Kayaking the Fraser River

Ladner wharf near Sharkey’s Restaurant, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

“Look! This kayaking rental company will bring your kayak to your doorstep and you can rent it for the whole day!” Anne announced gleefully.

This was great news. I hadn’t kayaked in the ocean since I’d left BC years ago. I was back in the village of Ladner, on the Fraser River estuary, visiting my family and friends for the first time since COVID-19 restricted me from travelling. Good friend Anne and I sat in her kitchen in Ladner, thinking of neat things to do in the area. Kayaking the Fraser River and estuary suddenly became a reality.

The kayak rental company brought the kits in two large bags to our doorstep in the morning. We then launched at the boat dock near Sharkey’s Seafood Bar & Grill in downtown Ladner. The kayaks were Skookum inflatables with easy instructions to set up and inflate. Within twenty minutes we were ready to go.

Map of Fraser River estuary and islands, showing Ladner village and the Pacific Ocean, BC

We did two paddles, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon after a lingering lunch at Sharkey’s.

First Paddle

Kayaking along the floating homes on the Fraser River by River Road, Ladner, BC (photo by Anne Voute)
Kayak route (in blue) of first paddle from Ladner Wharf near Sharkey’s Seafood Bar & Grill, BC
Kayaking the Fraser River by Ladner floating homes, BC (photo by Anne Voute)

The first paddle took us past several shoreline condos and boathouses that line the Fraser River, along River Road West, towards Westham Island. Each floating home is unique in style and access to the river. Some are sparse and avant-garde chic; others are cabin-like with gardens and funky marine decorations. Boathouses share views of wetlands and associated wildlife of Ladner Marsh, Gilligan Island, Gunn and Barber island. Homes also have expansive views of the North Shore mountains over the river estuary as well as incredible sunsets. 

Condo complex by the river, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Small condo marina on Fraser River, Ladner (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Aerial view of a floating homes on the Fraser River in Ladner, BC (photo by Delta Optimist)
Ladner wharf near Sharkeys, Ladner, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Kayaking Green Slough from lagoon, Ladner, BC (photo by Anne Voute)

On our way back, we continued past Sharkeys and Chiloctin Slough along the lagoon of Ladner Marsh. We passed the Ladner Yacht Club and entered Green Slough. On a high tide we might have been able to paddle the slough along Ferry Road then River Road to Highway 99 into Deas Slough, looping past Captain Cove Marina and into South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area. But the tide was low. The slough grew too shallow for us to continue. I judiciously checked my watch and we decided it was beer time and lunch hour at Sharkey’s.

Nina enjoying a Sharkey’s lunch and grapefruit radler (photo by Anne Voute)
View of Ladner Marsh from Sharkey’s, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Anne kayaking Green Slough from Deas Slough, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Kayaking route (in tan) from Ferry Road Boat Launch to Green Slough off Deas Slough and then to a channel in Ladner Marsh, BC

Second Paddle…

The second paddle took us in the other direction. We launched at the boat launch at the end of Ferry Road and paddled along Deas Slough past Captain Cove marina into Green Slough (from the other end), where it empties into Deas Slough at the Highway 99 crossing. We didn’t paddle too far; the slough was low and looked to be strewn with collapsed branches and debris.

Kayaking Green Slough from Deas Slough off Fraser River, BC (photo by Anne Voute)
Looking back to Captain’s Cove Marina in the Ladner Marsh channel, BC (photo by Anne Voute)

We paddled back and entered Ladner Marsh via an open channel that emptied near the boat launch at Ferry Road. We couldn’t get too far because of low tide. I saw mostly rushes, cattails and equisetum lining the marsh and cottonwoods farther inland, where the Ladner Marsh loop trail is located.

Kayak route to Ladner Marsh channel from Ferry Road boat launch, showing Ladner Marsh Loop Trail and lookout to Fraser River, BC

When I lived in Ladner, I often took the Ladner Marsh loop trail through the tall cottonwood forest. The park trail is located on the banks of the storm water treatment marsh with a boardwalk section and covered viewing tower that overlooks the marsh and the Fraser River.

A perimeter dyke trail connects Ladner Lagoon with Ladner Harbour Park, known by locals as “Bunny Park.” I often visited this park with my young son to watch the rabbits and walk the local forest trails, such as Swenson Walk, often frequented by bald eagles (looking for breakfast, no doubt). The site is a historic feral rabbit sanctuary and in 2012 over 500 wild rabbits that had crowded the Delta Municipal Hall (the result of generations of abandoned pets) were relocated to Ladner Harbour Park. To get there, we crossed Harbourview Bridge from River Road onto Mcneelys Way with views of the harbour at Ladner Boat Basin.

Ladner Harbour Park in spring of 2014, BC (photo by Delta Naturalist Society)

Ladner Marsh

Ladner Marsh is part of the South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area, which encompasses over 900 hectares of nesting, feeding and staging habitat for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species along the south arm of the Fraser River. The Fraser River estuary is recognized as one of the most important habitats in British Columbia for protecting marine, shore, predator and song birds.

The South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area (SAMWMA) was assigned in 1991 as critical habitat for fish, waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, songbirds and small mammals. It includes Ladner Lagoon, Ladner Marsh and the islands of Woodward, Barber, Duck, Rose, Kirkland, Gunn, and Williamson islands. The protected area neighbours other wildlife protected areas such as the Gorge C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island. I’m told that these marshlands support the highest densities of waterbirds and shorebirds in Canada, and more waterfowl winter in this area than the rest of Canada combined. This marshland has been internationally designated as part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Common species include the Snow Goose, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Greve and Western Grebe, Marsh Wren, Red-winged Blackbird and Song Sparrow, and Bald Eagle. The waters of the marsh support young Spring Pink, Chum and Chinook salmon that use the tidal marsh and channels. Other wildlife sighted in the marshes include beavers, muskrat, coyotes, raccoon, minks, seals, and California Sea Lions.

Map of Ladner Marsh and the South Arm Wildlife Management Area of the Fraser River

This marshland is part of the Fraser River delta, made up of tidal wetlands, mudflats, islands, drainage channels, sand bars, and uplands. Over 80% of the total area is undyked tidal floodplain supporting wetland vegetation such as reeds, cattails, sedges and rushes. Intertidal areas include Woodward, Duck and Barber Islands, and other unnamed islands among these. Ladner Marsh and Ladner Lagoon are also intertidal areas that support some rare plants such as Checker-mallow, Rice Cutgrass, and Western St. John’s Wort. Upland areas can be found on the dyked Kirkland/Rose Islands, Williamson and Gunn Islands, largely covered in cottonwood forest, particularly at the north end of Ladner Marsh.

Kayaking in Green Slough in Ladner Marsh off the Fraser River, BC (photo by Anne Voute)

NINA MUNTEANU is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit  www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

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