Digging Deep column: ‘Child of the Fraser River and the sea’

One way to respect our Garden City legacy is through a settler leader who strove to make things better for those to follow. That’s farmer poet Thomas Kidd. In today’s terms, he was also a Richmond MLA, mayor, councillor, school trustee and good neighbour.  We learn from him through his History of Lulu Island and poetry.

Thomas Kidd was born in Ireland in 1846. He arrived here in 1874 after living in New Zealand and California. Lulu Island, he found, was the fairest of all.

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In his ode to Lulu Island, Kidd speaks to her as “Child of the Fraser River and the sea.” The name captures the nature of Lulu and her smaller siblings, the 17-island Garden City. 

In that aspect of who we are, we exist through the interplay of the tidal sea and the flowing river bearing silt and seed. Always, we depend on their relationship.

Kidd, who built sturdy skiffs from local cedar to row from place to place, knew the Garden City’s life-giving estuary well. These days, it’s at risk, coveted for an outsize port. 

In B.C. Ministry of Environment words, “Estuaries, formed where rivers enter the ocean and fresh water mixes with the saltwater environment, are among the most productive ecosystems on earth.”  Our estuary is vital for the Fraser, the greatest salmon river. Fortunately, Kidd’s respect for nature’s legacy is not dead.

It lives on in people like Sandra Bourque and Otto Langer, a couple who met while doing master’s degrees in zoology in Alberta. They’ve championed the estuary and its child since arriving in Metro Vancouver in 1969 and making Richmond home in ’72. They care about impact, not fame, but you deserve to know about them.

Otto got results as a federal biologist and manager for 32 years and then with the David Suzuki Foundation. After retiring a decade ago, he remained immersed in conservation of the Fraser, sharing his expertise. Otto currently chairs VAPOR, standing up for the estuary.

Sandra was an ecological voice on school board for 18 years. Always, she’s a doer who gets things done. In 1978, Sandra and others went to court to stop a residential development on Garry Point. To help pay court costs, Sandra and Otto took out a loan with their home as collateral. They lost, appealed and won. Public support grew, and we all got Garry Point Park. 

This New Year’s, Otto had a massive heart attack. After multi-bypass surgery, his heart stopped six more times in six days, but he’s on the mend. While the duo pause, google the “Natural legacies versus waste” blog for their inspiring story and my guide to “Lulu Island.”

Poetic justice in a note from Otto: “While Sandra worked to save Terra Nova farmland and Gary Point, I attended to our first child. That child became a cardiac nurse. Lately, she helped save my life.”

Jim Wright is president of the Garden City Conservation Society.

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