Take a walk along the Colquitz River trail and you’ll enter into a world of natural wonderment. Native birds sing in the trees and fish swim in the clear waters below – all steps from a busy road and shopping centre.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
When Grade 6 teacher Laura-Lyn Helton began teaching at nearby Colquitz middle school (then a junior high school) in 1995, she remembers taking students down to a very different environment.
“There were shopping carts, plastic and junk all in the creek,” she says. “It’s much better now.”
Helton, who now teaches a sustainable resource class at the school, can’t help but feel proud on the edge of the river, where a permanent memento now stands, all thanks to her students.
Last week Saanich unveiled interpretive signs featuring the artwork and poetry of Colquitz middle school students along the river.
“It was so cool when they did the unveiling; the kids were going along finding their art: ‘Oh , they used that! Look at mine!’” Helton says.
The project was spearheaded by artists Paula Jardine and Carolyn Knight as another piece of a larger, multi-year project known as RiverSong: Celebrating Life Along the Colquitz.
“They contacted the school with this vision to create something that was beautiful and interpretive and interesting that people would stop and read and look and learn,” Helton said. “It was interesting because it gave me a creative, artistic slant on the (sustainable resource) class that I probably, as a biologist, wouldn’t have taken otherwise.”
Grade 8 students Brett Hattie, 14, and Daphine Bishop, 13, say the project opened their eyes to just how much of an impact humans can have on the natural environment.
“We went to the creek and drew pictures, and just took in the sights and sounds, and then we came back and wrote poetry,” Bishop says.
“We would listen to the river. Once you zone out of the cars and listen, it’s really quite nice,” adds Hattie.
Mayor Frank Leonard, who attended Colquitz as a boy, says the students’ contributions to the Colquitz watershed isn’t lost on him.
“My generation didn’t look after (the river). My generation abused it. Their generation wants to take pride in it and show that pride,” he says. “Their generation is going to make it even better, because they really do embrace it. This is a special place worth celebrating for years to come.”
Hattie and Bishop, too, acknowledge that their artwork – panels that they hope to be able to show their kids decades down the road – will forever remain a part of the positive transformation of Colquitz River.
“One of my favourite quotes is, ‘We don’t inherit the Earth from our parents, but we borrow it from our children.’ It’s not ours; we’ve got to pass this on, so we better make something good out of it,” Bishop says.
“It’s brilliant,” Helton says of the project. “I think this gives them hope and it opens their eyes that everybody can do a little tiny bit and it will make a difference.”
To see all the interpretive signs, go for a walk along the Colquitz River trail or visit saanich.ca/parkrec/parks/ColquitzInterpretiveSigns.html.