On the Waterfront

The original Second Narrows Bridge nears completion in the spring of 1925. NVMA 9736

In 1792, the year that European explorers first entered Burrard Inlet and saw the shores of what would become North Vancouver, the northwest coast of North America was only beginning to take shape on the maps of the world. Spanish and British mariners had been probing the coves and inlets of the coast for several years, seeking the fabled Northwest Passage that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans across the top of America. In the process they launched a thriving trade in sea otter pelts and began to understand the convoluted geography of the place.

A Squamish carving depicting Thunderbird and Otter. NVMA 1986.019.0079

It was one of these probes that brought José María Narváez, a twenty-three-year-old Spanish navigator, within sight of the North Shore Mountains on a July afternoon in 1791. Narváez commanded forty-one officers and crew aboard the 11-metre schooner Santa Saturnina. These mariners became the first Europeans to set eyes on the Salish Sea, what they called the “Gran Canal.” Crossing from the Gulf Islands to the eastern side of the Strait, Narváez and his men cruised past the mouth of the Fraser River and anchored off Point Grey, where they made contact with several canoes from the Musqueam villages at the river’s mouth. Then, on July 9, the Spanish vessel neared the shore of what is now West Vancouver, pausing just outside the First Narrows. Narváez decided against entering the narrow passage, but he may have sent his longboat to visit the Squamish village of Homulcheson (Xwemelch’stn) at the mouth of the Capilano River. Regardless, he identified the inner inlet as a possible avenue to the trans-continental passage—what the Spanish called the “Strait of Anian”—before he sailed away north to continue his investigations of the Gran Canal. Assuming that the weather was clear, Narváez and his men were the first Europeans to get a glimpse of the North Shore.

This map shows First Nations names for several North Shore sites, including (from west to east) Horseshoe Bay, Capilano Reserve, Mission Reserve, Seymour River, Burrard Reserve, Cates Park, Cove Cliff and Belcarra.

As your great explorer Vancouver progressed through the First Narrows, our people threw in greeting before him clouds of snow white feathers which rose, wafted in the air aimlessly about, then fell like flurries of snow to the water’s surface, and rested there like white rose petals scattered before a bride. It must have been a pretty welcome.”

—Andrew Paull, Squamish leader, 19321


The following summer another European expedition appeared in Burrard Inlet in search of the Northwest Passage. This time it was the British who were taking their turn. Captain George Vancouver and his men had left their mother ships, Discovery and Chatham, anchored in Birch Bay and were travelling in two ship’s boats. Unlike Narváez, Vancouver did not hesitate to enter the narrows. On June 12, 1792, as they rowed past what is now Stanley Park, a party of about fifty Squamish people came out to meet them. These people, recorded Vancouver, “conducted themselves with the greatest decorum and civility, presenting us with several fish . . .”2 As the British carried out their investigation of the inlet as far as Indian Arm, a few of the local people followed in canoes. After camping for the night, Vancouver and his men returned through the First Narrows and along the shore before rounding Point Atkinson into Howe Sound to continue their survey.

Nine days later another party of Spanish mariners appeared in Burrard Inlet, following up on the explorations of their countryman Narváez from the summer before. The boats came from two ships anchored near Point Grey, the Sutil, commanded by Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, and the Mexicana, under Cayetano Valdés. They travelled to the head of Indian Arm, where they encountered a camp of Tsleil-Waututh people with whom they had a short meeting. “The mild temperature, the beauty and lushness of the various greens, the multitude of clusters of wild roses, and several meadows with small fruits, blackberries and gooseberries, made it a delightful visit,” recorded Galiano.3 Then the Spanish retraced their steps and left the inlet.

This early photograph shows a group of Squamish dwellings on the shores of Burrard Inlet at about the time that the first non-Aboriginal settlers began to take an interest in the inlet’s forest resources. CVA AM54-S4-: St Pk N4

These episodes are the first written accounts we have of North Vancouver and its indigenous inhabitants. When they arrived on the Northwest Coast, the Europeans thought they were exploring an isolated wilderness at the very edge of the known world. To the First Nations, however, the coast was their home. It was the centre, not the margin. The Coast Salish people, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh, used Burrard Inlet to fish, gather shellfish, and hunt waterfowl and seal. On the slopes of the mountainsides they tracked deer, bear and smaller animals, gathered fruits and edible plants and obtained the wood they used to manufacture their homes, canoes, utensils and monumental art. The south coast of what is now British Columbia was the location of their history and the source of their livelihood and their spirituality. It also had been much more densely populated than it was when the outsiders first appeared. A smallpox epidemic with its origins in Mexico swept through the southern coast in the early 1780s, killing as much as 80 percent of the population in some areas. It was followed by successive waves of disease, each taking a terrible toll. By some accounts the Tsleil-Waututh, for example, numbered about ten thousand people pre-contact. That figure plummeted to one hundred individuals by the 1830s. The Squamish suffered a comparable decline. George Vancouver remarked on the number of deserted villages he and his officers observed. The world that the Spanish and British navigators entered was not the same world they would have seen just a few years earlier.

