Skip to content

Delta throwback: A new city proposed on Burns Bog

The controversial plan to build a $10.5-billion city met with much resistance
A massive development proposed in the 1980s would have covered up Burns Bog, the largest domed peat bog on the west coast of North America.

It was a hugely controversial plan for Burns Bog in Delta 35 years ago.

In the spring and summer of 1988, Deltans debated a proposal to build a $10.5-billion city covering 6,000 acres of the wetland.

A couple of years earlier, a proposal was made to build a deep-sea port and major industrial development on 5,000 acres of the bog. That proposal sank, as did the subsequent application by Toronto-based Western Delta Lands Inc. to cover Burns Bog with a development that would have housed 125,000 people.

Called Delta Centre, the latest project was pitched as “an integrated community with full accessibility to modern technology and communications service to address the growing trade with the Pacific Rim Nations.”

In a large advertisement in the Optimist in May of 1988, the company promised that at maturity, the city would feature sheltered sidewalks, pedestrian laneways and pathways with “skycab” and “jitney” passenger service throughout the city core.

The company said the development would “will instead be a fully connected, glass-fibre wired, integrated settlement for those who want to fully participate in building a better future for themselves and their children...”

In addition to housing, the proposal included a 10-berth seaport, “generous” container storage areas and a manufacturing and distribution complex.
Western Delta Lands, the development arm of the McLaughlin family, also noted environmental scientists identified just two areas of the property “where efforts to preserve it may still be warranted.”

The development would have covered the largest domed peat bog on the west coast of North America. 

Bold proposal meets with instant resistance 

The newly formed Burns Bog Committee tried to raise public awareness that year, saying the development would have disastrous environmental implications.

Later that year, the Burns Bog Conservation Society was formed.

The proponent behind Delta Centre submitted a survey to municipal council, indicating 36 per cent of respondents favoured the proposal, while only 27 per cent disagreed and a whopping 37 per cent were undecided.

However, when hundreds turned out for a public hearing that took place over several days in May of 1988, it was clear a vast majority were opposed. Many urged Delta council to reject the proposal outright or begin a study on the long-term impact on the ecological, environmental and social issues.

On June 22 of that year, council defeated the plan, but Alex Leman, planning consultant for Western Delta Lands, soon vowed the company would not walk away from the project.

“It's a huge parcel of land in an urban area that is well serviced by road, water and rail and can also provide excellent industrial and manufacturing opportunities,” he said in an interview that summer.

More plans pitched for future conservancy area

In the coming years there were other threats to the bog, including a plan by Western Delta Lands to build a $94-million racetrack on 350 acres. That proposal fell through in 1993 when the B.C. Racing Commission rejected it.

In 1999, two years after the conservation society presented a 25,000-name petition to the B.C. government calling on it to preserve the bog, a proposal was pitched to build a giant entertainment centre that would have included a new home for the PNE. When the plan was unveiled, former NDP Tourism Minister Ian Waddell called it a “win, win, win” that would have preserved part of the bog. However, many warned the viability of the ecosystem couldn't be maintained if a large portion was covered with asphalt.

After hearing the public outcry against the scheme, Delta council turned down the proposal and urged the province to acquire the bog to save it from development.

In 2004, four partners - federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments - jointly purchased 2,042 hectares (5,045 acres) of Burns Bog to be protected as an ecological conservancy area.

The partners, wanting to make sure the site was maintained using the best science available, agreed to come up with an overall management strategy. Delta assumed responsibility for managing its hydrology and over the years has undertaken a number of projects, including internal ditch dams to ensure the environmentally sensitive wetland doesn't dry up.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks