Monday, February 4, 2013

A White Elephant

Vancouver Member of Parliament, Henry Herbert Stevens, was a visionary. He saw the possibilities for economic growth with Vancouver and surrounding area and in particular grain.

Stevens lobbied the federal government to establish a federally appointed and funded Harbour Commission that would improve and administer Burrard Inlet, English Bay, Indian Arm and False Creek docks and harbour facilities.

Stevens was successful and in May of 1913, Parliament passed his bill which created not only commissions for Vancouver but also for South Vancouver (that controlled the North Arm of the Fraser River) and for New Westminster (therefore controlling the rest of Fraser River). Each commission had three commissioners who were empowered to hire a harbour master, port warden, shipping master, engineers and other officicals that would regulate navigation, shore side development and shipping into the new ports.

Federal funds were made available to construct a concrete 'Government's Wharf' in 1914. This was an industrial, rail and water linked island on False Creek, which became known as Granville Island. This was all done under the auspice of the newly formed Harbour Commission. The island proved profitable and was paying back the Harbour Commission's investment. Sadly, the grain terminals were not.
These were not only Vancouver's first grain terminals but also British Columbia's. They were built in 1913 but, with Vancouver's port affected by the worldwide economic depression, the terminals languished for a few years. Another element delaying the success of these structures was the fact that the new facility had not instilled confidence in either the grain growers to ship their products to Vancouver or the British buyers who weren't convinced the grain could survive the journey by water from Vancouver. These terminals stood empty and became known as 'Steven's Folly' or 'Steven's white elephant'.

That didn't deter the politician. At the end of 1918, under the watchful eye of government scientists, a trial shipment of grain was shipped to England. The journey through the Panama Canal, the Caribbean heat and across the water took three and a half months but the cargo suffered little damage. Still, it took a few more years before grain growers and buyers were convinced enough that the structures were filled with grain. Steven's folly was turned into a triumph.

Although these elevators stand at the foot of Woodland Drive - across Powell Street - I had to take these photos from Victoria Drive and Triumph Street. While on Triumph, I found a few other heritage homes that I will be writing on in the future.

Thanks goes to bob_2006 at and The Vancouver Maritime Museum website for the information. I hope you find the beauty around you.

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