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The Fraser and the Thames: Celebrating Working Rivers

July 11, 2014

Communities are shaped by the rivers that run through them – environmentally, culturally, and economically. In our modern age of air travel and internet, it is easy to forget how much we still depend on the great working waterways of the world for travel, trade, leisure, and basic necessities. I’ve had the privilege of living and working along the banks of two of the world’s great rivers – the Fraser here in B.C. and

As it snakes past St. Paul's, The Shard, and other landmarks, the Thames provides transportation, tourism, and drinking water for Londoners.

As it snakes past St. Paul’s, The Shard, and other landmarks, the Thames provides transportation, tourism, and drinking water for Londoners.

the Thames in Southern England. On a recent trip back to London, I realized I had never considered the similarities between these two famous waterways. Clearly they are vastly different in size, ecology, and geography. The Thames is 346 kilometres in length, tiny compared to the 1375 kilometre-long Fraser. Moreover, the vast geographical divide means there are great differences in native wildlife and plants. In fact, some species native to the Thames, such as the Mute Swan, are actually considered aggressively invasive on the Fraser since being artificially introduced in the nineteenth century.

Yet it is their similarities rather than differences that I find most striking. These two waterways are both crucial working rivers. I mean “working” in every sense of the word – they provide jobs, trade, leisure, transportation, and basic resources to the people who live around them. The economies, cultures, and natural ecosystems of these regions could not work without the rivers that sustain them.

From trains to cars to vessels of all sizes, there's always something happening on, over, or around the Fraser River in Metro Vancouver.

From trains to cars to vessels of all sizes, there’s always something happening on, over, or around the Fraser River in Metro Vancouver.

Both the Fraser and the Thames have been used continuously in various ways for millenia. They are partially tidal and flow into oceans, providing key trade and transportation routes from the earliest days of boat-building to today’s era of cargo and cruise ship behemoths. The Port of London contains one of the world’s largest sugar cane refineries, and nearly all Asian-made vehicles sold in Canada come through Port Metro Vancouver’s Annacis Auto Terminal in the Fraser River. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Fraser and Thames basins both provide drinking water for millions of people.

Of course, these are just two examples of the world’s many working rivers, which provide employment, transportation, resources, trade, and amusement for communities around the globe. Wherever you may find yourself, chances are you’re somehow connected to a living, working river.

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