Joseph Creek flows North from Joseph Mountain through the City of Cranbrook and into the St. Mary’s River. Historically this creek was considered “the most important juvenile (trout) recruitment stream in the lower St. Mary River drainage.” (Duncan, 2014) . A significant fishery resource, this was also a cultural gathering place for the Ktunaxa Nation and the Aq’am people. In 1898 when the Canadian Pacific Railway established the Crowsnest Pass line through the Kootenay’s, Cranbrook became the major centre of the region and in 1905, Cranbrook was incorporated as a city. Since this time, the community and the region has been developing and changing, growing and influencing the land around them. The creek has been used as a drinking water source, channelized, used as a storm water management system and recreation amenity. In the 1920’s the creek was dammed and the Idlewild reservoir was created – the primary drinking water source for Cranbrook. The creek and the reservoir remained the Cities drinking water source until the mid-1970’s, when the Phillips Reservoir was created. The Phillips Reservoir, currently one of the Cities primary sources of drinking water infrastructure, is located South of Cranbrook along the Gold Creek Road and is supplemented by Gold Creek through a diversion. (Appendix A – Drainage Map)
Today the creek is not functioning as a healthy ecosystem. Development, sedimentation, encroachment, water use/requirements, urbanization, invasive species, habitat destruction, infrastructure requirements and years of channelization have significantly affected the health of the creek. Several studies and reports have been conducted over the last several decades, documenting the creeks ecosystem health, as well as the influences on this. Much of these reports provide prescriptions as to how to restore a functioning ecosystem for specific species – highlighting specific creek functions and/or species-specific restoration requirements. However, often these prescriptions do not consider the multi-dimensional influences of the creek, nor the cultural values, community knowledge and infrastructure requirements of this system.
Over the last several decades, various organizations and groups have worked to improve the creek though cleanup efforts, park developments, habitat enhancement, recreation amenities and education programs. Today the community is looking to continue these efforts with a positive, constructive, collaborative approach, focusing on solutions, science, innovation and opportunities.
Many people in our community, especially our children, have a disconnect to nature and natural spaces – technology, urbanization and societal pressures have changed the experience and interactions, people once had with the outdoors. Much of our society has not participated in the outdoors and although there is renewed interest many don’t know how to do this. As the population ages and people near retirement there is a certain amount of nostalgia that people feel towards the Creek – how it used to be, how they used to interact with it and how they want the next generations to see it. The leadership of the day and the scientific community now have a greater understanding as to the value that ecosystems, nature connection and the role that water plays in a healthy community. With this new understanding and a change in the demographics of our community we are seeing shifts in how people value and interact with the natural environment.
The Joseph Creek Restoration Project is organized by Columbia Outdoor School with the support of a group of community partners including the College of the Rockies, School District #5, the Ktunaxa Nation, Aq’am Community, the City of Cranbrook, and the Regional District of the East Kootenay.