Origins of a Field Trip
But what about the site’s history before heavy industry took hold of the coasts along Burrard Inlet?
Some Colonial History
The early 1900s saw some of the most pronounced colonial activity on the North Shore. This period was marked by early forestry activities that razed the coastal slopes and bluffs of the immense stands of Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar that once soared all along the BC Pacific coast.
This great cut was a once in a thousand year cull. While this seems extreme to modern thinking, back then, it likely really did appear to the early settlers that the forests went on forever, providing an endless bounty for the taking.
Unfortunately, they were wrong.
Though forests can be harvested sustainably, the clear-cutting methods used by the early colonialists, and by the timber industry for decades after that, has led to losses on many levels. Ecological loss includes: erosion and associated soil degradation, adverse effects on streams likely used for spawning salmon and other aquatic life, terrestrial habitat loss, and the loss of who knows how many plants and animal species.
Culturally, this great cull was a loss as well. Without travelling to places with some of the remaining stands of old growth forests, people in my father’s generation, my generation and my daughters generation–and for several generations to come–have been deprived of knowing what it would be like to live alongside these majestic forests that once formed a solid ribbon along the Pacific Coast. As I write this I am reminded of the stumps of these early giants that my colonial forefathers razed that one often comes across while hiking along the North Shore mountain trails. And when I think about this I feel this as well as a loss. Personally. Emotionally.
And there, for me is a mindful indicator. When something triggers an emotional response, be it positive, or like this one, negative, it says, “Hey, pay attention to me. Do you know where I’m coming from.” And to me that is part of the long and winding road of mindful practice. Once you’ve gone through practicing clearing your mind, and dealing with a lot of issues you find there in the first place, there’s this ongoing journey of discovery of self-discovery. And part of that process, it stopping once you find something that triggers an emotional response to see whether you’re owning it.
Having lived in the forest in central BC for a time as a child, I spent large chunks of time in solitude with trees. Never any as majestic as were on the coast (and if I think about it, maybe the forest where I lived in near Cariboo Lake had also been logged), but tree enough for me. But the trees were just the start of it. I saw moose, black bears, and thin snakes that flashed like silver through mossy rocks in the stream by our place. I could set my watch by a beaver who swam by daily in the lake. Porcupines. And ever so many birds. I never saw a grizzly bear. About that, I was glad.
Once the forest companies were done, industry moved in along the coast, and that’s when the area of the flats was taken over by industrial activity. There is a black and white archival shot of the site of the mudflats in 1950 when it was Deeks and McBride Sand and Gravel Company on p. 8 of this paper done by John Barlow (towards an ecological restoration degree). If you want to know why the site was called a ‘brownfield’ site after this time, that photo will give you a clear idea.
Of Artists and Squatters
From about the 1920’s on, in areas that were abandoned or overgrown, an unconventional community grew up along Burrard Inlet in this area, made up of squatters, artists, and people avoiding the war. They built ramshackle and stilt houses along the beaches, and made a life. Among the people who lived along Burrard Inlet during this time, was Malcolm Lowry, the colourful British author who wrote the novel, Under The Volcano, which is listed as the 11th top English novel of the 20th century. The manuscript was nearly lost to a fire of their squatters house near Dollarton, rescued by his wife, while many of his other writings went up in the blaze.
Lowry’s home was not the only squatter’s cabin along Burrard inlet to go up in smoke. The other homes along the Maplewood Flat area, largely wooden, like the one below, were set ablaze in the early 1970’s when the City of North Vancouver forcibly evicted the residents, as detailed in a photo news story from the Vancouver Sun.
There is still a memento left at the site to the alternative inhabitants of the flats who were turned out in the form of miniature wooden houses.
These days, the mudflats lie largely silent of human drama. People using the park are expected to stay on the trails to not damage its sensitive ecosystems, which meant I would not be doing digging into the mudflats. So to get ready, I just got together my camera, binoculars, some boots, bug spray, and notebooks. Backpack. Check.
Next thing I knew I was on my way. Below some of the scenes I captured of the sights along the way. Based on the views and the serenity, you would hardly know that it was ever any different.