Friday, October 12, 2012

Pier D

Until 1908, the piers in Vancouver were basic to the extreme. A railway track carried on a trestle to a landing stage that was just far enough offshore to allow the steamers to dock at low tide. Vancouver, however, had a growing international port though and this was not sufficient.

The Canadian Pacific Railway had obtained the contract with Royal Mail in 1889 and had three luxury 5,905 liners that docked at Vancouver. These sister ships were called the Empresses of Japan, China and India. It was in the railway's best interest to invest in creating new piers.
Pier A was located near the foot of Burrard Street and stood on Australian hardwood piles. The pier was of frame construction, provided 1,584 linear feet of berthing and provided sheds that enclosed 60,000 square feet.

Pier B-C was a concrete structure between Pier A and D. Built for the CPR's Empresses and for the ships of the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, this structure was opened on July 4, 1927.

This new pier had 2,611 linear feet of berthing and each of its sides was equipped with a five-ton gantry and four marine elevators.

Pier D was spectacular. It was opened on August 3, 1914 and, like Pier A, was a frame construction structure. However, it was a lot larger. Built on a 75,000 square-foot rock fill that was 500 feet long and 154 feet wide. The pier provided 2,034 feet of berthing and could accommodate both trans-Pacific and coastal steamships.

There was an upper floor - where the main entry was - for ticket offices, waiting rooms and other passenger services. The entry was accessed by a viaduct that stretched over the railway tracks. A ship's derrick was needed for unloading and loading.

At 1:46 pm on July 27, 1938, the alarm went out that there was a fire at the northeast corner of the harbour end of the pier. Although it was apparent when the first fire fighters arrived that Pier D was doomed, the hoses were laid out and an offensive stance was taken. Though not for long.

A second alarm went out at 1:53 pm then a third three minutes later. Four minutes after that, half of the pier was involved and the fourth alarm was sounded at 2:02 pm. Four firemen who were fighting the blaze from the wharf, were forced to jump into the harbour to save themselves from the heat. (The men were pulled aboard a tugboat.)

The fire was put out at 4:52 pm and the pier was lost. Crews worked for four days after to make sure that the blaze wouldn't rekindle. In 1978, during a dredging operation, a fire nozzle in the open position was found. 

Some of the above information I obtained from a book by Frank Gowen, Frank Gowen's Vancouver 1914-1931. There is also an accounting of the blaze by Alex Matches at the website,The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. If you want to see photos of this massive inferno, just do a Google search on Vancouver Pier D fire.

And the CPR piers where so many travellers come and go? They are long gone and in their place is the modern, efficient Canada Place.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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