Shady Island – Man-Made by Nature

One of the best loved features of the Steveston waterfront, Steveston Island, known as Shady Island to locals, is something rare in an urban landscape, an untouched, undeveloped piece of natural land. Home to rare species of plants and many types of birds, the island was little more than a sandbar as far back as the 1920s. Rivers are natural island builders and the Fraser would have formed the island on its own but the process was accelerated by the interference of man, leading to the treed sanctuary we see today.

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In this image of the Steveston Waterfront from 1889 no island protects the waterfront. City of Richmond Archives, photograph # 2004 40 1.

In Steveston’s early days, a naturally formed sandbar protected the waterfront by diverting some of the river’s water away from shore. A natural, protected channel formed behind the bar, suitable for the moorage of fishing boats and the construction of canneries.

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A 1921 map based on a Dept. of Mines geographical survey shows the natural shape of Steveston/Shady Island at the time. A small, permanently dry island near the end of No.2 Road existed, along with a couple of small bars that showed at low tide. A submerged bar extended as far as No.1 Road. City of Richmond Archives, Reference Files.

As European immigration increased, swelling New Westminster’s population and increasing the size and amount of traffic on the river, it was necessary to keep the main river channel navigable by regular dredging. Spoils from dredging were dumped on the Steveston bar forming two distinct parts which were exposed at low tide and were connected by the submerged part of the bar. At high tide, smaller boats could still be taken across that part of the bar, although the route became closed after further dredging and natural build-up closed the gap.

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By 1947 the addition of wing dams and dredging spoils have begun the process of building the island we know today. City of Richmond Archives, Reference Files.

In the 1930s two wing dams were built on the south side of the island to keep sand from being washed back into the channel. Later, a long training wall was built just upstream. The effect of the wing dams and training wall were to divert the river’s water toward the main channel, increasing its rate of flow and helping to keep the channel clear. This also increased the rate of natural silt build-up on the island. The island now had an important function other than a place to deposit dredging spoils. It formed a well protected harbour along the Steveston waterfront.

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The island before the installation of the rock dam or the breakwater. The western end of the island is still little more than a sandbar. City of Richmond Archives, photograph # 1977 1 14.

In order to to prevent the infill of the harbour channel and to provide access to the island for potential moorage facilities, a high rock dam was built across the upstream entrance to the channel. While the dam was effective, it eliminated flow through the channel, allowing effluent from the canneries to settle, creating a foul smelling basin that infiltrated the whole area with the stench of rotting fish. Within two years the top part of the dam was removed, allowing the channel to flush with each high tide.

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The rock breakwater can be seen in this image, shortly after its completion, ca. 1953. Also visible are the wing dams and the rock dam at the east end of the channel. City of Richmond Archives, photograph # 1977 1 15.

The island’s form was further changed when a long rock breakwater was built. It extends along the length of the island like a spine and gives it the geographical profile it has today.

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This image looking west over Steveston Island, ca. 1976, shows the two wing dams on the left, the training wall at bottom and the rock dam at the entrance to the channel. The photo shows how water can flow through the channel at high tide, flushing clean water through while preventing silt from entering. The end of the rock breakwater, now mostly buried, can be seen extending past the western tip of the island. City of Richmond Archives, photograph # 1988 10 136.

Steveston Island today is a gem on the waterfront of the village. Having resisted development proposals that have arisen over the years, it remains undomesticated and accessible only at low tide across the rock dam, a fact that many people learn each year when they lose track of time and are stranded by the incoming tide. As other parts of Steveston and Richmond change under the pressure of development, let’s hope this little piece of man made nature remains the same.

What’s in a Name – Minoru Park

An oasis in Richmond’s City Centre, Minoru Park is home to a wide range of recreational and cultural facilities. Areas set up for a variety of field sports, a walking and running track, ice rinks and swimming pools, as well as museums, a library, archives, spaces for arts and crafts, senior’s facilities, etc. make the park a popular and well used part of life in our city. With the Japanese origin of the name Minoru, one might think that it connects to Richmond’s history of Japanese immigration, but in fact, the name comes to us from across the Atlantic Ocean.

