SURREY - With 54 years of experience throwing salmon barbecues, the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club surely has it down to a science.
"We usually bring in about 400 pounds of salmon for the event," said president Bob Donnelly. "And we have a special recipe."
Prepared by long-term club members using a traditional sauce, the salmon is cooked on grills over open alder wood fires for all to see.
The barbecue, which is being held on Father's Day (June 17), will include salmon and side dishes, of course, but there will be hamburgers and hot dogs for those who don't like fish.
The event will also feature face painting, archery demonstrations, trail walks, rubber duck races, artwork and salmon fry releases for the kids.
"There are people who have been coming since the first one in the '50s," Donnelly said. "People come early, get their favourite spot and stay for the day. There's a lot to do."
Usually, 400 to 600 people come out for the annual event, and they can accommodate up to 800 in a large gazebo and picnic tables, he said.
While the day is about good fun and good food, it's also about promoting what the club does - and it does a lot.
The club's history dates back to the 1957, when it was incorporated by a group of outdoorsmen, mainly fishermen, in the Surrey and White Rock area.
The purpose of the group was to restore salmon to the local Little Campbell River that had been severely damaged by years of unregulated gravel removal in the watershed.
For over two decades, members held meetings in rented space and raised money.
In 1979, a 30-acre piece of property on the river was put up for sale. The club had enough money for the 30 acres, but the owner was trying to sell an additional 40-acre property with it, which the club couldn't afford.
Four members of the club mortgaged their home to purchase the whole 70 acres, and sold the additional 40 acres within a year.
"That shows the commitment level people have for this," Donnelly said.
In fact, one of those four members, Bobby Oswald, is still a member today.
In 1983, the club's members built the province's first all-volunteer hatchery, which included drilling a deep well and building a water filtration system. Previously, government staff ran all hatcheries in B.C.
Club members also built a gazebo in 1983 that holds 100 people.
And in 1994, club volunteers once again stepped up to build a large clubhouse on the south bank of the river, complete with an archery, 22 rifle and handgun range in the basement.
Aside from the hatchery building, the grounds also have a nature trail, outside rearing ponds and a steel fish fence, which funnels all spawning salmon and trout into a trap where club members count and identify them by species before releasing them to spawn up the river. More than 5,000 spawning salmon are counted at the fence annually.
Since 1984, the club has run its "Salmon in the Classroom" program for kids in Richmond, Delta, White Rock and Surrey.
For the program, fertilized coho eggs from the facility are hatched and raised in the classroom by elementary students. Once the salmon reach the fry stage the students return them to the hatchery where they release them into the river. The visit includes instruction on the life cycle of the salmon as well as a guided tour of the hatchery and the nature trail.
"This year, we had about 2,500 kids involved in the program," he said, adding the kids really enjoy the walk through the nature trail, where they learn about all the wildlife that can be seen at the site.
"It's probably one of the best kept secrets in Surrey," he said of the property, the hatchery and all the amenities.
Today, the volunteer-run hatchery produces 170,000 salmon and trout in a typical year.
In addition to that work, volunteers maintain the site and advocate for the protection of the river.
"We are still paying attention to what this club was built around - enhancing, restoring and protecting the river," Donnelly said.
The club works with the City of Surrey whenever nearby development applications come up, and work with developers to ensure the river is being thought of and protected.
While many developers work with them, and they can come to compromises, once in a while they will have to oppose an application if they deem it as a threat to the river they hold dear.
"We're one of the longest running institutions, and still thriving institutions, in Surrey and White Rock."
And they're not going anywhere, he assured.
The Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club's 55th annual Father's Day Salmon BBQ is set for Sunday, June 17. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the barbecue at 1 p.m.
The club is located at 1284 184th St. in South Surrey.
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