Record numbers of chum salmon are returning to urban creeks in Burnaby, B.C., to spawn.

Crowds gathered on Saturday at Buckingham Creek — a tiny, shallow waterway that passes under a large parking lot and runs into Deer Lake — to watch the salmon spawn.

Naturalists believe a handful of salmon might have reached the creek in previous years, but say this is the biggest run in 80 years.

The salmon were part of a run that went up the Fraser River, through the Brunette River and into Burnaby Lake.

"A lot of them went up Still Creek, which runs not only through Burnaby but well into Vancouver," said Mark Angelo with the Rivers Institute.

"We've had large numbers of salmon right up the Grandview Highway right in the heart of Vancouver and that's the first time that's occurred in 80 years."

Still Creek was once one of the most polluted streams in the province — a collection of urban garbage, sewage and toxic chemicals.

"The attitudes have changed tremendously," said naturalist George Clulow.

"One thing that's going on here is that the city has done a tremendous amount, in this park in particular ... to preserve the habitat, the wild areas."

The numbers of salmon arriving this year in small urban creeks is seen as a pay-off — and a reminder to never give up on those waterways.

"If we protect habitat, we act as stewards for salmon, then we can turn things around," Angelo said. "And my hope is the salmon run we're seeing here this year is just the first of many we'll see in future."