Camp Suzuki: Howe Sound puts reconciliation into action

By Jennifer Deol, camp coordinator

It has been two years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released 94 calls to action on how to achieve reconciliation. Indigenous-led movements like Idle No More ignited important conversations throughout the country around rights and title. While reconciliation rhetoric has become popular, resources continue to be stolen from Indigenous communities and treaty rights are ignored.


By definition, to reconcile requires action. Yet many non-Indigenous people rarely interact with their local Indigenous communities or are familiar with Indigenous land rights violations occurring in their backyards. Learning the history of residential school systems and including land acknowledgements has been the extent of engagement with reconciliation for many Canadians.

A summer camp on Gambier Island was the last place I thought I would engage with reconciliation — but Camp Suzuki: Howe Sound is not your average summer camp. Led by the David Suzuki Foundation in partnership with the Squamish First Nation, it was a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

Leading an effort that centered around reconciliation required putting traditional camp experiences into a different context. Every morning at 7:30 a.m. we started our mornings with a shokum. In contrast to a polar bear dip, the shokum was a peaceful and solo journey where you moved from the salt water into another world. It was a time for self-reflection and healing of mind, body and soul. Chief Ian Campbell shared traditional knowledge with us followed by a morning drum and song before we calmy made our way into the water for a cleanse.


After shokum, we had Squamish language lessons. With many Indigenous languages being lost across Turtle Island (North America), few Indigenous people speak their mother tongue. Chief Ian Campbell and Squamish leaders Becky and Swo-wo invited us to help keep their language alive by learning and sharing phrases. Toward the end of camp, participants replaced “thank you” with “u siyam” and were speaking some Squamish with one another without prompting.

To understand the lands and water from an Indigenous perspective requires deep listening to elders who are the knowledge keepers of oral traditions. Led by tribal canoe family skipper Wes Nahanee, campers took canoes around the waters surrounding Chá7elkwnech (Gambier Island). As we paddled, Chief Ian Campbell shared traditional stories about the land, the sea and his people. We paddled, sang and laughed together as we learned to see the land and water from a new perspective.

After every meal, thanks was given for the food through song, dance and drumming. As the week progressed Squamish children, who were timid at first, started to lead the singing proudly, encouraging their new non-Indigenous friends to join in. By the end of the week, everyone joined for the traditional whale, frog and eagle dances after a meal. We built relationships of trust and understanding around our common humanity. Reconciliation became a central pillar for a camp that also cultivated an appreciation for the region’s biodiversity and trained young people for leadership, stewardship and advocacy in environmental areas.

We co-created the environment for reconciliation by sharing meals and a common space. It was a space for participants to reach across divisions to build respect and friendships. That is reconciliation in action.


When is carbon coloured blue?

By Anuradha Rao, Marine Planning Specialist. Reprinted from

We all know about kitchen sinks, but what about carbon sinks? These are ecosystems that suck greenhouse gases out of the air and store them in plants or in the soil under the plants. The gases stored in aquatic habitats are called blue carbon. When plants photosynthesize, they pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their roots and shoots. When they die and get buried in the sediment-laden water that flows into estuaries, this stored carbon is released through decomposition and captured in estuary soils. These richly organic soils can capture and store up to five times more atmospheric carbon than rainforests, an important function as the effects of climate change become increasingly severe.

“Estuaries are one of the most abundant habitats in terms of biodiversity,”

Estuaries shelter a variety of species, including salmon before they migrate into the ocean. “Estuaries are one of the most abundant habitats in terms of biodiversity,” says Kimberley Armour, Blue Carbon Project Manager with the Squamish River Watershed Society. “They’re super, super rich areas and are considered to be the nurseries of the sea.”

Estuaries give us places to live and play, as well as to set up industries. They face heavy development pressures, leading many to question incentives for protection.

“You won’t find someone who doesn’t value the estuary,” Armour says, “but that doesn’t mean the economy values the estuary. If we can give these areas economic value just for being estuaries, that makes it exciting.” The David Suzuki Foundation calculated the value of estuaries for carbon storage and sequestration in our report, Sound Investment: Measuring the Return on Howe Sound’s Ecosystem Assets, and concluded they save us approximately $15,000 per year.

