From Racetrack to Farmer’s Field – Early Aviation on Lulu Island

Richmond has had an association with flight since the first time an airplane took off under its own power in our province. Purpose-built airports did not exist in the early days. Aviators used existing facilities to operate their machines and farm fields, fair grounds and horse racing tracks served the purpose. The latter two were already equipped with grandstands to hold the crowds which gathered, each person paying to witness the fledgling technology of flight and perhaps the spectacle of a crash.

                                    Minoru Park – Brighouse Park Racetrack                                Exhibition Flying and Barnstorming

The place where most of the early milestones of flight in British Columbia took place was Minoru Park Racetrack. Opened in 1909, the mile-long oval occupied the property on which can now be found Richmond City Hall, the south part of Richmond Centre Mall, the Richmond Public Library and Cultural Centre, Richmond Arenas, Richmond Aquatic Centre and the present Minoru Park. On Friday, March 25, 1910, Charles K. Hamilton became the first person to fly an aeroplane in British Columbia when he lifted off in front of 3500 cheering spectators at Minoru Park.

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Charles K. Hamilton made the first airplane flight in British Columbia at Minoru Park Racetrack on March 25, 1910 in this Curtiss biplane. As can be seen in this photo, the aircraft had a hard landing on the infield of the track, bending one of the landing wheels, but was repaired and carried on with its demonstration. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 15 18)

In those dawning days of aviation when the mere sight of a man flying in a machine was thrilling enough to attract thousands of onlookers, Hamilton’s Easter weekend exhibition did not disappoint the crowds. On Friday, after swooping around the grandstand for about ten minutes, the plane swerved suddenly to the centre of the field and landed hard, causing some damage to the undercarriage. Quickly making some repairs, he got the engine started and continued his display.

On Saturday, Hamilton took off again, this time disappearing from view for about twenty minutes, flying to New Westminster where streetcars stopped to let the passengers watch. On his return to Richmond he landed briefly for a refreshment, then took two more flights, one in which he lost a race with a car.

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Hamilton takes to the air in the Curtiss biplane at Minoru Park Racetrack. City of Richmond Archives photograph RCF 116.

On Monday, the exhibition continued, this time featuring a competition with the racehorse Prince Brutus who was given a 3/8 of a mile handicap. The horse took full advantage of its head start, passing the post before the aircraft.

The aircraft that Hamilton flew was historic in its own right. Known as the Rheims Racer, it was built by Glenn H. Curtiss, a central figure in the history of aviation, to compete in the Gordon Bennett Race at Rheims, France on August 29, 1909. The aircraft proved to be superior to the other entrants in the race, a timed closed circuit flight of twenty kilometres, beating his nearest rival, Louis Bleriot, by five seconds to win the Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup and a large cash prize. Curtiss took part in several other meets and races in Europe before shipping the aircraft back to North America where it was leased to Hamilton for use in exhibition flying.

Exhibition flying took place regularly at Minoru Park Racetrack after the flights by Hamilton. In April 1911 a disappointing show was put on by Jack DePries and the Manning Brothers. Widely derided by spectators and the local press, the three day exhibition featured several minor crashes and not much actual flying by the trio, who apparently displayed little skill or experience at operating their aircraft.

In May the same year came test flights at Minoru Park of the Templeton – McMullen biplane, the first aircraft to be designed and built in Vancouver. The aircraft managed several short hops, hampered by an under-powered engine.

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Built in Vancouver by William and Winston Templeton and their cousin William McMullen, the Templeton-McMullen aircraft managed to make a few short hops during trials at Minoru Park Racetrack, but was limited by its under-powered engine. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 166 20A.

In April 1912, Billy Stark, BC’s first licensed pilot, flew at Minoru in a Curtiss biplane. During his exhibition program he carried the first aircraft passengers in British Columbia. The first was James T. Hewitt, sports editor of the Daily Province newspaper. Seated on the wing of the aircraft, which was not equipped for passengers, the plane took off from a farmer’s field near the racetrack, long enough to allow the craft to take to the air with the extra load. Hewitt described the experience as “like riding on the cowcatcher of an express locomotive”. Stark’s wife Olive became the first woman to be carried in an airplane in the province the same day.

In August of 1912 aviator and inventor James V. Martin flew his self designed aircraft at Minoru. In July of 1913 a popular aviation show, the Bennett Aviation Company came to Minoru Park. The show featured pilot John Bryant and his wife Alys McKey Bryant who would be the first woman to pilot a plane in British Columbia.

By 1914, aircraft were becoming a more familiar sight in the skies of BC and spectators were less willing to pay to see them. The beginning of World War I in July of that year limited exhibition flying as aviation took on a more serious purpose. The wartime advances in aviation technology and the need to train pilots who would be able to join the Royal Flying Corps led to the formation of flying schools in Canada, the second of which was organized in the summer of 1915 by the newly chartered Aero Club of British Columbia, and began training aviators at Minoru Park. The racetrack soon proved to be too small for flight training purposes and the operation was moved to the Milligan Farm at Terra Nova where a larger field was available. A small hangar building was erected and the flight school operated there until 1916, when it moved to Pitt Meadows.

