The theme of Heritage Week was "Heritage of Cultural Places: Historic Places that inspire, inform and entertain."
When I look at the Village of Finn Slough what I see is not just a collection of small sheds and float houses but a way of thinking and a way of living that has all but disappeared. The Village is quaint and by modern zoning standards eccentric which is why artists and photographers love it so much. Once there were dozens of such villages on the banks of the Fraser; now we are down to this last one. Sometimes people have a difficult time seeing these humble little buildings as heritage. Heritage is more often associated with the grand and ostentatious because those with money could afford to hire architects and make their buildings famous. However heritage is not only about saving large old buildings and putting artifacts into museums. More importantly heritage works by keeping alive valuable ideas by associating those ideas with real things, things you can see and touch and walk around.
Heritage gives us an important map that tells us where we are in the world. We can only know where we are now by comparing today with yesterday. It is important not only to remember the good old times but also to remember the bad old times too: the bad old times that for example drove our society to develop such improvements as universal health care. We tend to think of progress as being a technical process that only improves our lives without changing our essential nature but the way we think and view the world is determined by the type of physical environment that we live in. If we lose all examples of older types of built environments, older ways of thinking about how to live, then we will too easily become trapped in a world that seems to have no direction and no meaning.
Like the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Finn Slough is a reminder that the salmon fishery was once the most important economic engine in Richmond. The Finn Slough buildings and the way those buildings were laid out on the waterfront are a reminder that the fishermen (and a few fisherwomen) lived a different lifestyle than that of the old Richmond farmers who settled most of the area. Float houses, net sheds and drying racks were built close together to make the process of fishing as physically economic as possible because there was no spare energy or money or time. Many of the structures were built out of recycled wood before the term recycling had been invented. This was part of an attitude that resources should not be wasted, an attitude we could all benefit from now. Water access to the South Arm was essential. The river provided wood for building and heating and was also the transportation route to Ladner. It was important to be in touch with the river and its variations in flows and currents and tides. Living beside it helped with that awareness. Fishing required that a person be independent both in skills and attitude. An unloved boat would tend to fall apart and drown its owner. The farm and fishing environments did have one concept in common and that was that it was a good idea to live with your work. Work and life were not seen as separate and people were often happy with that lifestyle. This is very different from the modern concept of zoning which separates work from family life. Finn Slough is a three dimensional illustration of both a way of life and an independence of thought that is hard to find nowadays.