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LETTER: Mission Heritage Association began 40 years ago

Norma Kenney had the vision to save the OMI lands, now Fraser River Heritage Park

Forty years ago this fall, Norma Kenney led the creation of the Mission Heritage Association with a single vision, to save the OMI lands, the site of today’s Fraser River Heritage Park, from development and to establish a park on that site that would be the jewel of our city.

Mission accomplished.

Norma brought together a group of dedicated community leaders to help with the heavy lifting, but she – the Velvet Steamroller – led the team, and was point person in every way.

Over the next five years, the group worked diligently, raising funds, lobbying politicians, planning, and engaging community support, and the payoff came when the land was preserved for posterity and named Fraser River Heritage Park.

Today, this open green space surrounded by treed groves welcomes visitors from near and far, all voicing acclaim and praising the beauty of the site.

It overlooks the Fraser River with views across the Valley to Mount Baker.

Numerous community events are hosted in this wonderful place.

For the next three decades, the Mission Heritage Association managed the park, leading the creation of numerous park features, including the Blackberry Kitchen restaurant, the Bell Tower, the walking trail around the park, a kiddie’s playground, the picnic shelter, the administration building, information plaques, memorial seating, and more recently, the park operations building.

Park personnel maintained the adjacent Oblates of Mary Immaculate Cemetery where the original founders of the residential school that sat on the site until 1965, Father Leon Fouquet and Bishop D’Herbomez, are interred.

The history of Mission grew from this very site. In the 1860s, OMI Bishop D’Herbomez sent Father Fouquet up the Fraser River to find a suitable site for a residential school.

He decided on a location just below the current Park site, and construction began, but when the CPR came through a decade later, the school moved up the hill to the current site.

The foundations of several of the school buildings can still be seen, and a recreation of the world famous Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes remains a landmark on the hillside above.

A community formed around the school site, and became today’s Mission City, which was incorporated in 1892.

In 2016, the District cancelled the MHA’s contract to manage the park after three decades of operation.

The park continues to be a wonderful site for Mission residents and people from all over the world to enjoy.

Brian Antonson