Meaning “Facing the Ocean” in Coast Salish, Tsawwassen is a community nestled at the southern tip of the District Municipality of Delta. This seaside town is nestled on a peninsula surrounded by the Strait of Georgia and the Salish Sea. At a population of some 23,000 Tsawwassen is also the sole point of access for Point Roberts, Washington, USA, a casualty of the international border between Canada and the US that spans some 8,891 km’s.
History & Geography
Known for its relatively dry and sunny weather when compared to the rest of Metro Vancouver, Tsawwassen is situated on the north end of a peninsula that separates the Salish Sea from Boundary Bay. The Fraser River lies to the north and separates Delta from Richmond. The land represents a portion of the traditional ancestral territory of the Tsawwassen First Nation, who have occupied the lands of southern British Columbia and parts of northern Washington for over 9,000 years according to carbon dating from archeological sites. The land’s lowest altitude is recorded at just below sea level, while the highest elevation in the community is a mere 70m near the US/Canada border near modern day 56th street.
The lands known as Delta and Tsawwassen today were first spotted by settler eyes in 1791 by Spanish explorer, Jose Maria Narvaez Gervete. Gervete named the Port Roberts peninsula Isla de Zepeda, and recorded in his log that “there is an incredible quantity of rich salmon and numerous [First Nations]… They speak an entirely different language. In 2009 – and after 14 years of negotiations – the Tsawwassen First Nation successfully sign and implement the terms of the province’s first Urban Treaty, invoking their right to self-government over 724 hectares of land. The Urban Treaty also included the First Nation as a full member of Metro Vancouver.
Together with the town of Ladner to the north, Tsawwassen is collectively known as South Delta.
Parks & Recreation
Tsawwassen’s many community parks are maintained and ran by the Delta Parks and Recreation arm of the local government. Because of the town’s proximity to the ocean, the area is chalked full of beautiful landscapes and habitats.
Notably, Diefenbaker Park comprises one of the largest parks in the area. Named after Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and completed in 1980, the park boasts a waterfall, community dock, a large swath of forested land, multiple playgrounds and large hills. At one time, the park lands were a large gravel quarry, supplying much of the materials needed to develop the community. Tsawwassen’s newest park is Fred Gingell Park, named after the South Delta MLA who represented the area in the provincial legislature. Gingell features a view of the ferry terminal and Vancouver Island and features a stairwell to Tsawwassen beach below.
Ran by the Metro Vancouver, Boundary Bay Regional Park is home to Centennial Beach, a tidal flat that draws huge crowds in the summer months. Located within the Pacific Flyway, the area is home to over 1.5 million birds and 225 bird species, as well as Dyke Trail with panoramic views of the ocean side. In total, the park features 23 kilometers of walking trails and 18 km of bike paths. Horseback riding is also permitted on specific sections. Tsawwassen is also home to four off-leash dog parks; Pebble Hill Park, Dennison Park, Beach Grove Park and Boundary Beach Park Reserve. Grauer Park is a popular park, as it’s also home to the Tsawwassen Recreation Centre – featuring an ice rink, curling rink and gymnasium.
Arts & Culture
Being surrounded by the ocean is an inspiring place to call home, and the arts in Tsawwassen cement that claim. The Tsawwassen Art Gallery is a multi-level facility dedicated to the arts and use by local arts groups. Programmed by the Delta Parks, Recreation and Culture committee, the Art Gallery is home to a 200-seat theatre with a raised stage, a visual art gallery and two multipurpose rooms.
The sunshine and beachside community vibes in Tsawwassen make the Tsawwassen Sun Festival a natural occurrence. Heading into its 45 year, the Sun Festival is a three-day celebration of life in southwest BC. The festival features, main stage music and entertainment, a skateboard competition, lawn bowling competitions, a classic car show and shine, beer garden, Rotary Parade and a Slo-Pitch tournament – amongst even more programming. The festival coincides with BC Day.
As part of BC Superweek, Tsawwassen is also a crucial post during the annual Tour de Delta, a one-day bicycle race that takes place in the District Municipality every July. The Tsawwassen Road Race is a 13km loop of the community. The Tour also puts on two community festivals, with the South Delta Community Fest hitting Dennison Park. Included in a kid’s bike obstacle course, food and beverage trucks, and a community zone with local organizations installing interactive displays to let the public know about additional local happenings.
Tsawwassen is serviced by Translink buses which maintain a main bus loop via the South Delta Recreation Centre, terminating at the Bridgeport Station in neighbouring Richmond. It’s also the home of the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, a main jump-off point for Vancouver Island, operated by BC Ferries. The ferries maintain links to the island via three destinations:
Education & Healthcare
Public Schools in Tsawwassen are part of School District 37 Delta, encompassing only one public high school – South Delta Secondary School. Five elementary schools educate kids in Delta, and one small French program school in Ecole Du Bois-Joli. The public school system in the community educates 15,600 students and employs about 2,340 people.
A private K-12 school, Southpointe Academy, is the lone private school in the community. Tsawwassen also takes in a small number of American students each day, from the small American exclave community of Port Roberts.
Healthcare is available to Tsawwassen via the Delta Hospital, an institution headed by Fraser Health that services about 100,000 from all over Delta. It has 58 acute care beds, as well as 92 beds within the Mountain View Manor, a residential care unit.
Average household income for the broader district municipality is $29,315 (2005). Tsawwassen is a main transportation hub for BC Ferries, employing a large number of locals. The Tsawwassen School District also employs over 2000 people, while the Delta Hospital employs over 500 people.
Predominantly a beachside community, Tsawwassen benefits from the South Delta Revitalization Tax Exemption Program, which provides economic incentives for specific mixed-use developments (retail, commercial, residential) in the Ladner and Tsawwassen town centres to promote strong local economies, enhance the attractiveness of the town centres, and to preserve the heritage feel of the community.
Tsawwassen is home to the largest shopping centre in South Delta, the Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall, meaning that retail business is a strong economic driver for the town. Tsawwassen Mills in neighbouring Tsawwassen First Nation is another large mall. The Tsawwassen BIA notes that the community has over 250 businesses, most of which encompassing the retail/hospitality industries – including award-winning restaurants, professional services, financial institutions and larger corporate entities.
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