Horse racing had been discontinued for the duration of the war at Minoru Park but aircraft continued to fly sporadically there. Once the war was over large numbers of modern aircraft and trained airmen came on the scene. The Aerial League of Canada was formed by returned airmen who had developed a love of flying and wanted to promote aviation in Canada. Branches formed around the country, including ones in Vancouver and Victoria. By the summer of 1919 a small hangar had been built and at least five aircraft were based at Minoru Park, mostly war surplus Curtiss JN-4 (Canucks). Commonly known as the Jenny, it was a plane which was the workhorse of the barnstorming era and was used to take the first steps into commercial aviation.

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This aerial view of Minoru Park Racetrack was taken during the Aerial League of Canada’s meet on May 31, 1919. Cars line the track and several planes can be seen on the ground as the BC Electric Railway’s Interurban Tram drops off spectators at the racetrack’s tram stop. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 35.

The league’s promotion of aviation raised flying in the public attention by putting on “barnstorming” demonstrations and accomplishing “firsts”. The first flight across Georgia Strait took place on May 13, 1919 when two members of the League took off from Minoru Park, landed in Victoria, had dinner at the Empress Hotel and then flew home. The Aerial League put on several displays at Minoru in 1919 featuring wing walking, aerial acrobatics and races between planes as well as races between a plane and a race car.

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Races between aircraft and horses or cars were a regular feature of aviation displays at Minoru Park. Here’s an image of driver Harry Hooper in the “Vulcan Kewpie” Stutz, accompanied by silent film star Priscilla Dean. Hooper raced an airplane piloted by Lieut. G.K. Trim at Minoru in an event hosted by the Aerial League of Canada on Dominion Day, 1919. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 69

On August 7, 1919 Ernest C. Hoy, lifted off from Minoru Park and flew into history as the first person to fly across the Rockies. The plane was fitted with an extra 12 gallon fuel tank to allow it to stay in the air for at least four hours. As navigational aids, Hoy used a pocket watch and a railway contour map and he carried 45 officially marked letters as well as a bundle of special edition “Vancouver Daily World” newspapers, making this the first Air Mail flight over the Rockies as well. Hoy landed at Vernon, Grand Forks, Cranbrook and Lethbridge where he could eat, fuel up and have his aircraft adjusted by experienced “air machine men” before making his final landing at Bowness Park in Calgary.

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Ernest C. Hoy stands beside his Curtiss “Jenny” at Minoru Park Racetrack before his historic flight across the Rockies to Calgary, August 4, 1919. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 20 3.

Another first for Minoru Park came at 11:25, October 17, 1920, when a DeHavilland DH9A touched down on the field completing the Canadian Air Board – Canadian Air Force Trans-Canada Flight. This undertaking which involved several different aircraft and pilots, started in Halifax and took 247 hours, almost twice as long as taking the train, but still an important milestone in Canadian aviation history.

Lansdowne Field – The Start of Commercial Aviation

Aviation developed rapidly through the 1920s. Sea planes became more common, not requiring large open fields for landings or takeoffs, but the Lower Mainland still had no purpose built airport for land based aircraft. The crunch came in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh refused to land at Vancouver during his North American tour following his trans-Atlantic flight, saying there was no airport worth landing at.

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This 1928 plan shows the BC Electric Railway line and the cross over to the Vancouver airport on Lulu Island. City of Richmond Archives Airport Plan 1928 ser. 25 file 3411-1.

At the same time the Dominion Airways Company was looking for a suitable place for a small airport from which to run their business. They found a field owned by a farmer named Summerfield along the north side of Lansdowne Park Racetrack. The City of Vancouver, who also wanted an airport, became interested in the property and leased it from Mr. Summerfield for use as an airfield in 1928.

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The Vancouver Airport building at Lansdowne Field, ca. 1929. With the buildings and tram wires at the east end of the runway and the poles and wires running down No.3 Road at the west end, pilots needed to take off and land as quickly as possible. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 4 52.

Lansdowne Field became British Columbia’s second licensed airport, opening officially in May 1929. While it was only intended to be a temporary facility until a permanent site could be designed and built on Sea Island, the airport became the hub of aviation in the Lower Mainland during its operation.

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Harry Smithson, Aviator and member of the  Aero Club of BC, stands next to a Dehavilland Moth at the Vancouver Airport near Lansdowne Park. In the background, the Alexandra Station of the BC Electric Railway can be seen, as well as a house which is still standing on the corner of Alexandra and Garden City Roads. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 4 49.

The field was home to several commercial aviation companies and flight schools run by the Aero Club of BC and Sprott Shaw College. In 1930, gliders were also used to teach elementary flight principles and give students practice at flight control. They were launched using an old Maxwell automobile and a four hundred foot towrope which could let them achieve an altitude of about 200 feet before cutting loose and landing at the airport.

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A primary glider is launched at the Vancouver Airport at Lansdowne. The grandstands of Lansdowne Park Racetrack can be seen in the background. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1989 19 8.

