The Capilano River originates near Capilano Mountain, 32 km upstream from the west end of Burrard Inlet. As early as 1889, the river was partially dammed to supply water for the growing city of Vancouver. In 1954, construction of the Cleveland Dam was completed 6 km from the ocean, creating a reservoir that currently supplies 40% of Greater Vancouver's water supply.
The construction of the Cleveland Dam blocked the route of coho and steelhead traveling up the Capilano River to spawn. Greater than 95% of their spawning and approximately 75% of their rearing habitat was lost.
To mitigate this loss, the Greater Vancouver Water District constructed a concrete river weir and fish ladder. This system collected adult salmon returning to the river to spawn. They were then transported in transport tanks and deposited above the dam to continue their journey upstream. However, young salmon migrating downstream to the ocean suffered high losses, as they had to travel over the dam. Over the next decade the Capilano salmon stocks continued to decline.
To address this problem, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans decided to build Capilano Hatchery to rear and release salmon below the dam. Construction began in 1969 and the three million-dollar facility was completed in 1971.
Capilano Salmon Hatchery is now famous for its contribution of coho and steelhead to the sport fishery in Burrard Inlet. Also, Chinook salmon were introduced to the system in an attempt to establish a self-sustaining run of these prized sport fish in the Capilano River fishery and Vancouver Harbor tidal sport fishery. Salmon returning in the fall to the Capilano River also provide an active food and ceremonial fishery for the Squamish First Nation.
Scientific research is an important aspect of the hatchery. Salmon and working facilities are provided for research projects originating in the private and public sectors. Prior to being released, a percentage of the juvenile chinook and coho are tagged with an internal coded-wire-tag, and given an external adipose fin clip. Information gathered from this program is used to analyze experimental work as well as reveal details on fish migration, ocean survival and fishery contribution rates.
Another major role of the Capilano Salmon Hatchery is public education. Coho eggs and adults are used in the Salmonids in the Classroom programs in local schools. Coho fry and smolts are used to support various Community Involvement Projects and Public Involvement Projects in the Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm area of Greater Vancouver. The hatchery is open for public viewing every day, allowing locals and visitors form around the world a chance to learn more about this magnificent resource.