> The First Nations of North Vancouver

The Rise of Moodyville

Following these brief encounters between European explorers and First Nations residents, outsiders did not return to Burrard Inlet for several decades. When they did, it was to exploit the rich stands of timber that blanketed its shores. The discovery of gold in the Fraser River brought an influx of miners to the mainland in 1858 and led to the creation of the colony of British Columbia along with a new capital city, Queensborough (later New Westminster). But all this activity bypassed Burrard Inlet, which remained away from the beaten path. Things finally changed in 1863 when Pioneer Mills began producing lumber at its plant on the North Shore, about 6.5 kilometres to the east of the First Narrows. The site lay at the foot of a steep escarpment near the mouth of what is now Lynn Creek, surrounded by thousands of hectares of dense forest of the finest cedar and fir. The mill, started by a pair of builders from New Westminster, was the first industrial plant in the inlet and the beginning of settlement by outsiders.

Despite its advantages, Pioneer Mills got off to a rough start. Unable to compete in the limited local market with mills in New Westminster, the original owners sold out within six months. The business reopened in the spring of 1864 under new ownership as Burrard Inlet Mills and managed to dispatch its first foreign shipments of lumber to Chile and Australia before once again falling into bankruptcy. It was at this point that a saviour appeared in the form of an aspiring lumberman named Sewell “Sue” Prescott Moody. Moody, who was American by birth and a devout Methodist by inclination, snapped up the mill at auction, along with the rights to 195 hectares of timber. By February 1865 he and his partners had it back in production. Within two years the mill had acquired the rights to more than 4,000 hectares of timber and was exporting lumber to countries around the Pacific Rim and to Great Britain. Logs arrived from camps located at several places on the North Shore, including Deep Cove, Lynn Creek, the Capilano River and Ambleside. Moody added a steam plant to replace the water-driven saws, and wharves to handle the deep-sea vessels. Once British Columbia joined the rest of Canada in Confederation in 1871, his mill was the single largest source of export revenue in the province. The operation had different names but was known locally as “Moody’s Mill” and the community which grew up around it, “Moodyville.” (The name is attributed to a suggestion by schoolteacher Margaret Thain.)

In the early years, the only other communities on the North Shore were First Nations. At the time of contact the Squamish probably did not occupy permanent villages in Burrard Inlet, perhaps with the exception of Homulcheson at the mouth of the Capilano River. Their over-wintering sites were located in Howe Sound and the valley of the Squamish River. But sometime around 1830 a long-standing conflict with more northerly groups ended and, no longer threatened by raids from the north, the Squamish felt more secure about living permanently in Burrard Inlet. This shift in settlement patterns was reinforced with the opening of sawmills at Moodyville and Granville, the future site of Vancouver, during the 1860s. Many of the First Nations people found work at the mills as loggers and stevedores, loading the timber onto the ships that carried it across the globe. The proximity of these employment opportunities was an added incentive for the people to settle year-round. Ustlawn (Eslhá7an), located at the mouth of Mosquito Creek, had long been used as a seasonal camp by the Squamish, but during the 1860s, more families began to live there permanently. Aside from job opportunities, another reason for this shift was the presence of a Catholic church which the Oblate priest Leon Fouquet built at Ustlawn in 1866. In November 1869, at the insistence of Chief Snatt, the community’s leader, 35 acres (14 ha) of this land was formally gazetted as Indian Reserve #1. At the same time, the Tsleil-Waututh village site farther east near Roche Point was set aside as Indian Reserve #3. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Tsleil-Waututh (“People of the Inlet”) have occupied village sites around Roche Point and Belcarra for 3,500 years. Prior to the mid-1800s they were probably the only permanent residents of Burrard Inlet (as distinct from seasonal visitors). Their main winter settlement was Temtemixwtn, located at what is now Belcarra, but they maintained other villages and camps around the inlet, including the site designated as Indian Reserve #3. Several years later the federal and provincial governments, which had yet to resolve the issue of Aboriginal land rights in the province, appointed the Joint Indian Reserve Commission to do just that. The three-person commission, led by Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, visited the various First Nations and designated reserves for them. On November 11, 1876, the commissioners camped at Homulcheson at the mouth of the Capilano River and began their meetings with the First Nations of Burrard Inlet. By the time they moved on a few days later, they had confirmed Ustlawn as Indian Reserve #1, along with reserve sites at Homulcheson, Seymour Creek (chi’ch’elxwikw’) and the Tsleil-Waututh village farther east. According to a census undertaken by the commission, there were 123 people living at the Mission Reserve at Ustlawn, 41 people at Homulcheson, 22 at Seymour and 39 at the Burrard, or Tsleil-Waututh, Reserve. One of the reserve commissioners noted, “Many of the Indians are excellent workmen. They are employed in loading vessels and in general work about the sawmills. Several of them work inside the mills. They receive from 75 cents a day with food and lodging to $1¼ or $1½ a day without food and lodging. A ready market exists at the mills for whatever fish and game the Indians bring in.”4 In other words, aside from their own traditional activities, the First Nations were active participants in the emerging economy of Burrard Inlet.


