Granville Island from above

This 1950 image shows Granville Island crammed with industrial businesses. It had once been a sandbar, used by the Squamish natives to catch fish while they occupied their nearby winter settlement of Snauq. They had a fish weir, built of twisted vine maple, that led flounders and smelts into a fish trap. As development of the new city forced them off their traditional lands, and the forest was cut down, various attempts were made to acquire and develop on the sandbars, none successful. A lumber and planing mill was established on the muddy foreshore, next to the bridge that had been piled across the Creek in 1889. By 1903 the mill’s footprint had been extended, with the insurance map identifying ‘land made of slabs and sawdust’, but the sandbar remained undeveloped. By 1912 the mill was larger, operated as the Rat Portage Lumber Co, with a new bridge alongside the first, and the Hanbury Lumber Company’s mill to the east, on the southern shore. They leased moorings from Canadian Pacific in the creek, where miles of log booms were tethered, awaiting processing in the mill.

In 1913 everything changed with the creation of the Vancouver Harbour Commission. Given control over all tidal waters, they set about creating solid land to expand industrial operations. Hanbury’s lost the water rights in front of their mill; the Federal Government announced that CPR had never had the rights in the first place. CPR’s foreshore rights wouldn’t be settled until 1928. In the meantime the Harbour Commission started piling a bulkhead around the sandbars, and building a rail track and a road from the south shore. They raised $300,000 from the sale of bonds that paid 5% interest, and hired Pacific Dredging to deepen the channel and pile the fill inside the bulkhead. With a brief stop while wartime priorities interupted, by 1916 a million cubic yards of mud had been sucked from the creek, and ‘Industrial Island’ had been built at a cost of $342,000.

Tenants soon moved in; Wallace Shipyards followed Vulcan Ironworks, with BC Equipment Ltd first to build a corrugated tin repair and assembly shop on the island’s north-west corner. Leases were for 21 years, ranging from $500 to $1,500 per acre. There were two miles of rail tracks, and all services; water, gas and electricity. Businesses fabricated wire ropes; built band saws; assembled steel chains. Transport businesses occupied huge warehouses. By 1930 there were 1,200 workers on the island. By 1936 the National Harbours Board were running the island, and arguing that as tenants of a federal agency, the businesses stopped paying taxes to the city. Only an appeal in the House or Lords in London reinstated the revenue, several years later. Business boomed during the war, with demand for the ropes, chains and other products coming from the expanded ship-building operations up and down False Creek.

By 1950, when the photo was taken, business was still strong, but the creek had become run down and lined with semi-derelict buildings. Alderman Jack Price proposed that, rather than rebuilding the ageing Georgia Viaducts, and crumbling Cambie and Granville bridges, the entire creek should be filled in. The CPRs William Van Horne had first suggested the idea decades earlier. The 1950 campaign, supported by mayor Fred Hume, was derailed because a new Granville Bridge was already well advanced in planning. The new alignment can be seen in the picture; the piers were constructed through the existing buildings in some places. A further study shut the idea down completely; the engineering, compensation for lost riparian rights, and new infrastructure would have cost $50m, and created land worth $9m.

By the mid 1960s many of the businesses had closed, and an arsonist had destroyed several of the buildings. Demand for the remaining businesses that supported the lumber mills disappeared as those too burned down, and were not rebuilt. The plans to transform the island into a different kind of place were started in the early 1970s, as the remainder of South False Creek started redevelopment. It took until 1978 for the unique mix of new uses, retained and repurposed buildings, and shared street space to become an adopted plan. Designed by Hotson Bakker, the Island has gradually changed over time, but continues under federal ownership to offer locally owned markets, restaurants, arts enterprises and spaces for craft manufacturing seen in this 2018 image.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 216-39 and Trish Jewison, Global BC helicopter on twitter.

0974

Posted May 18, 2020 by ChangingCity in Altered, False Creek

%d bloggers like this: