Boaters rescued; debris down Fraser causes concern along shore

Maple Ridge restaurant was ready to sandbag as staff watched water levels rise

By Colleen Flanagan / Originally published in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News | November 21, 2021

A steady stream of debris, sailed down the Fraser River on Monday and Tuesday, causing concern for local business owners along the the banks.

Brendan McHugh, assistant manager of Kingfishers Waterfront Bar and Grill, said they were pretty close to sandbagging the restaurant on Monday, as they watched water levels on the Fraser rise.

McHugh estimated that the water level was about two metres higher than it normally is at this time of year. And, he noted, there was a lot of debris.

“It’s the dirtiest I’ve probably seen the Fraser in a long time with all the debris coming down,” said McHugh, including, he said, some massive trees and big logs.

Matt Hyde and Pat Peplow, who work at Haney Marine Sales and Service Ltd. at the south end of McKay Avenue, had to rescue two people on a jet boat after they ran into trouble on Tuesday.

The boaters launched their craft just before noon and ended up calling the shop a little more than an hour later for help after their boat died and they were unable to restart it, explained the men.

They threw out an anchor on the south side of the river, said Hyde.

However, Hyde and Peplow said the problem was that there was a steady stream of logs rushing down the river. Finally, Peplow said, a giant log came along, piled up against their anchor line and broke it.

The pair started floating west and their vessel was starting to float towards the pilings along the river as Hyde and Peplow were hooking up their own boat and grabbing their rescue ropes to help them.

Hyde said it took him and Peplow about an hour to get to the boat, hook a line on them, and help them back to shore.

“We just didn’t want to get tangled up in the stuff so we kind of hung out as close as we could to the debris so we could give them a line so we didn’t get trapped in there as well,” remarked Peplow.

The pair also witnessed a houseboat barrelling down the river with a small boat racing after it. It ended up beached on a silt pad along the shore just west of Mackay.

“The amount of stuff coming down Tuesday I’d never seen that much stuff coming down in a steady stream,” said Peplow.

Hyde noted he had only ever seen the river that high during freshet season in late August with the summer melt and runoff, but on Monday and Tuesday, it was almost the highest he has ever seen it in the more than seven years he has worked at the marine business.

And, he added the water was moving fast.

“The river was just flying down,” said Hyde. “It had to have been six miles an hour plus at least.”

Chief Grace George said Katzie First Nation enacted their Emergency Operation Centre to work with public works and maintenance staff to monitor the communities in Pitt Meadows, Langley, and Barnston Island, as waters rose along the Fraser.

They have also been in contact with Katzie community members stuck in Hope because of road conditions, and those in other parts of the province that have been severely impacted.

“We are assisting in any way we can. It’s an unpredictable and stressful time for many. We are doing our best to lend support and comfort where we can. We send our continued prayers to all who have been impacted by these catastrophic events,” said Chief George.

Katzie First Nation hold first community event since 2020

The first community gathering Katzie First Nation has had since spring of 2020 was a somber affair, but an undercurrent of hope pervaded.

More than a hundred attendees, many sporting orange shirts, got together at the Katzie Reserve on the Fraser River beside Pitt Meadows on June 10 to commemorate the 215 children recently discovered buried at the former residential school in Kamloops.

Chief Grace George acknowledged the last few weeks have been an incredibly challenging time.

“Not only for us as your leadership council, but for each and every one of you,” she said.

“I’ve had an opportunity to connect with many of you, and our council felt it in our hearts to come together today as a community. We know and understand that our strength comes to us in this way.

“Coming together, sharing this time – and our prayer for tonight is that we’re able to have some healing together as a community.”

The legacy of residential schools has impacted the community in many ways.

The grief and emotion comes out in the mournful singing and drumming those gathered heard throughout the nightlong ceremonies.

“Along with the legacy, we know we have survived,” George said. “We have survived through sharing time – time with our elders, and time with our families.

“Sharing our greatest gift – which brings us strength – which is our culture.”

As part of the memorial, small cut-outs of T-shirts and hearts, with stakes attached were handed out to attendees so they could plant them in the garden in front of the band’s community centre.

Children of various ages, who a generation or two ago would have been sent to residential school, took part.

The River Spirit Canoe Club’s drumming group visited from Chilliwack. Its members sung and played their instruments reverentially while the t-shirts and hearts were placed in the ground.

Dinner and a blanketing ceremony followed.

The Katzie First Nation honoured eight people who have acted as community messengers.

Mike Otto, who organized the truck convoy to Kamloops was blanketed. As were Katzie First Nation’s Kayleigh Leon and Dave Derose, who drove in the convoy.

Tracy Elke and Nicole MacDonald were blanketed for being steadfast supporters of the band. Maple Ridge councillor Ahmed Yousef and Myrna Norman, who organized a commemorative gathering for the 215 children found in Kamloops were also honoured. As was Celina Woycheshen who started an orange shirt decal project in Pitt Meadows.

“They have been very busy since the news broke,” George said. “Helping to spread the message about awareness, and helping to spread the message about supporting us.”