When you’re the daughter of a fisheries biologist, long treks down dusty gravel roads into research areas transpire frequently. One particular trip down from Vancouver Island was a long and unforgettable one, where we rolled into an old farming community in the Fraser Valley. I remember watching the dust cloud in our wake as it circled up to the tall fir giants, which gathered on both sides of the road as if to welcome us to this place. I had come down to visit from the north end of the Island, during the early 1980s. My little legs scrambled out of the van when we pulled up to the large farmhouse in Silverdale, hopping with the excitement of having arrived in this place of anticipated adventure.
This was Storyland Trails, and it was very much alive then. A remarkable gift offered to families and their children, on the privately owned forested acreage that belonged to the Clark family. Fairytale scenes were planted along trails on the farmhouse property. Imaginations ran wild; children chased chickens, and frogs turned into princes.
Fast forward to 2017 and those same tall fir giants stand in line with the road, which is now paved with a bright, yellow line down the long, straight stretch to the dam, and the hidden back roads of Mission, B.C. Storyland Trails is long gone. It closed down after a tragic car accident on the Lougheed Highway in May of 1990, which took the lives of the long-time family residents who created the ingenious idea in 1972. I’ve been told by the family members currently living on the property that there are still some of the fairy tale cast figurines amongst the overgrown settings and forgotten trails. With no wish to ever encounter that troll from under the bridge again, I’m often alert and careful when I venture out on any trails these days.
Walk down Hayward Street in Silverdale today, and it becomes clear why we keep ourselves tight to the shoulder. Fast vehicles whip by. Those tall trees seem to usher them along, as the tailwinds sway their boughs. An unassuming trail off the street, like a secret passageway, reveals an escape from the thoroughfare to Silvermere Lake.
Ironically, this man-made lake is home to an impressive ecosystem, and is a precious habitat to many wildlife species. This is where we find Storyland magic again. Still here.
Over the last few years, a few trolls and giants have stepped into Silverdale. Their names are Genstar Development, Madison Development Corporation, WestSea Properties, and Polygon Homes. The District of Mission set the scene, and designated urban growth areas. Silverdale was named as one of them, which has ruffled a few old feathers.
In 2008, CBC’s Kathy Tomlinson reported on Marvin Rosenau, a former senior fisheries biologist for the provincial environment ministry, who vehemently opposed any development slated for this highly sensitive ecological area, namely due to the fact that it supports a large run of salmon.
“The scope of this project is considerably out of line with the environmental and ecological values associated with this particular landscape, and the extensive amount of damage it will cause,” Rosenau said.
On the bank of Silvermere Lake, I stand up and ready my paddleboard to catch a quick meeting with sticklebacks that dart around the underwater vegetation. There’s a feeling that I aim to trespass in my own backyard. (Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?) Traffic rolls by on the causeway across the lake. I can hear the rush of traffic in one ear; the ripple of the lakeside in the other.
Genstar owned the lake (and according to a local source has now recently been replaced by another developer), but in actual fact, owned the land under the lake because the water itself is not owned property. The developer also owns the island that occupies the middle of this precious salmon run and valuable habitat.
Dale Clark is a long-time family resident of Silverdale; his parents had owned and operated Storyland Trails.
“Progressive development should be based on individual landowners, not giant corporations out to build communities from their perspective and forcing them onto us,” Clark said.
Further to the concerns regarding development, Clark stated: “This is believed to be the most critical habitat with direct connectivity with the Fraser floodplain and upslope habitats which is very rare in the lower Fraser. The lake is a treasure trove of aquatic species and the environmental value here is extreme on all fronts. This site should never be developed for human occupation … Hey, have you heard that screech owl that’s been active lately?”
Genstar promised the district a few shiny improvements, and slivers of green space to be maintained, should their proposal for development go through. Along with this, the natural wooded and wetland areas are home to species at risk, like the screech owl and red-legged frog. What does it take to recognize and acknowledge that this area already existed as a valuable, developed community?
According to Urban Dictionary, “Trolls are predatory creatures, shysters who are tight fisted money grabbers who will screw you on any deal, while making it out like you are the one coming out ahead.”