They had a jailhouse in Moodyville too. Sue [Moody] had it built. If you got too rough, they put you in there behind bars.”

—Axel Nyman, retired longshoreman5


> The Bows and Arrows

Meanwhile the population at Moodyville hovered around two hundred. Mostly employees of the mill, it was a diverse group of Africans, Chinese, Polynesians, Chileans and Europeans from various countries. Small as it was, the community thrived under the leadership of “Sue” Moody and, after his death, the new mill manager Hugh Nelson. For nearly twenty years it was the leading community on the inlet and home to many “firsts.” In June 1865, for instance, Reverend Ebenezer Robson, a Methodist preacher from New Westminster, arrived to conduct the first organized religious service for white residents of the inlet. A Mechanics’ Institute opened at the beginning of 1869, offering the first library and reading room, even a small museum, while the first school opened in 1870. (After one inspection the school superintendent reported that sometimes school had to be dismissed because smoke from the sawmill leaked in under the door.) Electricity arrived in 1882, providing the first electric lights north of San Francisco. The community had its own newspaper, the Moodyville Tickler, a two-storey hotel and a general store that served customers from all around the inlet. There was no hospital but there was a nurse, Mrs. Emily Patterson, who served as a midwife and travelled back and forth across the inlet treating the sick and the wounded, white and Aboriginal alike, despite her lack of formal training. Hugh Nelson built an elegant home, Invermere, on the bluff overlooking the mill (known as “Nob Hill”) where the cream of local society gathered for tennis parties, croquet and tea. When Nelson retired in 1882, Benjamin Springer became the mill manager and moved into Invermere with his wife Frances, who quickly established herself as the leader of the inlet’s social elite, hosting elaborate house parties which, on at least one occasion, featured a full orchestra.


There is a library with papers and reading room which is a great boon and places Moodyville far ahead of the neighbouring mills and villages which nearly all boast of a rum mill or two while nothing of the kind is allowed on Moody’s land.”

—James McCulley, millhand, 18756


Moodyville’s future as the “capital” of Burrard Inlet seemed assured. Square-rigged sailing ships from around the world visited its docks and the sounds of industry echoed across the water. Hugh Nelson even hoped that the little mill town would become the Pacific terminus of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). But that was not to be. In 1885 William Van Horne, the CPR’s general manager, chose the townsite of Granville on the south shore to be the railway’s terminus. Incorporated as the City of Vancouver in 1886, the site soon outpaced its rival across the inlet. The Moodyville company struggled to cope with the economic downturn that hit the province during the 1890s. As the most accessible stands of timber disappeared, the business declined. The mill went into receivership in 1897 and closed for good in 1901.

People continued to live in Moodyville, but the commercial centre of the North Shore shifted gradually westward to the foot of Lonsdale Avenue, then a mere trail through the woods. Residents slowly drifted away from the sawmill site and the post office and the school closed. Finally, during World War I, the surviving mill buildings were destroyed by fire and the site was abandoned. Part of the steep hillside was later removed to allow construction of what became today’s Low Level Road and, at the beginning of 1925, the City of North Vancouver absorbed Moodyville. Railway tracks, grain elevators and deep-sea shipping terminals now cover the flats where North Vancouver’s original community once stood.

> Master of Moodyville

Farmers and Gentlemen

Even while the sawmill was healthy and Moodyville was humming with enterprise during the 1870s and 1880s, settlement began to spread along the North Shore waterfront in both directions. To the east, between Lynn Creek and the Seymour River, a Royal Engineer named John Linn settled his family in 1871. The Engineers were a British contingent sent out to British Columbia in 1858 to initiate public works and provide a military presence in the new colony. When they were recalled five years later, many of the men accepted military grants from the government and remained in BC to start new lives for themselves and their families. John Linn was one of these, and the creek beside which he built a home eventually took his name, or a variation of it.

Irishman Hugh Burr, formerly a schoolteacher in New Westminster, settled the land on the east side of the Seymour and eventually owned the stretch of waterfront as far as the Tsleil-Waututh reserve. Burr planted an orchard and operated a dairy farm, the first one on the inlet, from which he supplied Moodyville with milk and fresh produce. His property is now the heart of the Maplewood Flats. In the other direction, to the west of Moodyville, around the foot of what is now Lonsdale Avenue on what was known as District Lot 271, a former sailor named William Bridge owned a small farm with his First Nations wife. Bridge also supplied milk to the mill town. West of Bridge’s property was Ustlawn, the Mission Reserve, beyond which three other waterfront lots were all taken up during the 1870s.

Frances Caulfeild dreamed of a planned community for gentlefolk on the rocky slopes above Skunk Cove in West Vancouver. 3362.WVA.PHO

At this point, and until 1912, the community of West Vancouver was known informally as “West Capilano” and the area as far as Horseshoe Bay was part of the District of North Vancouver, which was incorporated as a community in 1891. In West Vancouver, too, the lots along the foreshore were occupied during the last two decades of the century, both by homesteaders and by a variety of small industrial enterprises. At Ambleside the Moodyville mill operated camps from 1870 to 1890, drawing timber from a pair of leases on the west side of the Capilano River, and several independent loggers cut timber at other camps farther west. There were two fish canneries—one in Sandy Cove and another in Eagle Harbour—along with “Navvy Jack” Thomas’s gravel operation near the mouth of the Capilano.

For the most part, though, West Vancouver developed as a residential community, with both permanent residences and summer cottages. Among the pioneer settlers were John Lawson, a retired railwayman who purchased Thomas’s property at Ambleside in 1907 and christened it “Hollyburn”; Francis Caulfeild, an English gentleman who purchased close to 400 hectares of land overlooking Skunk Cove and used it to develop an elegantly planned community for wealthy Vancouverites; and Peter Larson, a North Vancouver hotelier who for many years cultivated an estate at what is now Gleneagles Golf Course. All of these pioneers contributed to West Vancouver’s reputation as a suburban retreat for the comfortably off, a reputation it maintained after it separated from the District of North Vancouver in 1912 to form its own municipality. Residents of West Vancouver observed the hustle and bustle of the North Vancouver waterfront inside the First Narrows and decided they wanted to protect their community from industrial development. This decision is reflected in the contrasting character of the two communities down to the present day. With no manufacturing and little or no industry of any kind, West Vancouver’s economy relies on retail and residential developments, while North Vancouver is home to many large industrial facilities associated with the bustling Vancouver harbour, the fourth largest in North America.

> Delegation to the King

Ferries and Bridges

With the North Shore waterfront filling in, settlers felt the pressing need for reliable transportation between the different communities on the inlet. John (“Navvy Jack”) Thomas, a pioneer settler in West Vancouver, inaugurated the first “ferry” in 1866 when he began using his 9-metre sailing sloop to offer unscheduled service between New Brighton, where the road to New Westminster began, Moodyville and the Hastings Mill. Thomas would also row passengers across the inlet for a price. Two years later Captain James van Bramer, one of Sewell Moody’s original partners in the sawmill, initiated a more formal service between the same three points with his small steam tug, Sea Foam. At Brighton, on the south side of the Second Narrows, there was a hotel where travellers could connect with the stagecoach service to New Westminster. Sea Foam was the first of several vessels employed by the enterprising Captain van Bramer. The most eccentric member of his fleet was the Union, which was little more than an open scow with a threshing machine engine powering two paddlewheels. It had no reverse gear and lost power whenever its whistle sounded, so passengers had to brace themselves against its herky-jerky motion (doubtless the reason the Union was more commonly called the Sudden Jerk). In 1881 a new steam ferry made its appearance. Built by the Moodyville Ferry Company, the Senator was 16 metres in length and sometimes towed a scow to carry wagons and livestock. Passengers paid ten cents to cross the inlet.

In 1889 a group of Vancouver business interests created a new steamship company to provide regular service to the small camps and settlements that were appearing along the length of the BC coast. The Union Steamship Company, as it was called, would grow to become the north coast’s main lifeline to the outside world for over half a century. In its infancy it acquired the Senator and used it to maintain the triangular ferry route between Moodyville and the south shore of the inlet. When the residents of North Vancouver decided it was time to connect their new commercial centre at the bottom of Lonsdale Avenue with the rising metropolis across the inlet, they invited the Union Steamship Company to include their community in the Senator’s regular run.


My father was returning from the City on the usual evening trip [on the Senator] and was standing on the small deck with his back to the low railing which came to about knee level. The skipper made a poor landing and struck the wharf quite sharply with the result that my father went over backwards into the cold waters of the Inlet. Fortunately he was an excellent swimmer as he carried the usual rucksack on his back packed with groceries and held a can of milk in his hand. He swam around the wharf to the rocky shoreline and clambered safely ashore, much to the astonishment of the crew and passengers who had conducted a search for him. He not only survived the cold swim but came ashore with the rucksack and canned milk still tightly grasped in his hand. He then faced a mile climb up the hill to 15th Street where his homestead was located.”

—Thomas Diplock, unpublished memoir, 19787


This still left West Vancouver isolated without ferry service. In 1899 Captain John Cates—brother of Charles Henry Cates, the founder of C. H. Cates & Sons towing—began his own company, the Terminal Steamship Company. He used his vessels to run regular freight and passenger service to Bowen Island, Howe Sound and Indian Arm. They would stop along the shore outside the First Narrows if a red flag was raised as a signal. Early in 1910 the West Vancouver Transportation Company launched a regular ferry between a wharf at the foot of 17th Street and downtown Vancouver, using a converted fishboat renamed the West Vancouver No. 1. Two years later the newly formed municipality took over the service, shifting its headquarters to a new ferry building at the foot of 14th Street (a building that today contains a community art gallery).

> A Waterfront Family

Meanwhile, North Vancouver commuters grew impatient with the irregular service being offered by the Union Steamship Company. In 1900 the District decided to take matters into its own hands; it built a new ferry, the North Vancouver, and took over the service itself. The problem was that, when it came time to expand, local government did not have the necessary resources to build another, larger vessel. At this point, real estate developer Alfred St. George Hamersley stepped in. He had subdivided a large chunk of Lower Lonsdale, but if buyers were going to settle there, they needed to be assured of a reliable commute to Vancouver. Hamersley and some partners incorporated the North Vancouver Ferry and Power Company and assumed control of the ferry service. Their new vessel, the St. George, began operation in mid-1904. It was double-ended, with capacity for a thousand passengers and up to fourteen wagons with their teams of horses. When the City incorporated in 1907, it created the North Vancouver City Ferries Ltd., and the ferries returned to public ownership, where they remained for the next fifty years. The St. George was rechristened North Vancouver #2 and each new vessel as it joined the fleet became #3, #4, and so on. Passengers came and went from the wharf at the foot of Lonsdale where, in the early years, a one-armed Chilean immigrant named Joe Bustamante—he had lost his limb in a mill accident—blew his trumpet to guide the ferry through the fog to its berth. Every day, residents of both the City and the District crossed the water to and from their jobs in downtown Vancouver or to shop in the stores along Hastings Street. After initially floundering, the municipal ferry company prospered during World War I and by 1921 it was transporting more than a quarter million passengers each month. When North Vancouver #4 joined the service in 1931, it had capacity to carry twenty-six automobiles.

The Second Narrows Bridge in 1925, shortly after its completion. NVMA 748

During the Depression the ferry service struggled, along with every other business on the North Shore. But in addition to the usual strains of the economic downturn, the ferries were coping with competition from an alternative means of crossing the inlet: bridges. A bridge across the inlet had first been raised in 1892 when the Burrard Inlet Tunnel and Bridge Company announced plans to build both a bridge and a tunnel across the First Narrows. The tunnel never materialized but the bridge was the subject of negotiation and debate for many years, until finally the increased use of automobiles during the 1920s brought pressure on local governments to move forward with the project. With financial support from all levels of government, the company constructed a wooden trestle bridge across the Second Narrows to a point on the North Shore just to the west of Seymour Creek. A rail line occupied the centre of the bridge, flanked on each side by a lane of car traffic. A lift span was located at the south end, allowing ship traffic access to the inner inlet.

When the Second Narrows Bridge opened on November 7, 1925, it was the first automobile and rail link between the north and south shores. Unfortunately, in order to save money the designers of the bridge had placed the lift span too close to the shallow side of the narrows and vessels routinely struck the piers, putting the crossing out of commission for various lengths of time. Finally, in September 1930, a log barge became wedged under the centre span and a rising tide forced the barge up against the underside of the bridge, dislodging the span. It was the Depression and the municipalities could not afford to fix it, so the “Bridge of Sighs,” as it had become known, remained closed for four long years, cutting North Vancouver off from road access and requiring railway companies to barge their cars across.

To residents of the North Shore, the lesson was obvious: a second crossing should be built at the First Narrows. The idea had been discussed for several years, but because it required an access road through Stanley Park, Vancouver residents had not been enthusiastic. With the arrival of the Depression, minds changed. Building a bridge and causeway suddenly became attractive ways to provide much-needed jobs for the unemployed. The closure of the Second Narrows crossing gave added incentive to the project. In a 1933 plebiscite, Vancouver voters overwhelmingly endorsed the bridge and causeway. While the Depression had provided the rationale for a second bridge, it also left local governments unable to pay for it. Which is why the bridge at the First Narrows, unlike the Second Narrows crossing, was financed completely by private capital from a syndicate organized by Vancouver engineer and entrepreneur A. J. T. “Fred” Taylor. The syndicate, dominated by the Guinness brewing family, desired a bridge in order to improve access to its real estate holdings in West Vancouver. Construction got underway in the spring of 1937, and the Lions Gate Bridge opened to two lanes of automobile traffic on November 14, 1938. Initially it was a toll bridge: pedestrians and bicyclists paid five cents to cross, while a car and driver cost twenty-five cents (each passenger was an extra nickel). At the beginning of 1955, the provincial government took over ownership of the bridge, and on April 1, 1963, once the province had recouped the six million dollars it had paid, the tolls were removed. By then, two lanes had become three and millions of vehicles crossed the span each year.

The bridge across the First Narrows was built mainly to serve West Vancouver, but its impact on North Vancouver was profound as well. Suddenly the western side of the District was accessible by automobile as never before, stimulating unprecedented residential and commercial development, especially once World War II was over. With the Second Narrows Bridge back in operation from 1934, North Vancouver emerged from the Depression and the war with two dependable road connections to the rest of the Lower Mainland and a bright future as a residential suburb of Vancouver, and ultimately an urban centre in its own right.

Every silver lining has a cloud, however. The publicly owned ferry system prospered during World War II, when the booming shipbuilding industry on the North Shore brought a daily influx of thousands of workers across the inlet. Following the war, however, the ferries fell on hard times. Residents of the burgeoning residential neighbourhoods in the District preferred the convenience of their own automobiles, so the bridges were siphoning away customers from the ferry. The last North Vancouver ferry made its final run on August 30, 1958.

For the next twenty years, North Vancouverites had no ferry connection across Burrard Inlet. The bridges expanded to handle the increased volume of commuter traffic. At the Second Narrows, the old bridge proved inadequate to the demands of the postwar North Vancouver expansion. It still had only two lanes and a lift span that stopped car and rail traffic every time a deep-sea vessel passed through. In 1956 construction began on a replacement, a six-lane high level span that, when completed, would be the eighth-longest cantilever bridge in the world. Tragically, the site continued to be cursed. On June 17, 1958, the partially completed span collapsed into the water with a giant roar. A total of twenty-four people died: eighteen workers and engineers in the initial collapse, five of injuries, and a diver who was killed searching for bodies. An inquiry blamed the catastrophe on a mistake made by two of the engineers who died. Construction resumed and the new bridge opened in August 1960. (In 1994 it was renamed Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing in remembrance of the terrible accident.)

Year by year, traffic increased on the bridges as the population of the District grew. Demands from harried drivers for some sort of “third crossing” grew more insistent. Finally, in June 1977, the provincial government reached into the past and reinstituted the Burrard Inlet ferry in modern dress. SeaBus was a new, passenger-only commuter service between floating terminals at the Lonsdale Quay at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue and the former Canadian Pacific Railway station on the Vancouver waterfront. The double-ended, catamaran style SeaBus vessels scoot across the inlet in just twelve minutes and are totally integrated with the North Vancouver bus service. The new ferry added to the economic revitalization of the Lower Lonsdale area, but also gave District residents who wanted to park their cars an alternative way of getting to Vancouver. Today SeaBus vessels carry more than six million passengers a year across Burrard Inlet.

> A Third Crossing

The Shipbuilding Industry

North Vancouver’s first export industry was sawmilling. In November 1864 the barque Ellen Lewis set sail from the Moodyville dock carrying a huge load of lumber, rail ties and pickets bound for Australia, inaugurating the port of Vancouver. Twenty years later, writes historian James Delgado, “the mills of Burrard Inlet [Moodyville among them] exported 24 million board feet of rough lumber, 2.2 million feet of milled lumber and a million feet of pickets in forty-three vessels.”8 The Moodyville mill closed in 1901 but it was followed by several other mills producing wood products for foreign markets. Among the largest of these were Robert Dollar’s mill, established near Roche Point in 1916; the Capilano Timber Company’s mill, which operated at the foot of Pemberton Avenue from 1919 until it was destroyed by fire in 1932; and the M. B. King Lumber Company mill, established at the foot of Fell Avenue in 1933. Air pollution from the mills contributed to the acrid fogs that used to smother the Lower Mainland. Sawdust-burning home furnaces, steam railway engines, beehive burners at the sawmills: all contributed to a high percentage of particulate matter in the air, which led to dense fogs that made driving hazardous and the air unhealthy. Quite commonly the view across the inlet was obscured by the haze. This situation improved as home heating systems converted to oil and natural gas, and industrial pollutants decreased. Today, when the fog does occur, it is due to weather conditions, not industry.

As important as milling was to the local economy, it was eclipsed by North Vancouver’s other great waterfront industry, shipbuilding. In 1904, shipbuilder Andy Wallace constructed the ferry St. George at his shipyard in False Creek for the North Vancouver Ferry and Power Company. This commission may have induced Wallace to relocate his yard to the North Vancouver waterfront, where he would have more space and easier access to deep water. In 1906 Wallace Shipyards began production just east of the ferry terminal at Lonsdale Avenue, and before too long, it was Burrard Inlet’s biggest shipbuilder, producing fishboats, tugs and coastal steamers. But it was the outbreak of war that transformed the company into one of the province’s major businesses. In 1916 the Canadian government commissioned Wallace to produce six merchant vessels. The five-masted wooden schooners were known as “Mabel Browns” after the name of the first ship, which was completed early the next year. At the same time, the government contracted for three steel-hulled freighters—War Dog, the first steel ocean-going vessel built in Canada, War Power and War Storm—each 96 metres (315 ft) long with 1,300 horsepower steam engines. So much construction required an expansion of the initial shipyard and the addition of a second plant, Shipyard #2, at the foot of Bewicke Avenue on the so-called “Fell fill” site. (The Fell site was originally owned by land developer James P. Fell, who filled in the tidal flats in 1912 for a planned deepwater docking facility. When the war interrupted these plans, the shipyard located on the property.) Wallace Shipyards, which began the war with 172 employees, had more than 1,000 before it was over. Most of these workers commuted by ferry from across the inlet, but many lived in the City and District.

With the end of the war, business fell off. Shipyard #2 was sold and became Lyall Shipyards. Wallace replaced military contracts with domestic vessels, and most of its business was repair and refitting. Chief among the new vessels was the Princess Louise, a 97-metre (318 ft) steel ship built for the CPR’s Princess Line of elegant coastal steamers. Launched in August 1921, the Louise, which remained in operation until 1962, was the largest passenger vessel built in the province up to that time. The quality of the workmanship showed that locally made ships could be every bit as good as those manufactured in Great Britain. Not long after its completion, Wallace Shipyards became the Burrard Dry Dock Company with the addition of a floating dry dock where large, ocean-going vessels could be repaired, the first of its kind on the Pacific coast.

