Salmon in our Cities

Where streams and stories collide

In a metropolis shaped by waterways, one in particular serves as a symbol of dreams lost and found.  Still Creek was once a vibrant, salmon-bearing stream that ran from Vancouver to Burnaby (before flowing into the Fraser River), so scenic that the first city planner, Harland Bartholomew, imagined it as a cornerstone of his “Parks and Pleasure Drive.”

His 1929 vision was never realized, but even 60 short years ago, people were still fishing for salmon in Still Creek – until several decades of urban development intervened. The waterway was rerouted, narrowed and paved over. The salmon disappeared.

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Rapid growth and change

During this same period, the City of Vancouver lost nearly all of its wild streams to urbanization. Musqueam Creek, the city’s last remaining intact salmon spawning stream, was a notable exception – but the number of salmon returning each year had dwindled to a handful. Several other cities – including North and West Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Port Moody and Surrey – also managed to maintain some of these critical waterways, but the entire area saw a dramatic drop in salmon and freshwater habitat.

In just over 50 years, Vancouver’s 50 wild salmon streams had lost nearly all of their fish. While their numbers diminished, salmon never disappeared from city corridors: they still whisper in First Nations art, pop up in neighbourhood murals and mosaics, and swim colourfully along school fences.


A time for action

In the 1970s, salmon runs hit an all-time low, and people from many walks of life began to sound the alarm. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans introduced the Salmonid Enhancement Program to stop, and reverse, the Pacific salmon and trout decline. As part of this unique program, the government partnered with B.C. organizations and individual residents who rolled up their sleeves and got to work – cleaning damaged streams and making incubation boxes as part of a larger restoration program.

Streamkeeper groups began to spring up, run by city dwellers who worked collaboratively with government and larger organizations. Musqueam Creek became the site of a major partnership between the Musqueam Nation and the David Suzuki Foundation. Today, you can find these salmon allies in neighbourhoods across B.C. and the Lower Mainland, where they have managed to rehabilitate well over one million square metres of streams. Salmon and cities can co-exist if we understand what to do and why it matters.


A new start for Still Creek

As for Still Creek, 90 years after the first city planner dreamed of people strolling the lush, salmon-filled riverside, the Cities of Vancouver and Burnaby are working together to restore Still Creek and its watershed. There’s still a long way to go, but a small number of chum salmon are regularly returning to Still Creek and with them, hope of more restoration to come.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll feature more stories about people working across B.C. to restore wild salmon streams. If you’d like to pitch in, chances are there’s something you can do that’s right on your own doorstep. We’ll connect you with organizations that can show you where and how.

Feature Stories

Small Red Salmon: Coquitlam looks to live up to its name once again

For more than one hundred years Coquitlam went without sockeye salmon in its rivers. Now they’re coming back by water and by land.

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Concrete Change

Using concrete to cast baffles and fish passages is “an idea that engineers are becoming more aware of when they’re working in sensitive habitat,” says Joel Shimozawa, a technical marketing engineer for Langley Concrete Group in Chilliwack, which installed the new culverts. “It’s also a building material that will last a long time.”

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From Roadway to Rainway

Like transit lines for wild salmon, over 50 freshwater streams used to flow through the City of Vancouver. Little St. George Creek, or te Statlew in the Musqueam language, is one of these historic waterways – a stream that once ran along St. George Street, from Kingsway to the False Creek Flats.

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Get a Stream Address

Salmon Sundays are an institution at the Mossom Creek Hatchery and Education Centre in Port Moody. Visit any Sunday and you’ll likely encounter one of the founders – Ruth Foster or Rod MacVicar – and a cluster of volunteers.

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Hello and goodbye to the Fry

A pick up truck parks by a small creek, with 25,000 fry in the back. Gently scooped with a net, the young chum salmon are placed in pails light enough for a child to carry. Small hands hold pails of water as small feet make their way to the nearby creek, and parents murmur encouragement.

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Resources and Links

Pacific Streamkeepers Federation


Pacific Salmon Foundation

Surrey Salmon Habitat Restoration Program

Still Creek Salmon Enhancement Program

City of Burnaby Streamkeeper Program

UNINTERRUPTED: Now until Sept 24th

UNINTERRUPTED brings the heart of a wild salmon-bearing river to the heart of the city by transforming a downtown Vancouver bridge.

After dusk, audiences witness the extraordinary migration of wild Pacific salmon in a 30-minute cinematic spectacle that explores the connection between nature and our urban environments.

See the Show


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