Bourque II, Otto and Sandra and the activists

Sandra Bourque and Otto Langer and rushing water

This is second of three Sandra Bourque answers to questions prompted by Sandra’s help with the “Child of the Fraser River and the sea” article on this blog. On request, Sandra Bourque and her husband Otto Langer also dug up some photos for illustration.

Jim, you asked me how Otto and I got started as activists here.

Otto’s passion in the estuary and river arose first out of his job with Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It was informed by his upbringing on a farm at the edge of the northern boreal forest in Alberta and his love of the sheer beauty of BC. He ultimately was head of habitat protection for the Fraser River, it’s entire watershed and the Yukon. He lived at the mouth of the river too and he knew it like the back of his hand.

When we first came to BC in 1969, each development, riprap, dump, sewer outfall, industrial outfall, and gravel pit was considered on its own merit, if it was considered at all. There was no acceptance of the cumulative effect of all this on the salmon fishery or on migratory birds, which were actually protected in legislation, never mind the wider environmental and health implications.

At the start, Otto often found it difficult to get his bosses to agree to acting on obvious transgressions or advocating for changes to legislation, development or farming practices. Their emphasis had been on stock management, so habitat and pollution were “new fangled.” But Otto knew there was a small but growing network of people who saw the need for change and were willing to advocate for it, both within government and without. He worked with this network, sharing his knowledge base of biology, the environment, upcoming or ongoing threats, and the legislation. He was able to keep the pieces of the problems in his mind and help us all keep in mind the big picture we were working toward.

Informed by Otto like that, our network of citizens became knowledgeable advocates. We wrote cogent reports, made presentations at every political level, and advocated for ourselves, our children and our environment. Armed with knowledge and facts, supported by others, we marched into city halls and provincial offices and insinuated ourselves into what had been previously rubber stamping events in unquestioning support of development and industry. We demanded standards and processes that were open and public, adherence to the law, and changes to the law to better protect ourselves and the environment.

In Richmond at the start, that network included Lois Boyce, Wil Paulik, Janet Clark and members of the Richmond Anti Pollution Association, Deril Gudlaugson and his farmland protection group, and Harold Steves, along with me. I have a master’s in Zoology like Otto—we were students together at U of Alberta. Since my gender did not favour employment in the field of biology except as a lab tech, I put my efforts and abilities toward effecting by public advocacy what Otto could not change within government.

In Richmond this started by me attending a meeting at the Lorenzes about a proposed development on Shady Island. I took notes. When no one else would, I volunteered to make a presentation for the group to council. Mayor Gil Blair gave the developer 20 minutes and then told me to sit down after two minutes. I refused based on an principle of equal access and was able to answer every question asked. We won the day, and the environmental partnership of Otto and me began in earnest.

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