Focus on the Record – The Eric Rathborne fonds.

The Eric Rathborne fonds at the City of Richmond Archives consists mainly of black and white photographs of aviation activities at the newly opened Vancouver Airport on Sea Island, taken ca. 1935 to 1960.

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This aerial view of Vancouver Airport shows the hangars, administration building and radio building, ca. 1939. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 5.

Donald Eric Dalby Rathborne was born in England on December 18, 1907. He had his first ride in an airplane in 1924 which sparked a lifelong passion for aviation. He, with his family, emigrated to Windsor Ontario in 1926 when he was 18 years old. In 1930 Mr. Rathborne moved to Victoria in 1930 and then to Vancouver in 1933.

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Eric Rathborne sits in the cockpit of an open biplane, ca. 1936. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 107.

 

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An unidentified aviator wearing a sheepskin flying suit poses on the wing of an aircraft, possibly a Junkers A50, ca. 1936. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 68.

In his spare time Eric did odd jobs around the Vancouver Airport in exchange for flying lessons, achieving his private pilot’s license in 1936. In 1939 he took a full time job as a maintenance man with Trans Canada Airlines, the precursor of Air Canada, his duties including loading food, oxygen and mail onto aircraft, refueling and engine servicing.

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Two Trans Canada Airlines Lockheed 14H-2 aircraft rest on the tarmac at Vancouver Airport. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 33.

 

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The public lines up to see the interior of the United Airlines “Mainliner” Douglas DC-3, on display at Vancouver Airport at the time of the introduction of this type of aircraft into commercial service, ca. 1938. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 19.

In May 1941 he earned his commercial pilot’s license and then joined the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan as a staff pilot. The BCATP was the organization responsible for training thousands of Commonwealth pilots and air crew during the Second World War.

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A United Airlines Boeing 247D airliner sits in front of the Vancouver Airport terminal and administrative building in this photo, ca. 1936. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 26.

 

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Ruth Alm poses on the observation deck at the Vancouver Airport in the flight attendant’s uniform of Trans Canada Airlines, ca. 1939. The airfield is in the background. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 38.

 

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WWII aircraft mechanic, pilot and career flight attendant Ruth Johnson poses beside the Aero Club of BC’s De Havilland Tiger Moth DH82c at the Vancouver Airport, ca. 1946. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 82.

After his wartime service Mr. Rathborne was, at 37 years old, deemed too old to work as a commercial airline pilot, so he flew as a private pilot and worked occasionally as a pilot for local airlines while making his living as a commercial photographer for over 30 years.

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A young Don Rathborne points to a sign for Brisbane Flying Shcool Air Tours in this photo ca. 1949. Nearly 30 years later he saw an airport themed display put on by the City of Richmond Archives at Lansdowne Mall and contacted the Archives to see if they were interested in copying his father’s collection. These images and the rest of the collection will now be preserved, illustrating Vancouver Airport during the Golden Age of Flight and the post War years. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 93.

That Rathborne made his living as a commercial photographer is evident in the quality and composition of the photographs he has left documenting the early years of Vancouver Airport on Sea Island. Eric Rathborne died on November 30, 1990 at the age of 82.

The full collection of photographs from the Eric Rathborne fonds can be viewed at: https://bit.ly/2HvXxdb

The Richmond Oil Boom – In Search of the Steveston Gusher

In these days of environmental concerns, global climate change and pipeline protests, the oil and gas industry has become the target of much criticism. This was not the case around the turn of the last century when, in the middle of the Texas Oil Boom, attention was focused on a small fishing village at the mouth of the Fraser River.

The existence of natural gas on Lulu Island had been known for millennia.  The Musqueam fishing camp at Terra Nova was named sp`’elekw`eks (pronounced SPALL-uk-wicks), “Bubbling Water” in English, referring to the gas which was visible bubbling through the water in the slough. The Musqueam village at Garry Point was known as kw’áýò7xw’ (pronounced KWAY-ah-wh), meaning “Boiling (bubbling, churning) Water” in English, referring to the gas bubbling in the Steveston Slough.

