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World Rivers Day – A BCIT Story

This Sunday, September 28th is World Rivers Day – a global celebration of and reflection on the state of the waterways that make life possible on our planet.

This year, it’s a day that will have particular poignancy for BC residents as we grapple with the fallout from one of the province’s most severe environmental disasters in recent memory, the Mount Polley Mine Disaster.

Around the province and the world, millions of people will take part in events and waterway restoration projects Sunday. But right here at BCIT, it’s a good time to look back and see how the day has a special connection to our campus.

You see, the idea for Rivers Day was born more than 40 years ago by former head of BCIT’s Fish Wildlife and Recreation program, Mark Angelo.

Mark Angelo sits on a bench dedicated to his efforts at BCIT beside Guichon Creek. Credit: BCIT.

Mark Angelo, former head of BCIT’s Fish Wildlife and Recreation program and Rivers Institute, sits on a bench beside Guichon Creek dedicated to his lifetime of work on waterways. Credit: BCIT.

In 1980, Angelo led a major cleanup project of BC’s Thompson River. The action was a major success. Angelo convinced the province to name the last Sunday in September BC Rivers Day, and partnered with the Outdoor Recreation Council to help organize a broader variety of cleanup events the following year.

The project snowballed, and within years tens of thousands of British Columbians were participating in river cleanups, school projects, and community festivals associated with the day. In 2005, with the day now a well established environmental event, Angelo successfully pitched its global expansion to the UN in partnership with their ‘Water for Life Decade’ initiative. The organization now claims millions of participants across 60 countries.

In a previous interview with Link Magazine, Angelo said that a he sees some of that success stemming right back to our school.

“To see this global celebration and know that the roots come back to British Columbia, and that some of those roots come right back to BCIT, it’s something that I’m very proud of and very excited about,” he told Link.

Guichon Creek in the 1970's was 'in pretty rough shape.' Credit: BCIT.

Guichon Creek in the 1970’s was in pretty rough shape. Credit: BCIT.

And it’s no surprise – much of Angelo’s work in river restoration took place right on this campus, at Guichon creek. In the 1970s, Guichon ‘creek’ barely deserved the name. To hear Angelo tell it, it was “in pretty bad shape” – little more than a drainage ditch. But beginning in the early 1980s, he and a dedicated crew of students began bringing it back to life, bit by bit, year by year.

It’s a credit to Angelo and the students here in the school’s Fish and Wildlife and Ecological Restoration programs that the creek now bursts with life. Many of those same students (and almuni) now fan out across the province to assist in cleanup activities on Rivers Day.

The visible part of Guichon creek runs from Moscrop St. in the South to the Burnaby campus’ rec centre, where it’s directed into a culvert. It flows underground from there, under Canada Way, and drains into Still Creek. The work of rehabilitating it has been continuous since Angelo and his early students broke ground. Long after Angelo’s retirement, environmentally focused programs on campus have continued to use it as a ‘living lab,’ and the school itself has maintained restoring the creek further as an official priority.

Mark Angelo, BCIT president Kathy Kinloch, and Lieutenant Governor Judy Guichon along with local cubscouts, release trout into Guichon Creek.

Mark Angelo, BCIT president Kathy Kinloch, and Lieutenant Governor Judy Guichon along with local cubscouts, release trout into Guichon Creek.

This week, that project got a big boost. Angelo, BCIT president Kathy Kinloch, and the province’s Lieutentent Governor Judy Guichon (who’s family, early settlers in Burnaby, gave the creek it’s name) were on hand to announce money for plans to begin unearthing the rest of the creek. The work is slated to take place in stages, and could begin as early as next year.

For those of us who have heard about the Chum salmon returns to Still Creek, the prospect of finishing Guichon’s restoration to the point where we might see salmon right here on campus is an exciting one. And a fitting way to celebrate Rivers Day on a campus that played no small part in its origins.