New Star Blogs

Stones in the river: A story of gravel beds, salmon, suburbs


Gravel isn’t sexy, but it’s important, constantly in demand, and a valuable commodity. As the city advances, as new suburbs take over brush, field and forest, the first thing that goes down is a layer of gravel: roadbeds, foundations, sewers and waterlines.

As the Fraser River bends around Hope and leaves the mountains behind, its slowing currents deposit the glacial gravel it has carried with a rush out of the province’s interior. So close to water — and thus cheap transportation — the lower Fraser’s gravel deposits are today sought by the growing suburbs up and down the coast. If you’re living on such a gravel deposit, you’re living on a mine of sorts. Not a gold mine, but there’s just as much of a rush. Ask the Sto:lo, the people who live along the stretch of the Lower Fraser River between Hope and Mission, a community contemplating change and continuity in the face of these pressures Or if you could, ask the salmon that rely on this part of the river’s gravel beds to spawn each spring,

In Sturgeon Reach: Shifting Currents at the Heart of the Fraser, Terry Glavin and Ben Parfitt unpack some of the issues swirling around the river’s gravel banks. They talk to Sto:lo and others who see an opportunity for their community to gain a measure of economic stability. Hydrologists explain the gravel build-up, and assess the flood risks associated with mining the gravel banks, or not. Salmon, one of the totemic species of the coast, provide a chorus in this drama.

Glavin is an award-winning writer who has written extensively in books and newspaper and magazine articles about the Fraser, the Sto:lo, and salmon. His A Ghost In the Water is set in the same stretch of river. Co-author Ben Parfitt has also written extensively about resources and the environment. He is the author of Forest Follies: Adventures and Misadventures in the Great Canadian Forest and co-author, with Michael M’Gonigle, of Forestopia: A Practical Guide to the New Forest Economy.

Craig Orr thought the story of Sturgeon Reach’s gravel needed to get out. As a lifelong environmentalist and director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, he saw the potential impact of gravel mining not just on the Sto:lo community and the spawning grounds north of Mission, but also on the Lower Mainland and the region as a whole. It was Craig and Watershed Watch who helped find the seed money to get the writers and photographers going.

Sturgeon Reach also marks an important passage — the last Transmontanus that Terry Glavin had a hand in as series editor. Since Transmontanus No. 1 in 1994, A Ghost In the Water — which he also wrote — Glavin and the Transmontanus series have vastly enriched the writing and the thinking about our part of the world, known for the moment as British Columbia. This was recognized in 2009, when Glavin received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.

With such recent books as Come From the Shadows and Waiting for the Macaws, Glavin’s ambit now encompasses the globe from Afghanistan to the Amir River, and his lively blog is an indispensable source of news and views. His books about British Columbia, A Death Feast in Dimlahamid and This Ragged Place, are both available from New Star. We thank Terry Glavin for his almost-two-decade contribution to the Transmontanus series, and to the literature of BC.