By Lea Edgar, Librarian & Archivist, Vancouver Maritime Museum
The Burrard Inlet is known for being the Port of Vancouver’s gateway to the world. Besides its industrial usefulness, it is also known for its natural beauty. Despite this, many have used the coastal fjord as a dumping ground. Beyond sunken ships, all kinds of things have been disposed of — accidently or otherwise into the Inlet. At one point, the owner of the Union Steamship Company even proposed dumping the city’s garbage from a barge into the Inlet for a mere $200 per month. As recently as 2011, Metro Vancouver was found guilty of pumping raw sewage into the Inlet. Luckily, we now generally recognize the value of keeping the Inlet clean, but stories of the strange things that have ended up in those waters never cease to amaze.
In 1952, the Austin A-40 was a popular car in British Columbia. In the first four years it was sold in this province, sales totalled $15 million. Fred Deeley was one of the most successful dealers of this British car. On April 28, the Dutch ship Dongedy caught fire in Vancouver harbour. Sadly, 50 Austin A-40 cars and trucks were stored in its hold on their way to Deeley’s lot. Twenty-two cars suffered salt water damage from the fireboat and were deemed junk. The Austin executives then came up with the idea to simply dump the damaged cars into the Burrard Inlet. Surprisingly, the authorities agreed with this solution. On May 9, the cars were loaded onto a barge and towed out to the entrance of Howe Sound. They were pulled off the barge one by one by cables attached to the tug boat River Ace. Although they ended up a little outside of the Inlet, as far as anyone knows, they are still at the bottom of the sea.
UBC engineering prank
Fast forward to 2009 and cars were still ending up in our corner of Davy Jones’ Locker. UBC’s Engineering Undergraduate Society is well known for its annual pranks. The traditional stunt entailed leaving the shell of a Volkswagen Beetle in unusual places, such as the top of buildings or the most famous of all, suspended from the Lions Gate Bridge. In this instance, the students chose the Iron Worker’s Memorial Bridge. Unfortunately (or fortunately), they were caught by the police before the prank could be pulled off. The students ran into trouble with the cables and the Beetle dropped into Burrard Inlet. The students were arrested and the car sank into the deep. It was the first time the Engineering students had been caught in action for their prank. Charges were considered but later dropped. The tradition endures and the red Volkswagen continues to appear in the oddest of locations.
North Vancouver street car
Another event that caused a vehicle to crash into the Inlet occurred in 1909. In the early 20th century, Vancouverites travelled around the city by street car. North Vancouver was, and continues to be, known for the steep slope up Lonsdale Avenue. To spare pedestrians the climb, street cars would carry people to the top of the hill and back. On August 12, street car number 62 was descending Lonsdale Avenue to meet the ferry at the base of the hill. Suddenly, the brakes failed and the car was sent careening down the hill. The driver tried desperately to slow the car down but to no avail. He threw it into reverse but that only blew the motor out. The passengers realized what was happening and some decided to leap from the vehicle. Others held on and braced themselves until the car plunged into the sea. Luckily, the car landed on its side in only four feet of water. Rescuers immediately began pulling out the victims, including three babies without a scratch on them. Though many passengers and the driver were injured, no one was killed.
Second Narrows Bridge
The bridge that spans the second narrows of the Burrard Inlet has a long history of accidents. The first bridge was built in 1925. It was hit by many ships including the cargo vessel Eurana in 1927, Norwich City in 1928, and Losmar in 1930. The final straw was when the Pacific Gatherer got wedged beneath the bridge in September 1930, tearing away the centre span. The vessel was swept into danger by a powerful flood tide. Stuck under the 300-foot span, the tide continued to rise and eventually the bridge could bear no more. The span was toppled into 80 feet of water. The tug pulling the vessel, Lorne, was luckily not damaged. The bridge was sold to the provincial government in 1933 and reopened in 1934. Due to traffic problems, it was decided that a new bridge was needed and construction began in 1955. While under construction, on June 17, 1958, spans 4 and 5 collapsed, spilling 79 workers into the water. Sadly, 19 died in this tragic accident. The bridge was renamed the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge in 1994 in their honour.
There are likely many other tales of weird and wonderful things ending up at the bottom of the Burrard Inlet. Purposeful pollution, ship wrecks or tragic accidents — this part of the ocean floor is likely littered with Vancouver’s history.
Lea Edgar started her position as Librarian and Archivist for the Vancouver Maritime Museum in 2013. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.