Still Creek: Adventure’s Origin

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Legend has it that one day while playing basketball at Riverfront Park a man emerged from the Fraser River travelling on a stand up paddleboard (SUP). This man asked the basketball players if he could join in their game. They accepted, and as they played, the obvious topic of this man’s fascinating mode of transportation was discussed. As luck would have it, one of those players was my brother and he was very intrigued by the idea of SUPing on the Fraser, given that it is right outside of his backyard. And so, sometime after this encounter, my brother became the proud owner of a Blackfin Model XL inflatable SUP. My brother’s research brought him to this board for its universality, great online reviews, rock-solid warranty, and super weight capacity, 220 kg (485 lbs). At the time, he had a family with two young children and a dog and wanted the option of loading everyone on board. A couple of years later, I am borrowing this board for a trip to the interior, and later that year, Annie, my wife, gets me the same model board for my birthday. Add in one Hawaii trip with this board where I loved paddling around the coastline and a pandemic that made SUP a great Covid-19 friendly activity, and we are pretty much in the present.

Somewhere along the way, my brother came across the Urban Oarsman‘s website and his post on Still Creek, and we decided we had to explore.

So early one spring morning, three of us (Trevor, my brother, and myself) set out to find an entry point. We had scoped out a few launch spots online with Google Maps. But, with all of the pandemic restrictions, we couldn’t access them. In the end, we defaulted to launch from the West Bridge of Burnaby Lake that runs overtop of Still Creek. We entered the water west of the bridge on the south bank. More recently, when I have paddled Burnaby Lake, I have launched from a small clearing here. It is just southeast of the junction that connects the trails to the bridge and the clubhouse parking lot.

Still Creek is a different type of adventure. It is a backwater paddle through a hybrid of nature-like scenery in an urban setting mashed together with forgotten industrial backyards. I had not really thought through the fact, that Vancouver, in its current form, has few remaining open waterways. The majority of its historic natural waterways have been covered up for our urban convenience at a great expense to natural wildlife and natural beauty. After searching for more information on some of the historic waterways, I came across this article and the short film below.

Another aspect of my ignorance was highlighted by this adventure with the realization that while this was my first visit to Burnaby Lake (that I know of), I had unwittingly passed by it countless times on the Trans-Canada Highway. The other obvious conclusion from the film is that I now need to explore Still Creek’s sibling, the Brunette River.

As I alluded to above, Still Creek, was a mixed adventure. There were movements of genuine beauty and awe of nature, but at the same time, there were some parts that were just downright nasty. We were able to get past the footbridge/dock just west of the Central Valley Green Way Bridge on the north side of the creek. The nasty part of the trip was the footbridge that is just west of Douglas Road. The bridge acts as a sieve for the creek, filtering out sticks, wastewater, and litter/pollution. It almost was the endpoint of our voyage. After failing to find a suitable exit point to portage past the urban garbage dam, my brother decided to brave the waters and dig a path through the debris to the bridge. That was the easier part. The harder part was re-entry on the other side of the bridge, especially with the added threat of not wanting to take a plunge in these waters. Luckily all three of us escaped unscathed.

The boys (my brother and Trevor) navigating Still Creek. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

There were a few more shallow points that we were able to navigate until we eventually ran out of water around Costco just before Willingdon Avenue. On our paddle back, we had a bit of extra time. So we decided to continue to Burnaby Lake to check it out. We made it and ran into a very light rain as we turned back to head home.

Still Creek is a trip that is worth exploring purely for its historic nature and the novelty of paddling through areas you probably have been around as a Vancouverite, but perhaps like me, you were previously oblivious to. Just be sure you are ready to see some not-so-pleasant waters and are very comfortable with your entries and exits if you plan to go as far as the waters will let you.

The urban oasis of Still Creek (Trevor in foreground, my brother in background). Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

I plan to check out Still Creek again when the water levels are expected to be at their highest.

Trevor (left) and my brother (right) paddling northwest into the mouth of Still Creek back to our launch point. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

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