Story of the Campbell River Estuary
Rivers run through our history and folklore, linking us as a people. They nourish and refresh us, providing a home for dazzling varieties of fish and wildlife, and trees and plants of every sort. They hold stories of past and present, serving as a reminder of just how fragile - and beautiful - life can be.
For thousands of years, the First Nations people inhabited this area, living in harmony with nature and the life cycles of the salmon. Salmon have spiritual significance and are forever honoured through art and ceremony.
When the Europeans discovered this area in the 1800s, stories spread throughout Europe about the gigantic fish that could be caught in the isolated waters of Vancouver Island. The City of Campbell River might not exist today if it wasn’t for the fishermen who returned to their countries telling stories about a small river, only 8 km long, that hosted the renowned Steelhead plus five species of salmon - including the mighty Tyee, the largest salmon on the planet.
Today, the Campbell River is known by anglers throughout the world. Devoted fishers, who speak about the Campbell River with awe, come here from all points of the globe and celebrities including Eric Clapton who, fly-rod in hand, comes in search of the elusive winter steelhead. Even the King of Siam turned up on these shores more than a century ago searching in vain for the opportunity to land the elusive Tyee.
As life goes, the Campbell River has had its challenges. For more than 100 years, it was used as a log dump, sawmill, and cement plant. An industrial mud pit, its riverbed was poisoned by refuse from industry so that the precious eel grass, extremely important for the survival of migrating juvenile salmon, could no longer regrow. The numbers of returning salmon drastically diminished. The water was almost dead.
But out of the darkness, came an amazing story of transformation. In the mid 90s, river stewards and environmentalists brought forward a far-reaching and visionary plan that would totally restore the estuary to its former magnificence. Groups like the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Tula Foundation, and the City of Campbell River contributed towards the millions needed to finance the project. Soon afterwards the city led a small army of paid workers and volunteers and the transformation of the estuary began. It was not a simple task. The removal of "100 truckloads of contaminated dirt every day - for 20 days" - is an example of the dedication needed to reclaim nature’s bounty.
Now, healthy and alive, the buzz of saws has been replaced with the songs of marsh wrens. The wildlife, eagles, blue herons, beavers, and black bears; frequent the area. The people, proud and more environmentally conscious, are drawn to the river to fish, kayak, swim, and snorkel; awakened to the importance of protecting this “Heritage River” that is on BC’s 10 list of top rivers list. They have been awakened to the value of preserving their heritage and, thanks to the vision of so many citizens, their beloved river will be protected in perpetuity.
And the salmon, exhausted yet determined, return to their birthplace to lay their precious cargo of eggs, completing their life cycle…fulfilling their destiny.
Roderick Haig-Brown, one of British Columbia’s most distinguished conservationists and a prolific Campbell River author once wrote, “Rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation. They are the veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart.”
Forever flowing, the Campbell River continues to nourish, to refresh, and to remind us all to take care of this place we call home.
Written by Laurel Cronk and Morgan Ostler