In the southwest corner of British Columbia is the sunny municipality of Delta, bounded by the mighty Fraser River to the north, Boundary Bay and the US border to the south, Georgia Strait to the west, and the municipality of Surrey to the east.
Delta is truly a delta, from which the community derives its name, formed by Fraser River silt building up over hundreds of years.
Being surrounded on three sides by water, the lifestyle in Delta is rather relaxed. Historically Delta has been a farming and fishing community comprised of three distinct communities: Ladner, North Delta, and Tsawwassen.
Historic Ladner, is an active fishing village where its 19th-century homes sit behind the dykes that hold the Fraser River at bay. The charming village core remains intact, complete with many restored heritage buildings. North Delta is home to the 10,000-acre Burn’s Bog, one of the most important natural wonders in the province. Over 200 species of migratory birds use Burns Bog for resting, staging, and breeding. Tsawwassen, known for its abundant sunshine, is the departure point for ferries bound for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The first inhabitants of this fertile area were the Coast Salish peoples, plying the channels of these wetlands as they hunted the abundant waterfowl and harvested the sea and the land, as they had done for centuries. European explorers were followed first by Hudson’s Bay Company men, then by the ubiquitous Gold Rush prospectors. Two brothers en route to stake their claims in the Cariboo, Thomas and William Ladner, remarked upon the lush fertile plains, and returned in 1868 to settle on 160 acres of fertile land near the Chilukhtan Slough. Thus began what was to become a thriving agricultural and fishing area on the south bank at the mouth of the Fraser River.
The Fraser Delta has internationally significant wildlife habitat. Boundary Bay is a major stopover for birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway, with 1.5 million birds from 20 countries using this area annually. At the same time, a long frost-free growing season and rich alluvial soils make the region one of the best agricultural areas in Canada, producing a wide range of vegetables, berries and dairy products.
Location: Delta is located east of Highway 91 and north of Highway 10, 17 miles (27 km) southeast of Vancouver and 14 miles (22 km) north of White Rock and the Canada/United States border post at Peace Arch/Douglas.
Take a step back in time at the Delta Museum and Archives, located in a 1912 Tudor-style heritage building. Fine artifacts and authentic detail expose visitors to Victorian and Edwardian era rooms, to experience the sights and sounds of an early street scene, and to view the dramatic exhibits that include First Nation’s artifacts, historic farming, and fishing.
Embark upon a Driving Tour of Delta’s rural heritage, which features a selection of Delta’s historically significant rural buildings and sites, providing testimony to Delta’s agricultural roots. View the Chilukhtan Slough, used by aboriginal people to move between the Fraser River and Boundary Bay, the 1880s Jubilee Farm, and many other fascinating heritage buildings.
When a low tide drains Boundary Bay, its sandy bottom is as mottled as the moon. Little pools of seawater are trapped in sandy depressions and reflect the sky in an endless array of mirrors. Walk out and explore the expanse but be sure to keep an eye on the shoreline where you may have left your picnic basket. It’s easy to lose track of your spot unless you have a landmark such as a large umbrella or a distinctive piece of driftwood. The temptation is to stroll far out at low tide into the middle of the bay, where some of the most interesting wildlife features are revealed, either in the pools, beneath the sand, or on the shoreline. Thousands of birds—dunlin and sandpipers, herons and brants—follow the twice-daily rise and fall of the ocean as it rinses the bay. You can walk so far out into Boundary Bay that the vapour rising off the sand obscures the horizon and you feel very remote from land indeed. If you are here later in the day, sit back and watch the setting sun colour Mount Baker’s snow cone to the southeast, the most visible landmark on the horizon. Plan to be here in the days leading up to and immediately following the full moon, to watch it rise from behind the semi-dormant volcano. After dark, Boundary Bay Park is a great place to count stars. Although the park remains open throughout the night, if you plan to linger, make sure that you leave your vehicle outside the nearby park gates that close at dusk.
Covering 10,000 acres west of Delta is Burns Bog. Preserved by the Burns Bog Conservation Society, it is nicknamed the Lungs of Vancouver as the bog acts as a kind of biological filter, helping to clean the air over a wide area. The Society arranges tours through the trails and waterways of this important area, celebrating International Bog Day in July.