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The Eida Family, clockwise from left, Tassa, Charlie, Claire, Kaiji and Minoru. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2009 23)

Between 1906 and 1910, Colonel William Hall Walker, a wealthy Scotsman, was having a Japanese garden built at his estate, the Tully Stud near Kildare in Ireland. The gardens were laid out and built by Japanese master gardener Tassa Eida, who did such a magnificent job that the gardens remain a popular tourist attraction today. A successful breeder of race horses, Walker named one of his colts Minoru after the son of his gardener. In 1907, Col. Walker leased a half-dozen yearlings to King Edward VII, including Minoru.

The horse Minoru had a profitable career in the King’s colours, winning at Epsom as a two-year-old and, ridden by jockey Bertie Jones, winning the Greenham Stakes and the 2000 Guineas as a three-year-old. His greatest triumph was in winning the 1909 Epsom Derby for the King, the first time a reigning monarch had won the coveted prize. The horse came in fourth at the Doncaster St.Leger Stakes, missing a chance to win the British Triple Crown. Two more wins that year finished his year with five wins in seven starts.

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King Edward VII (R) with Minoru after winning the Epsom Derby in 1909. Bertie Jones is the jockey. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2014 26 1)

In Richmond in 1909 a group of businessmen, Messrs. H. & T. Springer, Suckling, Lewis and Marpole, were building the Township’s first thoroughbred horseracing track on land they had purchased from Samuel Brighouse. In 90 days a mile-long oval, a grandstand, a clubhouse and a mile of barns were built at a cost of $75,000. In choosing a name for the track, they settled on the name of the horse that had just won the Derby for the King and Minoru Park Racetrack was born. Opening day at Minoru Park was attended by 7000 race fans.

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The Minoru Park Racetrack grandstand and clubhouse in 1909. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2001 9 24)

The track was used for many events in addition to horse racing. Minoru Park was used as a landing strip for aircraft, and was the location of the first flight by an airplane in Western Canada on March 25, 1910, the starting point for the first flight across the Rocky Mountains and the venue for air shows hosted by the Aerial League of Canada.

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On March 25, 1910 Mr. Charles K. Hamilton made the first aircraft flight in Western Canada, taking off in front of 3500 spectators at Minoru Racetrack. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 15 18)

Automobile racing exhibitions were also held at the track, hosting well-known drivers like Barney Oldfield, Bob Burman and “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff and cars like the famous “Blitzen Benz” and the “Romano Special”. Polo matches were held in the middle of the track, temporary boxing rings were set up for fans of the pugilistic arts and community events, such as May Day celebrations, were held there as well.

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Racing driver Harry Hooper in the “Vulcan Kewpie” Stutz, accompanied by silent film star Priscilla Dean, raced against an airplane piloted by Lieut. G.K. Trim at Minoru in an event hosted by the Aerial League of Canada on Dominion Day, 1919. The event included lots of aerial stunts and wing walking. A house was erected in the middle of the track so it could be blown up by bombs dropped from aircraft, but exploded on its own, much to the amusement of the crowd. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 69)

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Minoru Park closed until 1920 when it reopened and was renamed Brighouse Park. Brighouse Park Racetrack operated until 1941 when it closed for racing permanently, although it continued to be used as a training and boarding facility. The land was purchased by the British Columbia Turf and Country Club in 1945 and in 1958 the Municipality of Richmond purchased the property. The park reclaimed the name Minoru in 1960 to honour the long history of horse racing at the site. In 1962 the Mayor and Council purchased the Brighouse Estate, allowing the park to expand to its present size and develop into today’s complex of recreational parkland, buildings and services, a complex which is presently being upgraded with the construction of a new aquatic centre, sports facility and seniors facility.

