Raising Salmon… and Awareness
At the Mossom Creek Hatchery in Port Moody, B.C., two retired teachers continue their lifelong stewardship of nature and the next generation to care for it
Local Heroes: At the Mossom Creek Hatchery in Port Moody, B.C., two retired teachers continue their lifelong stewardship of nature and the next generation to care for it
hen five-year-old Miriyan walked out of the salmon hatchery in Port Moody, B.C., where she had just learned about the life cycle of Pacific salmon, Rod Macvicar showed her how to make a basket out of a big maple leaf.
Meanwhile, Ruth Foster picked salmonberries and then placed them in the basket. Next, on the edge of the creek, Foster pointed out a variety of native plants: the Indian plum, whose leaves taste like cucumber; the leaves of red elderberry that smell like peanut butter when crushed; and the rubbed leaves of stink currant that have the aroma of blackcurrant jam.
Foster and Macvicar, co-founders of the Mossom Creek Hatchery and retired high school teachers, hope to make a lasting impression on every child who crosses their paths, using anything they can find in nature as an educational tool. “This is about keeping their inquisitiveness alive, the excitement and the joy of seeing things,” Macvicar says.
For over 42 years, they have worked to instill an awareness of and a passion for environmental issues and the need for stewardship in young generations, with salmon as their ally. “If you bring back
the salmon, you bring back everything because they are such a foundation species of the Salish Sea,” Foster says.
It started in 1976 when Foster and Macvicar, then both biology teachers at a local high school in Coquitlam, discovered Mossom Creek, only 15 minutes away from the school. The crystal-clear stream that flows into Burrard Inlet used to have salmon, but overharvesting and urban development had depleted the run. The pair was interested in providing field experiences to their students outside the classroom and immediately saw the potential. They decided they would try to bring the salmon back to the stream and get their Grade 11 and 12 biology students to look after the fish. They started a salmon school club, and with the help of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Foster and Macvicar’s students took their first chum salmon eggs from another location and released the juveniles into Mossom Creek. “The students would go there on their lunch break or after school to feed the salmon five times a day,” Foster remembers.
Over four decades, the program has continued to thrive. “We could jump in the bus at any time with our kids. We visited sites to talk about development practices,” Foster says. “The kids were 80 per cent in the field in one semester.” As a master mariner, Macvicar also took the students on the water for an opportunity to learn about the marine environment. “We want to address the whole ecosystem, not just one small piece of habitat,” he says.
On field trips, Macvicar drove the school bus while Foster taught the students as they went. Their long-lasting commitment to stewardship and environmental education echoes the longevity of their professional partnership. Over the years, their respective life partners — Foster has been married for 45 years and Macvicar has known his wife for 70 years — have joked that they sometimes saw less of their spouses than Foster and Macvicar saw of each other. “Your success depends on choosing the right person to work with. We accomplished far more together because of our diversity and because of our similarities. Ruth’s strengths were my weaknesses,” Macvicar says. “I think of Rod as the accelerant or the igniter and I am the glue. He comes up with these ideas and I am very methodical and precise,” Foster adds.
Thanks to that symbiosis, the two teachers have been broadly recognized for their innovative approaches in education. Foster, for example, won a Canadian Environmental Award gold medal for environmental learning in 2006. And today, the hatchery, built mostly by volunteers, releases chum, coho, pink and chinook salmon.
When the first salmon were released, not many came back, and even today the returns can be modest. To Foster and Macvicar, the project is not about the number of fish that return but about people. “It is about the process of growing up environmental stewardship and transformation in people’s attitudes,” Macvicar explains. “I would rather see people show up than fish in some ways,” he says. “We are not just raising fish, we are also raising kids. And the students keep coming back, just like the salmon,” Foster adds. Both teachers take pride in the large number of students who have gone on to careers in related fields. “We care about who these young people are going to become and how they are going to vote,” Foster says.
For over 20 years, the two teachers have been running their Salmon Sunday program at the hatchery to bring volunteers together. “It is the ‘Church of Mossom,’” Foster says. “People drop by, they stay connected. It is about building community.” One of her greatest joys is to see former students come back to the hatchery with their own children. “They care about this place, and it’s nice for them to know there are a couple of old teachers that still know who they are and who will remember them and the shared experiences in the field.”1
To learn more about the Mossom Creek Hatchery and Education Centre, visit mossomcreek.org.
We are not just raising fish,” says Ruth Foster. “We are also raising kids. And the students keep coming back, just like the salmon”
SHARED RESPONSIBILITY For more than four decades, Ruth Foster and Rod Macvicar have been instilling in young people an abiding love and responsibility for the environment.