BOWKER CREEK BLUEPRINT IS A BEACON OF INSPIRATION: “I used to ride my bicycle to school and cross Bowker Creek twice a day on Richmond road. In 1971 or 1972, the City of Victoria culverted that section of the creek. Here we are 50 years later, and we have this game-changing daylighting feasibility study. Within the next decade, I am hoping to see that same culvert removed. It is now mission possible,” stated Ian Graeme, founder of the Friends of Bowker Creek

Note to Reader:

Bowker Creek originates at the University of Victoria on southern Vancouver Island and flows for 8 km through three municipalities – Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay. The creekshed is completely urbanized. The impervious area coverage is 56%. Over 30,000 people reside in the surrounding creeks.

Released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in conjunction with BC Rivers Day in September 2021, A Beacon of Inspiration: Bowker Creek Blueprint and 100-Year Action Plan is a short history of building bridges of understanding from the past to the present and future. It is a story of local government champions and community leaders who share a vision, embrace shared responsibility, and are bringing Bowker Creek back to life.

In A Beacon of Inspiration, the Partnership tells the “story behind the story” to showcase the history and evolution of the Blueprint process over the past two decades. The storyline is structured in three parts. The first two cover the past two decades. The third part comprises interviews with current players who are collaborating to set a direction for the second decade of Bowker Blueprint implementation.

Presented below is the interview with Ian Graeme, founder of the Friends of Bowker Creek. In 2018, Ian Graeme was delighted when Soren Henrich and Gerald Harris re-incorporated, restructured, and revitalized the society. 

Creation of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society

When we incorporated the Friends of Bowker Creek Society, the mid 1990s was a time of a greenways movement in BC,” says Ian Graeme. “This became one of our four goals: create a Bowker greenway to increase access to the creek. If more people became familiar with the creek, we believed, public interest would drive creek restoration.”

“Soren Henrich has done an awesome job in re-energizing the Friends of Bowker Creek Society. He has learned, through his years of experience, how to attract talent and get residents working on projects that mobilize their passion.”

Why Relationships Matter Most

“Technical knowledge is not enough. You learn that technical competence alone is not going to get you there. That is what I want to pass on to people. If you have a technical problem, it is relationships that matter most. Strong relationships help make the BCI agile.”

“We need agility because we do not have the time and resources. At one level, all of us are too busy. At another level, and given the challenges posed by the issues of the day, we need to move on opportunities very quickly. Over a career, you do learn that it is all about understanding people. Technical knowledge is incidental sometimes.”

“It is important to acknowledge the major contribution by Adriane Pollard. Her commitment to sharing her experience and enthusiasm for 20-plus years is truly remarkable and speaks to her character and her commitment to Saanich. It is not easy for Adriane. Her role is challenging. She is a real bright light.”

UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

“Oak Bay, Saanich and Victoria have all issued proclamations supporting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This is a rallying cry to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems caused by current and past generations. The Bowker Blueprint is a great example of something that is tangible and aligns with the overarching policy commitment in the municipal proclamations.”

Reconnecting Kids with the Creek

“Municipal parks tend to be manicured settings. However, there is an increasing recognition of the value of nature within cities as well. Bowker is an example of where, over time, communities can create an ‘emerald necklace’ running through the urban Greater Victoria region. Imagine if kids could once again touch the creek and walk through it in their bare feet. And all within walking distance! The daylighting feasibility study shows what is technically possible in creating the emerald necklace.”

Daylighting Feasibility Study

“I used to ride my bicycle to school and cross Bowker Creek twice a day on Richmond Road. In 1971 or 1972, the City of Victoria culverted that section of the creek. I remember thinking why are they doing that? Something is not right about this. We are burying an opportunity and part of Victoria’s waterfront. Here we are 50 years later, and we have this game-changing daylighting feasibility study. I am hoping to see that culvert removed. It is now mission possible,” Ian Graeme says.

Game-Changing Action by the City of Victoria

Ian Graeme provided this perspective on the Council Meeting in February when councillors passed the 12-clause motion that committed Victoria to look for opportunities to daylight Bowker and other historic creeks:

“Two decades ago, as a citizen, I might have felt compelled to say ‘well, I’d like to add A, B, C and D.’ When I saw the staff presentation to Council by Jas Paul and Brianne Czypyha, I thought ‘there is little I could add’. They covered it all and they communicated it with professionalism, with commitment, and they came across as the voice of the BCI. They nailed it.”

Watershed Thinking Led to Kings Park Collaboration

“The land that is known as Kings Park had been owned by BC Hydro since the late 1950s. Saanich, with the active encouragement of local residents, recently bought the land with the proviso that the community help contribute to the purchase price. In July 2021, the Saanich Mayor asked Victoria and Oak Bay to contribute financially because the park would serve residents in all three municipalities.”

“It was interesting to observe that the Bowker Blueprint was a central argument about why the three municipalities should collaborate on the purchase. This was done outside the BCI. But it was another example of collaboration which I think has been reinforced by watershed thinking. The acquisition serves all our municipalities; it is integral to the health of the creek; and what we do upstream will have benefits downstream in Oak Bay. Mayor Haynes’ request promoted some great conversations between Councils.”

To Learn More:

A Beacon of Inspiration is the 10th in the Partnership’s Watershed Blueprint Case Profile Series. Because there is no equal to the Bowker Creek Blueprint and the intergenerational 100-Year Action Plan, the intent is that this “story behind the story” will have lasting value as a legacy resource for the Bowker Creek Urban Watershed Renewal Initiative. The Partnership’s hope is that others will be inspired by the Bowker experience.

The Bowker Creek Blueprint is a 100-year action plan to peel back the pavement, daylight an historical creek, and restore nature within the Victoria urban region on Vancouver Island. The intergenerational commitment by so many players is inspirational.

To read the complete story, download a copy of A Beacon of Inspiration: Bowker Creek Blueprint and 100-Year Action Plan.