Marpole River Park / Silvertree Park

Concrete Wasteland: Don Larson wants a natural 10 acre riverfront park at the foot of Cambie

JUN 25, 2015 - Marpole Online met with Marpole resident and greenspace activist, Don Larson, today to discuss the proposed 10 acre riverfront park at the foot of Cambie that he has been fighting to make happen for the past four years. He is helped in his efforts by environmentalist and Dunbar resident, Terry Slack, and former Banyen Books owner and Marpole resident, Elliott McLaughlin who assists Larson with communications.

While the park has been approved in the recent Marpole Community Plan, a deed has not been signed transferring ownership from Translink to the City of Vancouver and Larson says it has to happen within four years of the Marpole Plan in order to use the Community Amenity Contributions (CAC).

Larson says that the City's CAC from the highrise rezoning near Marine Drive Canada Line Station has $20 million set aside to buy the land for this park. The Marpole Plan was approved November 2014 which means the City would need to use the money by November 2018.

Don Larson at site of proposed riverfront park in Marpole

Larson and Slack had a walkabout with two City of Vancouver staff over the last week, Susan Haid, Assistant Director, Vancouver-South Planning and Development Services and Catherine Sinasac, Community Planner at City of Vancouver.

According to Larson, McLaughlin calls the current site a "concrete wasteland". Larson says "It has been brought up to one level of cleaning. It was once a mill site, Silvertree Mill."

He says that the Canada Line is now the entrance to Vancouver adding "the cement wasteland along the riverfront isn't welcoming, it's not world class, and we're not the greenest city in the world." Larson doesn't think the park will happen if the three men don't keep pushing the Mayor, City Council, and Vancouver Park's Board, but is grateful for the Canada Line Pedestrian and Cyclist Bridge which draws attention to the neglected industrial site. During our interview today we saw a steady flow of cyclists crossing the bridge. When asked what Marpole residents can do he said that emails to the Mayor don't hurt.

"The $20 million may go to save the gardens up on the [Arbutus] tracks; the [Marpole Oakridge] Community Centre needs revitalization up at 59th and Oak; but if you're one of the four to five thousand people that, within a year and half, will be living at Cambie and Marine, wouldn't you seriously want a park down by the river? Wouldn't that be your big priority? But they have no voice." says Larson.

Larson is adamant against sports fields. "We need walkways along the river so people can access parks. I think City Hall has to show some leadership on an issue like that and form a single-focused committee." He says that Vancouver's Grandview Woodlands neighbourhood is "on the ball" and that "Marpole really never did form into a proper committee."

Don Larson at site of proposed riverfront park in Marpole

"We're getting the density, we're getting all the social impact, the question is are we getting the amenities and benefits. At the moment I would say 'No'", says Larson. "I'm trying to get a park and I'm very focused on that out of this density mess."

Along with the creation of at least a 10 acre park they'd like to daylight at least one of three buried streams. "There's about a dozen of them on the Fraser River north arm from New Westminster down to the mouth of the Fraser" says Larson. "I think all of them have been buried with no intention of daylighting. There's three down here and they geiser up. These aren't streams that come from way up the hill and down. They're springs and were likely once chum salmon bearing streams." He continues, "Buzzards Bay Coalition in New Bedford, Massachusetts is doing what we're talking about, they have a lot of money. It was a mill site and they're restoring streams. This is being done so we can do it. Burnaby and Richmond are way ahead of us with riverfront trails, etc."

About Don Larson, Terry Slack and Elliott McLaughlin

Don Larson has a history of greenspace activism in Vancouver including getting Crab Park established. He will be at Crab Park Festival on July 1, 2015 at the north foot of Main Street.

Terry Slack is a retired commercial fisherman, Fraser River salmon conservationist and lifetime historian of river history and archeology. He is also the director of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society and lives in Dunbar.

