East from Burrard Bridge – south shore

In 1950 a sensational murder trial drew attention to the squatters along the shores of False Creek. Blanche Fisher was 45, living on East 12th, an unmarried seamstress working for a departmental store. Her partially clothed body was found in November 1949 washed up against the pier of the Kitsilano Trestle, and a police investigation began. Initially it was thought she might have committed suicide, but the state of the body suggested it might be murder. All that was known was she had been to see a movie at the Rio on East Broadway the night before.

In 2020 John Mackie unearthed the story from the paper’s archives and retold it in the Vancouver Sun. Press reports said that initially Frank Ducharme was arrested for vagrancy, but when the police searched his float house, they found dozens of items of women’s underclothing. During his appeal case, the basis of Ducharme’s arrest was outlined, over a month after the body had been found found. “About 1.30 on the morning of December 5th the police were attracted by his appearance and as they approached him he ran, but was caught and taken into custody. He was wearing a handkerchief about his head, a silk shirt, an overcoat and scarf, and a pair of rubber boots rolled down in a manner that his legs were bare  around the knees. There was no indecent exposure but the condition observed as to his person at the police station might suggest that he was abnormal.”

When they searched his untidy shack on the south bank under Burrard Bridge, the police found “a pair of black gabardine shoes and a shattered wristwatch” that matched what Fisher had been wearing the night of her death. The watch crystal and her umbrella were found behind the back seat of his Hupmobile. He was then charged with her murder, and after an extensive examination of his mental fitness to stand trial, it was held in March 1950.

The court case revealed that it was raining on the night of the murder, and Frank Ducharme had offered Miss Fisher a ride home. He admitted to driving around Marpole and Kitsilano before his unwanted attentions caused her to struggle, at which point he “grabbed her by the throat to keep her from yelling”. In interviews he sometimes admitted to having had a sexual encounter, but that it was consensual. At other times he changed his story and claimed she ran away from him onto the Kitsilano Trestle, slipped, fell into the Creek and drowned, and sometimes he denied any knowledge of the woman.

“Ducharme initially said he had been born in Toronto, had grown up an orphan in Winnipeg and was in the RCAF during the Second World War. He also said he was unmarried. He was actually born in Elkhorn, Man., had a mother and six sisters, and had been discharged from the RCAF to the mental ward of a hospital in Weyburn, Sask. The 34-year-old had been married twice, had a couple of convictions for indecent exposure and went by the pseudonym Farnsworth after he moved to B.C. in 1947.” A neighbour said he saw Ducharme in a rowboat with a woman’s body on the night of the murder. He was convicted of murder, and an appeal judge, in concluding he was ‘definitely a psychopath of some description’ rejected the appeal, and he was hanged at Oakalla Prison in July 1950.

This 1949 image shows there were industrial buildings further back in the Burrard slopes area, but closer to False Creek the land had never been developed, and the shacks clustered along the edge of the water, with the ones in the water on pontoons. After the case the City took the initiative to finally clear the squatters off the foreshore.

Soon after the Kitsilano Trestle was removed in the early 1980s development of the final phase of False Creek South started. The BC Credit Union office building had been completed in 1978, and the residential buildings here were built between 1983 and 1989 with 700 dwellings, the majority in strata buildings.

The wharf and moorings here have more commercial fishing boats than other marinas, and are operated by the False Creek Harbour Authority. The water quality in the Creek has been steadily improving, and weighted nets have been installed trying to mimic natural habitat like eel grass or a kelp bed to encourage herring spawning. (Because the piles of the wharves are chemically treated, and there are sometimes hydrocarbons on the surface of the water, the intention is to keep the hatchlings in the water and away from the pilings or the surface). This has been hugely successful, with millions of fish maturing and returning to spawn in recent years.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Dist P135.1

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Posted 23 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Altered, False Creek

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