Burnaby celebrates rivers and waterways

Plus: what you can do at home to help protect the future of Burnaby’s rivers and streams

One of the displays found during World Rivers Day on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Lubna El-Elaimy.

It was a festive atmosphere at the Burnaby Village Museum on Sunday, Sept. 24: colourful displays, maps and lifelike models of small animals and plants under glass covers for all to take in and experience.

However, there were some serious topics to keep top of mind as people were on hand to learn more about protecting local rivers and waterways for World Rivers Day, which is celebrated every 4th Sunday in September.

The displays told the stories of exotic pets let loose into local waterways–out-competing indigenous species; invasive plants clogging waterways, as well as the many other issues Burnaby’s rivers currently face. The day’s agenda included Indigenous storytelling groups for children, live music and clean-up activities where children learned about how to remove invasive plant species nearby. Tsleil-Waututh Nation Elder Carleen Thomas was also present to welcome everyone with a few words.

World Rivers Day was founded in 1980 by Mark Angelo, a Burnaby resident. What started as a small, grass-roots movement to protect local rivers and streams soon spread to become an international event highlighting the critical importance of preserving our planet’s freshwater resources and waterways.

Mark Angelo, third from the left, is the founder of World Rivers Day, which is celebrated every 4th Sunday in September. Lubna El-Elaimy.

“We have an amazing natural legacy of streams that still contain fish and still have very important ecological values. The map we have here today shows fish-bearing streams and non-fish-bearing streams and even shows where streams have been historically put in pipes. As Burnaby grows and changes, as you know we’re updating our community plan right now, this is a natural legacy that we want to not only retain, we want to enhance it and make it better,” Mark Sloat, environmental planner for the city and one of the event’s organizers, told The Beacon.

While the government and industries play a big role in helping protect waterways, Sloat says what normal people do in their daily lives matters too.

“There’s little things you can do around your house and in your neighbourhood as well that can also enhance rivers and streams,” Sloat explained. “One message we want people to realize today is that every storm drain on your street connects to a natural stream,” he added, “if you’re washing your car, do it in a place where the water can soak into the ground, rather than on a hard surface where the water can be conveyed to a storm drain. Also if you have garden or green waste, put it in the green bins the city collects, don’t throw it over your fence down into ravines, because those plants can take over that whole area and actually out-compete all the native plants.”

In her speech, acting Mayor Coun. Maita Santiago highlighted the importance of participation among Burnaby youth, saying, “I have to give a special hello to all of the young people here today. I want you to know that I see you, that we see you, and that everyday I know that as mayor and council, we think about you as we plan the city around us because really that’s what it’s all about.”

She added, “It’s also a great time to thank the many volunteers and stream-keepers who dedicate themselves year-round to protect our streams and waterways. They’ve been taking action today right here at the museum and you can see the hundreds of pounds of invasive plants they removed from the brook. Their tireless efforts have made real positive changes to Burnaby’s ecosystems, where salmon still return from the ocean to the Brunette River Basin and Byrne Creek to spawn.”

The City of Burnaby’s Mark Sloat was on hand to talk about how to best protect local waterways and rivers within Burnaby. Lubna El-Elaimy.

Angelo notes that education is ongoing, and that there are still other pressures we need to think about–despite this event existing for more than 40 years.

“Urbanization, increased development, climate change is a huge one, and a loss of stream-side habitats.” Angelo also spoke about the younger generation, “I’ve been a teacher my whole life and I’ve been seeing young people doing incredible things for the environment, and I have great faith in the younger generation.” He added that his granddaughter was present at the museum that day and participated in the river cleanup with other children.

You can find more information about World Rivers Day through the group’s website.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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