Elliott McLaughlin has known Don since 1972 when he used to come into his bookstore, Banyen Books. McLaughlin sold out of the bookstore in the late eighties. When he moved to Marpole in the early nineties, he would bump into Don in local coffee shops and discovered that Larson was not only without an answering machine, but also doesn't use a computer nor does he drive a car and that he accomplished all that he had with Crab Park and the DTES with longhand letters and public transit. McLaughlin volunteered to help him with communications and transportation. He can be reached at or visit their blog for more information.

Extending Shaughnessy Park

A related Vancouver Sun article published back in November 2012 states, "The city is also looking to create a mini-park along the south end of Shaughnessy Street, which would extend Shaughnessy Park, located on the Fraser waterfront."

Gudrun Langolf, an area resident who has fought to gain more public access to the Fraser River on the community's south side, applauded the idea of extending Shaughnessy Park, saying the proposed addition "would be adding a pearl" to a community initiative to open up the waterfront.

Marpole's Favourite and Least Favourite Parks

According to The Marpole Plan the Fraser River Park is Marpole's favourite park because it is quiet and safe, spacious, natural, used by many different people, is a dog park, has trails, picnic tables, benches, and interesting river activity. However, the plan goes on to say that the parks that people avoid most in Marpole are Fraser River Park, the Fraser River Trail, and Ash Park.

Fraser River Park, has too much dog poop, no washrooms, feels unsafe, is isolated, has poor lighting and poor access, the industrial area and cars are a barrier to the park, and there is no covered area; the Fraser River Trail is a dead-end trail, too short of a walk, a huge safety issue, and isolated; and Ash Park is not maintained, has too many dogs and is not safe at night.

It goes on to say that both Oak Park and Winona Park are dominated by sports groups and thus not welcoming to all; Shaughnessy Park is very isolated, doesn't feel safe and is not maintained; Marpole Park has no barriers between children and cars, does not have enough benches, and is not maintained; and William Mackie Park doesn't feel safe, is isolated, needs better lighting and has overflowing garbage cans.

Subdividing 34 Riverfront Acres

"Since 2003, the Marpole Business Association, as part of the Eburne Lands Coordinating Group, has been working with other community groups and residents in attempting to obtain a park land allocation at the former Eburne Lands sawmill site, along the Fraser River waterfront (south of SW Marine Drive) despite some heavy-handed actions by Translink and the former North Fraser Port Authority (now Vancouver Fraser Port Authority) regarding subdividing its 34-acre property." - excerpt from The Historical Context of the Eburne Lands

Want to weigh in?

Is Vancouver a green city only because it rains a lot or are we a City committed to greenspace? Does Marpole need more parks? What type of park do you want to see at the foot of Cambie? Do you want to see more riverfront walkways? Should old buried streams along the Fraser River be daylighted? Discuss at the bottom of this page.

Big Ideas for the Fraser River: Vancouver's southern waterfront

APR 2014 — The opening of the Canada Line in 2009 with its Fraser River crossing introduced a new pedestrian/cycling connection across the river. This popular new link between Vancouver and Richmond has helped to foster an increased interest in providing recreation opportunities next to – and along – the river.

Included in the approved Marpole Community Plan list of 10-year policies in the Public Benefits Strategy is the creation of a new waterfront park of up to 10 acres at the foot of Cambie Street. This represents a tremendous opportunity for a brand new, significant greenspace to be built in a neighbourhood that has less park space than most other areas of the city. [READ MORE]

Don Larson Interview about Marpole Park

JAN 2014 — Don Larson is advocating building a new park at the foot of Cambie Street. The population density is increasing in the Marpole area, particularly at Cambie Street and South West Marine Drive where 6 new towers are being built. Marpole is under parked and Don says that new residents will need passive parks and walkways along the river to preserve their sanity. Don Larson says that the money should come from CAC’s (Community Amenity Contributions) and money that Translink sets aside for parks in the area. [READ MORE]