Story by Jenn Smith Nelson
SALMON ARM, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Every year, sockeye salmon return to spawn in the Adams River in British Columbia‘s North Shuswap region. Every fourth year in this process is known as a dominant year — migration peaks and the river welcomes millions of fish home to spawn. 2014 is such a year.
The Adams River, a tributary of the Fraser River, serves as one of the most important sockeye salmon-breeding areas in North America, and is the end destination that 3.6 million salmon attempt to reach, fighting their way upstream to get here. Their 12-kilometre (seven-mile) journey through the Adams River is the final leg of an even longer upstream expedition, which starts in the Pacific Ocean, more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) away.
Four years, three phases of life, fighting to give life to the next generation. These fascinating salmon come full circle via an exceptional prodigal journey back to where their life originated.
Of the millions of salmon that entered the Fraser River at the Pacific Ocean, only 60 per cent or so will make it to the Adams River to spawn, continuing the life cycle. Then the parents will die.
Jeremy Heighton, event coordinator for the Salute to the Sockeye Festival, describes the salmon’s plight and perseverance as “the supreme sacrifice, life and death, a delicate balance of giving and releasing life in order to create the ideal conditions for their children.”
Heighton also adds, “Depending on your perspective it is the end or beginning of a life cycle.”
People from all over the world come to witness the return of salmon at the Adams River as it offers an accessible and close-up view of the sockeye migration. And, like the return of the salmon, every four years a festival marking the occasion takes place in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, which is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of the town of Salmon Arm and 70 kilometres (43 miles) from Kamloops, the nearest big city.
Put on by the Adams River Salmon Society, the Salute to the Sockeye Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, and runs this year from October 3-26.
This phenomenal act of nature where the brilliant pink of spawning salmon flicker through clear river waters is set against a backdrop of stunning fall foliage. Viewing can be witnessed from many spots along quiet riverside trails throughout the park.
Salmon Festival Tips in British Columbia
The Shuswap region is the perfect place to turn your salmon viewing outing into a full day adventure. Pack a lunch, park at the festival site and take in an eight-kilometre (five-mile) round-trip hike up the Adams River to the Adams River Canyon Trail. The trail will take you alongside the river offering ample opportunity for salmon viewing without the crowds. Don’t forget to look up, as it’s common to see eagle and osprey in the skies above.
The festival site is located in the main day-use area within the Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, alongside the Adams River spawning channels. Within the festival plaza area, interpretive information can be found to help visitors better understand the phenomenon they are witnessing. A viewing platform is positioned nearby, 350 metres (1,150 feet) or so from the festival plaza.
The number of salmon peak around mid-October.
Heighton hopes those who attend will see the bigger picture; how the salmon run speaks to our larger environment. “The festival provides an opportunity to understand the delicate balance between what we need, what we want, and how we influence — positively or negatively — our environment, a connection between ourselves and our natural world.”
The Salute to the Sockeye event brings together local artisans, along with Shuswap elders and performers. “For thousands of years First Nations and the surrounding communities have harvested the salmon and celebrated the close link between the fish and life itself,” shares Heighton.
Indeed this year, the community, along with the thousands of visitors, will be gathering to show their respect for the incredible journey of the sockeye salmon at the end of their life.
MORE ABOUT THE 2014 SALUTE TO THE SOCKEYE FESTIVAL
Dates: October 3 to 26
Hours: Daily from 8 am-4 pm. Gates will be closed and locked each day at 5 pm.
- $5 per private vehicle
- $2 per person for a commercial van (10 to 20 passenger capacity)
- $60 per small bus (21 to 40 passenger capacity)
- $75 per large bus (41+ passenger capacity)
MORE ABOUT THE SHUSWAP REGION
While in Shuswap area, don’t miss the following:
Where to Dine: The Shuswap Pie Company. You will be hard pressed to find a better dinner or dessert pie anywhere.
Where to Sleep: The Quaaout Lodge and Talking Rock Resort. Owned by Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, the lodge features walk-out views of Little Shuswap Lake and has an on-site kekuli (winter house) and traditional sweat lodge .