Aerial view of Hell's Gate in May 1945 during the construction of fishways.

Century of cooperation on Fraser salmon commemorated

This week the Pacific Salmon Commission is holding a special event at Hell's Gate, marking the slides and international collaboration

It’s been 100 years since rock slides crashed into the Fraser Canyon, almost wiping out sockeye salmon runs in the river system.

This week the Pacific Salmon Commission is holding a special event at Hell’s Gate, marking the slides which precipitated a century “of cooperation in restoring and managing” the salmon runs of the Fraser River.

The Hell’s Gate slides of 1913 and 1914, according to the PSC: “not only forever changed the Fraser River ecosystem and the migration of Fraser River Sockeye to every major tributary in British Columbia’s interior, but led directly to a century of close collaboration,” between First Nations, Native Americans, and both federal governments of Canada and the U.S.

“Around the world it’s not that common to see on body working together on a shared natural resource for 100 years,” said John Field, PSC executive secretary. “It’s unique to have First Nations, aboriginal governments and national governments working together toward a common goal.”

It hasn’t been all “sweetness and light,” over the years however and there have been differences of opinion on the international organization.

“But everyone contributed to efforts to bring back the Fraser River sockeye,” Field said.

The origins of the international PSC were borne of a treaty, not unlike United Nations, in the aftermath of rock slides caused by railway blasting in 1913 and 1914 in the Fraser Canyon, downstream from Boston Bar.

Sto:lo fisherman Ken Malloway from Tzeachten First Nation in Chilliwack, is a member of the Fraser Panel. The Fraser Panel was created by the PSC and it has the power to open and close fisheries, as well as operating test fisheries. Malloway plans to be in attendance at Hell’s Gate on Thursday to say a few words.

“I’ll talking about how the parties worked together to try to rebuild the Fraser salmon runs after the slide,” he said.

First Nations played a key role, too, in the rebuilding process.

Elders told stories about what happened to Sto:lo communities in the wake of the devastating rock slides.

Those who could see the site from the Fraser Canyon looked down in horror after the first slide in 1913 to see all the salmon pooling helplessly behind the slide debris.

“A lot of First Nations folks went up there to try to capture and haul up some of those trapped fish, and salvage as much as they could,” Malloway said.

An agreement was forged to try to fix the blockage.

“But there wasn’t much fishing for a long time after that. It took years for them to fix it and it was never fixed completely.”

Attendees on Aug. 22 will get to see a fishway construction camp at Hell’s Gate and outstanding views of the fishways, which assisted migrating salmon get over some of the most challenging narrows in the world.

Officials will be unveiling two new updated plaques, to mark the fish ladders or fishways that have help salmon runs bypass the obstacles, and to explain the international cooperation that led to them.

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