By the Bay: Significant sloughs
Sloughs are a defining feature of Delta’s low-lying landscape and an integral part of our natural heritage.
Prior to dyking and draining of the marshes, the Fraser River split into dozens of braided creeks as it flowed sluggishly through the delta and into the ocean. The estuary was a highly dynamic environment.
The main flow of the river frequently moved position, as seen on early maps of the area. Many of the old waterways have been culverted or diverted through farm ditches. Historically-significant sloughs and creeks which still remain include Canoe Pass, Chilukthan Slough and Crescent Slough.
Canoe Pass was frequently a route to the main stem of the Fraser River for those coming from the south. First Nations heading to their fishing grounds would paddle up it with the incoming tide. Miners arriving from Victoria in the 1858 Gold Rush used it as a short cut to avoid the tax-collecting brig, Recovery, moored near Steveston.
Today, as then, Canoe Pass is visited by many waterfowl, especially in winter, when swans, ducks and geese fly in from the north. Rare western grebes are seen in winter near the old Westham Island bridge, and introduced mute swans reside at Port Guichon.
Chilukthan Slough flows south from Ladner Village, alongside the many heritage homes and fine trees on Arthur Drive. It was once wide enough for canoes and punts, and flowed all the way through to the Tsawwassen First Nation lands. Changes in the course of the Fraser, in the late 1800s, reduced the volume of water, so the southern stretch now disappears into farmland.
The unusual curve of Crescent Slough carves the landscape north of Ladner, and the Harris family has farmed surrounding fields for five generations. Early records show both these sloughs were once thickly lined with trees and shrubs.
Many animals and plants rely on sloughs. Beavers and muskrats have dens in the muddy banks; fish, frogs, wood ducks and gadwalls live in the water; and barn swallows swoop overhead. Crescent Slough is a traditional feeding and staging area for sandhill cranes. Sloughs and ditches drain soggy winter fields, prevent flooding in storms, and supply irrigation water in summer. They are the quintessential Delta habitat.
This month’s column is dedicated to Gwen Szychter, a dedicated, valiant and generous local historian and author, who passed away in July. Her death is a great loss to our community.
Anne Murray is the author of two books on nature and the natural history of the lower mainland: A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past ~ A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, both available at local bookstores; see www.natureguidesbc.com