A LENS ON VANCOUVER'S PAST
Walter Frost's Holland-America Line (1920-1975)
PORT OF VANCOUVER (VAS)
Today, the Port of Vancouver, formally known as Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is Canada’s largest seaport extending from Roberts Bank north across the Fraser River delta and up to and including Burrard Inlet. Home to twenty-seven major terminals, the port handles the most diversified range of cargo in North America: bulk, containers, breakbulk, liquid bulk, automobiles, and cruise passengers. As our country’s Gateway to the Pacific, which includes over 170 trading economies around the world, the port handles $1 of every $3 of Canada’s trade in goods outside of North America enabling the trade of approximately $200 billion in goods.
The port traces its origin’s to the latter half of the 19th century when lumber exports ruled supreme. Sawmills popped up on both the North and South Shores of Burrard Inlet and the lumber needed to get to its overseas markets, including the Pacific West Coast, Australia, and Asia. Trade expanded significantly with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1887 and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Outbound cargos included lumber and grain while inbound cargo included breakbulk. Without the canal, ships would have to sail all the way around South America to reach Europe, an additional 5,600 nautical miles. Low freight rates in the early 20th century resulted in Vancouver becoming a more feasible shipping hub to Europe and Asia for bulk commodities such as grain and later sulphur, coal, and potash. With the advent of “Unitized Freight Transportation” in the 60’s, the port expanded from breakbulk cargo into the container market with an annual capacity of three million 20-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). Finally, for more than 45 years, Vancouver has been a homeport for Alaska cruises as well as cruises through the scenic Inside Passage of B.C.’s West Coast.
Over time, Vancouver's waterfront has evolved dramatically. Initially centered on Hastings Mill at the foot of Dunlevy Avenue, the port first expanded west towards Stanley Park to accommodate the CPR’s terminus and then east towards Burnaby as grain became a major export commodity. Today from west to east, Coal Harbour has transformed into an urban forest of highrises; the Mission Revival-style CPR Pier B-C metamorphosed into the grand sails of the Canada Place cruise ship terminal; CPR Pier D was razed to the waterline by fire; and the Centennial Pier, Ballantyne Pier, and Great Northern Dock were incorporated into the Centerm container terminal on the site of Hastings Mill. Nonetheless, after nearly a century, Lapointe Pier, the United Grain Growers grain terminal, and Alberta Wheat Pool are still here, just different. These are all locations where Walter E. Frost took many of his iconic photographs and Holland-America Line’s freighters and cruise ships have docked since starting its North Pacific Coast cargo and passenger service in 1920.
A 131-page digital compendium entitled "Gateway to the Pacific" describes 15 prominent piers and wharves on Burrard Inlet’s South Shore – the original Port of Vancouver. It also presents notable events and photographs dating back to 1868.
VAS – radio callsign of the former Vancouver Harbour Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Centre