THE TALE OF ONE URBAN CREEK ON VANCOUVER ISLAND: “This Shelly Creek art exhibit is such a unique project as we look at these environmental conversations through artists’ lenses and what happens is a very dynamic and exciting experience,” stated Jennifer Bate, Executive Director of the McMillan Arts Centre in Parksville (July 2022)

Note to Reader:

In 1999 the Englishman River on the east coast of Vancouver Island was declared an endangered river. Extinction of the salmon resource was viewed as a very real possibility. This catalyst for action resulted in two transformational outcomes: implementation of the Englishman River Watershed Recovery Plan (2001); and creation of the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MVIHES).

Fast forward to the present. Shelly Creek, a tributary of the Englishman River that flows through the City of Parksville, is important to salmonids. MVIHES has established a provincial precedent with the Shelly Creek Water Balance & Sediment Reduction Plan; and this will have reverberations as the “Shelly Creek story” becomes well-known.

The Shelly Creek experience foreshadows that an informed stream stewardship sector may prove to be a difference-maker that accelerates implementation of the ‘whole-system, water balance’ approach in British Columbia.

The Tale of One Urban Creek

“In the tradition of creating installation art with a message,  The Tale of One Urban Creek at the McMillan Arts Centre in the City of Parksville (on Vancouver Island) is the exploration in glass, photography, acrylic and steel art mediums of the beauty and fragile nature of urban places. Focusing the artistic narrative on Parksville’s Shelly Creek, we can follow it from its source in Errington farmland, flowing past Little Mountain, to its confluence with the Englishman River just below the Martindale Pond,” explained Jennifer Bate, Executive Director, McMillan Arts Centre.

“This summer, during the months of July and August 2022, an amazing group of local artists with incredible talents have come together to create an exhibit that showcases the story of one of the last local urban streams in the Parksville region that bears salmon and trout populations and what we can do to sustain and even enhance them for future generations to enjoy.”

“From cathedral-like images of Shelly Creek filling the windows in the beautiful Concert Gallery, three incredible painted canvasses providing background for a glass and steel cutthroat trout population, huge aerial map of Shelly Creek populated with photographic images of the flora and fauna of the area, to a jaw-dropping centrepiece – a glass simulated waterfall into a rain garden, incorporating colour and light – this exhibit is a spectacular summer experience.”

Peter Law, MVIHES Vice-President, and the huge aerial map for the Shelly creekshed

Streamkeepers embrace Shared Responsibility

“Beginning in 2011, the MVIHES action plan has concentrated on Shelly Creek. One of five Englishman River tributaries, it is the last fish-bearing creek flowing through the City of Parksville,” states Peter Law, Vice-President of MVIHES, the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society. Peter Law is also a founding Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.

“Through their involvement in MVIHES, community stewardship volunteers are demonstrating what it means to embrace ‘shared responsibility’ and take the initiative to lead by example. A paramount goal is to ‘get it right’ in the stream channel. The challenge for MVIHES is to facilitate the community’s journey from awareness to action, expressed as follows: Once a community as a whole acknowledges that there is a problem, and also understands why there is a problem, what will the community do about it?”

To Learn More:

Click on the image below or this link to CONTRIBUTING PARTNERS to download an information package that elaborates on the contributions by the eight artists. After that, scroll down to view of a set of photographs of the exhibits.

Cathedral-like images of Shelly Creek fill the windows in the beautiful Concert Gallery at the McMillan Arts Centre

The  jaw-dropping centrepiece – a glass simulated waterfall into a rain garden, incorporating colour and light

Peter Law, MVIHES – Kim Stephens, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC – Ross Peterson, MVIHES

Luck, Preparation and Opportunity – an essay by David Mackenzie on making a video in the outdoors

David Mackenzie happily shoots wildlife and landscape video above or below water in almost all weather conditions. He is passionate about water sustainability, intertidal zones, estuaries, rivers and all wildlife, especially in riparian environments. In the essay below, David Mackenzie  describes what was involved in filming the video on  display as part of  the exhibit for The Tale of One Urban Creek.

“The nice thing about filming indoors is that it’s a static and protected environment that you can control. And if you’re unsatisfied with the first cut you can do it again. And generally the participants cooperate well with the enterprise. Not so in the natural world. Especially when it comes to wildlife or the elements of nature. If you get cooperation it is usually a blessing,”  writes David  Mackenzie.

“There are no second takes in the wild. There is simply one moment that rolls into another to become something else. To capture the moment you want is the ultimate joy but with it comes the disappointment about what can be lost or missed, ‘the one that got away’.”

“I believe it is these two competing elements often define us and bring us to a place of acceptance that is actually a very healthy thing. Ron Howard tells us that no matter what film you are working on, “you have to accept the fact that sooner or later it’s just going to find a way to break your heart.” My heart has been broken countless times! But once you accept this as a reoccurring outcome, you don’t spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror thinking about what could’ve been.”

“I have learned that it takes a trilogy of interactive events to film outdoors. They are preparation, opportunity and luck. With preparation it’s not just about your camera gear, it’s also about planning where you are going and what want to shoot and how. The opportunity has a lot to do with the weather and environment. Forest or open lands. Wind, rain, sun, clouds, temperature, season, time of day. Where will the wildlife be? Why? How can you interact with them?  It’s about being at the right place at the right time with the right participants. But even if you have all the preparation and opportunity, you still need luck. And sometimes a lot of it.”

“When it comes to shooting film of fish that are often smaller than your baby finger, that is a challenge. They live underwater. They won’t pose for you. If they see you they are gone. But you need to get close to film them. Reflections off the water surface depending on sunlight and angle are a huge issue.  You can’t always go under the water due to fast current or shallow depth. If you shoot them from above you must focus through the water. If you shoot them in the water you have to be concerned about the turbidity in the water and the speed of the flow and where the fish will be in relation to your camera.”

You can leave the camera running in the stream in a stable place but it’s possible the fish would never swim by, and if they do go by it’s often very fast. Whether shooting dynamic or static, they’re always challenges. And then there is the issue of the time of year that the fish are there, and what the elements are doing. The temperature of the water and the volume of the flow.”

“On this project, I would have to say that probably 20% of the footage turned out well, 30% marginal, and 50% terrible. Remember, they are not in a barrel. And no matter what you do, you’re going to get what you get when you are on a short timeline in what was a a very rainy Spring.  But really, all you need is the 20%! And if you get that then you can celebrate!”