Discover the Delta Nature Reserve, located in the northeastern corner of Burns Bog, at the south end of the Alex Fraser Bridge. The 60-hectare reserve covers only 2% of the bog, and is the only part of Burns Bog that is protected. The nature reserve has three loops of boardwalks and trails. A 90-minute hike takes you past a beaver dam and through a spirea meadow and cedar grove. Along the way you’ll see stunted lodgepole pine, bracken fern, Labrador tea, bog laurel, skunk cabbage, and spaghum moss. Birders will be delighted by the many species of songbirds that visit the Bog and build their nests in the Delta Nature Reserve.
Help preserve wildlife for future generations by visiting the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL), on 72nd Street in Delta. The centre provides care and rehabilitation to injured and orphaned wildlife, with priority given to protected species. Breeding programs are maintained for protected wildlife, for the purpose of releasing the young into the wild.
Birdwatching: Of all the wildlife viewing areas in the Fraser Estuary, none surpasses the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Located on the western fringe of the estuary in Delta, Reifel Island and its companion, Westham Island, provide wintering grounds for 230 species of birds. Many of these are nesting residents, such as Canada geese, ducks and teals, marsh hawks, coots, blackbirds, gulls, and doves. Some stay year-round, while others head north to their summer nesting grounds. For example, 20,000 snow geese, one of the largest birds at Reifel, winter here from October to March before heading to Wrangel Island (Ostrov Vrangelya), off the coast of northeastern Siberia. Fall and winter are the best seasons to visit the Reifel sanctuary, before the bird population begins to thin out. A simple network of trails leads around the island and connects with a series of blinds from where you look on in hushed silence as the birds go about their business. For a peek at the action from on high, seek out the 3-storey observation tower at the north end of the island. As you may find the breeze out here a touch chilly, the sanctuary thoughtfully provides a warm-up cabin next to the entrance, where a cheery fire blazes in colder months. For more information, contact the B.C. Waterfowl Society, which operates the sanctuary, 604-946-6980.
An impressive stretch of dike trail runs beside Mud and Boundary Bays in Delta. The Boundary Bay Regional Trail, which includes the East Delta Dike Trail, winds around both bays, skirting the mudflats that once extended much farther inland. Today’s dike is a much sturdier version than the crude ones built at the turn of the century. You can put in a full day cycling 12 miles (20 km) one way between the Surrey-Delta border and Boundary Bay Regional Park in Tsawwassen. There are always shorebirds to entertain you, and towards evening the sky around Mount Baker lights up in the southeast. The varied terrain of the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region of BC accommodates every outdoor recreation known to man.
Golf: There a few golfing options in the area. Delta offers the Sunshine Hills Golf Course, an 18-hole, par 54 (2,082 yards) public golf course on 64th Avenue, Ladner offers the challenging 9-hole Covelinks Golf Course on Admiral Boulevard, and Tsawwassen has 2 courses: Beach Grove Golf Club in the heart of sunny Tsawwassen is a par 71 championship golf course, playing 6,200 yards from the back tees. The tree-course offers well-groomed fairways and manicured greens. The clubhouse is a great venue for weddings, anniversaries, and business meetings, or just relaxing with friends; and Tsawwassen Golf & Country Club, a public 18-hole, par-65 golf course with practice areas that include a 22-stall covered driving range, putting green, chipping green, and sand trap. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Fishing: Anglers can catch salmon, trout and numerous other species from the shores of Deas Island Regional Park. The Riverside picnic area is one of the most popular areas from which to fish. A Tidal Waters Sports Fishing License is required by all anglers and available at most fishing shops.