With regards to the accommodations for corporations, their efforts to develop the highly sensitive Silvermere Island, and expand the surrounding lake area development despite conservation concerns, Dr. Tracy Lyster, chair of Citizens Against Urban Sprawl Society and resident of Silverdale, addressed Mission council members. In her 2010 article, “Silvermere Island Mission,” she wrote: “Clearly, the fact that the Silvermere project is even being considered again by local and senior government signifies a breakdown in government accountability, and a reluctance or inability to ensure the public’s interest in the environment.”
Most recently, in an article for the Footprint Press, Lyster ignited a call once again for residents to keep a watch on the district planning team and developers, trolling for land use that does not align with conservation.
I stood on my paddleboard as it drifted above the busy wetland below, while my eyes scanned the landscape across the lake. Thompson Creek Farm is perched there, off the grid, where Phil the Eggman lives. If there’s a memorable character who can draw attention to the issue of preserving historical, ecological habitat, it’s the Eggman. On any given day, if you drive down the Lougheed Highway leaving Silverdale to enter the downtown core of Mission, you may see a brightly adorned man, small in stature, whose sinewy frog legs pedal madly, his bicycle stacked with egg cartons. He hops out of his Thompson Creek chicken farm on the far side of Silvermere Lake and over the causeway, to deliver eggs to the locally owned produce store on a daily basis.
Whenever I am in the throes of hurtling myself and the kids down the highway in our giant jacked-up diesel, I tend to lighten up on the throttle when I see him. The kids sometimes wave.
“There goes the Eggman again you guys, look at him go!”
“Mom you always say that,” they look out the window, and watch him anyway.
“That man has crazy frog legs.” I chuckle at my own observations, and try to incite conversation. “You know he got hit two times?” My eyebrow goes up in the rearview as I shoot a look at the middle child, who once road his bike across the frozen lake to see if it was frozen enough to skate on.
“Yeah mom we know.”
Eye rolls and sighs from the backseat. Moments like this make me long for that outright freedom I see pedal down the highway. I would hike the morning trail or paddle Silvermere Lake. Instead, I am exhaling the frustration of being cast off as an annoyance. I often forget the golden rule of moms in the car; let them initiate conversation, or you won’t get any.
I know he’d been hit two times because I met the Eggman in person by accident a few years ago. I passed by him often, most every morning he did that spin into town while I did mine, his being less crazy (I’m sure of it). I admired his freedom and determination in any weather. Shortly after I had noticed this daily pilgrimage, I went to a party at the very same old farmhouse at Storyland Trails that I had skipped off the Island for so many years ago. Mid conversation with another guest, out of the corner of my eye I saw a man of small stature who hopped out of the basement stairwell, and into the thick of the party.
I couldn’t help but notice he was disheveled, like a confused marathon runner lost on a west coast rainforest trail. His skimpy black nylon running shorts and grey wool socks pulled up to his knees were curious. He had an alarmingly long scar that travelled down his sinewy leg. I must have been staring (no doubt) as the woman I had just been conversing with, nodded her head and said in an amused tone, “And there’s Phil.” She just happened to be his wife, and was quite happy to introduce me. I reached out to shake his hand.
“It’s so great to meet you Phil, the infamous Eggman!” I said. He laughed at the notion of infamous. “Me and the kids see you all the time, you’re like a celebrity on our way to school in the morning!”
“Yeah…well…can’t miss me!”
“So you bike every day? What happened to your leg?” (This I blurted out, not meaning to pry so early in the conversation.)
He did a little hop and flashed his leg for me to have a good look at it.
“I’ve been tangled up with a couple vehicles on the Lougheed. First time I broke my hip, and second I broke my leg.”
“Whoa, and you still do that ride eh? You’re not worried about it happening again?”
“It’s all about the footprint. He who has the smallest, wins,” he responded.
“So bike or nothing? You pack all those eggs in every day too? All from your farm?”
“Yeah! Elaine is the boss. I’m just the delivery boy.” He smirked at his wife.
I couldn’t help but be amused. As he chatted with me, he hopped from side to side, with an obvious glint in his eye. It was like he had walked right out of Storyland Trails, an eccentric forest gnome who cried, “Make way for the smallest footprint!” and “Back off trolls!”
When the trolls do come out, and the trees start coming down, the promise of preservation of natural habitat must be upheld. Residents of Silverdale will be watching to ensure noses do not start to grow longer. This is a place where there are more stories to tell, from adventure inside the lakeside forested areas, and within the lake itself. We need these spaces, and our children’s children need these places, to live happily ever after.