Two members of the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club clear debris from the fish-counting fence during a flood in 1996.

Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club has storied history

Members of the South Surrey club are focused on being stewards of Little Campbell River

Many of us consider the environmental movement to be a recent phenomenon burgeoning in the 1980s and 1990s. In that case, the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club was 30 years ahead of the trend.

We recently sat down with club president Bob Donnelly and four long time members – Bob Oswald, Derek Uren, Archie McNair and Roy Thomson – to reminisce about their activities over the years. Oswald, hatchery manager and charter member, recalled the club’s origins.

“Well, it was a bunch of guys that were local fishermen. There’s not too many of them left. Ed Kendall over here next door is one of the founding members. Most of the founding members were anglers and very concerned about the fish stocks and the siltation of the local Little Campbell River with sand, so they decided to form a club in 1956. The first meeting was held in the old White Rock Hotel.”

Concerned that decades of industrial gravel extraction on the banks of the Little Campbell was ruining the river, the group decided to take action, framing a mandate to become stewards and spokespeople for the natural places of the watershed while participating in the sport they loved.

Lack of a permanent home meant that the club’s early years were nomadic. Meetings were held wherever they could find space, but the dream was to find a location of their own, preferably near the Little Campbell.

Fundraising to purchase land became a priority.

One of the main fundraisers was – and still is – the Father’s Day salmon barbecue. A tradition of the club since 1958, it has become one of the most popular family events in the region. (This year, it takes place at 1 p.m. June 17.)

Despite the lack of a permanent home, the club’s work in and around the Little Campbell River was extensive in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. They constructed nature trails, cleared debris and also gathered valuable information on fish populations to pass on to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Stewardship of the river was not the club’s only focus. By the early 1960s, they had taken on the Provincial Junior Firearms Safety Training Program and needed a range for practice and testing. Temporary sites included everything from old quarries to the basement of the newly built Central Plaza shopping centre in 1961. Difficulty in finding a suitable site for a shooting range led to the creation of an archery program, which is still very popular.

Ruth Kendall, a past president, compiled a history of the club in which she wrote, “The club always organized events for fun and recreation, too. We held salmon derbies and steelhead derbies in our own river for both the seniors and the juniors. We took to the interior hills at the opening of grouse season. We started annual camp-outs with the juniors that provided some interesting challenges for their senior advisors and finally grew to the family camp-outs we still enjoy.”

In 1965, the search for property came to fruition with the purchase a lot at 16 Avenue and 136 Street, across from Ray Shepherd Elementary. In typical fashion, members donated their time, money and resources to prepare the site for all the club’s activities. Within 10 years, it was apparent that the rapidly developing neighbourhood was unsuitable for the club’s purposes, and the decision was made to move on.

Finally, in 1978, an ideal site along the river came up for sale. It was more land than the club needed, or could afford. A core group of members, including Oswald, mortgaged their homes to make the purchase. The excess land was sold to reimburse members.

At last, the club had a permanent home.

Now, a unique opportunity presented itself. Since the Little Campbell River flowed through their property, they could install a permanent fish-counting fence and begin to collect data on fish population and health in unprecedented quantity. Building the fence was easier said than done.

Oswald remembers, “The first fish-counting fence was devised by Provincial Fish and Wildlife Branch for counting steelhead. It was a chicken-wire fence. It lasted one high water – gone.

“So then Fisheries told us to build a broomstick fence. Well, the beavers thought they were great! Chomp, chomp, chomp, it didn’t last very long. The first high water or two, and it was gone.

“So then I designed the counting fence we have now. I took it to Fisheries people and they approved it.”

Oswald’s design was constructed by shop students at Cloverdale Junior High, where club member Lorne Halliday was a teacher. The design was so efficient and durable that DFO adopted it other projects.

Work then began on construction of the hatchery buildings (opened in 1983), and infrastructure. In the early 1990s, the clubhouse and indoor archery/shooting range were constructed with help from members of the Lions Club and the Power Pioneers. Local businesses and contractors donated materials and expertise.

As proud as they are of all they’ve accomplished, our interviewees were quick to acknowledge the work of others. They can’t say enough about the help they have received from the local community.

And as the stewards of the river, they greatly value the support and co-operation they have from organizations such as Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society and the Little Campbell Watershed Society.

With support from Joe Kambietz, a local DFO officer, the hatchery is a smoothly running but complex operation that releases hundreds of thousands of fish into the Little Campbell every year. Donnelly summed things up this way, “We’re continuing what was started way back in the 1950s when the founders of the club were trying to restore and enhance the river. It still consumes a lot of our time to protect the river. It’s a beautiful little river – but it’s still at risk.”

The Father’s Day barbecue gets underway at 1 p.m. on June 17, at 1284 184 St. Everyone is welcome.

The Peninsula’s best-known mother-and-son historians, Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood, are dedicated to preserving history through the White Rock Museum & Archives. Call 604-541-2222, or email whiterockarchives@telus.net

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