From as far back as the 1890s until the early 1980’s the site to the east of the Cambie Bridge made barrels. The earliest reference we can trace is the 1899 street directory, and the 1901 Insurance Map shows a large industrial cooperage alongside the bridge. Although it was identified as the Cambie Street Bridge, the road that led to it was considered to be Beatty Street, not Cambie, although the cooperage was addressed as Cambie (but not allocated a street number). It was operated by the BC Sugar Refinery as their cooperage, and seems to have replaced the BC Oil Co who seem to have occupied the site before 1898.
By 1912 the BC Sugar Refinery Cooperage continued to occupy the site, there’s a new bridge next to where the earlier structure had been located, and the Cascade Coal and Wood Co also seem to operate from part of the same wharf that pushed out beside the bridge into False Creek. By 1916 there were two cooperages on the waterfront of False Creek, one on either side of the Connaught (Cambie) Bridge. The BC Cooperage and the Vancouver Cooperage & Woodenware Co were both here.
It’s likely that the BC Cooperage was the “small branch plant established in Vancouver on False Creek” that Michael Sweeney established in 1914. Initially Sweeney, a cooper from Newfoundland, set up shop in Victoria in 1889, and his first Vancouver cooperage was in 1914. In 1921 the firm amalgamated with Vancouver Cooperage, and with an interest from an Oregon company the name was changed to Canadian Western Cooperage Limited. The firm expanded in both Victoria and Vancouver, rebuilt in both cities after spectacular fires (in 1937 in Vancouver’s case). The Sweeney family bought back the company shares in 1939 and the company regained the Sweeney Cooperage name
At one point the cooperage was the largest barrel manufacturer in the British Empire producing 2000 barrels a day, selling them to customers in more than 40 countries with branches in Montreal, Portland and Seattle. Sweeney barrels were used to ship goods from strawberries to salted salmon around the world.
The sawmill which produced the wooden barrel parts (shown in this 1960s image) was built in 1946 and the cooperage closed in 1981 to make way for the construction of B.C. Place and the new Cambie Street Bridge. Some of the factory lives on – McGinnis Wood Products in Cuba, Missouri acquired some of the barrel making machines and now has the largest air dried inventory of bourbon barrels in the world.
Today Concord Pacific’s Cooper’s Mews has replaced the Expo activity with four condo buildings containing over 500 units designed by Walter Francl, Hotson Bakker and Hancock, Bruckner, Eng & Wright.
Thanks to Jennifer Sweeney for the detailed (and accurate) company story.
Image sources, VPL, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-489