Rolling on the River

M.V. Native Photo: Rob Weiss

Fascinated, I watched those big wheels turn, and I could almost hear Tina Turner belting out Proud Mary on the Riverboat Queen! The big wheels were churning, and I was thrilled to be exploring Vancouver’s first major highway, the Fraser River, by Paddle Wheeler. Usually, my preferred mode of transportation is a sea kayak or canoe, but recently I had the opportunity to “supersize” my watercraft and experience the Fraser in grand style.

Tugboats Photo: Rob Weiss

Launching near the River Market at New Westminster Quay, I  excitedly boarded the M.V. Native, an authentic replica of a sternwheeler that historically navigated the waters of the Fraser River from 1863 to 1921. As I made way down the ramp, I felt as though I was being transported back in time. Vivid images of pioneers, fur traders and gold miners flashed before me. These magnificent sternwheelers were the workhorses of their time, carrying freight and passengers along the Fraser. How exciting to be boarding one now.

Bridge views from the Mighty Fraser Photo: Rob Weiss

Our afternoon voyage provided an interesting perspective of the city from the water. Leaving the docks, we passed New Westminster’s Pier Park and were afforded unique views of the Railway Bridge, Skytrain Bridge and of course the Patullo Bridge. I wondered what the early settlers would think of our modern day infrastructure, these marvels of steel and cables. Doggedly fighting the current, we continued up the river. Our little vessel fought valiantly upstream, as the river seemed to flow effortlessly almost gracefully by us.

Bridge View Photo: Rob Weiss

Enjoying the colours, sights and sounds, we carried on to the site of the QayQayts summer village. We learned a little about the history and lifestyle of this First Nations community, one of the smallest in Canada. Nearing Douglas Island, situated where the Fraser and Pitt Rivers meet, we began our turn for home. I was captivated by the level of activity on the mighty Fraser. Tugboats plied the waters; log booms lined the shores, factories and apartment buildings towered above her banks and fishers tested their luck.

Log Booms and the City of Surrey Skyline  Photo: Rob Weiss

Like icing on a cake, the Company B Jazz Band began to perform, and to my surprise swing dancers took to the floor. For all intensive purposes, we could have been on the Mighty Mississippi. Hypnotic rhythms and harmonies performed by the ladies of Company B brought the river to life. As I listened intently, it occurred to me that throughout history the story of the Fraser River and perhaps all great rivers is about the people who inhabit their shores. I suppose Tina Turner said it best, “ Remember, if you come down to the river, people are happy to give.”

Getting There:

Only 25 minutes from Vancouver by car or Sky Train the New Westminster Quay is located at 810 Quayside Drive. Cyclists can visit via the BC Parkway or Central Valley Greenway. River boat cruises are offered by Paddlewheeler Riverboat Tours. Check their website for upcoming tour dates, times and fees.

While in New Westminster, be sure to visit the 70,000 square foot revitalized River Market.

River Market Food Hall Photo: Rob Weiss

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