Wetland in a Wetland

Discussions are underway to modify the 15 acre Cadboro-Gyro Park so that it includes a wetland.

The purposes of the proposed wetland are noble.  The fact sheet asks for a wetland that will:

  • increase habitat,
  • facilitate new recreational and educational opportunities,
  • contribute significantly to the park’s ecological integrity and
  • mitigate extended flooding within the park.

The park has been the subject of several reviews in the past, most of which were triggered by concerns
related to flooding, underground service lines, and maintenance. It is noted that development and maintenance of the park is extremely challenging due to::

  • unstable peat soils,
  • a high water table, and
  • stormwater and tidal influences.

What is ironic about all of this is that the entire park is actually a wetland already and that some state of  “flooding” is normal for the entire area most of the year.

Cadboro-Gyro Park was developed in a fen alongside an ocean. Fens are peatlands. Peats  are very, very stable–unless you try to put a highway or train track  over them. And guess what?

Fens are characterized by:

  • peat soils,
  • a high water table,
  • stormwater and tidal influences.

Fens are one of the four main kinds of wetlands. They are characterized by being fed by mineral-rich surface water or groundwater and by the fact that over time they develop beds of peat which help absorb and disperse the groundwater which in turn supports the specific kinds of plants which, very slowly, form the peat. Fens are different from marsh wetlands in that they are shallower and that the fauna develops on or near the surface. They are distinguished from bogs in that bogs are fed solely by rain and are thus acidic whereas fens are neutral or alkali. When drained in whole or in part, fens make very good farmland.

The following activities are not normal in fens or are difficult to accomplish: roads, paved areas, railroads, buildings, parking lots, golf courses, playgrounds, grassy parks. Any of these detract from “the ecological integrity” of the park.

Natural fens are very useful for: mitigating the effects of storms and heavy rainfalls, providing a home for diverse fauna and wildlife, the growing of sedges, reeds and osiers for commercial purposes, cleaning up contaminated water, storing carbon.

The natural purpose of this fen for many years was to receive the surplus water from three or four hundred acres on higher ground to the north west.  The fen wetland before HBC and farm settlements would have been much larger in 1850 and it was farmed quite successfully until housing and shops began to expand in the f1950’s.

For centuries, this “surplus” water would have nourished the plants covering the tens of acres of fens which ran parallel to the shore. Given that much of that original fen is now built up and that the farms of the uplands have been covered with houses and roads and parking lots, the ratio between  the land receiving groundwater and the land drained has decreased enormously: let us say (without any detailed calculation) from 1 to 6 down to 1 to 60. Except for the 15 acres of the park, all of the original fen is now covered in houses and roads.

Logically, since all 15 acres of park are actually a wetland now, the park design should be quite different than is now proposed. This is not Beacon Hill. This  is a peatland/wetland and what lies under the surface is as much a part of that wetland as the water that often floods the planted grass as nature tries to move things back to their more natural state.

Sand and beach.

The beach is a natural dividing land and should serve its original purposes as summer recreation for the people and a winter dog-walking haven. It should be celebrated and made as accessible as possible for individuals. It should be expanded where feasible as each small bay or indentation increases the available space for summer recreation.


Parking for cars should be eliminated or moved to the older parts of the fen, along Cadboro Bay Road. One house has been bought and two or three more could be purchased contiguous to the Cadboro Bay Road entrance. Walking is healthy.


Boat storage could remain as a buffer between the existing housing and the park. So this buffer area might well take up two or three acres in whole but the goal should be to minimize the built/paved area and maximize the wetland.


The play area should remain where it as, as that terrain is almost part of the sandy beach terrain. Or, it could move or expand to the buffer area. The scout house is on a lease so must stay where it is for the time. When it goes, that would be a good site for washrooms.


Washrooms have been solidly established and in any case the part of the wetland where they sit has been damage has been damaged. So they might as well stay rather than damaging another location.


No area should be “paved”  as currently planned. That would be very expensive and detract from “ecological integrity.” To pave over peat you need to bring in tons of sand, let it sit there for a year or two until the peat compresses, take away the sand, and then pave. For the same amount of money, you could restore ten acres of fen.


The existing peat beds should be mapped in detail and restoration goals should be set for their health and development. Appropriate wetland species should be planted over at least 8 acres of the existing part which would be more than enough area to properly establish a fen wetland with some substantial “ecological integrity”. We need to start adding to the peat again.


No trees should be planted and existing trees should be removed where they are invasive and contribute to peat degradation. The invasion of trees marks the end of the wetland character of any particular wetland except a swamp and the types of trees which grow in swamp wetlands are not particularly attractive. While trees are considered “green” in all cases, in fact they do not contribute at all to the ecological integrity of a wetland.


In the past, there very likely was a marsh wetland portion or portions of the fen between the main fen and the ocean. If a true wetland is created, there should be a number of ponds and waterways within the vegetation. The general flow of water from outside the fen should be into the fen from outside, through the fen, and eventually, as clean water, into the ocean. This entails somewhere, towards the middle of the beach, a fen-marsh-ocean transition area.


Access to the beach should be mainly by foot or bicycle. There should be a large area for bicycle storage near the foot of Sinclair. There is an extensive literature about walkways through fens in Holland, England, Scotland and elsewhere.


Almost all of the planned developments lessen the “ecological integrity” of these 15 acres. These 15 acres represent the last segment of a major fen/marsh wetland that lasted for tens of centuries and that covered at least 150 acres.  We can seize the moment and create a true wetland  or we can pave and grass over most of this land and build a pseudo-wetland with a plastic liner in one corner of the park, first of all excavating all the peat.

This is a radical proposal in the circumstances but it is the logical outcome of an emphasis on ecological integrity and the management of “surplus” water.



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