The Vancouver Airport on Lulu Island was not the ideal location for a centre of aviation, however it filled the requirements for the time it took to design and build the airport on Sea Island. None of the businesses which operated from Lansdowne Field survived the early years of the depression. Only the Aero Club of BC, subsidized by the government,  managed to make the move to the new facility.

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The Vancouver Airport on Lulu Island as it looked from the air. On the right, Lansdowne Park Racetrack can bee seen. Airport buildings and hangars can be seen at the east end of the runway. The track for the BC Electric Railway Tram and the intersection of Alexandra Road and North Railway Avenue (now Garden City Road) is visible at the top of the image, City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 166 2.

By 1930 construction was well underway at the new airport on Sea Island and after its opening on July 22, 1931 aviation activity ceased on Lulu Island. Since the 1930s the Vancouver Airport has grown and expanded to the large International facility it is today, owing its existence to those first flimsy craft that struggled into the air across the Middle Arm from where jumbo jets land today.

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An aerial view of the Vancouver Airport on Sea Island during its construction in 1931 shows a small development on a rural landscape. The airport has expanded occupy almost all of the land on the island. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 166 15.

 

 

 

Richmond 150 – From Bog to City

2017 marks the 150th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation, a time span which parallels the history of non-First Nations settlement in what is now Richmond.  Shown in this post are images from the City of Richmond Archives from each of the 15 decades from the 1860s to the present.

1867 to 1877

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Hugh McRoberts is generally acknowledged to have been the first European settler in what is now Richmond. This image, from an original pencil sketch done by “R.P.M.” for McRoberts’ daughter Jenny and enhanced by Vancouver Archivist Maj. J.S. Matthews, shows a representation of the McRoberts farm on Sea Island in 1862. The album with the sketch contains the earliest known use of the name Richmond. Hugh McRoberts lived in the house until 1873, expanding his farm to cover nearly half of Sea Island. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 3 4)

Starting with Hugh McRoberts there began a slow but steady migration of farmers to Lulu and Sea Islands. The settlement of Lulu Island started on the outside of the island and spread towards the interior due to the low lying, marshy land and peat bogs. Early settlers used the network of sloughs as transportation routes. In 1871 British Columbia entered Confederation and became a Province of Canada.

1877 to 1887

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The Municipality of Richmond was incorporated on November 10, 1879. The first council meetings were held in the house of Hugh Boyd but by 1881 our fledgling municipality’s first town hall was opened. Shown here ca. 1888, the building was erected at a cost of $488. It was also used as a school, as shown in this image. Posing for the photo are William Garratt, Leo Carscallen, Peter Carscallen, James Sexsmith, Mr. McKinney, Jack Smith, George Sexsmith, William Mellis, Frances Sexsmith, Anna Sexsmith, Pearl Robinson, Kate Smith, Grace Sweet, Mae Vermilyea and Anna Noble. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 77)

Richmond continued to grow over the next decade as more people acquired land and homesteaded. Many pioneer families arrived during this time period, and in 1879 a group of them petitioned the BC Government to incorporate the area as the Municipality of Richmond. On November 10, 1879 the Municipality was incorporated and began the process of organizing road construction and dyking and drainage, now paid for by the collection of taxes. A new Town Hall was built on land which now forms the corner of Cambie and River Roads and the first school district was formed, with the Town Hall acting as the schoolhouse. In 1882 the first cannery was built in Steveston beginning our long fishing industry heritage. In 1885 the Letters Patent from 1879 were revoked and new ones issued to incorporate the Corporation of the Township of Richmond, redrawing the municipal boundaries to include all the islands in the North and South Arms of the Fraser River and ceding Queensborough to New Westminster.

1887 to 1897

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The first bridge to Richmond was built in 1889. The Marpole Bridge was actually two spans, one across the North Arm between Marpole and Sea Island and the other from Sea Island to Lulu Island. This image shows a crew of bridge builders and painters posing on the North Arm section, ca. 1888. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 2 1)

By 1887 Richmond’s population had grown to 200-300 people. In 1889 the first North Arm bridge was built to Richmond, from Eburne on the Vancouver side of the River to Sea Island and then a second span to Lulu Island. For the first time there was a route to and from Richmond that did not involve getting in a boat, at least while the bridge was in service and not closed to allow for shipping traffic or suffering damage from a collision by shipping or ice. Communities developed in Steveston, London’s Landing and Eburne. Japanese immigration was underway, filling labour needs in the fishing industry. The first police constable was employed by the Municipality.

1897 to 1907

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Steveston was booming in the 1890’s when this image was taken (either 1891 or 1895). Stores, hotels and other services catering to workers in the fishing industry made for a vibrant business district and encouraged more people to settle in the area. The sign displayed on the left in this photo advertises town lots for sale by auction at the opera house at 2PM. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 75)

By 1897 there were 23 canneries operating on the Fraser River in Richmond. The agricultural industry was performing well too with Richmond acting as the lower mainland’s breadbasket, providing vegetables, produce , dairy and beef products to the growing cities across the river. Into this successful mix came the BC Electric Railway Co. in 1905, providing fast and efficient freight and passenger service from Vancouver to Steveston.

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The B.C. Elelctric Railway Company Interurban Tram provided an efficient, regular service to Vancouver for freight and passengers. Eventually there were 20 stations on Lulu Island servicing residents and businesses. The tram ran for more than 50 years. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 12 8)

1907 to 1917

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In 1909 Minoru Park Racetrack was opened making Richmond a destination for horse racing fans. The track had its own railroad siding and special trams operated on race days bringing in thousands of people for the events. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2001 9 24)

In 1909, the opening of Minoru Park Racetrack made Richmond a popular destination for race fans. Named for King Edward VII’s Epsom Derby winning horse the track had its own siding on the BC Electric Railway’s Interurban Tram line with thousands of people travelling to Richmond for races and creating a new income stream for the city and entrepreneurs. The track also became a centre for aviation in the Lower Mainland, being the location of the first flight of an airplane in Western Canada, the starting point of the first flight over the Rockies, etc.

Richmond’s population continued to grow and by 1914 the Bridgeport area was home to a flour mill, a shinglemill, an iron bar mill, the Dominion Safe Works, a sawmill and many residents. The advent of World War I in 1914 put the nation and Richmond on a war footing and while industries important to the war effort grew, Minoru Park was closed until after the war. Many young men left Richmond to join the battle, 25 were never to return.

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On March 25, 1910 Charles K. Hamilton made the first airplane flight in Western Canada at Minoru Park Racetrack, starting Richmond’s long association with flight. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 15 18)

1917 to 1927

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The 1918 Steveston fire devastated the fishing town. Shown here is some of the destruction with the burned out shell of the Hepworth Block at centre. Buildings on the north side of Moncton Street were saved. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 5 2)

On May 14, 1918 Steveston burned. There  had been fires before but the 1918 fire resulted in the loss of most of the buildings between No. 1 Road and 3rd. Ave. south of Moncton St., including three canneries, three hotels and numerous businesses. Approximately 600 Japanese, Chinese and First Nations workers were made homeless. Total damages amounted to $500,000.

After the end of the World War I life returned to normal in Richmond. In 1920 a new Town Hall was built at the corner of Granville Avenue and No.3 Road, replacing the original one which had burned in 1912. The racetrack also reopened in 1920 with a new name. Now known as Brighouse Park Racetrack it was joined by Lansdowne Park Racetrack in 1924. The opening of the second racetrack in Richmond allowed double the amount of races to be held and still stay within the restrictions placed on the racing industry by the BC Government.

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Richmond’s new Town Hall opened in 1920 on property next to Brighouse Park Racetrack which reopened in 1920 after the end of the war. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 97 1)

1927 to 1937

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The program for the official opening of the Vancouver Airport on Sea Island in July of 1931. (City of Richmond reference files)

In 1929, in a farmer’s field just north of Lansdowne Park Racetrack, BC’s second licenced airfield opened. The Vancouver Airport was a temporary construction consisting of a grass field with some structures, hangars and a terminal building close to the Alexandra Road Interurban station. It was replaced in 1931 by the modern new Vancouver Airport on Sea Island.

The Richmond Review published its first newspaper on April 1, 1932. The paper would continue to publish “in the interests of Richmond and community” until its demise in 2015. The Great Depression was well underway when Reeve Rudy Grauer came up with a plan to help people who could not keep up with their property taxes. When back taxes or water bills could not be paid, the land could be sold to the Municipality. As long as the property owner could pay something toward the debt each year the land could not be sold to another owner with the result that not one property was lost due to unpaid taxes in Richmond during the depression.

1937 to 1947

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Members of the Steveston Air Raid Protection unit pose here on the fire engine they built in 1943. The unit was the first in Canada. Men have been identified as: (front) Chief William Simpson, (left to right) George Milne, Gul Gollner, Allie McKinney, unidentified, Austin Harris, Bill Glass, Jack Gollner, Milt Yorke and Harry Hing. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 31 57)

This decade was dominated by World War II. The airport on Sea Island was designated for direct military use, including elementary flight training for Air Force Pilots as well as Air Force use. Boeing Canada erected a plant for the construction of patrol bombers for the war effort.

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The Boeing Canada Plant on Sea Island produced 362 Consolidated PBY long range patrol bombers, known as Catalinas or Cansos, during the war. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 199 1)

The internment of Japanese Canadians and their removal from the coast in early 1942 changed the face of Richmond, especially in Steveston which lost 80 percent of its population. On Sea Island the community of Burkeville was built to provide housing for workers employed at the Boeing Canada Aircraft plant and their families. Once again young Richmond men signed up for the armed forces and 36 did not come home.

1947 to 1957

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Post-war development in Richmond resulted in the growth of commercial buildings in the Brighouse area. Shown here in 1948, the corner of No.3 Road and Granville Avenue shows commercial buildings on the east side of No.3 Road near the Municipal Hall. The BC Electric Railway’s Brighouse Station made access to the area convenient and before long the east side of the street was lined with stores and services. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 16 1)

Post war development saw Richmond’s population grow. The Brighouse area developed into a commercial hub and subdivisions developed to house families moving to the area. Burkeville became part of Richmond, no longer a worker’s housing complex. In order to serve the rising population, theatres, bowling alleys, swimming pools and other entertainment services were built. In 1948 one of the worst floods in memory occurred in the Fraser Valley. While serious damage was done in many areas, Richmond came out well with only one breach of the dyke 100 yards east of the rice mill.

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The Broadmoor Subdivision, looking west from No.3 Road in 1953 is only one of many residential areas that came under construction in the 1950s. New building to house Richmond’s rapid population growth boomed through this time whether as Veteran’s Land Act areas or by commercial developers. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 1 59)

1957 to 1967

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The construction of the Oak Street Bridge in 1957, and later the Deas Island Tunnel had a greater effect on the growth of Richmond’s population than any other event to that date. Now easily accessible from Vancouver and with a direct route to the United States, more people and more businesses moved to Richmond. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 36 2 23)

In 1957 the Oak Street bridge was built giving fast and easy road access to Richmond from Vancouver and making the Municipality even more desirable as a place to live and to start a business. A new City Hall was opened the same year in the same location as the old one.  With the new ease of access and bus service expanding all around the region, the BC Electric trams were made redundant and the Marpole to Steveston line saw its last run in 1958.

1839 Brighouse

The last run of the Marpole to Steveston tram, shown here at Brighouse Station, happened on February 28, 1958. It was the last Interurban Tram operating in BC. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1839 Brighouse)

The Municipality purchased the Brighouse Estates in 1962, the deal providing land for Minoru Park, the Richmond Hospital and industrial land. Richmond’s retail options increased in 1964 with the opening of Richmond Square Shopping Centre, built on part of the old Brighouse/Minoru Racetrack. In 1966 the Hudson’s Bay Company announced plans to build a store in Richmond which, in later years, would be joined to Richmond Square and become known as Richmond Centre Mall. The Richmond General Hospital opened on February 26, 1966 providing much needed local care for residents.

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The new Richmond Municipal Hall, under construction in the background of this photo, was opened in 1957. The old hall was demolished once the new one was ready to be occupied. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 42 3 47)

1967 to 1977

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The Richmond Arts Centre opened in 1967, one of several projects to mark Canada’s 100th Anniversary. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2004 11)

Canada’s 100th Birthday was in 1967 and like most communities around the country Richmond marked the occasion with commemorative projects. The Richmond Arts Centre was one of these, along with the placement of Minoru Chapel in Minoru Park, and a Pioneers Luncheon. In 1968 the Vancouver International Airport’s new $32 Million terminal opened. In 1972 the first two towers of Richmond’s first high rise development were ready for occupation, the third tower opened in 1973.

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Mayor Gil Blair speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Lansdowne Park Mall. Built on the site of the horse racing track, the mall would open in September 1977. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2006 7 12)

After much controversy a new shopping mall project was started on the grounds of the old Lansdowne Park Racetrack. Woodwards would be the anchor store for the new Lansdowne park mall. While the newest of Richmond’s retail outlets was under construction its oldest was lost in 1976 when Grauer’s Store shut down after 63 years of service to the community, a victim of airport expansion and bureaucracy.

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Richmond’s oldest retail outlet, Grauer’s Store on Sea Island, closed it’s doors forever on May 31, 1976. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1996 13 5)

1977 to 1987

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1979 was the 100th Anniversary of the incorporation of Richmond and several projects and celebrations were planned to mark the event. The Corporation of the township of Richmond adopted the “Child of the Fraser” Coat of Arms as its official symbol. (City of Richmond Archives image)

On January 1, 1977 a new street address system was introduced in Richmond with all residents and businesses adding a zero to the end of even numbered address and a one to the end of odd numbered addresses. In 1979 Richmond’s 100th Anniversary was marked by celebrations and commemorative projects including hosting the BC Summer Games, a history book, “Richmond: Child of the Fraser”, and the adoption of a new coat of arms and official seal.

Through this decade Richmond continued its expansion with the construction of hotels, businesses, temples and churches and community buildings such as the Gateway Theatre and Minoru Senior’s Centre. Improvements to other community buildings were made, such as a roof for the Minoru swimming pool and a second ice rink. In 1986, after 20 years of planning, the Alex Fraser Bridge was opened connecting Richmond to Surrey and Delta.

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The Gateway Theatre is a mainstay of Richmond’s arts and culture community. It opened on September 19, 1984. (City of Richmond Archives accession 1988 121)

The Municipality purchased the land at Garry Point from the Bell-Irving family in 1981, with the intention to make it a park and to prevent development of the site. The racial demographic of Richmond began to change in the 1980s as an influx of immigrants from Hong Kong began, many making the Municipality their home.

1987 to 1997

Fantasy Garden World opened in Richmond on March 5, 1987. Owned by BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm, the facility operated for many years as a tourist attraction. Work began on a $55 million project to renovate Richmond Square and Richmond Centre malls. The project would result in the joining of the two malls as a new Richmond Centre Mall.

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Opened on March 5, 1987 Fantasy Garden World was a Richmond tourist destination, and a catalyst for political controversy. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2009 16)

In May 1990 Richmond asked the Provincial Government to grant the Municipality status as a City. New Letters Patent were received designating Richmond Municipality, known as “The Corporation of the Township of Richmond”, to be called the “City of Richmond”.

