Back in 2012 a group of intrepid UCV members came up with an idea: Why not start an all-organic farmers’ market in our parking lot? What’s not to like? Under the direction of our sustainable food guru, Grant Watson, we began to make plans.
Bravely we climbed a steep learning curve of city permits, farm visits, grant applications and logo choosing among a panoply of other tasks. One of our most debated tasks was deciding whether to put the apostrophe before or after the ‘s’ in ‘farmers market’. We had our grand opening with music, city officials cutting the ribbon and inspirational speakers and we were off!
Five years of building community ensued with delicious food, great music, artisan stalls, stone soup making with donations from all our farmers, and even a massage chair .
Highlights included being the first market to feature wine and spirits,zucchini races, cooking demos and even a film series on ethical eating. We were proud to nurture first time farmers’ market vendors and musicians, and we welcomed volunteers from the deaf community.
Along with physical and financial backing from the church, UCV volunteers provided a considerable amount of sweat equity. Challenges included the weekly erecting of a huge and heavy piece of equipment that came to be known as the “Frankentent”, dragging multitudes of boxes out of the church’s narrow crawlspace, and keeping the electricity flowing to the parking lot by means of extension cords, covers, and ingenuity.
Navigating the challenges of starting and running the first all-organic farmers’ market in Vancouver proved difficult. Midway through operations, the city decided to enforce its sign bylaw not allowing us to put up signs in the neighbourhood. As well, several other farmers’ markets opened soon after ours in the area.
In spite of having incredibly dedicated members on the OSFM board, after 5 years of operation, we had to close due to our continued financial instability. Our grand adventure came to an end but the memories and the community continue on.
So you want to know about the Burns Bog Pilgrimage. Many Unitarians have heard of this annual meditative walk, usually in conjunction with the Earth Day Service put on by the Environment Team. For others, Burns Bog is a big mystery- what is it, why is it so important, and why would Unitarians help organize a pilgrimage to a ‘swamp’?
Karl Perrin, long-time member of the Environment Team, answers those questions and more…
Burns Bog is an ancient domed bog in Delta, B.C. It is ten times the size of Stanley Park. It provides habitat for several threatened and endangered species. An NDP provincial govt. had planned to pave half of it as a new site for the PNE. Gordon Campbell countered that if he became premier, he would preserve it. After his government was elected, four levels of government bought out private owners, and designated it as conservation lands off limits to all but a few trained volunteers preserving the wetness of the bog in dry weather. Several members of the UCV Enviro Committee participated in building dams to prevent the central dome from drying out, and potentially catching on fire.
Why Protect Burns Bog?
In addition to being the largest protected urban wilderness area in the world, Burns Bog is part of the valuable Fraser River delta. Over five million migratory birds rest in the estuary on the Pacific Flyway. The acidic water prevents aerobic or anaerobic bacteria from decaying plant and animal matter, so carbon is preserved deep under the surface for millenia. Therefore, unlike forests where wood becomes CO2 and CH4 within a couple centuries, the carbon builds up creating the central dome, and only sphagnum moss thrives in many parts of the bog. Under pressure the carbon would eventually become coal but it is also susceptible to fire. Therefore, human activities have been banned, since in the past, human pollution and sparks from machines led to fires which were very difficult to put out.
Why is wilderness in a city so precious?
Burns Bog is a remnant of the last ice age. It has survived partly because travel in it is difficult. It not only takes CO2 out of the air, and produces O2 for animals to breathe, it also provides habitat for numerous animals such as Sandhill Cranes and other birds, and rare plants, as part of the interlocking ecosystems of the lower Fraser River. It also acts as a giant sponge for rain, but also for spring freshets of the Fraser River. Indigenous peoples have used it for food and medicine for millenia. Its quiet, flat “emptiness” complements the high rise human activity of Vancouver. It is a giant pause, in so called “development”.
