|Rumour has it they found me floating down the slough in a wicker basket but that's a different story!|
Back in the 1959 not long after the construction of George Massey Tunnel, Highway 17 cut Crescent Island farmland in half to service the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal which began service in 1960 and widened from two to four lanes in 1973.
My mom Jackie Burnett would later spearhead a group of parents to have a pedestrian walkway built over Highway 17 for kids to get across the dangerous intersection. They first built a wooden staircase over-pass which was next to impossible to take your bike over, and as the traffic volume magnified, and parents protested more, they eventually built the cement pedestrian overpass you still see connecting Ladner and East Ladner.
While I was oblivious to the controversy around so called "progress" of build more and build some more, my memory as a child that I remember was the Highway 17 construction created this huge pond near the intersection with Trunk Road that froze over in the winter offering a spectacular and huge outdoor skating rink.
When my family moved from Gibsons Landing, BC to Ladner I was only a couple years old. We first rented a home near the Sacred Heart Church on Arthur Drive abutting the slough while waiting for our new house to be built. Five months later we moved to Crescent Drive in East Ladner which ran parallel to Crescent Slough. Back then there were only six houses in East Ladner and plenty of open fields and farmlands for kids and wildlife.
We lived about three houses in from Highway 17, and while the constant drone of vehicles and progress encroached on our lives I was more fascinated with the muddy waters and wildlife of Crescent Slough. Yes some would call it a big ditch but growing up as a young boy it was anything but!
My parents moved into a bungalow at 6021 Crescent Drive in East Ladner on May 1st, 1968. Back then there were 6 houses between Highway 17 and 64th Street. Highway 17 was really just a two lane road to the new Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal which opened in 1964. When the highway was enlarged to four lanes it cut off direct access between the subdivision on each side of the highway. The only means to get from Crescent Drive on one side of the highway to the other was to double back and detour to Trunk Road or take the boat through the tunnel under the highway on Crescent Slough.
It often turned out to be a nightmare for emergency vehicles who often showed up on the wrong side of the highway.
As I think back to sleepy Ladner and Tsawwassen in the 1960’s and 1970’s I remember the old Paterson Park Race Horse Track which slowly fell into disrepair. but didn’t stop us from exploring its decrepit grand stands where I remember finding a 20 dollar bill and spending it all on candy with my visiting cousins at the convenience store across from Delta Manor Elementary school.
For me the slough was a source of creativity which inspired me to build a “Jaws” ride to scare the neighbourhood kids at only five cents a ride. I also held lots of puppet shows, magic shows, variety shows, haunted houses and even started producing my own special effects films including Earthquake and my own version of the Hindenburg that nearly burnt the house down. Please don’t tell my Mom!
My love for movies and film and special effects would later lead to me producing around 15 shows about the environment and AIDS with Delta Cable Community Television which were broadcast throughout the Lower Mainland, and today I continue to host shows, auctions and telethons on the Sunshine Coast, BC with Coast TV.
Mom tells me that the crop dusters flew so low across the Burr family’s farmland that it singed her laundry out on the close lines one day. Later we would notice a steady decline in wildlife contaminated by the pesticides including the complete loss of the giant bull frogs as big as a side plate. One time a crop duster got too close to the underbelly of a giant jet heading to the Vancouver International Airport, and got sucked up in the vortex, smashing the tiny crop duster into the huge plane and causing the duster to plunge straight down into the slough! I heard the tip of the plane's tail wings were 12 feet in the mud. Urban legend?
I remember all the muskrat, ducks, geese, carp and swans that lived in the slough year round that often got caught in the leg hold traps and snares set out along the slough by trappers. In later years when I moved on past University life the Delta Optimist covered a story about my mom Jackie’s cat being nearly choked to death by two snares around its neck. I even remember swimming in the slough and getting covered in the thick black smelly muck. It was the time of our lives!
One of my childhood friends David Van Rheenan and I loved to test the limits of the ice that use to turn the slough into a skating rink each year but I understand that it doesn’t freeze much anymore.
We would often walk across the farm fields and laugh at the giant mud slippers that sucked us into the earth on our way back and forth from exploring the bog and garbage dump. Later my parents would get an aluminum boat which we would row out to Burns Bog when the water level was low and we could get through all the tunnels installed under the farm roads and highways.