Richmond continued to grow. Ground was broken on Richmond’s new Library and Cultural Centre in 1991, the Riverport area was developed with the construction of the Riverport Ice Rink Complex and the Watermania Aquatic Centre. The Ironwood Mall project was approved. Several Asian style malls were built to serve the rising numbers of immigrants from Hong Kong and Mainland China. The Aberdeen Centre, Yaohan Centre, Parker Place, President’s Plaza and Fairchild Square marketed themselves under the name “Asia West”.

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Richmond’s new Minoru Park Plaza and Library and Cultural Centre opened on January 16, 1993. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 39 6 685)

1997 to 2007

Richmond marked the new millennium with the opening of the new City Hall on May 20, 2000.

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Richmond City Hall opened on May 20, 2000. It is believed to be the first municipal building in BC to use a Feng Shui consultant in its design. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2007 7)

In 2002 the Tall Ships came to Steveston resurrecting images of 100 years ago on the waterfront when sailing ships loaded canned salmon. The city continued is growth, cranes becoming a normal sight on the sky line as more and higher buildings were erected.

The River Rock Casino opened on land once occupied by the failed Bridgepoint Market. The facility, with its resort hotel, opened on June 24, 2004. Construction on the largest project to date in Richmond, the Olympic Speed Skating Oval, began in November of 2006.

Oval Construction

Construction began on the Olympic Oval in November of 2006. (City of Richmond Archives – B. Phillips photograph)

2007 to 2017

On August 17, 2009 the first passenger rail system since the demise of the BC Electric Interurban line began service in Richmond. The Canada Line rapid transit line connected Richmond City Centre and YVR to Downtown Vancouver.

The big story of 2010 was the Winter Olympic Games. Richmond’s Olympic Oval was a venue for the speed skating events and the community celebration site at Minoru Park, known as the O Zone, was crowded with spectators for concerts, events and to visit the Holland House in Minoru Arenas for a visit or a drink and a meal.

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Crowds watch the big screen at the O Zone as Sydney Crosby is interviewed after the winning goal for Canada in the Gold Medal Hockey game. (City of Richmond Archives – W. Borrowman photo)

Richmond’s growth continued through this decade, building increased with highrise construction changing the city skyline dramatically. More shopping centres opened, MacArthur Glen Outlet Mall brought retail back to Sea Island and Central at Garden City had space for a Walmart Supercentre as well as many other merchants. The Railway Greenway was opened, creating a biking and walking corridor along the old Interurban line to Steveston. The Garden City Lands, formerly held by the Department of National Defense, have been purchased by the City and are being transformed into an urban farming area and natural bog land park.

Work has begun on a bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel, now nearing its 60th anniversary, a structure that will increase traffic flow through Lulu Island and may bring more people to live here. The City’s population has exceeded 200,000 and is growing still.

The pioneers who made a living from the boggy soil and running waters of Richmond would have had little concept of the city that has grown in the past fifteen decades. Who knows what the next fifteen will bring?

Island City by Nature – Richmond’s Islands

Richmond is an island city. Built on land created by the action of the Fraser River, our city stands entirely surrounded by flowing waters which continue to deposit land on our shores. Richmond’s boundaries have changed several times over its history but were set in its final configuration in 1934. At that time 26 named islands were included inside our municipal limits. Many were and remain little more than tidal marshes but others became the foundation of today’s city with its agricultural, industrial and residential land.

When Richmond was first incorporated in 1879, its boundaries were defined by the shorelines of Sea and Lulu Islands. This included the Middle Arm and its islands and also  the part of Lulu Island which is now Queensborough,  part of the City of New Westminster.

In 1885 the Corporation of the Township of Richmond extended its boundaries. They now followed the north shore of the North Arm and included all the islands in it. The southern boundary of Richmond was also extended out into the South Arm of the River adding many of the islands there to the Municipality. At this same time, Queensborough was ceded to New Westminster.

In 1910 the boundaries were moved again when the City of South Vancouver extended its boundaries into the North Arm. The new border extended 200 feet south of the low water mark following the shore and reduced Richmond’s area accordingly.

In 1934 a newly enacted bylaw extended Richmond’s boundaries to include ” all the area, lands, foreshore and lands covered by water” lying within its boundaries. The Richmond Municipal Boundaries Extension Bylaw defined the present limits of our city which includes these islands.

1935 Aerial Mosaic of Richmond

The 1935 Aerial Mosaic of Richmond shows Richmond with all of the 26 islands as they were when the Municipal boundaries were set. City of Richmond Archives image.

Lulu Island – The largest island in the group and home to most of Richmond’s population, industry and agriculture, Lulu Island was named for San Francisco actress, singer and dancer Lulu Sweet, as reported in another posting in this blog. (See https://richmondarchives.ca/2016/09/22/whats-in-a-name-lulu-island/  for more information. ) The island was originally two islands, separated by a channel which flowed northwest from Annacis Island in the South Arm to Mitchell Island in the North Arm. The channel was formed by three large sloughs, the main one being known today as Bath Slough.

