Welcome to Invisible Water/Ways!
Invisible Water/Ways is an educational campaign celebrating Johnson Creek, which has been flowing under Victoria for more than 100 years. How can learning about the historical layers of landscape under our feet change the way we understand and care for the place we make our home?
Cities around the world have buried waterways in hard infrastructure, removing their ability to naturally clean and filter water, to regulate climate, to support habitat, and to mitigate weather events. Green infrastructure provides ecological solutions to help address these issues and mitigate risk to our cities from extreme weather events.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration calls for the protection and revival of ecosystems around the world. This call asks cities to adopt nature-based solutions at the urban scale to restore degraded ecosystems. This decade, ending in 2030 has been identified by scientists as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Invisible Water/Ways scratches the surface of Victoria’s landscape history, providing the context and information required to catalyze and design nature-based solutions for community-based water management. Our long-term vision is to restore ecological function to the watershed while cleaning run-off from the city. This begins with expanding the common understanding of the landscapes buried under us.
This project traces the current path of Johnson Creek through the piped stormwater system of the city, leading participants on a self-guided walking tour to reveal this invisible landscape. What clues are revealed along the route, and where can the sound of water be heard still flowing under our feet? How does this new knowledge enhance our understanding of the place we call home? What will this uncovered path reveal about a more regenerative future?
Focusing on Johnson Creek in 2024, we plan to expand to the various waterways buried under the Capital Region in coming years.
A Brief History of 'Johnson Creek'
Before European contact, ‘Johnson Creek’ ran from a wetland complex located where Harris Green is today, through a ravine and out to the harbour. As Butch Dick describes in Signs of ləkʷəŋən, the ravine was surrounded by willow trees and berries, cutting through a meadow landscape. The waterway was lined with paths made by bark harvesters, collecting bark from the bitter cherry trees to craft household objects. This creek was a source of food, medicine and materials for the ləkʷəŋən people stewarding the region.
When European settlers arrived, they built Fort Victoria south of the ravine. Chinatown was established north of the creek, with 3 footbridges connecting the two communities. Johnson Creek Ravine represented a significant cultural as well as physical divide through the settlement.
Image Reference: https://chinatown.library.uvic.ca/node_1687.html
Like many of Earth’s waterways, people’s ignorance of the creek’s role in supporting life cultivated disrespect for the water and ravine. In 1867 the Legislative Council passed an Act giving the City of Victoria the power to remove all nuisances from the ravine. This led to the creek being diverted into culverts with a box drain running the length of the ravine.
Johnson Creek was enclosed at the end of the 1800’s and has continued to flow under the city for more than 100 years.
Johnson Creek Today
Although the ravine was filled and overtaken by the city, traces of the former landscape still exist. The memory of the creek has been preserved through Butch Dick’s Signs of ləkʷəŋən artwork, and the creek has been documented by the South Island Stewardship Society’s map ‘Lost Streams of Victoria.’ This creek is a point of intrigue among the community, although there is little information publicly available. Invisible Water/Ways is investigating the storm drain system, and curating the resources available through archival data, and current records to narrate the story of Johnson Creek.
Johnson Creek Map – the storm drain system is shown in pink
Invisible Water/Ways is partnering with local festivals in 2024 to host walking tours and creek side events. More details to come!
Examples of Creek Revitalization
Discovering where Johnson Creek flows beneath our feet is the first step in revitalizing this invisible waterway in the future. This revitalization can take various forms, from public art installations to green infrastructure, daylighting, and ecosystem restoration. This initiative invites the community to imagine how revitalization might take shape in their neighbourhood.
There are many local and international examples of waterway revitalization. Follow the links below for information on watershed restoration in the Capital Region and beyond.
Friends of Bowker Creek Society
Work at Bowker Creek offers a recent and local example of community led stewardship. Friends of Bowker Creek assembled documentation that catalyzed a community wide restoration effort which grew into the Bowker Creek Initiative.
Cecilia Creek https://crdcommunitygreenmap.ca/location/cecelia-creek
Rock Bay Creek Revival https://www.rockbaycreek.ca/
Vancouver's Secret Waterways, Vancouver
Exploring lost rivers, buried creeks and disappeared streams. Connecting historic ecology and the modern metropolis.
Ghost Rivers, Baltimore
A public art project and walking tour, rediscovering hidden streams and histories running beneath our feet.
Lost Rivers, Toronto
Lost River Walks encourages understanding of the city as a part of nature rather than apart from it, and to appreciate and cherish our heritage.
West Philadelphia Landscape Project, Pennsylvania
This nature restoration and community building project is based around Mill Creek, which was buried under Philadelphia in the 19th century. Having started in 1987, this project offers insight into community based restoration.
See you soon!