I remember this one time finding a robins nest amongst the hundreds of spider webs lining the inside of the tunnel and taking an egg home to incubate against the squawking protests of the mother. Unfortunately I cooked the egg with a heat lamp and have felt terrible about it every since. Lesson learned!
The garbage dump and bog was always a great adventure. We would see deer and all kinds of strange plants and birds. The dump itself, was like finding a hidden treasure chest full of wonderful junk and giant pumpkins. One time at the dump there was a seagull with its leg hopelessly caught in some fishing line. We finally managed to set it free but not after a few nasty bites from its beak.
We had a beaver move into the neighbourhood and it chopped down the birch tree I had so proudly planted as young boy.
My stepfather Ed use to buy feed from the old Co-op store in Ladner for the ducks and squirrels who became so friendly and welcome in our back yard that they often came into the house for treats. The hunters would shoot the ducks along the slough and right from the side of the Highway which really upset me.
Mom worked at the Gillnetter Café in the Ladner Hotel (way back when.. who remembers that coffee shop? It had a long coffee counter and this clock with advertising that flipped over and over again) and the police station was in what is now the Delta Museum and Archives. I was always fascinated with this clock at the 50’s style café.
The crop dusting and continued growth of housing in East Ladner eventually led to the demise of many muskrats, carp and and most tragically for me the giant bull frogs which have since become of mythic proportion in my inner child’s minds eye.
My mom later worked at the Cassiar Cannery in Richmond on Rice Mill Road. She would come home wreaking to high heaven of dead fish smell.
I remember this colouring book some friends and I created year's later, after going to the University of British Columbia to get a B.A. in Political Science, called The Adventures of Fraser about Fraser the duck who returns to find his home is now a golf course. Saddened he finds solace in Crystal the fish who’s underwater home is polluted. The pair are befriended by a couple of kids who clean up their back yard and declare it a protected habitat for wildlife.
When I think back on it, I realized that cartoon colouring book mirrored my own life. Funny my studies in politics, environmental science and the Fraser delta estuaries would be succinctly summed up by a childrens colouring book. I would love to see it re-published. It really is a gem.
I was very active in high school volunteering and doing theatre and stuff where I honed my skills on trying to ban leg hold traps showing films and having discussions about humane trapping methods. I would also get involved in the Don’t Dump on Delta committee, and started my career in the media writing a story about the campaign for a local publication, it was the "South Delta Now" or "Sunshiner" I think.
I also took my environmental message to the Ladner Pioneer May Day parades where I would build floats about banning the leg hold traps and protecting wildlife. I won many awards for best Novelty float and volunteered year after year to help put the event together. One year a reporter from the Delta Optimist took my photo with a local business person while judging the best decorated store window contest and another year a photo of me pulling a float of a pioneer wagon scene loaded with real dirt! Man was that heavy to pull through the entire parade route! I held on to the float in front of me quite a lot!
One of the strangest things, is the chronic dreams and nightmares I still have to this day about the slough and Ladner, and BC Ferries where I was hired as an Expo 86 kid at Tsawwassen Terminal. The severe sleep apnea probably doesn't help much and no doubt the real fear of loosing such a critically vital area for global populations of waterfowl. Estuaries are the most unique and productive eco-zones on earth and it saddens me greatly to see them chipped at and destroyed by pollution and urban sprawl.
I do still have many memories of growing up in Delta to share! Like the award winning international wetlands education society the Friends of Boundary Bay and Fraser for Life society I co-founded with Martin Keeley, where I went after major corporation sponsorship, knowing that business must lead the way to saving the planet, but they will have to wait for another day. (teaser)
I must say I probably wouldn't recognize Ladner anymore, or Tsawwassen. Where childhood fields and wetlands once supported child hood fun but now are drowning in concrete, asphalt, urbanization and kids bored out of their skull with X-Boxes and Guitar Hero.
Many thanks to the Delta Museum and Archives for kindly helping me with some back ground details and jogging my memory banks!
I am now living on the Sunshine Coast, BC Canada and I continue to help be of service to the community and do whatever I can to help the Earth.
Photos (C) Duane Burnett
All rights reserved
Duane Burnett is a "community spirit" award winning Master photographer, photo journalist, television host, actor, social networker and more. His images have been seen extensively on the Sunshine Coast and around the world in numerous newspapers, websites, brochures, map guides, magazines and on the big 50ft screen before the local movie theatre starts.