An elder walk on Kitsilano Beach

by Jim Park

On July 30, under the warm summer sun, a group of concerned elders met in Volunteer Park on Point Grey Road in Kitsilano, Vancouver, to walk the beach where a proposed seawall extension is to be located. Led by Suzuki Elder David Cook, a geologist and naturalist, and assisted by Sheila Byers, a marine biologist, the walk spanned the area between the Vancouver and Jericho Yacht Clubs. With the two scientists were six Suzuki Elders, Mel Lehan from the Point Grey Foreshore Society, and two Vancouver Parks Board Commissioners, John Coupar and Trevor Loke. The walk was planned to show the participants the diverse intrinsic value of this beach area and to examine the features worthy of being preserved in their natural state.

David presented the geological history of this part of Kitsilano Beach and its unique characteristics, including coal veins, two basalt channels bounded on both sides by sandstone, a fossil repository, and other fascinating earth lore. Sheila discussed the rich and complex intertidal web of life found here, and emphasized the fragility of the beach ecosystems. There were many opportunities for hands-on experiencing of the topics being discussed by David and Sheila. Each handful of sea water that Sheila cupped in her hands contained a myriad of tiny life forms. It seemed so miraculous, I felt like a kid again. When David led us to a fossil repository and showed us a beautiful plant fossil that he had found there, I became the ten-year-old amateur paleontologist of my youth and started scouring the ground looking for T. rex bones. I didn’t find any bones but I did find a wonderfully detailed leaf fossil. In some ways, I think we all became children again as we slowly explored the seashore. Everyone was excitedly talking to each other, broad smiles of delight framing eyes bright with the joy of new discoveries and realizations. This is what a spiritual connection with nature does.

There will always be a need for more housing and more recreational areas for the public to access, but these needs are, in my opinion, greatly outweighed by the absolute necessity to keep some places free of human influence, left wild in their natural state to heal, grow and evolve. This area of Kitsilano Beach is one such place. As Elder Diana Ellis noted, it has a rich history of occupation by the indigenous peoples who lived here for thousands of years, as well as by many other settlers from all over the world who chose to make it their home in more recent times. In our time, it has been allowed to be itself, to slowly erase all signs of human occupation and to return to its natural state. These areas are becoming increasingly rare within urban environments.

It is hoped that, as a group, we conveyed our strong feelings to the two city commissioners who kindly made the time to join us, and that they will convey our wishes to the Vancouver City Council. If they felt any of the magic that we felt down on the beach, then I’m confident that they will recommend against building a seawall along that portion of Kitsilano Beach.

Thank-you to David Cook and Mel Lehan for organizing two walks that were deftly merged into one, and to each participant who added to the knowledge pool of this area. It was fun!

Left to right: David Cook; Sheila Byers; Jim Park; Diana Ellis; Cynthia Lam.

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