With the outbreak of World War II, the demand by Allied countries for naval vessels made North Vancouver crucially important to the war effort. The Burrard Dry Dock Company and North Van Ship Repair were among the six British Columbia yards capable of building the large vessels demanded by Great Britain, whose own yards could not keep up due to the losses being inflicted by German submarines. North Vancouver’s two shipyards produced nearly half of the vessels, both military and cargo, manufactured in Canada during the war. It was a remarkable achievement for such a small community. Burrard Dry Dock was so busy that it had to open another yard, Burrard South, across the inlet on the Vancouver waterfront.

> North Vancouver’s “Other” Shipyard

> The St. Roch

With the end of the war, the shipbuilding boom was over. The Burrard Dry Dock Company closed its Burrard South yard and, in 1951, purchased North Van Ship Repair, which it promptly closed down. The main facility continued in operation, building and repairing a variety of vessels: coastal ferries, naval and Coast Guard ships, barges and tugs. But by the 1970s the Canadian shipbuilding industry had become uncompetitive internationally and the federal government was not going to subsidize it by ordering new vessels. In 1972 the Wallace family, which had owned the company from the beginning, sold Burrard Dry Dock to Cornat Industries, part of the Canadian Forest Products empire. In 1985, it was renamed Versatile Pacific Shipyards. At the end of 1992 the shipyard shut down, leaving only the dry dock in operation. Today much of the old shipyard site is being redeveloped as a historic district and public gathering spot.

But shipbuilding on the North Shore is not dead, far from it. Today Vancouver Drydock, which is owned by Seaspan, continues to carry out maintenance and repairs to a wide variety of vessels, while Vancouver Shipyards, also owned by Seaspan and located at the foot of Pemberton Avenue, has been newly modernized to accommodate large construction projects, including the addition of Canada’s largest gantry crane. During the 1990s Vancouver Shipyards participated in the construction of three “PacifiCat” aluminum ferries for the BC Ferries. While these speedy catamaran vessels proved to be unsuited to coastal routes and had to be sold, their construction was nonetheless a notable milestone for shipbuilding on the North Shore. In 2011 the industry received a tremendous shot in the arm when Seaspan received a multi-billion dollar federal government contract to construct several vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy.

> The North Shore’s Own Railway

North Vancouver and the Port

The arrival of the railway in Vancouver was the most important development in the emergence of Burrard Inlet as a global port. Without the railways, first the Canadian Pacific in 1886, then several other transcontinental lines, the inlet would not have been transformed into a transhipment point for goods heading into and out of North America, goods such as grain from the Canadian Prairies, coal and other minerals from the BC Interior and rice, tea and silk from Asia. Because of its rail links, Burrard Inlet (including the North Shore) became Canada’s gateway to the Pacific world.

Initial developments in the port were concentrated on the Vancouver side of the inlet. The full involvement of North Vancouver in the growing trans-Pacific trade was delayed until the construction of the Second Narrows Bridge in the mid-1920s brought rail access to the North Shore. Dirt from the Moodyville hillside was used to fill in the tidal flats west of the bridge, creating several hectares of reclaimed foreshore that was used by the rail line and for commercial purposes, including the first grain export terminal on the North Shore, built by the Midland Pacific company in 1928. The opening of the Panama Canal during World War I had made it possible to ship Canadian grain to Europe via Vancouver’s port. During the 1920s the volume of this trade increased dramatically and the success of the Midland Pacific elevator led to construction the following year of an expansion that tripled its capacity. (This terminal has been owned by Richardson International, alone or in partnership, since 1954.)

Seaspan barges being loaded with sawdust, 1979. NVMA 160-150. Bruce Flanagan photo

Talking about the North Shore. We always went over by ferry. Very few men had cars in those days and even if they did have there was no way of getting over except by ferry. When you did get over to the North Shore it was a good mile walk from the foot of Lonsdale to the Midland Pacific. So you can imagine how many times we have arrived at the Midland soaking wet and then having to go down in the dusty wheat and what it felt like finishing at night. Maybe 9 or 10 o’clock and coming up and walking back to the ferry and it would still be pouring. Getting on the ferry and getting home. . . . But what I have to say about getting over to the North Shore is that it cost a nickel to get through the turnstile. I can remember many a time, being small, getting a piggy-back on top of a guy’s shoulders and both of us going through the turnstile for one nickel.”

—Longshoreman Alex Will9

The iconic sulphur piles at the Vancouver Wharves terminal east of the Lions Gate Bridge are a symbol of the North Vancouver waterfront, September 1979. NVMA 183-237. Bruce Flanagan photo

The closure of the Second Narrows Bridge in the early 1930s, not to mention the economic downturn of the Depression, created a hiccup in waterfront development but the pace resumed later in the decade with the creation by the federal government of a new agency to manage major ports across Canada, including Vancouver’s harbour. With port traffic increasing, the National Harbours Board encouraged the reclamation of more tidal areas for industrial purposes. Along the North Vancouver shore this resulted in the creation of many hectares of new land for use as deepwater terminal facilities. For example, Vancouver Wharves, a bulk product terminal across from Stanley Park, stands out for its glowing piles of yellow sulphur. Opened in 1959, Vancouver Wharves is now owned by Kinder Morgan. Next door is the Fibreco terminal, created by a consortium of sawmill companies in 1977 to export wood chips and wood pellets for the world pulp and paper industry. The National Harbours Board constructed another bulk terminal, Neptune Terminals, to the west of Lynn Creek near the old Moodyville site. When it opened in 1968, it was the largest multi-product bulk terminal in North America, handling potash, coal, fertilizers and other products.

