Article & photos by Murphy Shewchuk
Roderick Haig-Brown Park
For three weeks in October, 2010, British Columbia's Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, on the banks of the Adams River east of Chase, will take on the atmosphere of a carnival. The scene isn't a typical fall fair or a rodeo, but the celebration of the return of millions of sockeye salmon and the renewal of life that follows.
The late Roderick Haig-Brown, a well-known British Columbia conservationist, author and magistrate, summarized the sockeye phenomenon and its relations to human beings in his book, The Salmon, written for Environment Canada in 1974:
"The salmon runs are a visible symbol of life, death and regeneration, plain for all to see and share... The salmon are a test of a healthy environment, a lesson in environmental needs. Their abundant presence on the spawning beds is a lesson of hope, of deep importance for the future of man. If there is ever a time when the salmon no longer return, man will know he has failed again and moved one stage nearer to his own final disappearance."
Opens in early October…
The year 2010 marks the 14th celebration on the banks of the Adams. the Salute to the Sockeye takes place on the dominant year of the four-year cycle. While the crowds visiting most British Columbia tourist attractions are waning, approximately 300,000 people are expected to walk the banks of the Adams River just to watch as many as two million salmon swim and spawn nearby.
The Salute usually kicks off in the first week in October with the official opening ceremonies on the first Saturday. After a little more than three weeks, the activities wind down at the end of October. During that period, there will be park naturalists and fisheries personnel on site to answer your questions.
I have attended almost every "Salute" since 1974, and if the past is any indication, I expect that the weekends will be busiest. May I suggest that if you can, you should plan your tour for a weekday. Weekdays may also not be too quiet -- during one "Salute" they had as many as 63 school buses on site at one time.
Parking is plentiful at several sites near the Adams River. In 1998, the site sponsors introduced a nominal vehicle parking fee to help offset the costs of managing the "Salute".
Salmon visible in the river…
The crimson salmon are easily seen in the river. The displays include tents filled with everything from information on their life cycle to the best way to cook them. The only part of a carnival that will not be there is the rides.
Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park is located eight kilometres northeast of the Trans-Canada Highway junction at Squilax, approximately 65 km east of Kamloops and 50 km west of Salmon Arm. Camping is not permitted on site, but Shuswap Lake Provincial Park, 13 km farther along the same road as the viewing site, has 260 campsites. Many smaller privately owned campgrounds and resorts are also located nearby. Both Kamloops and Salmon Arm have full tourist facilities.
In years past, the Salute to the Sockeye has been largely the domain of a select group of government agencies and local service organizations. The 1994 Salute changed that when business and industry recognized the value of conservation and the focus of the Adams River with sizable donations toward interpretation services and general operations.
Local service clubs, under the umbrella of the Adams River Salmon Society, play a part by supervising display-filled tents, operating concession stands, supervising parking, and cleaning up after visitors that have, in the past, numbered well in excess of 250,000.
The weather in the Shuswap can be variable in mid-October with warm days and cool nights. Warm, waterproof clothing and footwear suitable for scrambling along a river bank are essential. Although they may not be necessary, may I suggest that you pack along a pair rubber boots. Street shoes and spiked-heels are definitely a liability.
Allow at least a day at the site to explore the river trails. The smaller channels often offer more natural settings for study and photography than are available at the main viewing area.
Most important of all, leave pets at home. Not only do dogs frighten the salmon, but the dogs may become overly excited and leap into the fast flowing stream.
Viewing platforms have been built on the river bank near the display area. However, those interested in enjoying nature in a less formal atmosphere will probably take to the trails that follow the Adams River downstream to Shuswap Lake and for a considerable distance upstream toward Adams Lake. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will very likely be tagging salmon at the mouth of the river in an effort to track spawning locations and numbers. In the past, there have been nature interpreters at the main viewing stands as well as at the river mouth.
Cameras are essential…
The autumn colors are usually at their finest during the Salute to the Sockeye, making a camera and color film an essential piece of equipment. You may also find that that a polarizing filter is useful to reduce the sunlight reflections off the water and allow clear photographs of crimson salmon beneath the surface. Pack along plenty of film as your particular choice may not be available on site.