Early European settlers in Steveston were also very aware of the gas deposits beneath Lulu Island. In 1891 the Steveston Enterprise Newspaper reported that the natural gas “forces its way through the water that accumulates in the wells and ditches where it is exposed and blackens the soil with heat when it is consumed.” Tossing a match into the bubbles would cause them to ” flash like powder”. Tipping a barrel over a gas vent would collect it and produce a continuous flame at a hole in the top of the barrel.

Steveston in 1891 looking North up 2nd Avenue. The sign on the left advertises the land auction of June 16. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 75 .

 

This ad from June 1891 in the Victoria Colonist invites investment in Steveston where you will “see the natural gas burning.”

 

Word of the gas spread with advertising for land auctions in the area. An ad in the Victoria Colonist invited people to bid on 400 lots available in Steveston, “The Key City on the Fraser River”.  According to the ad, participants would see the natural gas burning, its presence sure to make the area a manufacturing centre and a leading city in the Province.

The presence of the colourless, odorless gas led to efforts to exploit this resource. In August 1891 the Steveston Natural Gas and Development Company was formed by a group of local entrepreneurs who attempted to start a well but found their expertise and capital were not up to the task.

The evidence of natural gas led to the speculation that large oil or coal deposits would also be found in the area. In 1904 an organization of Vancouver businessmen, The Steveston Land and Oil Company Limited, bought a lot on No.1 Road in Steveston, east of the end of Broadway Street and next to the Japanese Hospital. They hired some experienced oil riggers and engineers from the oilfields at Beaumont, Texas. A derrick was erected and drilling began at British Columbia’s first officially recorded well. The results were encouraging and by April the shaft had reached 1000 feet, passing through “shale, clay, and blue, greasy mud or gumbo”.

In June, The optimism spurred the company to look for more investors and ads were placed in newspapers announcing that 30,000 shares were available in the company. Hoping to attract sales, the company offered early buyers a “buy two, get one free” deal.

 

An ad from the Victoria Colonist, June 1904, inviting investors to buy stock in the Steveston Land and Oil Company.

A copy of a share certificate for the Steveston Land and Oil Company. City of Richmond Archives photograph RCF 47.

In August the excitement grew when a large pocket of natural gas was reached by the drillers. The pressure sent sediment and water spouting high over Steveston. That evening a burn off flare was ignited to expend the gas and the resulting flame was 80 feet tall and 18 feet wide and could be seen from New Westminster. Reports claimed that the drillers expected to hit high quality oil soon, after which Steveston would take her place among the world’s great oil fields.

The drilling rig of the Steveston Land and Oil Company in 1904, B.C.’s first documented oil well. Sections of well piping can be seen leaning against the structure. Investors had high hopes that Steveston would be sprouting with derricks like this and black gold would be flowing from deposits under Lulu Island. City of Richmond Archives photograph    1978 15 10.

Despite all the optimism surrounding the search for oil, problems were arising. Oil was certainly present under Lulu Island, droplets had even shown up at the well, but the silt surrounding it was so flour-like that even with fine screens the piping would plug immediately. More expensive equipment and more specialized screens were shipped to the well but eventually the costs of operation overwhelmed the company and the project was abandoned in 1906.

Looking north up No.1 Road in 1908 gives a view of the back of the Steveston rail station, a Roman Catholic Church and the now defunct drilling rig of the Steveston Land and Oil Company, City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 5 7.

The halt of operations, while saving Steveston from the fate of becoming surrounded by oil wells and a busy tanker port, did not entirely stop the idea that natural gas might be a viable product. In 1930 a well was drilled on the farm of Henry Fentiman at 120 Garry Street. Mr. Fentiman’s house was located at the north side of the present Steveston Community Park, not too far from the location of the old oil rig.

Henry Fentiman’s turn of the century mansion on his Steveston farm. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1986 54 1.