Sea Island – Richmond’s second largest island, Sea Island was probably named by Captain George Henry Richards who included the name in charts dating from the 1850s. Acknowledged to be the location of the first European homestead in Richmond, Sea Island was once mostly farm land and home to the small communities of Eburne, Burkeville and the Cora Brown subdivision. The island was also the location of the Vancouver and Acme Canneries and, before the Second World War, a large Japanese community. ( See https://richmondarchives.ca/2015/01/06/japanese-canadians-on-sea-island/  for more.) Selected as the location of the Vancouver Airport, which opened in 1931, the continuing expansion of the facility has resulted in the expropriation of agricultural and residential land on the island. The community of Burkeville is the only remaining population centre and farming has been greatly reduced.

The North Arm

Iona Island – Located at the north west end of Sea Island at the mouth of the North Arm, Iona Island is the present home of the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Iona Beach Regional Park. Once little more than a large sand bar, the island was farmed early in its history. It is connected to Sea island by a causeway and was once considered as a potential location for a ferry terminal.

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Iona Island, shown here ca. 1930, is now connected to Sea Island by a causeway and is the home of a large sewage treatment plant and a regional park. The Richmond-Vancouver boundary runs down the middle of the North Arm Channel at the centre of this photo. On the right is Deering Island on the Vancouver side of the channel. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 166 12.

Woods Island – This island, located on the north side of Sea Island, is the present day home of McDonald Beach Park with its boat launch, picnic areas and off leash dog park and is hardly a separate island anymore.

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This detail from the 1935 Aerial Mosaic shows the islands surrounding Sea Island. In the North Arm, left to right, are Iona Island, Wood’s Island (tucked in close to the north shore of Sea Island) and Richmond Island, close to the Vancouver side of the channel. In the Middle Arm, left to right, are Swishwash Island, Dinsmore and Pheasant Islands and Duck Island, where the North and Middle Arms join. City of Richmond Archives image.

Richmond Island – Also known as Jimmy’s Island, Richmond Island was the home of the Richmond Cannery from 1882 until around 1909. The island was also home to a hermit, a black man named Jimmy, who might have lived in one of the abandoned cannery buildings. Early Geological maps also indicate that the island was farmed, divided into four lots protected by dykes. Today the island is home to a marina and boatyard as well as a bar and grill. Richmond island is only accessible from the Vancouver side of the river via West 75th Avenue and Bently Street, across a causeway.

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The next three islands were once separate, but have all been joined and form what is now known as Mitchell Island. These islands were all named for the early pioneers who settled or farmed them.

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This detail shows the three islands which make up the present Mitchell Island, left to right, Eburne Island, Twigg Island and Mitchell Island. City of Richmond Archives image.

Eburne Island – Eburne Island was named for Harry Eburne who lived there for a period of time. Mr. Eburne also gave his name to the community which grew up on both sides of the bridge to Sea Island. The island was also known as Anderson Island.

Twigg Island – Twigg Island was also farmed by it’s namesake J.J.C. Twigg.  Mr. Twigg served as a Richmond Councillor in 1905 and 1906. Twigg Island once joined the two spans of the Fraser Street Bridge which connected Fraser Street in Vancouver to No,5 Road in Richmond.

Mitchell Island – Named for Richmond pioneer Alexander Mitchell, this island is the largest of the three which now form a single large island in the North Arm. A large island with a lot of industrial activity on it, it is accessible using the Knight Street Bridge.

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Tree Island – Probably named because of the trees which covered it, Tree Island is located in the North Arm just west of the border with Queensborough. The island is more of a peninsula now, infilled at its east end and connected to Lulu Island, but retains its name due to its occupation by the Tree Island Steel Company which has been in operation there for more than 50 years.

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Tree Island, shown here ca. 1960, is the location of the Tree Island Steel Co. and is now more of a peninsula of Lulu Island than a separate Island. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1983 6 78.

 

The Middle Arm

Swishwash Island – Little more than a tidal marsh, in the late 1880s Swishwash Island became the location of the Sea Island Cannery which burned to the ground in 1899. It was owned and operated by Alexander Ewen and Daniel Munn and pilings from the cannery can still be seen. Dredging spoil enlarged and raised the island to its present state in the 1950s. BC Packers owned Swishwash for many years and donated it to the Nature Conservancy of Canada when the company divested its fishing industry properties.

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At the lower right in this aerial photo, part of Swishwash Island is visible with the pilings of the Sea Island Cannery visible at its tip. Dinsmore and Pheasant Islands are also visible in the channel to the right of the houses of Burkeville. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 5 9.

Dinsmore Island – Dinsmore Island, also known as Brough Island, was located in the Middle Arm off the southeast corner of Sea Island. It was named for pioneer John Dinsmore who farmed the island and was an owner of the Dinsmore Island Cannery. The cannery was built in 1894 and was demolished in 1913. The Island was farmed for many years by several owners but by 1952 had become a part of Sea Island due to infilling of the channel. The name is remembered in the Dinsmore Bridge which connects Lulu Island to Sea Island via Gilbert Road, the north end of which sets down on the former island.