Left, Squamish River Watershed Society. Right, Rhiannon Boyle via Flickr.

Left, Squamish River Watershed Society. Right, Rhiannon Boyle via Flickr.

Squamish is one of the few communities in B.C. whose stewardship group is collecting data to help the provincial Climate Action Secretariat find ways for people to claim blue carbon offsets in estuaries. Owners of land containing estuary habitat, for example, could sell carbon credits and earn money by protecting rather than developing it.

“There needs to be other layers of protection as well,” Armour explains. “But this is another tool in the toolbox to protect these really abundant habitats.”

The Squamish project will measure how much carbon is stored in salt marshes in the estuary by mapping the marshes, taking soil samples and analyzing vegetation. It will also raise awareness of how much of the original estuary has been lost due to diversion of the Mamquam and Squamish rivers from their traditional floodplain to allow for ongoing development in downtown Squamish.

The project demonstrates the importance of protecting remaining and increasingly valuable habitats such as estuaries. Disturbing or developing over estuaries not only removes their potential to absorb additional greenhouse gases, but also releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere for up to 10 years.

As more B.C. communities start collecting blue carbon data, provincial methodology will be strengthened. If your community wants to get involved, check out the resources on the Blue Carbon Project page and contact the Squamish River Watershed Society.

The joy of converting brown to green

By Anuradha Rao, Marine Planning Specialist. Reprinted from

I remember the first time I helped clean up a brown site devoid of nature. A month later, the new growth was overwhelming, as if all the plants were saying, “Thank you.” This sparked my interest in ecological restoration.

Ecological restoration — and brownfield restoration in particular — is a big topic in Squamish, B.C. Brownfield restoration involves converting a site that has been so degraded it can’t return to the ecosystem it once was without intervention. The Squamish River Watershed Society’s current brownfield restoration project aims to restore a decommissioned log-sorting site to estuary and wetland habitat. Earlier work restored another brownfield, bringing migratory birds back to the Squamish estuary.

The project — which includes six partners, five funders, a dozen team members and 100 volunteers — expands on the earlier estuary restoration. The restoration will bring back sedge marsh, which is found in seasonally flooded areas, by lowering the land gradient. The soil removed will fill the former wetland nearby and an old access road will be decommissioned. Tidal channels will be built to reconnect land and sea. An access trail for the community will balance public use and habitat recovery.

Bringing nature back so close to the centre of town connects people to the wealth of nature in their own backyards and brings communities together. “The most exciting part is seeing the community’s reaction as the area is being transformed,” says SRWS executive director Edith Tobe, remembering volunteer planting days in March. “The people coming out were so excited. One lady — a mother with her children — got stuck in the mud and just couldn’t stop laughing. She hasn’t had that much fun for as long as she can remember.”

This estuary is within the Squamish River Important Bird Area. The project will bring back fish and wildlife, including salmonids and migratory birds that use the estuary and the larger Howe Sound region. The society is also measuring the area’s role in carbon sequestration, and may boost it by transplanting eelgrass in adjacent coastal waters. Estuaries and wetlands are increasingly important as we contend with the impacts of climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation’s study of Howe Sound found that estuaries and wetlands provide up to $174,712 in ecosystem benefits per hectare each year. They supply water, sequester and store carbon, cycle nutrients, provide habitat, regulate storms and process waste. These ecosystems also provide valuable services such as recreation, tourism, science and education.

Interested in getting involved? Contact the SRWS by email or at 604-898-9171 for information on planting parties this fall.

(Photos: left, Squamish River Watershed Society; right, Rhiannon Boyle via Flickr.)

David Suzuki honoured by Howe Sound First Nations

By Theresa Beer, Communications Specialist. Reprinted from

With stunning Howe Sound as backdrop, David Suzuki was honoured by, and adopted into, the Squamish Nation during the Blue Dot Tour stop at Porteau Cove in November, 2014.

In a traditional Squamish welcoming ceremony, David and fellow canoe paddlers were called back to the shore to begin the day’s events. Chief Ian Campbell spoke of the Squamish Nation’s respect for David’s work on environmental stewardship and with First Nations. David, he said, shared an understanding with First Nations about nature and interconnectedness. Carleen Thomas, a Tsleil-Waututh Nation leader and member of the Sacred Trust Initiative, also honoured David and his long history protecting B.C.’s coastal waters.

