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.

Dr. R. W. Large – Medical Missionary in Steveston

The Japanese Methodist Mission was established in Steveston in 1896 to serve the needs of the Japanese fishermen of the area, offering spiritual and moral guidance as well as providing medical assistance when needed. A small building was erected on the property of the Phoenix Cannery to house the mission.

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The Methodist Japanese Mission in Steveston, ca. 1898, with several early missionaries posing on the stairs. Rev. Thomas Crosby is at top right, (with beard), Dr. R.W. Large directly in front of him. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 8)

 

Almost as soon as it was ready, an outbreak of typhoid fever made it necessary to use the building as a hospital. The hospital operated for two years with the help of volunteer Japanese nurses.

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The Methodist Japanese Mission set up as a hospital ward. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 3)

In 1898 the Canadian Methodist Church hired Dr. Richard Whitfield Large ( 1874 – 1920 ) to work at the mission during the fishing season.

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Rev. R.W. Large, MD. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 1)

Dr. Large was the son of a Methodist Minister in Ontario and graduated from Trinity Medical College in Toronto.  The photographs shown in this post were taken during his two seasons in Steveston and offer a view into the primitive conditions encountered by doctors serving the small communities on the coast of British Columbia. They were donated to the Archives by a member of his family.

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Dr. and Mrs. Large in the Doctor’s office in Steveston. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 6)

Dr. Large married Bella Geddes in 1899 and she assisted him during that season in Steveston. The next year he was appointed to take charge of the Mission in Bella Bella and worked there until 1910 when he transferred to the Mission Hospital in Port Simpson. The R.W. Large Memorial Hospital in Bella Bella was named in his memory after his death in 1920.

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Dr. Large performs the first operation in Steveston. Mrs. Large assists as the anaesthetist. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 7)

In 1900, the Japanese Fisherman’s Hospital took over the medical needs of the Japanese community in Steveston and operated until 1942 when the internment of Japanese-Canadians took place.

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The Steveston Japanese Hospital took over the medical needs of the Japanese community starting in 1900. Image ca. 1920. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 14 10)

Vantage Point – Industry on the South Arm of the Fraser

Steveston Harbour showing canneries and fish boats, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 29

Steveston Harbour showing canneries and fish boats, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 29

A recent addition to the holdings of the City of Richmond Archives is an album of aerial photographs taken from 1959 to 1962 showing industry on the South Arm of the Fraser River, at New Westminster, and on the Upper Fraser.

The album was created by the New Westminster Harbour Commission with aerial photographs taken by George Allen.

Crown Zellerbach paper mill and wharf, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 28

Crown Zellerbach paper mill and wharf, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 28

Images from 1959 depict Steveston Harbour and the wharves of what were Richmond’s three major industrial plants on the South Arm: Crown Zellerbach Paper Mill, Canada Rice Mills, and LaFarge Cement.

Canada Rice Mills plant and wharf, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 27

Canada Rice Mills plant and wharf, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 27

The photographs were taken in the same year that the Deas Island (George Massey) Tunnel was opened.

La Farge Cement plant, showing Don and Lion Island, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 31

La Farge Cement plant, showing Don and Lion Island, 1959. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2010 87 31

The 52 photographs in the album are among a larger number of images that have been recently scanned as part of the ongoing Archives digitization program.