North American usage: Slough (pronounced – sloo): A side channel or inlet, or a natural channel that is only sporadically filled with water.
Much loved and much maligned, the unplanned, unregulated collection of houses, boardwalks, net sheds and boats called Finn Slough straddles the channel between Whitworth Island and Lulu Island on the Fraser River in the City of Richmond just south of Vancouver, BC.
In the early 1890s a group of Finns immigrated to south Richmond to get away from the poverty and repression of the Russian empire in Finland. The men worked as coal miners and loggers to save money to buy land that had access to the Fraser River so that they could build fishing boats and harvest the incredibly rich salmon stock on the river. Word got around and cousins, uncles, half brothers, even a grandfather came out from Finland to work in the new country.
There are no buildings of significance in Finn Slough. The importance of this area stems from the visual arrangement of the houses and their history as a group. Most of them were built between the first settlement in 1890 and approximately 1940, and later additions have continued the established style. The buildings may be rough in nature, but still retain a definite aesthetic quality. The consistency in building materials, the muted natural colours of the buildings and the landscape all makes the area very attractive to the camera.
We tend to find it questionable that people choose to live close to nature, in very small spaces, that don’t aspire to current or traditional notions of architectural elegance. We find the process of decay unsightly; visible signs of aging offensive and suggestive of a lack of care, inappropriate aesthetics, slovenliness. We like to see the tide IN at Finn Slough, instead of seeing the living, rich, fertile, productive alluvial mud that Finn Slough rejoices in. Yet, that is precisely what makes Finn Slough so aesthetically appealing visually and photographically.
The 1930s was the busiest decade for the village with over 40 boats moored in the slough. But much has changed since then. Logging took over from fishing as the main industry in British Columbia and hastened the decline of salmon stocks from pollution and loss of spawning habitat. By the late 40s the lumber and pulp mills were running non stop and the tugs would be hard pressed to find a place to tie up their log booms. Now even that industry is in decline. In the early 90s local indigenous groups and environmentalists had had enough. Banding together, they managed to slow the pace of deforestation, preserve and rehabilitate spawning rivers and increase the public awareness of the super critical place of salmon in the Pacific coast food chain and environment. Salmon stocks are showing signs of rebounding.
What we are left with is a memory of how things were and Finn Slough is an important part of that memory. The village developed without the organization of property boundaries, city ordinances, provincial regulations or any governing body. Even so it has been an example of how a community can be purpose built and self regulated to work in harmony with the environment while having as little impact on it as possible.
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