British Columbia·MY B.C. HIDEAWAY

This wastewater treatment plant is author J.B. MacKinnon's favourite spot in B.C.

Most people probably wouldn't think of a sewage treatment plant as a pleasant hideaway, but Vancouver-based author and journalist J.B. MacKinnon isn't most people.

'There's a lot going on out there if you take the time to look, and I think often we don't'

The Iona wastewater treatment plant sits near Iona Beach regional park in Richmond, B.C. (Metro Vancouver)

Most people probably wouldn't think of a sewage treatment plant as a pleasant hideaway, but Vancouver-based author and journalist J.B. MacKinnon isn't most people.

MacKinnon, whose works include the non-fiction books The 100-Mile Diet and The Once and Future World, is well known for his reporting on the natural world.

J.B. MacKinnon is a journalist and writer who has authored books about wild spaces.

And it's that attraction to human-free environments that brings him several times a year to the settling ponds at the Iona Island wastewater treatment plant in Richmond, B.C.

"They're one of the best places within the urban core for bird watching," he said.

"But what I also love about the place is it's this weirdly optimistic cross-section of human culture and its waste product and yet this strange, wild quality that it has as well because it's so popular with all these birds."

The treatment plant can be found alongside Iona Beach Regional Park and no, in case you were wondering, MacKinnon says they're not smelly. 

A birder's paradise

The ponds are generally off-limits to the general public, but MacKinnon says avid birders can be granted special access to view the thousands of migrating seabirds that visit the area. 

These include widgeons, buffleheads, white winged scoters, and jaegers, among many others. 

"There's a lot going on out there if you take the time to look, and I think often we don't," MacKinnon said.

And if you're looking for a place to visit, he says now would be a good time to go to Iona. According to MacKinnon — fall is one of the best times of year to watch the flocks of migrating seabirds heading south for winter. 

Widgeons and buffleheads are a common site at Iona beach in Richmond, B.C. (Ken and Nyetta/Flickr)

The forces of nature at work

The autumnal weather also has another appeal for MacKinnon: being whipped around by fierce weather. 

"Anytime you go out there you can really feel the forces of nature at work … that remind you of those larger processes we're a part of," he said. 

MacKinnon says he visits the wastewater treatment plant at Iona several times a year — a process he finds essential to cultivating his creativity. 

"As a writer, the thing that feeds me is time spent in nature. And yet I'm a writer who lives in the city," he said.

"So I need to find ways to get doses of wildness in order to revive my soul, and Iona is one of the places I go to do that."

With files from Jane Armstrong

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

now