Locating Lost Streams
A “lost” stream is one that no longer flows along the surface and its natural drainage has been altered by humans usually by covering over, putting into a pipe or diverting its location. We can’t see them. It’s very likely that there were originally several or perhaps many streams running down the slopes of New Westminster. Some would have been intermittent, running only when it rained heavily, but dry most of the time. Others would have flowed year round.
Finding lost streams is like detective work. I originally thought it would be straight forward – find old maps, old photos and other historical records and locate the streams. However, it proved to be challenging. Michael McPhee, project director
By using multiple sources of information and avenues of research, we are forming a picture of New Westminster’s historic landscape, and bringing stories of the community’s relationship to the local water sources to light.
Early maps prepared by the Royal Engineers don’t indicate the presence of streams. Their maps showed the future plans for the “Royal City” and streams were likely perceived as temporary obstructions to their grand schemes, but nothing that couldn’t be “engineered” by these master planners and builders.
We have gathered dozens of maps from as early as 1859 up to modern day. Using the noted locations of bridges, ravines, and even the city water system, these maps help to pinpoint the locations of the city’s streams, and how city planners and engineers adapted the streets and infrastructure around them.
The fire of September 1898 led to the compilation of a series of maps of the City, primarily to show the building assets of the City, for fire insurance purposes. These are known as the Goad’s Fire Atlases which were developed by the Charles E. Goad Company of Montreal. This company prepared maps for over 1300 communities across Canada. The first Goad’s map for New Westminster was prepared in 1897 and updated several times over a 60 year period. Interestingly, these maps show Glenbrook Creek, Brunette River and several ravines. No other surface streams are indicated.
One of the earliest topographical maps we found was published in 1949 by the Canadian government, based on survey information compiled in the late 1930’s by the Provincial Government. Only the Brunette River is shown on the topographical map, but the contours show the general location of Glenbrook Ravine and where the stream would have been located.
Aerial photography of New Westminster gives us a wider scope of the city and how the landscape changed over the 20th century. Collected by the federal and provincial governments starting in the 1930’s, these images help contextualize the information found in the historical record.There are numerous old photographs that show bridges in the downtown, crossing ravines and presumably streams, however, photographs that look down into a ravine or stream are very rare. Therefore, we are left to surmise that the ravines did contain streams, much like the remnant stream within the lower portion of Glenbrook Ravine.
Written records can provide detailed information as well as interesting anecdotes about the city’s history related to its water systems. Governmental records include projects to build water mains and fill in ravines, while newspaper articles and diary entries provide individual stories of people and the environment.
The media attention that the Lost Streams project received at its inception has garnered some interest from the New Westminster public, and the project has received emails from individuals with suggestions and testimonials to the evidence of water. We have also received some assistance from experts in the field. If you would like to contribute your own knowledge, see the Contact Us page.