( Graphic by David Roberts )
Life on the Fraser
(The links below will take you to photos by Ulrich Gaede)
Finn Slough Heritage & Wetland Society was formed in September 1993 to preserve the natural environment and habitat at the Slough (pronounced "slew") and surrounding area. The group also aims to maintain the heritage values of the community and to protect the Slough from urban encroachment.
Finn Slough is one of the last tidal communities on the West Coast. We are working to live in harmony with the environment on a sleepy little backwater on the mighty Fraser River in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Originally established in the 1880s by immigrant fishers from Finland, Finn Slough has been a fishing village for over a hundred years. Families have continuously occupied Finn Slough since then. The community swelled to 70 households in the 1940s and 50s but by the 1970s the original settlers were dispersing. Non Finnish fishers and people who appreciated the Sloughs unspoiled historic appearance began to take their place. The Finns eventually stopped living at the waters edge and moved to more permanent homes within a few miles of the Slough. Today Finn Slough holds special status as it is the last working commercial fishing village on the Fraser River. Approximately 50 people live and work at the Slough with 18 households remaining. Here you will see gillnet fish boats, net mending floats and sheds belonging to fifth generation Finnish fishers.
The Slough is bounded on the Fraser River side by Gilmour Island and on the north by a dyke built to protect Richmond. Access to homes on the Gilmour Island side of the Slough is by a wooden draw-bridge, creating a definite sense of isolation from the nearby urban areas of Richmond and Vancouver. The unique and eclectic dwellings are neighborly and built on a human scale. They either float or are supported by pilings with the tidal waters of the Fraser river rising and falling beneath them. Some of these homes have been converted from old net sheds and some are the original scow houses used by the Finns. Our community is a good example of harmonious coexistence between nature and people in a semi-urban setting.
Recently local fishers have donated several historic buildings to the Heritage and Wetland Society for preservation. Included is a float containing a rare net-soaking tank made of cedar. It was used to keep linen gillnets from falling apart by soaking them in a Blue Stone (copper sulfate) solution. This was before the advent of nylon nets and environmental awareness. We are in the process of creating a living museum by restoring and maintaining these and other heritage features.
Al Mason, a resident here, has made an interesting trade with Gus Jacobson a Finnish fisher with long ties to Finn Slough. Al agreed to trade a working scale model (29.5 inches) of the EVA for the real thing (29.5 feet). Gus had been looking for a good home for the boat ever since he transferred the fishing license to his present gill-netter. This was because of a change in the fishing regulations when area fishing was set up on the West Coast. Al, a shipwright who has repaired EVA in the past, has had his eye on the boat for years and jumped at the chance to take ownership. The EVA is a twenty-eight foot wooden gill-netter built in 1937. This boat is powered by an original two cylinder Easthope engine. "Easthope" was a local company that manufactured some of the first gasoline engines used to power the West Coast fishing fleet and became a legend in the industry.
The entire area has been classified as "Red Zone", a designation reserved for the most valuable fish habitat. This has been assigned with the current community's presence taken into account. The actual space used by buildings is quite small compared to the natural wetlands. From 1880 to 1993 our community has quietly existed on the edge of the Fraser River without official status or land tenure. We are presently involved in a process to obtain Crown leases for our dwellings. At the moment of writing nothing has been resolved, however, the dialogue continues. The trade-off for obtaining leases will probably be the promise of upgrading the community services to more modern standards. One of the first improvements the residents made was to install composting toilets in order to reduce our impact on the ecosystem here. We are now working on a five year master plan to accomplish the remaining upgrades. The challenge we face is to upgrade without changing the character of Finn Slough, as it is the uniqueness of the place that has kept the community together.
Lets save both the Wetlands and the Heritage!
Dear Friends of Finn Slough;
The situation at Finn Slough has changed. Until recently we have been involved in a process of negotiating to obtain leases for the heritage buildings and residences here at Finn Slough from the Fraser River Port Authority. This has broken down as one of the upland owners (Toronto developer, Stephen Smith of "Smith Prestige") has stated that he will deny the Slough the permissions necessary to obtain these leases. The Fraser River Harbour Authority has now stated its intention is to proceed as soon as possible to bring the question of lease acquisition to a close by evicting the residents and fishers and is demanding the destruction of the heritage buildings at Finn Slough.
This is a time when the help of public opinion and exposure (which had been held back during the talks) is sorely needed. We are asking for your support in voicing your concerns to the possible dismantling of an important heritage village. We have prepared a sample letter to the Fraser River Port Authority and the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks which you can copy and print as is or modify to your liking. Please print your name, sign this letter, providing your address, and send it to the addresses provided at your earliest convenience. Your help is much appreciated.
Thank you from the Directors of the Finn Slough Heritage & Wetland Society.SAMPLE LETTER
We have been gathering historical information to get an idea of the extent of the Finnish habitation here at Finn Slough. David Dorrington, our historian in residence has been doing a fantastic job of sleuthing. Here is a
sample of his work showing how difficult it can be to trace the background of our former residents. Some Favorite Links The Songbird Project Envirolink Earthday!
Here are some things we see around here:
Some Favorite Links
The Songbird Project
The Nature Conservancy
Environmental Organization WebDirectory
You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org