Gathered on top of an embankment, a group of Grade 1 students look out onto Osborne Pond in the middle of Bear Mountain Golf Resort’s valley layout.
The subject of their fascination is Goldstream Hatchery volunteer Bob Neill, up to his waist in water, who tightens his gloved hands around piping connected to a metal vat on the back of a pickup truck.
After cheers from the young crowd, more than 5,000 young salmon begin streaming through the pipe into the lake.
“(Having heard) about the journey the fish have from point A to point B, I think it’s important for the children to see that,” said Jennifer Yarish, a mother of one of the students on hand. “It’s important to go into the physical environment … to be there and physically see salmon repopulated into the stream.”
Following a scenic golf cart ride through the Bear Mountain Valley course to the pond, the energetic students are enjoying hot chocolate and the up-close-and-personal eco tour put on by the Westin Bear Mountain Resort, in partnership with the Salmonid Enhancement Association. The association of 90 volunteers, 10 to 15 of whom work at the hatchery six days a week year-round, have raised the young salmon at the Howard English Hatchery since 2013.
Association technical advisor Peter McCully said the juvenile coho salmon, or parr, taken from Goldstream Park will imprint at the Millstream watershed, where they would one day return to spawn if they survive. Rearing young salmon is just part of the work of hatchery volunteers.
“Arguably as important is education and outreach,” McCully said. “We could produce all the fish we want, but if we haven’t captured the minds and hearts of the next generation to protect the environment for those fish, then all the production in the world isn’t going to mean any difference. This is our future.”
The repopulation of these eight to 10-gram salmon into the approximately 34-million gallon fresh water pond started in 2011 with Bear Mountain looking for opportunities to naturally irrigate the golf course, using a pond formed by the melting of large chunks of glacial ice.
The Millstream watershed which the pond flows into, starts in the Highlands and runs through Langford, Colwood, View Royal and into Esquimalt.
“I am really pleased with Bear Mountain reaching out like they have,” McCully said. “Millstream never had sea-going salmon in it before. We now have a self-sustaining run of salmon in an urban stream. We have salmon going up into a city. That is pretty remarkable.”