Terra Nova – an inspiring saga

Prologue: For those who envision a community-changing future for the Garden City Lands, there is much to learn from Terra Nova, especially since Richmond recently received an award for Terra Nova Rural Park. It is located at the west end of Westminster Highway near Sturgeon Bank and shown on this Garden City Lands Coalition website page.

This account starts with the way the City of Richmond collaborates with the community, which is sometimes well and sometimes not so well. It also describes a model that the Garden City Lands can emulate, not in every detail but in social vision.
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Sometimes it seems that Richmond, ever in search of a slogan, could adopt an old Rodney Dangerfield catchphrase: “I don’t get no respect.” In letters to the editor, the Olympic Oval is “a great big white elephant,” while the city’s snow-removal system is “Wait till spring.” And, stymied by the city’s ability to not act, public-spirited citizens like the Richmond Responsible Dog Owners’ Group (RRDOG) lose hope.

Truly, though, the City of Richmond has a brighter side. It’s exemplified by Terra Nova Rural Park, which recently won the Union of BC Municipalities award for “Leadership & Innovation in Environmental Excellence.” That crowns a quarter-century of community tenacity, our epic struggle to conserve Terra Nova for best uses.

In the mid-1980s, the Save Richmond Farmland Society and Richmond community mobilized to save Terra Nova, the green area in the northwest corner of Lulu Island. But the citizens were ignored by too many Richmond council members for too long. In the 1990 election, the citizens threw them out. In salvage mode, the new council used three years of planning and land swaps to make a large Terra Nova park area possible.

Still, it was an era when the only visions reaching council were developers’ visions, and the Save Richmond Farmland Society set out to fill the void. In March 1994, the society addressed council and provided council members and city staff with an illustrated 35-page booklet, Investing in our future: A city park at Terra Nova. It was a preview of today’s Terra Nova Rural Park and Terra Nova Natural Area.

With the 1996 election, there was a referendum to allow the city to borrow $28.5 million to acquire Terra Nova lands. The Save Richmond Farmland Society delivered 21,000 English and Chinese flyers to selected areas and organizations. With 58 percent, the yes vote won.

After listening again to the public at information sessions, the city decided, as expected, that Terra Nova parkland would be used for a mix of heritage park, habitat, and agriculture. Staff ably took it from there.

There’s much to like in the outcomes so far. In the Terra Nova Rural Park, for example, the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project farm and Tzu Chi Foundation garden feed the needy, the Terra Nova Schoolyard enables kids to grow their own food, and a healing garden sprang to life this year through miracles of generosity.

Thousands take part. From spring to fall, kids, community gardeners, and volunteers tend the fertile soil. Companies provide support. Visitors delight in the scene. It’s an oasis of harmony.

Much more is happening, like the construction of trails and boardwalks, the conversion of the red barn to a gathering place, and the restoring of a heritage home, an ancient slough, and a crabapple ridge.

A wonderful aspect is the role of city parks staff. They have come to a place of community vision and nurtured it. They have thought far ahead, facilitated success, and steadily got things done.

Since councils and staff have teamed so well with our incredible community, Richmond richly deserves its award. Terra Nova is indeed a model of leadership and innovation in environmental excellence for BC municipalities. In ours, we can emulate our Terra Nova success with more cycles of vision, teamwork, and results, all in a culture of respect. 

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Epilogue: It’s job done, the Save Richmond Farmland Society has donated its remaining funds to the Garden City Lands Coalition Society. Combined with a previous $500 donation, that brought the total to $700, generous help that is much appreciated.

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