Google's view of Lost Lagoon clearly shows its relationship to the nearby ocean
Not long ago I was reading a book about the history of Vancouver and how it has developed over the last 100 years or so. Vancouver's West End was once characterized by rows of single family homes, and today with its wall of green glass highrises it is perceived as one of the most sustainable and modern neighbourhoods on the planet. This “progress” required past generations to develop the natural environment to create the neighbourhoods we so cherish today.
As our city forefathers tamed the landscape they did things that that would be unthinkable here today, like filling the False Creek Flats and cutting off Lost Lagoon from the ocean. It surprises some people to know that Lost Lagoon – a freshwater lake today – was connected to Coal Harbour a century ago. When First Nations first inhabited the South Coast, Lost Lagoon would actually rise and fall with the incoming tides. Today it is the home to various waterfowl and plants that typify a lake and not the oceanside.
While the lagoon is pretty to look at, is it time to open up a debate regarding whether it should be returned to an ocean environment? As some media have reported over the last year or so, the lack of daily “flushing” by local tides has turned this body of water into a veritable cesspool of bacteria. In fact, during last year’s heat wave the still waters of Lost Lagoon turned into a murky mess of green slime. Local scientists said the ‘green’ sludge which covered the water had to do with the record high temperatures and lack of any natural cleansing of the water.
An excerpt from Wikipedia helps to put this issue into context:
Native food gatherers used the low tide mudflats as a source for clams, and a midden on the north side indicates that a large dwelling once stood there. In the Sá¸µwxwú7mesh language, the name is Ch'ekxwa'7lech, meaning "gets dry at times". Settlers also built cabins around the lake, which were all removed between 1913 and 1916 during construction of the causeway. The lake was created in 1916 by the construction of the Stanley Park causeway. Prior to its creation, Lost Lagoon was a shallow part of Coal Harbour, now separated by Georgia Street, which itself is an extension of Burrard Inlet.
It’s interesting that the labour movement actually wanted to pave over the lake and turn it into a sports field, something that the Park Board eventually rejected. Here is another interesting excerpt from Wikipedia:
When the causeway was first proposed in 1909, an intense public debate took place over the fate of the basin. As with most of the early controversies concerning the use of Stanley Park, organized labour was pitted against the more upper and middle class proponents of the City Beautiful movement. Trade union representatives argued that the majority working class population was in need of recreational facilities, while their opponents maintained that more aesthetic or ethereal considerations should take precedence in park development
The Vancouver Trades and Labour Council was adamantly opposed to the idea of an artificial lake, and argued for it to instead be filled in for use as a sports field. The park board retained the services of T. Mawson and Associates, an architectural landscaping firm that had designed the park's zoo and many other facilities in Stanley Park. The proposal the board settled on featured an artificial lake with a sports stadium on the northwest side and a large museum on the southwest shore. The $800,000 price tag, however, proved too steep for the board's budget, and the non-lake parts of the proposal were quashed.
The next phase in the lake's development came in 1929, when the saltwater pipes entering from Coal Harbour were shut off, turning it into a freshwater lake. The BC Fish and Game Protection Association was given permission to stock the lake with trout. The Stanley Park Flyfishing Association was formed, and charged members to fish in the lake, while the park board profited from the canoe and boat rentals. This came to an end in 1938 when the walkway around the lake was constructed and the area declared a bird sanctuary. Civic budgets were significantly reduced during the depression, but the park board benefited from the free labour of relief recipients, who were used to landscape Lost Lagoon.
So is it time to for Vancouver to reconnect Lost Lagoon with the water source that helped to create it in the first place? I think it is, although I realize it's not without its consequences for the existing lakefront and surrounding trees. Maintaining the lagoon as some sort of artificial man-made lake not only goes against our green-influenced principles, it also does little to support the natural ecosystem that once thrived there a century ago. This is to say nothing about the fact this fresh water body of water has become a veritable toilet for hundreds of Canada geese who frequent the area each year.
Over the years Vancouver has spent millions of dollars to bring former streams back to life in neighbourhoods across the city. The best example of this was the restoration of previously paved-over streams at Hastings Park. Perhaps the time has come for us to unplug the dam and let the salt water flow once again in Lost Lagoon? The only other option may be to watch Vancouver’s most famous man-made lake slowly turn into a green, slimy pool of sludge. What do you think? Should we reconnect Lost Lagoon once again with the ocean?
- post by Daniel