The International Pipe Line Company invested $17,000 in a plan to supply Vancouver with superior, odorless natural gas from Lulu Island, supplanting the manufactured gas used in the city at the time. The first test well was drilled to a depth of 850 feet, produced a flow of gas, but soon plugged with sand. A second well, drilled in 1931 to a depth of 730 feet and using finer screens to separate the sand, proved to be more successful and produced a steady flow of gas.

Drilling for gas on the Fentiman farm. City of Richmond Archives photograph  1978 36 22.

Once again the plan to capitalize on the energy resources of Lulu Island did not come to fruition, but Mr. Fentiman used the gas from the well for decades, easily heating his big, drafty turn of the century house, running his water heater and stove using the apparently unlimited supply of gas from his property. The only complication encountered with the system was the fluctuation in gas pressure caused by changing tides, the gas having to force its way through the whole depth of water in the well.

Henry Fentiman’s gas well, shown here in the 1930s, kept his house heated, water hot and kitchen cooking for decades. City of Richmond Archives photograph    1978 36 21.

In 1969 with the gas well now capped off, the Fentiman property was expropriated for $70,000 by City Council. The buildings were demolished in the late 1970s. The farm was sub-divided and exchanged or used for other purposes, the northern part now home to the Steveston Buddhist Temple, the Lions Club Senior Citizen housing occupies a portion of the old property and the southern part, where the Fentiman house and gas well were located were absorbed into Steveston Park. The natural gas and oil deposits that created so much excitement in the early 20th Century are still there, captured in the earth below Lulu Island but are unlikely to be looked for again.

The Fentiman house and outbuildings in the late 1970s. The gas well was located in the small building between the house and the barn. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1986 54 8.

The North Arm of the Fraser – Industry in 1918

In October 1918, with the First World War nearly over, a group known as “The Joint Committee of the Boards of Trade of South Vancouver, Richmond and Point Grey” began to lobby the Federal Government to dredge the twelve miles of the North Arm of the Fraser between the river mouth and New Westminster. The shallow water in the North Arm at low tide caused fishing vessels, tugs and other vessels with a greater than three foot draft to run aground, stopping traffic to industries along its banks until higher water. This limited the amount of raw materials and product the industries could ship and discouraged new industry from building in the area. In an effort to motivate the government to their ends, the Joint Committee published a “memorial” for the attention of the Hon. F.B. Carvell, Minister of Public Works for the Conservative Government of the time, titled “The North Arm of the Fraser: Its Industries, Its Possibilities: A Plea for its Development”.

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The panoramic cover photo of the “memorial” shows some businesses in Marpole, which had changed its name from Eburne two years earlier. Shown are the Eburne Gravel Company and Eburne Sash, Door and Lumber, both at the foot of Hudson Street. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 1-5.

The document was signed by a diverse collection of politicians, industrialists, business owners, mariners and other citizens, all of them putting forth their justification for the dredging of the river. It also included a wonderful collection of photographs showing the North Arm and the industries along its shores in the early twentieth century.

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The first photo in the body of the memorial is this one of the North Arm Jetty. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 6-10.

The North Arm Jetty had been built and the mouth dredged some years before allowing vessels to enter the river on any stage of the tide and be protected from wind as they did so. Since then it was felt that the greater outflow caused lower levels farther up the North Arm and several shallow spots in the river preventing vessels with a deeper draft from proceeding up river until high tide. Logs would have to be placed into booming grounds down river where they could be picked up by smaller tugs rather than be delivered straight to the mills, increasing towing costs.

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The Huntting-Merritt Lumber Co. mill. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 19.

The Huntting-Merritt Lumber Company shingle mill was located at the foot of Granville Street on the Vancouver side of the river. They operated eleven shingle machines, day and night, and employed 100 men. Next door, the Eburne Sawmills Limited mill was having a difficult time handling logs and had to dredge their booming ground to allow the mill to keep employing 125 men at their mill.

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Logs bound for the Canadian Western Lumber Company are towed upstream toward the CP Railroad bridge. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 20.

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The Eburne Gravel Company Plant. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 21.

The Eburne Gravel Company sold builders’ supplies and coal and claimed that the difficulty of towing on the river cost them an additional 25 to 30 cents per ton for coal and 10 to 15 cents per yard of sand or gravel.

