Connecting with our natural world is something inherently human, but also something we are doing less of in this technological age. In this time of email, smartphones, Skype, and busied schedules it is such a relief to me to step off the pavement and into Colliery Dam Park to enjoy some quiet time with nature. It is incredibly tranquil under those trees, with meandering paths, wildlife abound and, of course, the waterfalls and lakes. The sound of that running water is the backbone of the park and a delight to everyone who visits, as has been the case for over 100 years. However, City Council sees it as a potential risk to lives and property of the residents of Harewood. Back in the fall, the City sent letters to these residents announcing their plans to drain the much beloved lakes beginning in the summer of 2013 while water levels are at their lowest. This is also when visits to the dam are most frequent.
Understandably, city officials would be concerned about this area of Harewood below the dams. In the event of a major earthquake, the amount of water entering this neighbourhood would be devastating as there are many homes, schools, families, and businesses in the area that is now labeled a potential flood plain. After meeting with a consulting firm, it was decided that the water within the dams be removed as a preventative measure. Every assurance was made to citizens this would not affect the park itself, which would be replanted and allowed to naturalize back to its original state of 100 years ago, before the dams were ever put in.
Little did City Council know the anger they would meet with in this decision. In mid-Nov., Nanaimo citizens rallied at John Barsby Community School to let the Mayor know exactly what is thought of this proposed project. As a member of the audience that night, I was among many other members of this community who were angered, saddened, and hurt by the idea of losing these lakes. Many repercussions were brought to light during this two-hour rally including the loss of a free recreation area for low-income families in the area, habitat loss for many wild creatures who take advantage of the biodiversity of the area, as well as the fact that these dams represent a major part of Nanaimo history.
“OK, the city wants to mitigate liability, fine,” states John Solomon who organized the meeting at Barsby, “but we don’t know what will happen during a big earthquake. Most of the buildings in this city aren’t up to current codes. For all we know half of Nanaimo will fall into the ocean. I just don’t see taking away something so many people love as the right decision.”
Many of the people who came up to speak on behalf of the dams that night were visibly shaken by the idea of losing the lakes. Stories were told of learning of how to swim there as children and then, in turn, teaching their own children to swim in the same waters. Many moments are captured in time with Colliery Dams as their backdrop. And it is not hard to see why. The waters there are full of life, whether full of swimmers in the summer or wintering birds. While walking my dog there during a recent snowfall, I observed a family of about 20 geese taking shelter on the half-frozen upper lake. It was a quietly breathtaking moment that I was lucky to observe. Anyone who visits the park regularly has their stories to tell.
Currently, there is a group who are fighting very strongly to save this small paradise in our city. They have come before City Council during meetings for the last three months in an effort to have the city re-evaluate their decision. The members of this group, and many besides, feel that many things have been overlooked during the evaluation, such as why the dams should have to be removed if the waters are drained from the ponds and whether it would not be more beneficial to the local community to fix the potential issues the dam may be having. Another concern is over the city coming to this decision without considering a vote or even releasing information to the public before making the decision. There are also many who fear that this removal of the dams and waters will result in the eventual development and subdivision of this park.
Basically, it comes down to the value of these dams, not just monetarily, but also emotionally and spiritually. For 100 years, families have found a haven under these trees and made memories in the waters. With its close proximity to our campus here at VIU, I urge students to take an hour from their hectic schedules and take a tour of this jewel of Nanaimo history. Try to find solace from your days filled with research paper deadlines by looking across the foggy lakes; distract your brain by looking for the many varieties of local wildlife occupying this park. That is what a park is for; a park removes us from our city lives and there are few places around Nanaimo better then Colliery Dam for that.
For more information on the group involved in saving the dam and the dam itself, you can visit their facebook page at <www.facebook.com/groups/SAVEcollierydams/>