BOWKER CREEK BLUEPRINT IS A BEACON OF INSPIRATION: “My interest is community organizing, taking care of volunteers, and empowering working groups. You trust people because their hearts are in the right place. Find out who can work together. Let them do it their own way and develop their own roots,” stated Soren Henrich, Chair of Friends of Bower Creek society, when describing his vision for community-based action

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 Soren Henrich, a community leader and Chair, the Friends of Bowker Creek Society.

Commitment to Blueprint is Enshrined

In the latter part of the first decade of Blueprint, the Friends of Bowker Creek (FoBC) society re-emerged as a catalyst for community-based action. Founded by Ian Graeme, the FoBC generated the early energy that resulted in the 2002 Bowker Creek Forum, which was literally a watershed moment.

In 2018, Ian Graeme was delighted when Soren Henrich and Gerald Harris re-incorporated, restructured, and revitalized FoBC. All three are proud that the FoBC constitution explicitly

“supports the restoration and enhancement of Bowker Creek and its watershed to a healthy state, guided by the vision and goals of the Bowker Creek Blueprint.”

“My involvement in the Bowker Creek Initiative began as a representative of a neighbourhood association. With re-incorporation of the Friends of Bowker, our structure includes five working groups, and we are connected to 11 neighbourhood groups. The broad nature of this representation raises an obvious question: Who is the community voice on the steering committee? The FoBC is already the de facto representative.  A reasonable and logical next step would be to formalize this role,” states Soren Henrich.

Viewed in the intergenerational context, Soren Henrich and Gerald Harris represent continuity through three stages of Blueprint evolution: genesis (pre-2010), the first decade of implementation, and now the second decade. FoBC is an important legacy piece in terms of how the intergenerational baton is handed off, now and in future.

Friends of Bowker Creek is a Voice for the Community

“There is this undercurrent of human desire to be near water, and to connect with water in the city. In the last ten years, we have seen more and more recognition that the creek is there. Whereas before people would ask ‘where is Bowker Creek?’, now there is more signage, and many more community connections,” reports Soren Henrich.

“Being effective is very much about people connections. We are getting better connected over time – for example, FoBC functions as an umbrella for 11 neighbourhood associations. Along with organizing around our five working groups, this connector role allows FoBC to present ourselves as a voice for the community.”

“My interest is community organizing, taking care of volunteers, and empowering working groups. You trust people because their hearts are in the right place. Find out who can work together. Let them do it their own way and develop their own roots. My current source of inspiration is a book titled The Troublemaker’s Teaparty: A Manual for Effective Citizen Action by Charles Dobson. Published in 2003, the principles in it are very good.”

Community Outreach and Engagement

“The arts help keep the Bowker Blueprint fresh when you ally that with the basic goals,” emphasizes Soren Henrich. “Consider, for example, the Bike-Powered Creekside Concert Series. This began in 2019 in partnership with James Davis of Tune Your Ride. The concert series is one way we make use of the arts to engage people.”

“You never know who will be in the audience; nor where and how their participation may lead. In 2020, City of Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday participated in the creekside concert series as a spoken word performer.”

“Afterwards, he asked about the 10-year review of the Blueprint. He offered to help at the Council level and then followed through on his commitment. Months later, in February 2021, he and Councillor Ben Isitt put forward a 12-clause motion of support that Council passed unanimously.”  Clause 11, for example, states that:

“Council requests the Mayor write to the CRD, the District of Saanich, and District of Oak Bay expressing our continued and renewed commitment to Bowker Creek and our excitement to continue to work together to steward and rehabilitate the watershed.”

“It was a real shot in the arm to have such active political leadership at the start of the 10-year review of the Blueprint. It gave us a timely lift. Going forward ten years, the FoBC is committed to bringing to life the ‘green corridors’ conceptualized on the BCI branding image (below).”

Vision for a Green Grid of Green Streets and Greenways

“We have a greenways working group. In the urban core, our intention is to raise the profile of Bowker Creek as a regional trail that connects to the existing regional trail system in Victoria. Currently, Oak Bay is not connected. Bowker is the way to link Oak Bay with a multi-use trail that is close to the city, and close to nature under a tree canopy, without having to be on a major road.”

“In the second decade of Blueprint implementation, FoBC has the confidence to advocate for the infrastructure necessary to achieve the greenways part of the Bowker vision. Yes, projects would be large-scale and involve considerable engineering to retrofit. We are comfortable pushing hard for real change, while also recognizing the need to secure recommitment every 5 to 10 years. It will take some time. But FoBC is committed to the long view.”

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.