What next...a pod of orcas swimming near the Athlete's Village?
Vancouverites went a bit gaga yesterday when a grey whale was seen swimming in the waters off Granville Island in False Creek. If you’re not from Vancouver, this body of water is as close to urban living as you can get. It is home to dozens of sleek green and clear glass towers as well as the infamous 2010 Olympic Athlete’s Village. Therefore having a grey whale meandering about in plain view was certainly a sight to see.
I must say our collective reaction to the whale sighting does speak to how Vancouver is no longer a little logging town on the West Coast. Within minutes of the whale swimming into the creek, there were TV station helicopters flying overhead, police boats and hundreds of people lining the shore to witness the whole affair. It’s hard to think that only 150 years ago the sighting of a grey whale along this part of BC’s coast would have been as common as the old growth trees lining the shores.
Not long ago, False Creek was a contaminated mess of abandoned industrial buildings and poisoned soil. Thanks to the visionary leadership of previous civic and provincial politicians and the public servants that worked for them, this has become the among the most prized real estate in Canada. The land is slowly being cleaned up and now parents and kids playing have replaced creosote and other toxic chemicals as the predominant feature in the neighbourhood. Perhaps it was an environmental message that this lone whale was giving to all us. Clean up your act and on occasion we may drop by for a visit or two and help to give a major boost to your international reputation as an urban city surrounded by nature.
Prior to his departure, I vividly recall getting a tour of the Olympic Athlete’s Village development by then Deputy City Manager Jody Andrews. Andrews quit his post soon after Gregor Robertson took office. He brought me to a man made island that was being constructed in False Creek just across from the Village. Andrews explained to me all the environmental features of the development but appeared most proud of the new island that was being formed before our eyes.
The island was a tribute to the Four Host First Nations who decades before everyone else arrived were stewards of the land we now know as Southeast False Creek. Andrews said that the island was being meticulously constructed to help increase the chance that one day west coast salmon may once again call the creek home.
The argument is if you can clean up the water, you will increase the chance of new marine life. If there is more marine life, you’ll attract more marine mammals. In theory, if plans for False Creek materialize, perhaps a sighting of a grey whale or porpoise will become a little more common. It all sounded great in theory, but yesterday’s whale sighting gave it real meaning.
The fact we’ve been cleaning up our act when it comes to protecting the quality of Vancouver’s local waterways bodes well for attracting other marine mammals. It’s taken us decades to get to this point and we’ve still got a long way to go. However, a brief visit from a grey whale and the reaction we had to it helps to put all the work we’ve done into perspective.