Theory: If You Love It, You Will Protect It
The first Pilgrimage to Burns Bog in the 1990’s was a multi-faith walk into the knee-deep bog before it was protected. For decades it had been considered worthless, and the Vancouver City Dump was expanding into it, along with cranberry farms, and peat mining operations on its fringes. That 1990’s multi-faith pilgrimage, working with the Burns Bog Conservation Society and Don DeMill, was the first time a group from Greater Vancouver declared it to be a sacred site. Some like Don, loved it by interacting with it on an almost daily basis, exploring its mysteries in hip waders. Don made a movie about it, “A Road Runs Through It”, loosely based on a movie, “A River Runs Through It”.
Others had discovered its value scientifically, exploring and identifying its flora and fauna. Its unique beauty was quite different from the towering old growth forest of Vancouver Island. It is quite flat, and virtually hidden from view except from the high point at the centre of the Alex Fraser bridge. So it’s hard for humans to feel, smell, taste, hear, or even see it. But once you experience its miniature fauna and flora, maintaining ecological difference from surrounding eco-systems, yet inter weaving with all of them, you will marvel at its stubborn self preservation. Then you may love it, as a pause from bull dozing, and seek to preserve it from advanced machinery and fire. It’s a quiet wet pause in the middle of an urban space.
In April, 2007 Greenpeace activist Rex Weyler gave an Earth Day sermon at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver. He challenged us to remember the residents of Strathcona/Chinatown in Vancouver who, against all odds, stopped a proposed freeway from bull dozing their community in the 1970’s. Rex challenged us to stop the Gateway Project, which would put a freeway through the edge of Burns Bog. It would provide a high speed road for container trucks coming from the proposed expansion of Delta Port. That road was called the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR). The Gateway Project included the SFPR, the North Fraser Perimeter Road, and the new ten lane Port Mann bridge. Rex challenged us to stop all of it, even though the transport minister declared it a “done deal”, the day he announced it.
And so some of us at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, and other multi-faith nature loving leaders, joined forces to renew the Pilgrimage to Burns Bog in 2008. We met on Annacis Island and announced our religious and political intentions to stop the Gateway Project. With banners and signs we walked across the Alex Fraser Bridge, and rested at the entrance to the Delta Nature Reserve, which includes a boardwalk to a small remnant of Burns Bog. In subsequent years we played with the format, but always with the intention to fall in love with Burns Bog, and protect it from the proposed Highway 17 on its edge. We had a welcome by Aline Laflamme. We had cello music by Nick Epperson, and singing by Singers of the Sacred Web. We had opening and closing speeches by environmental and religious leaders. After about 2014, the Burns Bog Conservation Society made it a permanent part of their annual calendar of public events. It continues as the Earth Day Sunday Pilgrimage to Burns Bog.
What Didn’t Work?
The South Fraser Perimeter, and the whole Gateway Project, was built. We lobbied Gordon Campbell’s Liberal Government, but the economics behind it were too powerful. It addition to preserving Burns Bog, we opposed the urban sprawl engendered by a bridge which would expand cheaper bedroom communities east and south of the ten lane Port Mann bridge. The bridge was built for commuters, which meant more greenhouse gases, GHGs. There was a lot of pent up public demand among existing commuters for a new bridge. The expansion of high speed roads for container trucks was favoured by those who wanted to expand Vancouver’s port status. Burns Bog never attained the wilderness status of Clayoquot Sound’s old growth forest, possibly because it doesn’t have huge awesome trees, and it is not a recreation site for humans. The “If you love it, you’ll protect it” theory only worked as a theory. It’s not an easy place to understand or to love. For most people, it is still a non-place, an absence, not a presence, ten times the size of Stanley Park
What Did Work?
Many of us learned and thought a great deal about how a domed bog works.
We created an alliance of artists, scientists, environmentalists, political and religious workers who continue to fight Climate Change, and the desecration of wilderness and species at risk.
The million tonnes of carbon buried under Burns Bog is still there, and the remaining Bog continues its role as the “Lungs of the Lower Mainland” inhaling CO2 and exhaling O2. No fire yet.
