The provincial government and its appointed associates, Metro Vancouver directors, have recently announced plans to create a farming academy to be located at Colony Farm Regional Park. One would think that gardeners would instinctively support a plan to promote sustainable agriculture but the location of this academy is what should be setting off alarm bells amongst local residents, gardeners or not. I believe that Colony Farm and the Riverview lands should be seen as one extended resource for the residents of Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam, as well as for our neighbours in the Lower Mainland; resources that date back to the early days of the province and are amongst the few to survive to the present day while natural landscapes were paved over or built upon all around them.
It was in 1904 when work began on Riverview Hospital and adjacent Colony Farm. In 1912 British Columbia’s first Provincial Botanist, John Davidson, established an arboretum and botanical garden at Riverview; in 1916 the garden was moved to the new UBC campus but, fortunately for us, the arboretum remained behind and is now, with mature specimens, one of the more beautiful destinations in the Lower Mainland to view rare trees in a natural setting. There has been pressure from some quarters to have the Riverview site returned to a role in mental health treatment; I don’t know that the institutional setting is, any longer, appropriate for treatment of mental health issues, and may be better dealt with by utilizing smaller facilities closer to the community, but I do firmly believe that the existing facilities should remain institutional and of service to all British Columbians as originally intended. Why not re-establish Riverview, and its arboretum, as a satellite campus for UBC, or Simon Fraser University (or other post-secondary college) to reflect its heritage and origins as a horticultural garden? There are, I’m sure, plenty of other institutional uses that Riverview could embrace without turning the lands, and facilities, into additional urban sprawl. Meanwhile the heritage buildings on the site are being left to decay.
We know that the provincial government covets the real estate that these regional jewels occupy as seen back in 2007 when Housing Minister Rich Coleman proposed a development, with private sector partners, to construct up to 7000 residences, mostly condos and apartments, on the site of the Riverview lands. The outrage that this proposal engendered seems to have put these plans on hold but they will arise, phoenix-like, again some day unless British Columbians make plain to our government that we do not wish to see these precious resources debased by development or to have their administration transferred to corporate interests. The draft Colony Farm Sustainability Plan states “The Academy concept is intended to attract partnerships with academia, other governmental agencies and the private sector”. (ColonyFarmSustainabilityPlan-DraftReport-August2009.pdf – available at http://colony-farm.blogspot.com/.) This, it seems to me, is the thin edge of the wedge in never-ending plans to wrest these natural spaces from the hands of the public and to milk them for all they’re worth.
As for Colony Farm, although its role has traditionally been, in concert with mental health treatment, an agricultural one we no longer live in a community that has green spaces in abundance and the farm’s lands would, I believe, be best put to use by returning them to their wild state as meadows and wetlands (both under concerted attack in Greater Vancouver) in order to provide habitat for wildlife and sea creatures and to provide a beautiful natural destination for British Columbians and tourists. If land for a farming research facility is really required, there is plenty of land in the Fraser valley that could be much better, and more easily, made use of – it is, after all, farmland, although there too the plough is steadily surrendering to the bulldozer – better hurry.
The proposal for an “academy” at Colony Farm is the latest round in a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ where the winner could stand to reap billions of dollars were they allowed to develop these properties to their heart’s content. We must do all that we can to see that this proposal, like others to come in the future, is defeated; write, or e-mail, your municipal, regional and provincial representatives and register your resistance to the exploitation of Riverview and Colony Farm – tell them that we want the lands left largely intact and the facilities restored to their original Edwardian glory to the benefit of us all.
(Here’s a copy of the Draft Regional Parks Plan downloaded from metrovancouver.org.)