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

Canadian Wildlife - - CONTENTS - Text and pho­tos by Is­abelle Groc

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.

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