Tsolum River Facility – Headquarters Creek
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Tsolum River Facility is one of those places that are just a bit difficult to find, partly because it is actually located on Headquarters Creek, but more so since it has long been shut down.
The Tsolum River was once famous for its Steelhead, Cutthroat, and salmon fishing, but fish stocks in the plummeted in 1959, possibly a result of extensive logging of first growth forests. The remaining fish stocks were doomed due to the abandoned Mt. Washington open pit copper mine. The mine pit covered approximately 13 ha and produced 360,000 tonnes of ore between 1964 and 1967.
The ore body is an iron-copper-sulphide deposit, which produces sulphuric acid when oxidized by bacteria in the presence of water and atmospheric oxygen. At the Mt. Washington mine site, the acid dissolved the metals in the ore and waste rock remaining at the mine, resulting in acid leachate with very low pH and a very high dissolved metals concentrations that are toxic to fish.
In 1968, DFO established a hatchery on Headquarters Creek near its confluence with the Tsolum River. Salmon fry was incubated in gravel boxes and released into Headquarters Creek.
In 1983, the BC Ministry of the Environment stocked Headquarters Creek with juvenile steelhead and cutthroat trout from the upper Puntledge River hatchery. Poor salmon returns led to the closure of the hatchery operation in 1984.
In 1988 a cover was installed over the Mt. Washington mine site. In 2003 the Spectacle Lake Wetland was brought in line to help filter the leachate, and in 2008, the BC government capped the mine with a protective bitumen lining, glacial till and vegetation. Drainage of acidic leachate containing heavy metals was reduced to the point where the Tsolum River could recover and possibly once again support fish.
In 1992, the Tsolum River Restoration Society reopened the Headquarters Creek hatchery. Between 1993 and 1995, the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society oversaw the incubation of pink eggs at the Headquarters Creek hatchery.
In October 1998, a pink egg incubation channel was established at the Headquarters Creek hatchery by converting one of the three concrete hatchery raceways to a keeper channel. The last fry release from the Hatchery occurred in 2012, and the hatchery was again shut down in 2013 as salmon returns were increasing to sustainable levels.