities.
Hailing from Port Coquitlam, a project co-ordinator for a design-building contract company called LNS Services and the grand singing voice of the group, keeping the paddle beats going, was Megan. Her passion for waste management has led her to start researching and proposing ways for her community to control cigarette butt waste through available recycling programs and marketing campaigns. Hear, hear!
A young man named Orion, whose flexibility and energy were contagious, also joined our team. Recently moved back to Vancouver from Toronto, he has a past in Jujitsu and is a well acknowledged gymnastics coach. Also dabbling in the film industry, he will combine that passion with his love for nature and create a promotional video for the SLLP, showing potential participants how humans can connect with nature and how we can learn from her.
A facilitator in training, born in Bella Coola and currently living in Deep Creek, was Orden. This being his third year down the river with the SLLP, he helped participants with their sustainability projects and patiently assisted in herding us cats to the places we needed to go. He is an amazing educator on First Nations history on the Fraser River and told great stories around the campfire. He plans to continue to grow his facilitation skills with the SLLP.
Another facilitator, originally from North Vancouver and now residing in Haida Gwaii, was Jacquie. This was her fifth year on the river, and unfortunately for the SLLP, it will be her last. She is an outdoor educator and used her experience in assisting the participants with their projects goals and plant identification studies, and if we were lucky enough she serenaded us to sleep with her beautiful voice and guitar skills. Jacquie has an online book of her stories from the Fraser River, The River Home, and hopes to work on an updated hard copy over the upcoming winter.
Last but not least is our senior trip leader, Doug. Currently an elementary school teacher in Vancouver, he has an extensive background in environmental activism, is an avid forest protector, has a serious degree in tarpology, and is an amazing educator of the outdoors. He has led SLLP participants through the river journey for 13 runs so far and has become an integral part of the program, an expert expedition-camp leader and, I am sure now, a very patient man with a mild case of selective hearing.
Mr. Fin Donnelly swam the length of the Fraser River, once in 1995 and once more in 2000, to raise public awareness about the importance of the largest river in BC, the importance of the salmon to the peoples and ecosystems of the land, and the importance of living sustainably to preserve this amazing rivershed we live in. He is currently an MP for the Port Moody-Coquitlam riding, the NDP’s Critic for Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, co-founder and chair of the RSBC, and a worthy advisor for the SLLP. Fin periodically joined us on the trip, dipping the paddle in the river every once in a while and answered many of the questions we had. He leads much of the fundraising for the program through the FraserFEST celebrations in BC, which he spent most of this year’s journey focusing on.
Now with all this extra support I can dive straight back in, waste deep of course, into continually improving waste management and education in our Cariboo region. I’ve got a new skip in my step with some exciting plans taking shape. Do not worry; I am sure Lisa will give me room to write about them later.
What a team. I will always think back to the wonderful memories I shared with my new river family, they will always reside in my heart. What we learned in those 25 days is indescribable, the knowledge we have gained is unsurpassable, the power we have now collaboratively tapped into, we must use. We have all made a commitment to our riversheds and to ourselves-to make time-to take care of what is important and assist each other in our project goals. When we work together as a team, as a community, we can accomplish so many great things. The tasks of the world can feel daunting for one person, but as a collective many hands make light work. Anyone who’s ever been at the stern of a 34′ voyageur canoe with 12 people paddling in unison in front of you can attest to the power of teamwork!
To find out more about this epic journey, how you can help, how you can join, or to see how all of our projects are progressing you should visit www.rivershed.com. Save the Fraser!
Born in Williams Lake, Oliver has a 35-yr degree in life, his schooling being venturing throughout the world on a quest of always learning new things. His priorities now include dedication to and education about waste management.