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This aerial view of Burkeville, ca. 1944, also shows Pheasant Island and Dinsmore Island connected to Sea Island by a bridge. Both Islands were farmed during their history. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 84.

Pheasant Island – Pheasant Island was a small island which was just off the north end of Dinsmore Island. Also used as farmland, it was absorbed by Dinsmore Island by channel infilling and thence into Sea Island.

Duck Island – (Middle Arm) – One of two islands inside the Municipality with the name, Duck Island was located between Lulu and Sea Islands at the north end of the Middle Arm of the river. The bridge to Sea Island passed over the island whose channel was used for log storage, wood processing mills being located nearby. A failed attempt to rezone Duck Island as parkland was made in the 1950s after it was approved for dredging spoil disposal. By 1972 the island had been absorbed by Lulu Island and is the present location of the Richmond Night market, a parking lot and the parkade for the River Rock Casino Resort. The last vestige of the island can be seen in the small slough and marsh area near the casino which once formed part of the Duck Island Channel.

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Duck Island is shown here, ca. 1919, supported part of the bridge to Eburne on Sea Island. Its channel was used as a log storage pond. The island has been completely absorbed into Lulu Island. City of Richmond Archives Accession 2001 26.

 

The South Arm

Don Island – Also known as Oikawa Island, Don Island is located in the South Arm of the river west of Annacis Island. It was settled, as was Lion Island, in 1902 by a group of Japanese fishermen and their families, led by entrepreneur Jinsaburo Oikawa,  who supplied fish to and worked at the Ewen Cannery.

Lion Island – Also known as Sato Island, Lion Island was the location of Alexander Ewen’s Cannery, for many years the largest on the Fraser River. The cannery, built in 1876, made “Lion Brand” salmon well known around the British Empire. The cannery closed in 1930, but Lion and Don Islands remained inhabited until the last of the Japanese families were removed in the 1942 internment.

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This aerial view from 1959 shows Lion and Don Islands in the Annacis Island Channel. The Ewen Cannery can be seen on the tip of Lion Island. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2010 87 31.

Whitworth Island – Also known as Gilmore Island, Whitworth Island is separated from Lulu Island by Finn Slough.

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The next eight islands are located in what is known as the Ladner Reach of the South Arm of the Fraser River. All formed by alluvial deposits from the river, they have been affected by the erection of the Woodward Training Wall, which directs the flow of the river to stabilize the south bank, and by the dyking and farming of some of them. The islands fall within the Agricultural Land Reserve and are under the administration of the BC Ministry of Environment as the South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area.

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This detail from the 1935 Aerial Mosaic shows Richmond’s islands in the Ladner Reach. On the right (marked) is Kirkland Island with Rose Island to its left. Rose Island is connected to No.1 Island by the white line of the Woodward Dam which continues down the channel as the Woodward Training wall, through Woodward’s Island. South of Kirkland Island is Williamson Island, then Gunn Island and in the most southerly part of the channel is Barber Island. South of Rose Island is Frenchie’s Island and Duck Island. City of Richmond Archives image.

Kirkland Island – Kirkland Island, named for Ladner resident John Kirkland, is a tidal marsh in the South Arm of the river, owned by the Nature Trust of British Columbia. The island has been dyked and farmed for many years.

Rose Island – Also conserved by the Nature Trust, Rose Island had been dyked and farmed. The channel between Rose and Kirkland Islands has filled in to the point that the two islands are often called Rose-Kirkland Island.

Williamson Island – Williamson Island is a small island south of Kirkland which is also conserved by the Nature Trust. It has been dyked and farmed,

Gunn Island – Another island which was dyked and is farmed, Gunn Island is south of Williamson Island.

Frenchie’s Island – A small privately owned island, Frenchie’s Island is located between Rose and Duck Islands.

Duck Island – (South Arm) – The second island with the name, Duck Island is west of Gunn Island and roughly in the centre of the estuary. An old cannery was located on the island and the pilings can still be seen.

Barber Island – Named for Alfred and Charles Barber, who acquired the island in 1888, Barber Island is the most southerly of Richmond’s islands in the estuary.

No.1 Island – This is a very small island north of Duck Island. The Woodward Dam, part of the Woodward Training Wall, spans the channel between No.1 Island and Rose Island and then runs from No.1 along Woodward’s Island for a distance of 3.7 km.

Woodward’s Island – Named for Nathan and Daniel Woodward who owned the island. Woodward’s Island is the most westerly of Richmond’s South Arm estuary islands.

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Steveston Island – Originally no more than a sand bar, Steveston Island, also known as Shady Island, was formed by the dumping of dredging spoil and the erection of training structures in the river. It protects the Steveston waterfront. (For more about Steveston Island see https://richmondarchives.ca/2017/03/30/shady-island/)

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Probably the last of Richmond’s Islands to be formed, Steveston (Shady) Island was not much more than a semi-submerged sandbar before dredging spoil and river training devices added to its growth. City of Richmond Archives photo 1988 10 136.

Richmond’s original 26 islands have been reduced due to infilling to 19 which, arguably, could still be referred to as islands, still a respectable amount and more than enough for Richmond to qualify as an “Island City by Nature” and a “Child of the Fraser”.