#993. Backyard Gems – The Curious Case of a place called Finn Slough

By John Wilson | Art & Creativity

Apr 20

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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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Such a short article – yet so much we can learn from it!

    1 – The beauty of nature – in stark contrast to the contribution of humans!

    2 – The beauty that can be achieved when humans learn to live WITH nature, instead of attacking it.

    3 – How nature ultimately must triumph.

    4 – The treasure trove in the trunk in John’s attic – we must pressure him, to go through all the other photos he has in it.

    5 – This perfect illustration of the mantra that “less is more” – it is in the simplicity of these photos that the true beauty of Finn Slough is splashed across the pages of DS.

    6 – The “woops!” at the start of the article. We all know John wrote it – where’s the “credit”? 🙂

    • pascaljappy says:

      6. Good spot, Pete! Thanks. Corrected.
      4. Agreed 😉
      5. It’s a tribute to John’s talent that those appear so simple. The composition and PP that went into them are probably all but that! Kudos.

      Cheers

    • John W says:

      Thank You JP. From you , that is indeed high praise. I’ve never thought of the location is quite the way you have stated, but I agree with you. And who knows, there may be the odd surprise still lurking in that mythical trunk. We will see what emerges.

  • philberphoto says:

    John, what a story! A great story, so well told, and with pictures worth not a thousand words, but a million. You captured the desolate soul of this forsaken palce so well. It reminds me of similar situations in Brazil, in the bayous of Lousiana, and even of one village in Chilean Patagonia. Like Pascal, Kudos!

    • John W says:

      Thank You Phil. I’m delighted that you enjoyed my simple offering on such a humble but charming place. Do you have any images from Brazil, the bayous and Patagonia that you can share?

  • Jeffrey Horton says:

    This is my favorite DS post to date, thanks so much for this!

  • Lovely photos and an extraordinary story. And those foreboding, looming clouds. Wow. These photos deserve a book.
    I had no idea this place existed and it amazes me that Finn Slough has escaped regulation. Let’s not tell anyone about it! (except the book) Thank you for this.

    • John W says:

      Thank You Alan. The strange twist is that I lived in Richmond for 11 years and knew of Finn Slough but never went there. The residents are very protective of their privacy (with good reason) so access is restricted, and there are less than 30 buildings on the site, so it would be a small and difficult book to produce …. but, who knows; stranger things have happened.

  • Frank Field says:

    What a good lesson for us all. In a locale that many would walk by, failing to take the camera out of the bag, John has brought us a wonderful trove of images. The threatening skies just simply add to the sense of place. While it’s out of character for the project, it would be interesting to see what the village looks like when the tide is in.

    • John W says:

      Thank You Frank. You are prescient. I plan to go back when the tides in and do some more shooting. Who knows, Alan may get his book.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    John, what a wonderful collection of images of Finn Slough! You’ve depicted the gritty reality of a hardworking area with all the raw energy and emotion intact. It takes a skillful photographer to know exactly when to press the shutter, and low tide was it! The viscous mud and beached boats lend powerful detail to the story. I love a good ramshackle, broken down environment as a photo subject, so you’ve inspired me to seek Finn Slough out as soon as the border opens. Kudos!

  • Dallas says:

    John a great post and images thanks for sharing.

  • Paul Watson says:

    Wonderful photos. might I ask if you lived nearby ? or was this from one visit?( The photos)

    • John W says:

      Thank You Paul. I did live within a few miles of the Slough for 11 years. I’d heard of it but never went there till after I’d moved quite far away. The summer images were taken a few years ago and the rest in one afternoon about a month ago.

  • percy seaton smythe says:

    having lived in Richmond and roamed this area, I have never seen it so well captured, these are very evocative shots particularly so knowing their historical context……I can smell the mud and water, truly a breath of fresh air….

    • John W says:

      Ah! Another wayward Canuk. Thank You for taking the time to comment Percy. Are you still in Richmond? I left 12 years ago and live in Langley. A bit of a drive but I still get to Richmond regularly. Cheers.

  • Robert Sessions says:

    Terrific photo essay John! The photos are so evocative, especially with the dark clouds and tones in the landscape. I also greatly appreciate your commentary–brief, very well written, informative, evocative. Best Pascal post I’ve seen.

  • John W says:

    Thank You Robert. I enjoyed creating it.

  • John, superb photos and a wonderful story. Perhaps the most evocative photos I have yet seen on DS. Thank you.
    Also distressing for me as they remind me of all the somewhat similar localities in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore which I failed to photograph at the time and which have long since disappeared or have been gentrified beyond recognition.

    • John W says:

      Thank You John. What I left out of the story to keep it from getting too complicated is there’s an ongoing court battle. The residents are effectively homesteaders and never got title to the land. There are developers hungrily baying at the courthouse door trying to get permission to develop the land into … you guessed it … condos. Who knows how much longer this tarnished little gem will survive.

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