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The Graham Evaporating Plant at Marpole. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 22.

The Graham Evaporating Plant produced desiccated vegetables and green, dried, evaporated and canned apples, employing about 100 people. They handled about 25 to 30 tons of vegetables a day and employed 100 people. Most of their product was transported by “team” or rail but they felt that dredging the river would give them the opportunity to ship product by water, reducing costs.

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The Eburne Steel Company. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 23.

The Eburne Steel Company produced bar iron and steel ingots as well as other wartime necessities. They employed about 80 men. They were entirely dependent on rail transportation to receive their iron ore and ship out their products and said they would require tug and scow facilities to fully realize their business goals.

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The Dominion Creosoting and Lumber Limited lumber mill. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 24.

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The Dominion Creosoting and Lumber Limited creosoting plant. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 25-27.

The Dominion Creosoting and Lumber Limited operation in South Vancouver was also hampered by the problems of shipping their product to market. Their lumber mill employed 120 men. The creosoting operation had been idled because of a lack of creosote which was shipped from England. It was expected that when the war was over, this part of the plant would reopen and employ another 30 men. Their plant had the use of 1200 feet of river frontage. An improvement in shipping ability would greatly improve the profitability of their business. They claimed that theirs was only one of forty or fifty available industrial sites on the North Arm which could be developed if only the shipping issue could be rectified.

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The Canadian Western Lumber Company Limited mill at Fraser Mills is shown here with their fleet of tugs Joyful, Fearful, Cheerful, Gleeful and Dreadful. The Stern wheeler Senator Jansen is on the right and an unidentified small freighter loads on the left. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 36-40.

The Canadian Western Lumber Company Limited had a large operation at Fraser Mills, upriver from New Westminster. In their submission to the request for dredging they described the difficulty experienced by vessels going to their plant:

If the vessel and their tow enter the river at the beginning of the flood they can make it as far as Eburne as the force of the tide is spent and have enough water remaining to carry them through the Eburne Bridge, the Railway Bridge and Mitchell’s Bridge at Fraser Avenue. They then have to stay with their tows for 24 hours before being able to move again on the flood tide. On this flood they can make it as far as the New Westminster City Limits where they have to wait another 24 hours before proceeding to the mills past New Westminster.

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The Small and Bucklin Lumber Company Limited mill, New Westminster. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 11.

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The Brunette Saw Mill Company mill. In the background is the Iowa Lumber and Timber Company mill. City of Richmond Archives photo 1987 91 12.

The Small and Bucklin Lumber Company and the Brunette Sawmill Company each employed more than 200 men and both reiterated the complaints of other industries along the North Arm. Both plants were in New Westminster and had to wait for a couple of tides for logs to be delivered to their mills.

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The Dominion Shingle and Cedar Co. is shown here in a photo taken from the old Queensborough Bridge. The skyline of New Westminster can be seen behind. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 19 13.

The Dominion Shingle and Cedar Company was located “at Lulu Island Bridge” (the old Queensborough Bridge) and employed about 50 men.

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The Westminster Mill Company plant at New Westminster. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 14.

The Westminster Mill Company, manufacturers of red cedar shingles, operated two mills just below New Westminster which employed 200 men. Most of the logs used in the mill were brought up the river and delays in delivery due to low water levels seriously impacted their bottom line.

The arguments must have had some effect as dredging did take place on the North Arm in 1918. Reports indicate that a dredge tore out a two inch steel waterline that Jacob Grauer had installed from the mainland to supply water to his store and butcher shop as well as his neighbors at Eburne on Sea Island.

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The final image in the document shows a tug towing a boom up river and another tug bringing a barge down river past the wooded tip of Eburne Island as a BC Electric Railway Interurban Tram heads to New Westminster. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 91 15-18.

Arrested Development – Sturgeon Bank

Over the past century there have been many proposals to develop Sturgeon Bank for various uses. Projects included deep sea ports, landfills for garbage, airports and recreation areas. None of the developments got off the ground but it is interesting to see the vision that some people and organizations have had for the area over the years.