A living Burns Bog is still a contributing part of the Fraser River estuary. The millions of migratory birds, fish, and mammals that depend on it, are still alive, in spite of the threat of Delta Port Expansion. APE (Against Port Expansion), based in Delta, has been fighting the industrialization of the lower Fraser River for many years.
We built a coalition of faith and environmental groups which continues to fight for our planet’s health and beauty. The fight continues locally and globally.
I have a memory of having a conversation at the retreat in 1995 with someone about starting up an environment committee, The reply I got was “Who told you you could do that?” I was pretty new to the church, so didn’t know the protocol I guess, but we did it anyway. At that time the Social Justice Committee and the Refugee Committee were very strong, but it was a little “new” to have a separate committee on the environment.
One of the first things we did was to work with B&G in consultation with BC Hydro to determined possible energy savings that we could implement immediately. Light bulbs and weather stripping were things we could accomplish. We would have lunches with the menu, and what we were supporting on the sign. I think this is when our “Green Fund” started.
I have my first record of an Earth Day Service in April 1997. We have done a service every year since.
In 2002 we discovered UUA’s Green Sanctuary Project, and it gave us some more direction. We used it as a guideline, but I’m not sure if we ever jumped through enough hoops to get our “Green Sanctuary” plaque.
From Karl Perrin:
Yes it was Elaine Clemons. As I recall from Patience Towler who did a historical sketch of enviro activities, Elaine started recycling at UCV in about 1969. I respected her as both an early environmental activist and a wonderful VSB Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP).
When I was a therapeutic tutor (with a degree in Speech Therapy) I went to her for advice on a student with stuttering. She was very kind and supportive, since in those days stuttering was thought to be 100% behavioural. Now we know it is largely neurological.
At her memorial service, I remember her being lauded as a founding member of Burns Bog Conservation Society. I was one of a multi-faith group who went into the bog, guided by Don DeMill, on the first pilgrimage in 1999?
In 2007 Sister Cecilia and I revived it, with help from Rex Weyler and Ben West, in 2007 as the Pilgrimage to Burns Bog, as a way to fight the Gateway project, especially Hwy 17, the South Fraser Perimeter Road. We managed to get some amendment to the route to protect an eagle nesting site (Sherwood Forest on Nottingham’s farm), but lost the war. Nevertheless the Pilgrimage to Burns Bog, recognizing it as a sacred site, continues every Earth Day Sunday. UCV has a long history protecting Burns Bog.
And then there’s Noel and Joan Armstrong and their 1979 solar house in Dunbar.
One of my strongest lifelong interests has been the protection and promotion of respect for animals. In 2007, there wasn’t any committee at UCV with that particular mandate, and the Environment Committee seemed a good choice to work with on this pursuit. Especially so, given that animal agriculture is one of the top industries responsible for environmental destruction.
Most people have goodwill toward other species and the individual members of them. The overwhelmingly largest number of animals in need of protection are those on factory farms. Many are aware of the routine horrors behind factory farming (quite apart from their link to zoonotic diseases). An obvious way to protect them is to refrain from supporting their abuse by not buying – by boycotting – their ‘products’. Thus, I turned my attention to what is fast gaining momentum as an environmental as well as animal protection movement: plant-based eating.
I learned from reliable sources that balanced plant-based diets are nutritionally sound for all life stages. Not only that, they are significantly protective against some of our society’s most significant chronic health problems: heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and various cancers.
I saw the UCV committee lunch fundraisers as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue and show that entirely plant-based meals were not only possible but delicious . For the next several years, the Environment Committee collaborated to produce dozens of lunches for the congregation. I also worked on smaller-scale plant-based food service projects for other UCV events, such as workshops at the farmers market, a Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale in Hewett Hall, and put on cooking classes to show that preparing these foods is easy and fun.
Another project I worked on with the Environment Committee involved developing some new church policies: using coffee that is organic and fair-trade, and providing plant-based milk options at coffee times.
During this time, I had been involved in several film festivals, and decided to host one at UCV focused on food and the environment. This was another great learning experience for all of us. The warm and energetic support of the UCV Environment Committee is a fond memory!
