Douglas College professor discovering lost streams of New Westminster

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Working with students and the community

By Lauren Kelly, News Editor

Mike McPhee, a member of the Geography department at Douglas College, is currently working with geography students to piece together information on the long-covered waterways that existed on the New Westminster hillside.

New Westminster was originally settled in 1859 when the Royal Engineers chose it to be the capital of British Columbia. The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 resulted in quick development of the city, and the landscape was covered by buildings and roads, with no waterways in sight. Inspired by his previous work mapping the Coquitlam Watershed, and by the lost streams discovery projects of other cities, McPhee wanted to use this absence of knowledge as an opportunity to engage his students in geography fieldwork and enhance their coursework.

McPhee approached the City of New Westminster to collaborate on the project, and their response was very positive. “We’ve formed a partnership between Douglas and the city. So they’re providing some support to us as well.

“We’re just in our first stage of doing more historical research: digging out old maps, going to the archives, seeing what might be available and seeing if any of these maps show where the streams were. Eventually what we would like to be able to do is map these […] and then possibly have a community engagement part of the project […] maybe doing some public art, painting where they were on the land, signs, guided walks. The idea is to connect people to what the natural landscape of New Westminster was at one time.”

Some of the sources for the project include maps from the Douglas College library and from the New Westminster archives, photographic history books that show remnants of potential waterways, and contributions from the city’s citizens.

“I’ve had people who live in New Westminster contacting me. One person contacted me this week saying that she has a map that shows old streams. I’ve probably been contacted by four or five people saying that they’d heard of a stream on their property or they found water on their property. We have to do a little bit of sleuthing now to figure out where these things might be. There are many facets to the project, so as we get into it we’ll see where it takes us and what might come out of it.”

If you have any information about New Westminster and its streams that may be helpful, please contact Mike McPhee at