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The 1912 plan for Sturgeon Bank included rail and highway links as well as miles of dock space for shipping. City of Richmond Archives, accession 1264.

Probably the most ambitious of these proposals was put forward in 1912 by the Vancouver Harbour and Dock Extension Company. The plan included an enclosed deep sea port with six piers 1 1/2 miles long each, an enormous log pond, a direct highway link to New Westminster and a railway, complete with a five mile-long tunnel under Vancouver to the False Creek rail yards. The proposal was estimated to cost $30 Million.

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An artist’s conception of what the 1912 Sturgeon Bank Harbour development would have looked like. City of Richmond Archives, accession 1264.

A 1928 proposal suggested that Sturgeon Bank would be an ideal location for an airport featuring a large field for wheeled aircraft, two large enclosed seaplane basins, a pylon for mooring airships and a large terminal. Sea Island appears to remain undisturbed farmland.

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An artist’s conception from 1928 of the proposed Sturgeon Bank Aerial Depot shows a busy aerodrome with seaplane basins and airship mooring. City of Richmond Archives, photograph 1984 21 1.

Development proposals slowed down through the depression and war years but began again during the 1950s. In 1957 and 1958 proposals showed development on Sea Island as well as Lulu Island and for the first time included some green space.

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This 1957 proposal showed development of Sturgeon Bank on Lulu and Sea Islands with large commercial and industrial areas, docks on the North and South Arms and, for the first time, some recreational area with parks and a beach. City of Richmond Archives, Sturgeon Bank Reference File.

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This 1958 suggestion had room for airport expansion as well as industrial dock space. City of Richmond Archives, Industries Reference File.

In 1962 a project was brought forward by a company named Terra Nova Developments Ltd. suggesting that Sturgeon Bank would be an ideal place for a sanitary landfill. The concept would have had the twofold benefit of providing a place for disposal of household and industrial waste for the Lower Mainland and the creation of new land for use as industrial and/or recreational use.

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The 1962 proposal by Terra Nova Development Ltd. showed Sturgeon Bank plotted for land reclamation by use as a sanitary landfill. A deep sea shipping channel with turning basin is included in the drawing, allowing dock access for future industrial development. City of Richmond Archives, Industries Reference File.

The project would have seen covered barges filled with domestic refuse, hogfuel, millpond waste, demolition rubble harbour and river debris and other commercial tradewaste (excluding abattoir waste, distillery refuse and toxic chemicals) brought to the site at night and offloaded. The refuse would then be immediately covered with sand.

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The 1962 landfill project would have resulted in land reclamation for the purposes suggested on this aerial photo. The permissions from the Departments of Fisheries, Transport and Public Works had all been granted for this proposal. City of Richmond Archives, Industries Reference File.

In 1968 an enormous, but far greener project was proposed which would have seen the area transformed into a recreational paradise. A 1000 boat marina on the Middle Arm, three “lakes” with swimming beaches, two golf courses, a rowing channel between the Middle and South Arms, a nature preserve, wharves and a hotel complex were all envisioned as possible in this ambitious development. Proximity to the airport would have provided easy access for tourists who wanted to take advantage of the facilities and enjoy the panoramic views afforded by the location.

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A photograph of an artist’s model pf the proposed recreational development of Sturgeon Bank is shown in this photo. City of Richmond Archives, accession 2003 18.

None of these development proposals took hold, mostly due to a perceived lack of economic return for the investment, but you can be sure that a walk along the west dyke would have looked very different than it does today if any of these projects had gone forward.

Farming in the Round – The Ewen Cattle Barn

The Ewen Cattle Barn, also known as the Keur Barn, was one of Richmond’s more unusual heritage structures, a type of barn that was unique in British Columbia and rare in Canada. Although it looked round, the barn was in fact polygonal, having 12 sides. It was representative of a time when agricultural practices in Europe and North America were undergoing reform through mechanization, the development of modern farming practices and the redesign of farm structures for increased efficiency.