A view across the waterfront industrial area to the Ironworkers Memorial bridge. NVMA 106-26-4

All of these port-related facilities, and several others, occupy land recovered from the tidal flats that once lined the north shore of the harbour. Once upon a time the entire shoreline consisted of mud flats where the First Nations gathered shellfish and hunted waterfowl. With the construction of the railway tracks, the shipyards and the shipping terminals, this original shoreline was filled in and extended out into the harbour. In total, 80 percent of the original shoreline of Burrard Inlet’s inner harbour, north shore and south, has been altered over the years by port-related activities, resulting in the loss of almost 53 kilometres of natural shoreline. This industrial expansion has devastated the populations of fish and waterfowl that use the streams for spawning and wetlands for feeding. It has destroyed habitat, polluted waterways with industrial effluent and disrupted the natural life cycle of many animal species. Logging on the mountain slopes removed thousands of hectares of forest, fouling the rivers and streams with detritus and increasing water runoff, which in turn caused damaging floods. It is difficult to calculate just how profoundly industrial development has altered the natural environment of the North Shore.

The Clifford J. Rogers, the world’s first purpose-built container ship, sailed from North Vancouver on its inaugural voyage at the end of 1955. This photograph shows cars sitting on top of the containers. NVMA 10748

Along with its bulk freight terminals, North Vancouver also pioneered the use of containers to transship goods between seagoing carriers and land-based trucks and rail. Back in 1955, containers were an untested technology; the Clifford J. Rogers, the world’s first purpose-built container ship, was a 101-metre (336-ft) freighter constructed in Montreal and delivered to Vancouver in the fall of that year. It carried six hundred cube-shaped steel containers for the White Pass & Yukon Route from its North Vancouver terminal to Skagway, Alaska, where the goods were lifted aboard the railway and hauled to Whitehorse. The experiment proved to be the beginning of a transportation revolution. In 2014 Port Metro Vancouver handled almost three million container-loads of cargo at four container facilities, and the giant red gantry cranes that shift the containers have become a fixture of the Vancouver skyline.


Very few people are aware that many of the most commonly used underwater tools or technologies used all over the world were invented in Canada. For some reason Canada, and particularly western Canada, has been an absolute hotbed of submarine design and development. And that came about as a result of a company here called ‘International Hydrodynamics’ that existed in North Vancouver. And they developed a world-class submersible long, long before anyone was building them on a routine basis. . . . They were so successful that they drew underwater technologists and engineers from all over the world to work here in North Vancouver.”

—Phil Nyutten, inventor and deepwater exploration pioneer

Lowering containers into the hold of the Clifford J. Rogers at its North Vancouver berth. NVMA 9626 image 1

Today the Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, handling more than 140 million tonnes of cargo worth $187 billion in 2014. The North Shore Trade Area (NSTA) consists of the port terminals and industrial activity along the North Vancouver waterfront between the two bridges. With its bulk terminals, chemical plants and grain elevators, the NSTA contributes a significant portion of the port’s trade. Major commodities include coal, potash, sulphur, chemicals, agri-products and forest products. In general the NSTA handles about 35 percent of all cargo volume through the Port of Vancouver.

The North Shore waterfront has come a long way since the first few loads of lumber left the Moodyville docks bound for the trans-Pacific trade a century and a half ago. It is now one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the Lower Mainland. Logging, sawmilling, shipbuilding and deep-sea shipping together laid the economic foundation. But that is only part of the story of North Vancouver. At the same time as industry filled the waterfront, a vibrant community was taking shape across the lower slopes of the North Shore Mountains. Initially a suburb of Vancouver, this community with its head in the clouds and its feet in the waters of Burrard Inlet grew to become a prosperous, lively and diverse urban centre in its own right.

The North Vancouver working waterfront handles 35 percent of the cargo flowing through the Port of Vancouver. Lisa Wilson photo


1 Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, vol. 2 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 22.

2 Tomas Bartroli, Genesis of Vancouver City (Vancouver: self-published, 1987), 70.

3 Ibid., 100.

4 Jean Barman, Stanley Park’s Secret (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2005), 40.

5 Man Along the Shore! (Vancouver: ILWU Local 500 Pensioners, 1975), 13.

6 C. J. Taylor, “Moodyville and Hastings Mill,” Historic Sites and Monuments Board Agenda Paper, 1988, p.93.

7 Thomas Diplock, “The North Shore As I Knew It from 1897,” Unpublished memoir, North Vancouver Museum & Archives, Item 560.

8 James Delgado, Waterfront (Vancouver: Stanton, Atkins & Dosil, 2005), 40.

9 Man Along the Shore! op. cit., 66.


Next: Chapter 2: Building Communities

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