Wells Air Harbour

Lulu Island was the location of many of BC’s pioneering aviation milestones but since the opening of the Vancouver Airport and Seaplane base on Sea Island on July 22, 1931 the majority of Richmond’s aviation activity has taken place there.

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A float plane taxis on the Middle Arm of the Fraser River in this photo, ca. 1930. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1989 19 11)

One exception to this was Wells Air Harbour, a seaplane base and repair facility on the Lulu Island side of the middle arm. The facility was built by Air Land Manufacturing and started operations in 1929, becoming an important base for seaplane operations. It became generally known by the name of its operator, Hunter Wells, during the early 1930s.

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This waterworks map from the late 1930s shows the Wells Air Harbour building, labelled “Aeroplane Plant”, on the upper left, just south of the end of Bridgeport Road. (City of Richmond Archives map – Sea Island and No.3 Road Water Linens)

The business was located on River Road near the present end of Bridgeport Road, easily accessible from Vancouver via the Marpole Bridge. Aircraft that landed on the Middle Arm could moor at the terminal’s floats or, if in need of repairs, could be hauled up the ramp into the hangar.

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Bush pilot Ginger Coote operated his airline out of Wells Air Harbour. Shown here is his Waco YKS-6 in a hangar. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 1 21)

The Harbour was the base of operations for many aviation companies. Wells Air Transport, Alaska-Washington Airways of BC, Commercial Airways and Canadian Airways all used the facility. Ginger Coote Airways, run by legendary bush pilot Russell L. “Ginger” Coote also used the base. Coote was a WWI fighter pilot and after the war personified the image of the daring bush pilot.

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Russel L. “Ginger” Coote, in the pilot’s uniform, stands on the float at Wells Air Harbour, ca. 1935. In the right foreground is the ramp to the hangar where Tommy Jones repaired and rebuilt aircraft. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2012 12 1)

Tommy Jones ran a profitable aircraft overhaul and repair business at the Air Harbour as well. Many of the classic seaplanes were serviced there, with work from regular maintenance to complete overhauls taking place. It was not unusual to see groups of women at the repair shop stitching and fitting fabric to the wings and fuselages of various aircraft.

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This aerial view shows the former Wells Air Harbour hangar building at the end of Bridgeport Road in 1953 with the ramp used to haul aircraft into the hangar removed. The building has seen many uses over the years, from an aluminum factory to a restaurant, and survives to this day. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1977 1 99)

Wells Air Harbour and Jones’ repair business closed as better facilities became available around the Lower Mainland with the onset of WWII. The hangar building is still standing, tucked between the two bridges to YVR, and for many years has been home to the Richmond Boathouse Restaurant.

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A Google Street View capture shows the Boathouse – West Marine location on River Road. The large hangar door openings can still be seen, a leftover from the days when this building was one of the busiest seaplane bases in the Lower Mainland. Infill has separated the building from the Middle Arm and provided a parking lot.

 

Sir Edward Walter’s Haunted House

House drawing by Greg Jones, City of Richmond Archives 7431

House drawing by Greg Jones, City of Richmond Archives accession 1987 107.

On Halloween,as our thoughts stray to witches and ghosts and things that go bump in the night, would you believe that in today’s bustling city centre on the property now bounded by Westminster Hwy, No 3.and Saba Roads and Buswell Street, stood one of Richmond’s oldest and most haunted houses?

The house was built in the 1870s as a hunting lodge by wealthy Englishman Sir Edward Walter (1823-1904), founder and first commandant of the Corps of Commissionaires and whose family founded the Times of London.

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Sir Edward Walter, 1823 – 1904. Photo from the website http://corpsthinking.com/2014/03/24/same-as-it-ever-was/.

Walter was fond of duck hunting and spared no expense in building his retreat. Bevelled mirrors, stained glass, marble and cast iron fireplaces, carved woodwork,elaborate hardware and even a grand piano were imported and apparently floated to the property, probably along the Pearson Slough which penetrated into the area from the middle arm. Why he chose to build his house in the middle of a sodden mudflat quite a distance from boat access to the river is unknown.

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Lot plan drawn by Arnold Jones, City of Richmond Archives accession 1987 107.

The lodge was patterned after the connected farm, a design common in New England, England and Wales. In this design the main house, dairy, kitchen (with servant’s quarters upstairs), toilet and carriage houses are connected along a long north facing wall, allowing access to all areas without the need to be exposed to the weather. Apparently Mrs. Walter did not enjoy life on Lulu Island very much and went back to England after about three months, never to return. Sir Edward stayed on for a while, but eventually returned to civilization himself, abandoning the house.

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House plan showing “connected farm” style of construction, drawn by Arnold Jones, City of Richmond Archives accession 1987 107.

In 1916 Mr. Charles Jones, Waterworks Manager for the Township of Richmond, managed to track down the executors of Walter’s estate and purchased the property.

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This image shows the Jones family in front of house,ca. 1918, City of Richmond Archives photo 1987 108 1

Mr. Jones’ son Arnold described the feelings of unease and apprehension that he and others in his family felt while living in the house, and later in the kitchen/servant’s quarters which his father moved to a different part of the property and enlarged for use as the family home. Footsteps on the stairs and landings when no-one was there were so common that they were generally ignored. Visitations by a man wearing a formal jacket, bowler hat and carrying a cane occured every spring in the house. A woman was occasionally seen peering out the window. These sightings always seemed to occur as the person was waking up and the apparitions would fade away as full wakefulness came. On one occasion, when Mr. Jones was away there was so much banging and clashing in the walls that no one slept for two days.

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This image shows a Birthday party Tug-of-War in front of house, June 1919, L to R, Alex Horne, Ben Jones (Insurance man), Henry Anderson (Richmond Reeve/Mayor), Stanley Ackroyd, Arnold Jones, Gordon and Cecil Morris. City of Richmond Archives photo 1987 108 2

Mr. Jones sold the house to the Berry family in 1921. The Berrys put a large addition on the back of the building. When questioned by Arnold Jones about any strange things they noticed in the house, members of that family described strange noises and seeing a man in a bowler hat while living there. The Berrys sold the house to Mr. Mudry who in turn sold to Mr Thompson and Mr Silverton of Vancouver who renovated the building into suites and opened it as the Lulu Island Tourist Hotel.

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This photo shows the house with addition on back, ca. 1925, City of Richmond Archives photo 1993 11 1

Gradually buildings appeared around the house as Richmond grew. In this image from 1948, commercial development is in the early stages at the intersection of No.3 Road and Westminster Highway. To the left of Sir Edward Walter’s house is the Rooster Cafe. To the right are the Lulu Theatre and Lang’s Nursery. The building was demolished in the late 1950s.

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Photo showing the intersection of No.3 Road and Westminster Highway in 1948, Walters house in centre of photo. City of Richmond Archives photo 1997 1 98

Today, everything has changed. I wonder if any of the people living in these modern highrises know this area’s haunted past or have woken to the fading image of a formally dressed man wearing a bowler hat?

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Google satellite view showing the intersection of No.3 Road and Westminster Highway.