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This aerial view shows the Ewen Barn’s location in relation to the Lafarge Cement plant at upper right and the Annacis Channel. Lion Island, the location of Alexander Ewen’s Ewen Cannery, is just visible at top right. No. 9 Road runs left to right in the photo. (City of Richmond Archives Accession 1990 13)

One of the aspects of this “High Farming”, as it was called in agricultural journals of the day, was the design of appropriate animal housing, with a focus on efficient use of space to allow animals to be kept warm and well fed over the winter. Round or polygonal barns fit this requirement well, although their more complex structure and higher construction costs compared to conventional barns made them less appealing to the average farmer. As a result, they tended to be built by farm owners who had an interest in the new farming practices and who had the capital to buy and outfit large farms.

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An upper level plan of the barn shows the granary and ramp leading to the second floor space. (City of Richmond Archives 1990 13 6)

This was the case with the Ewen Barn. It was built by pioneer salmon cannery owner Alexander Ewen, who had purchased 640 acres of land in east Richmond in the 1880s. The barn was erected around 1893. It was built of red cedar, logged and cut in the Lower Mainland and used a combination of traditional heavy timber framing and light timber framing systems.

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A drawing showing a cross section view of the barn with its cattle stalls below and second floor space. A cow and a man are added for scale.(City of Richmond Archives 1990 13 5)

Unusually large for a barn of this type, it was 100 feet in diameter and 50 feet high with two floors, the lower floor being the stable floor with the capacity to house and feed 100 cattle and the upper floor used for hay and equipment storage. The stable floor took only one quarter of the building’s height, leaving three quarters of the interior volume available for storage. Cattle stalls were arranged in a circle around the outside of the lower floor and openings in the upper floor allowed feed to be dropped down to the hungry mouths below.

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A team of horses haul a wagon of hay with the Ewen Barn in the background in this image, ca. 1900. The barn’s roof is still fitted with the rooftop ventilator which was removed in the 1940s. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2009 2 19)

A rectangular granary was added to the outside  of the barn shortly after it was built, and a ramp was provided from the ground to the barn’s second floor so that wagons could be driven up to unload hay and feed, circling around the circumference of the structure and down the ramp again. Built before electrical power was available, daylight was the only illumination available. Fitted with few windows, open doors admitted most of the light. An eight foot wide roof ventilator mounted atop the barn’s huge conical roof admitted light to the upper floor, although this was removed during reroofing in the 1940s.

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The Ewen Barn in 1979. The rectangular granary and ramp to the second floor are clearly visible. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1984 4 58)

The farm served by the Ewen Barn became one of the largest beef producers in Richmond, with as many as 4500 cattle a year being fattened and sent to slaughter at its peak. It also grew to be the largest Jersey cow breeding  establishment on Lulu Island. The barn continued to house cattle until the mid 1970s when it fell into disuse and began to deteriorate.

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A view of the deteriorating barn, ca. 1996. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2003 17 1)

In an attempt to preserve the barn, work was started by the Richmond Heritage Advisory Committee, spearheaded by Committee member Graham Turnbull, which included detailed reports on the barn’s historical context, architectural details and history. In 1995, at the request of the Committee, the barn was designated a National Historic Site by the Canadian Historic Sites and Monuments Board. In 1998 the Committee contracted Architect and Heritage Advocate Robert Lemon to prepare a report and facilitate a Conservation Workshop aimed at exploring options for the barn’s preservation. It was determined that the building could be stabilized at a cost of $112,000. A non-profit Society, The Friends of the Ewen Barn Society, was formed in order to begin the process of raising the money for the stabilization work and to negotiate with the property’s owner.

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In February 1999 the old barn collapsed in a windstorm. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2006 24 57)

Unfortunately, nature cares nothing for the preservation of old barns and in February 1999 a windstorm caused the collapse of the barn, at the time believed to be the oldest structure in Richmond. The barn was a total loss, although some of it remains as part of another heritage structure in Richmond. Salvaged lumber from the barn was used to repair the wharves at Britannia Heritage Shipyards.