In 2012, following years of environmental conservation efforts, salmon finally returned to East Vancouver’s Still Creek after 80 years. The area, which saw the return of native vegetation, insects, and birds of prey, also welcomed a thriving sense of community pride. For decades, the support of Still Creek’s restoration has been growing thanks to the conservation work of local government, post-secondary institutions, and non-profit organizations. It’s this unique combination of educational experience and community building that has created a valuable opportunity for students in Langara’s Environmental Studies program.

Group of students on a Still Creek

Prior to the pandemic, Langara’s Environmental Studies field school visited Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island – a lush, healthy environment teeming with life. Travel restrictions in 2020 prohibited educational trips, and the field school needed an alternative location. This semester, Still Creek is providing this opportunity; students are monitoring the water quality and flow, sampling the fish and invertebrates, and contributing toward finding solutions toward saving these neglected natural areas.

For decades, the Still Creek watershed, which stretches from East Vancouver through Burnaby and into Burnaby Lake, was an industrial dumping ground, ravaged by chemical waste and personal and commercial refuse. Its decline was exacerbated by continuous urbanization which degraded the natural environmental systems needed to protect and maintain healthy biodiversity. Conservation efforts over the last 50 years have slowly gained traction in the community, resulting in a heightened awareness of the creek, an increase in volunteers committed to the cause, and a sense of community pride among residents.

“If you want to engage a community and build pride in the place they live, provide them with a higher quality of living,” says program instructor Drew Egan. “If you go into the industrial area Still Creek flows through, people can see it’s a place of nature that’s been denigrated. But when you start reviving it, it creates a sense of community pride, it means that more people will want to participate, it allows them to attach with nature. You’ll not only see increased biodiversity and a more sustainable ecosystem, but also a healthier community. That’s what part of this project is about; how to be a productive, environmentally conscious citizen.”

When I’m working in Still Creek and find a salamander or a salmon or a heron, it’s like seeing an old friend."

Angela Danyluk, senior sustainability specialist. City of Vancouver
Student by Still Creek

To ensure students were fully equipped in the field, complying with safety protocols, and getting the most of their educational experience, Egan worked with several community groups and industry partners like the Langara College Foundation, who provided funding to purchase a new water quality meter with a 10-meter cord so students could safely take measurements from one of the many bridges that cross the stream. Hoskin Scientific assisted with instrumentation and guidance for water monitoring, and Northwest Hydraulic Consultants will serve as an industry supporter who will read the results. This work-integrated learning gives students the opportunity to determine what is plausible, plan a course of action, and follow through to help with the creek’s restoration.

Also assisting with collecting water samples for the study are the Still Moon Arts Society’s Streamkeepers, a group of neighbours and citizen scientists who help take care of Still Creek and Renfrew Ravine. The volunteer group, which has grown with the success of conservation efforts, reflects the burgeoning pride of the local community. It’s a sentiment that Angela Danyluk from project partner the City of Vancouver, shares.

“When I’m working in Still Creek and find a salamander or a salmon or a heron, it’s like seeing an old friend,” said Danyluk, a senior sustainability specialist who worked with Egan on selecting and accessing Still Creek. “I’m filled with excitement and hope. Spotting wildlife gives me hope for the future. If we decide to improve urban habitat and water quality, we will see wildlife return to streams like Still Creek. That’s exciting.”