The moving ceremony, which included a presentation to David of a traditional cedar cape and head band, marked the deepening relations the Foundation has with Howe Sound First Nations. Volunteer divers with Marine Life Sanctuaries Society gave families and children opportunities for close-up interactions with starfish and other marine treasures from Porteau Cove, a popular scuba diving destination.

As work to create a long-term vision and plan for the Howe Sound region gains momentum, the Squamish Nation’s commitment to take a marine planning leadership role is creating a way forward for conservation.

Communities in the Howe Sound region are joining local governments to protect the people and places they love. Squamish, Bowen Island and the Islands Trust B.C. are among the more than 50 local governments representing more than five million Canadians that have passed declarations for the right to a healthy environment. Nowhere is it more evident what could be lost without this right than in the centre of the marine and mountain majesty of the Howe Sound fjord.

Join us and speak up for Howe Sound.

Get inspired by Howe Sound with these amazing music videos

Listen closely. Gibsons-based musician Celso Machado and students at Emily Carr University of Art + Design weave stories of Howe Sound into original songs and music videos using unusual instruments: animal bones scraping together, underwater whale calls and whistles made from rocks, to name a few.

These EcoMUSICology videos, prepared for a course taught by Sarah Van Borek, feature interviews with Howe Sound residents who show the beauty of the region and the need to protect it through unique lenses. The David Suzuki Foundation partnered on this project to highlight our natural capital work in the region through visual stories.

Chad Hershler examines the nature of creativity and connections between people, self-expression and place. Donna Gibbs paints a passionate picture of what it’s like to be underwater in Howe Sound. Randall Lewis shares the Squamish Nation’s efforts to recover the Squamish estuary. Elaine Graham tells the story of the past, present and future of Lighthouse Park and the Howe Sound region.

Original songs and music videos were produced by the students in collaboration with Celso Machado and sound engineer Jeremy Therrien.

Watch the videos and get inspired by the beauty, people and possibility of B.C.’s Howe Sound.

Take the plunge — show Howe Sound you care

What better way to show your love for Howe Sound than by helping keep it healthy and beautiful? Many community groups accept volunteers and interns. Here are some ideas.

  • The Squamish River Watershed Society focuses on restoration, education, outreach and community stewardship projects in the Squamish watershed. They work on estuary and eelgrass restoration, salmon recovery, amphibian habitat protection, research and more. Sign up for their newsletters to find out how to get involved.
  • The Squamish Streamkeepers Society cares for the habitat alongside local streams so that fish can spawn. They also care for herring-spawning habitat in upper Howe Sound. You can contact the society’s co-chairs to find out more.
  • The Crippen Stewardship Group organizes volunteer Weed Warriors in Crippen Regional Park on Bowen Island to help restore the park’s habitat and remove invasive plants and replant with native species. Volunteers get together on the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meet at a picnic table in the field near the mouth of Davie’s Creek in Snug Cove. From where the ferry docks, walk south along the boardwalk past the Marina store and Doc Morgan’s restaurant to the field. Contact Moira by email to confirm that the monthly event is taking place.
  • Sunshine Coast Friends of Forage Fish collects information about fish spawning on Sunshine Coast beaches. They look for eggs from forage fish (small schooling fish such as herring and sand lance). Forage fish are important in diets of bigger fish like salmon, as well as marine mammals and seabirds. Contact volunteer coordinator Dianne Sanford at 604-885-6283.
  • The Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project conserves, restores and enhances wildlife habitat to ensure survival of species at risk. They can help you conduct stewardship activities at home, or you can sign up as a community volunteer.
  • The Sunshine Coast Conservation Association does education and outreach, representing conservation and community groups on the coast. Their focus is on protecting the biodiversity and integrity of our air, water, forests and marine environments. The group offers a variety of volunteer opportunities.
  • WildSafeBC reduces human-wildlife conflict through education, innovation and cooperation. Learn what to do if you encounter wildlife while at home, work or play. For more information, contact their provincial coordinator at 250-828-2551 or by email.


