A LENS ON VANCOUVER'S PAST
Walter Frost's Holland-America Line (1920-1975)
CPR Pier D
Located at the foot of Granville Street, construction of Pier D was started in 1913 as part of the CPR’s Vancouver expansion (1910-15) which included new railway equipment, rail yards, ships, and the second Hotel Vancouver. Built in the "New York" pier style and opened in 1914, the large wooden dock was used by CPR coastal steamers which served Seattle, Victoria, and Alaska. After being lengthened another 500 ft to 900 ft in 1917, Pier D became the terminal for outbound Empress-class Royal Mail Steamers.[i] The pier included a two-storey building accommodating both freight and passengers as well as two railway sidings connected directly to the CPR mainline.[ii]
In order to avoid crossings at grade over the freight yard tracks between the city and CPR piers and wharves, two steel viaducts were constructed over the tracks. Ramps led down to wharf level. They also led directly to large waiting rooms with ticket and baggage counters on the upper deck along with company offices. Passengers with hand or other baggage could have the same taken care of on the upper deck. Transfer wagons brought baggage in bulk to the lower deck which was connected by lifts and stairways to the waiting rooms above. The larger portion of the lower deck was devoted to freight, the movement of which was facilitated by gangways of the elevator type, thus minimizing the labour of loading, and unloading.[iii]
[i] The Province (Vancouver, BC: October 5, 1917) p 21
[ii] The Province (Vancouver, BC: May 31, 1913) p 2
[iii] The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, BC: April 6, 1913) p 70
BIG PILE DRIVER
The biggest pile driver, for height, seen in Vancouver to date (January 1917) was brought alongside CPR Pier D. At a height of 120 ft (37 m), it dwarfed ordinary pile drivers of the time and was used to drive the piles which formed the foundation for the extension of Pier D. Owing to the depth of water, piles from 90 to 100 ft (27 to 30 m) were used. The pile driver was constructed especially for this purpose and was fitted with air pipes and other accessories.[i]
VANCOUVER’S “MOST SPECTACULAR“ FIRE
On Wednesday, July 27,1938, Pier D and adjoining Freight Shed 3 burned down to the waterline in Vancouver's most spectacular fire, drawing huge crowds.
The blaze started on a hot July afternoon. Per daily practice during the dry weather, the wooden deck of Pier D had been hosed down two-and-three-quarter hours yet the fire was discovered by a longshoreman. Upon hearing the longshoreman’s shouts, CPR police rang in the alarm at 1:40 p.m. and reported that the fire was coming from under the pier at the northwest end and had an oily smell. A general alarm summoned every piece of equipment to the scene. A vast column of dirty brown, black smoke billowed high into the air. The waterfront was thronged by thousands of people. City fire equipment had a difficult job in reaching the scene and the police were rushed to the scene to keep people well behind the fire lines.
It was reported that within five minutes, flames were shooting at least 100 ft into the air at the front of the pier. Three quarters of an hour after the fire started, the heaviest flames were coming from the entrance to the pier. Flames were visible at the north end of the pier. In the middle, the flames were more or less concealed from view, but at the southern end, they were burning furiously. But the pier was gone.[ii]
The British Columbia Coast Steamships’ pocket liners SS Princess Adelaide and SS Princess Charlotte were moored at the pier with the Charlotte directly in the path of the flames. Her engines were cold and she had very little steam as she was not due to sail until 9 p.m. that evening. Captain T. Rippon, the CPR Marine Superintendent rushed aboard with a makeshift crew of stewards, deckhands, and longshoremen. The “shanghaied” crew laboured in the stokehold while the flames rapidly drew closer to the ship’s stern. The crew was able to cast off the lines and take the ship to safety but not before one of the lifeboats caught fire. Fortunately the deck crew extinguished the flames and Capt. Rippon and his crew were able to get the Charlotte away safely and moved her to the Union Steamship Dock. The Adelaide, on the west side, managed to also move away safely and cruised about the harbour.
No fatalities were reported but 10 persons, including two firemen, suffered burns or other fire-related injuries. While the pier was estimated to cost $1.2 million to replace, only thirty tons of freight - valued at $2,500 - was lost. In addition, one City fire engine and 1,500 ft (460 m) of fire hose, valued together at $13,000, fell prey to the flames.[iii]
In due course, the CPR decided not to rebuild the pier.
[i] The Province (Vancouver, BC: January 30, 1917) p 17
[ii] The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, BC: July 27, 1938) p 1
[iii] The Province (Vancouver, BC: July 28, 1938) p 1