radicle beets

A Brief History of the False Creek Flats by radiclebeets
May 29, 2012, 6:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Once upon modern geographers’ vision of time, land rose up from under 2 km of ice. From this land mass a proliferation of people, plants and animals grew.  An ecosystem inhabited by several complex human cultures and peoples thrived on this land mass for the better part of 11,000 years. People of the Squamish, Halkomelem and Straits language groups communicated across bountiful rivers, ocean inlets, tributaries and straits.

From distant lands foreign people unfamiliar with the place came to explore and to settle. One of the European captains, George Vancouver, took it upon himself to stamp the land with his name. Along with a name these people brought swift and violent change to the area. In 1865 Captain Stamp, so appropriately named, built Vancouver’s first sawmill and quickly set to work falling Vancouver’s ancient (and enormous) Douglas Fir trees. Within a generation, one of the world’s great swaths of Coastal Temperate Rainforest was reduced to a patchwork of early industrialization. As the forest fell so too did the spiritual traditions of the lands First Peoples. Keep these people in mind, for they will continue to suffer silent, violent and extreme repression for the remainder of our story.

In 1879, a bridge over False Creek (present day’s Main Street) was connected to farming communities in Richmond, leading to the establishment of False Creek’s symbolic first industrial building – a slaughterhouse. From the eastern side of this bridge, near to where the slaughterhouse was built, a large tidal marsh stretched to present day Clark Dr. in the east. Unlike the present day concrete paved on its receding body the marsh was navigable by canoe at high tide


Map of Vancouver, 1898, showing reach of False Creek.

In April of 1910 the City of Vancouver gave the final 160 acres of the 221 acres of the Eastern False Creek Flats to the Canadian National Pacific Raliway, under the agreement that the company would spend at least $4 million to fill the marsh and build a rail line and hotel (this is how the Hotel Vancouver was born). This they did, and by 1950 local news people proclaimed that “False Creek is nothing more than a filthy ditch in the middle of the city…slops gather on shallows and banks and fester in the sun until, at high noon in the summer, the stench is often sickening.” What exactly was used to fill the flats seems a lost piece of history – though it is held by some that at least a part of the fill came from the levelling of Burnaby Mountain. Garbage and other waste materials were likely also used to fill the flats.

With 11 sawmills, 16 sewage outfalls and a growing network of iron works, machine shops and manufacturing plants, even the City of Vancouver admitted in 1928 that “The False Creek industrial district has been permitted to become an eyesore and menace to public health.”

Greatly reduced in size after the mud flat filling, the waterway of False Creek remained a menace to public health until 1967, when City planners began to pursue a new direction for the creek’s future. From this time forward, the waters’ shoreline has been developed into green walkways and ritzy condominiums for the province’s rich. While more greenspace and less industry now grace the waters of False Creek, the filled in landscapes of the False Creek Flats have remained symbols of industrial development, with the notable exception of Strathcona Park.

Rail lines surrounded by industrial wharehousing, manufacturing and processing facilities still dominate the eerily flat concrete landscape of this one time tidal marsh. China creek, now buried under concrete, used to run into the south east reach of this waterway. In the 1880’s early Chinese settlers raised pigs along the banks of this creek, while the European C.C. Maddams grew fruit and berries for much of the City. Complaints about the “constant shooting of waterfowl” in the tidal marsh were common in 1901, when birds outnumbered humans in the flats. Known by countless generations before us, the diversity of this unique, vanquished tidal marsh is lost (for now) but not forgotten. Our wetland reclamation project imagines a future in which this diversity can once again thrive.


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