Denise Swanson and Dave Steele led a forum in 2019 on Plant Based Eating. Here is a list of websites if you would like to learn more.
Nutrispeak.com – Local Registered Dietitian Vesanto Melina is author of many books as well as The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets position paper. https://nutrispeak.com/posts/
A future where Unitarian Universalist congregations actively work on dismantling racism: that’s what we’re focusing on. The CUC’s Dismantling Racism Study Group needs your help. We’ve put together this short survey to find out where we’re at, and where we could go. Give us 15 minutes of your time today to honestly tell us about what you’ve observed in your own congregation – we’d really appreciate it.
On a cold, rainy night in January, over 50 friends and family gathered in Hewett Hall to celebrate Tamiko Suzuki ‘s 60th birthday. After a moving welcome by Sto:lo elder and activist, Kwitsel, the evening turned raucous with parlour games. Guests were given coloured dots on their name tags to show how they were connected to Tamiko (family, work, UCV, book club, etc) and asked to sit at a table with as many colours as possible! The tables then competed in games of rock/paper/scissors (in Japanese!), Name that Tune (music from TV and film from the 60’s,70’s to today), Trivial Pursuit, and Charades, all with some connection to Tamiko’s life. Try to imagine contestants acting out the charades challenges; “Being charged by a rhino” (which was a true story) and “skinny dipping on New Year’s Day (also true). The winners got to dress Tamiko with items from a box so that at one point she was wearing a diving mask, blond wig, life jacket, and belly dancer belt.
The games were followed by delivery of a cake decorated with a dinosaur and speeches both funny and warm. The evening finished with International folk dancing and many brave friends trying out Bolivian, Finnish, and Greek/Roma dances.
Instead of presents, Tamiko asked guests to make a donation to RAVEN Trust’s anti-TMX campaign and over $3000 was raised. An additional $400 was donated to support the Wet’suet’en opposition to the Coastal Gas pipeline.
A big thanks and much love to the Environment Team who sponsored the event, provided the food, set up, cleaned up, matched a portion of the donations, and took part in the games and dances with grace and humour.
One of the Zero Waste ideas is to donate to a charity for someone. Here is a list of charities that the Environment Team came up with. It is far from complete, of course, but it will give you an idea of the range of international, national and local groups looking for your financial support.
Members of the Canadian Unitarian Council’s “dismantling racism” study group are preparing for their audit of anti-racism work in Canadian congregations. The group plans to distribute a survey on this topic to Canadian Unitarians, with its release tentatively set for January. Rev. Julie Stoneberg of the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough, co-chair of the eight-person group, says they are hoping for the broadest possible participation by Canadian clergy and laypeople.
Doug Ennenberg and Tamiko Suzuki from UCV, and Catherine Strickland from NSUC, are the western representatives in the group.
Looking back on 2018/2019, it’s easy to see that the Environment Team has been very busy! We put on a series of highly successful events in addition to fundraiser lunches and monthly forums. If that wasn’t enough, members were busy throughout the year taking part in anti-pipeline and Climate Change rallies and attending film nights, workshops and fundraisers to protect the Environment and support Indigenous groups.
On Friday, May 24th, the Vancouver Unitarians Environment Team hosted a Town Hall for the Pact for a Green New Deal in Canada. An enthusiastic group of about 100 participants generated a wealth of ideas for what the Pact should and shouldn’t include. We capped the evening singing “Make a Green New Deal”, a familiar tune with new words by Patrick Dubois. Our Town Hall was one of about 150-200 being held across the country, and the overall results will be collated for all to use in demanding urgent political action.
Make a Green New Deal Today
(Lyrics by Patrick Dubois, 2019/May; sung to the tune of “We Shall Overcome”)
(Verses 1 and 3)
Make a Green New Deal.
Make a Green New Deal.
Make a Green New Deal today.
oh, We take a stand.
We all demand:
Make a Green New Deal today!
We can build a better way.
oh, We take a stand.
We all demand:
Make a Green New Deal today!
Please watch us singing “Make A Green New Deal” by Patrick Dubois.