When attending activities, remember to dress for the weather, bring water to drink and a snack, as well as your energy and enthusiasm!

Are you involved with a stewardship group in Howe Sound that isn’t listed above? Tell us so we can post the information.


5 more things to do in Howe Sound

There are many things to do and to see in Howe Sound. Some are an hour’s drive or less from Vancouver and many are accessible by public transit. Here are a few more ideas to get you started.

  • Take a guided walk with a naturalist. Talaysay Tours offers hiking and snowshoeing tours of Tetrahedron Provincial Park. Moonstone Enterprises does natural history and educational walks throughout the Sunshine Coast.
  • Educate your child in nature. The Sea to Sky Outdoor School offers nature-based programs for children and youth.
  • Go to market. Farmers’ markets are a great place to take the kids, meet local people, get fresh local groceries for the week, listen to live music and, of course, eat! The Squamish Farmers’ Market operates year-round, every Saturday in the summer and alternate Saturdays in the winter. The Gibsons Farmers’ Market takes place on Fridays from May to October. The Whistler Farmers’ Market starts its season in June. Bowen Island’s Summer Market runs on weekends from June to September.
  • Take a ride up the mountain. Looking for some spectacular views of the Howe Sound area without the hike? The Sea to Sky Gondola is accessible for all mobility levels and leads to a number of accessible and backcountry trails.
  • Get active in Squamish. Squamish is a hub for outdoor activities such as canoeing, eagle viewing, fishing, hiking, skiing, horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, rafting, rock climbing, sailing, snowshoeing, sightseeing, tobogganing and wind surfing. Take your pick!
  • Scuba dive. Howe Sound boasts some spectacular dive sites. Get close to marine life at Bowyer Island, and sunken wrecks at Porteau Cove Provincial Marine Park and Whytecliff Park Marine Protected Area. Educate yourself about protected areas such as Rockfish Conservation Areas, respect wildlife and dive only according to your skill level.


Public transport from Vancouver to Squamish and Whistler is offered by Pacific Coach Lines and Greyhound Bus Canada. The Squamish Transit System has a few bus routes within Squamish and between Squamish and Whistler.

5 ways to connect with Howe Sound

There are many things to do and to see in Howe Sound. Some are an hour’s drive or less from Vancouver and many are accessible by public transit. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

  • Connect to water. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the province can be seen from public transport in the waters of Howe Sound. A 30-minute BC Ferries ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver can take you to the Sunshine Coast or Bowen Island. You may even see marine life on the way!
  • Walk and hike on Gambier Island. Gambier is the largest island in Howe Sound, yet many people are unaware of it. You can get to the community of New Brighton on Gambier with BC Ferries as a walk-on ferry passenger leaving from Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. From New Brighton, choose a nature walk along the roads. You can also take a water taxi, such as Cormorant or Mercury, from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Camp Fircom in Halkett Bay, where you can hike up Mt. Artaban. As a bonus, your water taxi drivers know the area like the back of their hand, and are a wealth of information!
  • Experience the arts. Brackendale Art Gallery in the community of Brackendale just north of Squamish houses exhibits, concerts, theatre performances and workshops with local and visiting artists. They also serve homemade food in their café.
  • Explore by kayak. Howe Sound is full of islands and islets to explore by kayak. It’s not unusual to see wildlife such as seabirds and marine mammals. You can rent a kayak and do your own exploring or go on a tour through local businesses such as Talaysay Tours, operated by the Shíshálh First Nation, and Bowen Island Kayaking.
  • Learn about First Nations’ culture. The Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre in Whistler is run by the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation to preserve their cultures and share them with others. The centre offers exhibits, art galleries, guided tours, workshops and a café.

David Suzuki Foundation study shows abundance of natural riches in Howe Sound

The economic value of healthy ecosystems to provide food, clean water, a stable climate, protection from natural disasters and a place to relax, recreate and reconnect with nature is estimated at billions of dollars each year. These services underpin our health, economy and culture, yet they are not included in decision-making in any systematic manner. That needs to change. This study, Sound Investment: Measuring the Return on Howe Sound’s Ecosystem Assets, is part of that change.

Read the full blog.