If it were summer year-round, Boundary Bay Regional Park might lose some of its seasonal appeal to migratory birds. The bay is one of the most important stops on the Pacific Flyway. Each spring and fall, more than 250,000 birds pass through the area—between 20,000 and 30,000 brant alone. Together with the sight of the annual salmon migration in the nearby Fraser River, this north-south passage is one of the most stimulating natural events in the region. Throughout the year, the Friends of Boundary Bay run numerous natural history interpretive programs in the vicinity of the bay and nearby Burns Bog.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can swim between two countries with such ease as at Boundary Bay. A metal-scaffolded tower marks the place where the 49th parallel slices across the sandy beach. In summer, when the bay is a bathtub of sun-warmed seawater, you can make like a dolphin as you skip back and forth between Canada and the United States. When you’re ready to dry off, stroll the beach and experience the same thrill. Visitors can’t venture far into the United States. From the town of Point Roberts, Washington State’s portion of the beach — known locally as Maple Beach — peters out to rock and cobblestone as it nears an escarpment. Although there is public access to Maple Beach, almost the entire beach is privately owned. In summer, many swimmers gather near the border tower. The swimming is better here, especially at high tide when the bay fills to a greater depth than elsewhere. In 1792, the Spanish explorer Galiano named this Ensenada del Engaño, Mistake Bay, since he made the mistake of thinking there was a way inland from the end of the bay.
The Lower Mainland region is the traditional home of the Tsawwassen First Nation people, with their present-day 700-acre reserve located near the BC Ferry Terminal in Tsawwassen. The Tsawwassen People are one of 54 Coast Salish nations who traditionally inhabited this land for over 10,000 years.
Windsurfing: The sun, the wind, and the beautiful waters of Boundary Bay call the young at heart to experience the sheer exhilaration of Windsurfing. In Tsawwassen, on the south side of the BC Ferries causeway that carries travellers out to the ferry terminal, is a beach that attracts anglers and windsurfers. Best time to catch the breeze here is following a storm blowing from the south. Although this small bay empties at low tides, at other times you can rip out here. Take Hwy 17 south to the beginning of the causeway, then follow the service road that parallels the causeway. You’ll find portable toilets for changing and rough picnic spots where you can build a fire to dry out. Also in Tsawwassen is Boundary Bay Regional Park located on the east side of the isthmus. The winds can blow just as hard across its surface as out by the BC Ferries jetty. A good place to launch is the vehicle-accessible ramp at the east end of 1A Avenue via 67th Street, several blocks south of the park’s main entrance.
A dike trail follows the perimeter of the bay from Boundary Bay Park east to Mud Bay. There are many good viewpoints for birding along the way. Drive to the south end of 64th or 72nd Avenue from Ladner Trunk Road, and walk up onto the dike from here. This is the Boundary Bay Regional Trail, all 12 miles (20 km) of which is public park. In winter, watch for snowy owls — they are often seen sitting motionless on fenceposts. Or a pair of oval-faced barn owls may fly overhead. There’s always magic at work on the shoreline and in the skies above Boundary Bay.
Deas Island Regional Park in Delta is interlaced with over 3 miles (5 km) of forested walking trails that run beside the Fraser River on the north side and Deas Slough on the south. Walk across the island to a small beach near the west end where the Fraser laps at the shoreline as large, oceangoing freighters glide past. The overwhelming girth of these vessels dwarfs those of the small fishing boats that also ply the Fraser. Eagles perch in the branches of the tall black cottonwood trees that overhang the trails. There’s even a 2-storey observation tower from which you can look out over the island at treetop level. Nearby is a lovingly restored heritage home, a schoolhouse, and an agricultural hall. Group camping is available at Muskrat Meadow. The setting is an open field in a forest. Up to 40 people can be accommodated here, and the location includes a fire ring, drinking water, a playing field, toilets, picnic tables, and a cookstove and fireplace.
South of Delta is Tsawwassen, and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. From here ferries cross the Strait of Georgia, bringing visitors to the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island. Getting there is half the fun, as the route offers a spectacular journey over clear water and through beautiful islands. On a sunny day, take a stroll on the deck – you may see seals, killer whales or bald Eagles.
Ladner, the oldest community in the area, continues to exude quaint fishing village charm. Visit the fishing docks to pick up fresh seafood for dinner.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for a scenic tour of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and looping through the Coast Mountains. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, travel outbound on the scenic route north of the historic Fraser River, returning westwards along the Trans Canada Highway 1 to Vancouver. Circle Tours in British Columbia.