This 1951 aerial view over the intersection of Granville Avenue and No.3 Road shows Brighouse (Minoru) Racetrack while under the ownership of the BC Turf and Country Club. Richmond Municipal Hall is on the corner in the same location as City Hall Today. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 5)

This 1951 aerial view over the intersection of Granville Avenue and No.3 Road shows Brighouse (Minoru) Racetrack while under the ownership of the BC Turf and Country Club. Richmond Municipal Hall is on the corner in the same location as City Hall Today. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 5)

Minoru the racehorse was retired to the Tully Stud in 1910 and in 1913 was sold to a Russian stud farm. The horse’s history after that is lost in the chaos of the Russian Revolution, although stories are told of Minoru being shot by an English officer to prevent him being abused by the Bolsheviks, or of a possible escape across Ukraine and Russia to the Black Sea and by ship to Turkey.

A print of Minoru from Vanity Fair, 1909. (City of Richmond Archives accession 2009 23)

A print of Minoru from Vanity Fair, 1909. (City of Richmond Archives accession 2009 23)

In 2009, in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the opening of Minoru Park, a bronze statue of Minoru was unveiled near the Richmond Cultural Centre. Created by artist Sergei Traschenko and donated to the City of Richmond by the Mila & Maureen Ilich Foundation, the statue was dedicated to the winning spirit of Richmond’s early pioneers of both Eastern and Western cultures and the men and women of the early thoroughbred racing industry in Richmond. The unveiling event was attended by many citizens and dignitaries, including Brian Eida, the son of Minoru (Jack) Eida who gave his name to a horse, which gave its name to a racetrack, which gave its name to a park.

The bronze statue of Minoru in Minoru Park. (City of Richmond Archives photograph)

The bronze statue of Minoru in Minoru Park. (City of Richmond Archives photograph)

 

Focus on the Record – Records of Early Parks and Recreational Facilities

The establishment of a Recreation Commission in 1954 and the subsequent incorporation of parks and recreation services into the administrative structure of municipal government under the direction of the Parks and Recreation Commission resulted in the rapid growth of recreational land, facilities, and services in Richmond.

Little League Tournament at Brighouse Park, 1961.

Little League Tournament at Brighouse Park, 1961. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1978 33 28

Prior to the establishment of the Commission, just over 20 acres of land in the municipality was parkland, much of which was maintained by local community associations and groups.  The Parks and Recreation Commission was initially established composed of elected members of both Council and School Board, which allowed for the coordinated development of school playing fields and municipal parks, simplified the planning of their locations, and reduced duplication of services.

Deed of Land. Purchase of part of present-day Minoru Park, 1958. City of Richmond Archives MR 66, File 1540

Deed of Land. Purchase of part of present-day Minoru Park, 1958. City of Richmond Archives MR 66, File 1540

In 1958, major plans and projects came to fruition under the direction of the Commission, the most significant being the purchase of land from BC Turf and Country Club, the owners of the Brighouse Park Race Track.  That land, first known as Centennial Park, is the southern part of what is now Minoru Park.  By 1959, Centennial Pool, Richmond’s first swimming pool, had been opened on the site.

Swim meet at Centennial Pool, 1963. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 77 26

Swim meet at Centennial Pool, 1963. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 77 26

Development there continued through the 1960s with the installation of a track, the building of a pavilion, arena, arts centre and library.

Opening of Minoru Sports Pavilion, 1964. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1978 32 40

Opening of Minoru Sports Pavilion, 1964. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1978 32 40

In 1970, the municipality acquired 217 acres for the Richmond Nature Park as the first of many new parks and community centre projects in that decade.

Aerial view of Richmond Nature Park, 1977. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1978 41 5

Aerial view of Richmond Nature Park, 1977. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1978 41 5

The City of Richmond Archives holds records documenting the growth of recreational opportunities in Richmond, including minutes of the Parks and Recreation Commission, bylaws and bylaw files relating to park acquisition and the building and maintenance of facilities, administrative and operational records of the early Recreation Department and the later Leisure Services Department, records of the Richmond School Board, and records of community associations and cultural and sports groups affiliated with the Commission.

[Note – this is an updated version of an article first published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Archives News]