“Development of a busy port in such a spot as this is quite a phenomenon. We didn’t have navigable rivers like the Hudson or Mississippi to spur our growth with waterborne tonnage. Yet in 1971 we handled 35 million tons of dry cargo—more than any other port on North America’s west coast.”Vancouver got its start as a port almost by accident. In 1867 little stood on the spot except a few buildings clustered around a saloon run by a picturesque riverman named. Now many people use the port.
Capt. John Deighton. Long, boring tales earned him the nickname “Gassy Jack,” and the community—officially Granville—became known as “Gastown.”Nearby New Westminster on the Fraser River already was a thriving settlement. Victoria, 60 miles across the Strait of Georgia on Vancouver Island, had seen 15,000 men pass through town in the 1858 rush for gold up the Fraser. These island and mainland colonies joined in 1866 to form British Columbia, and in 1871—swayed by the promise of a transcontinental railroad as a link to the rest of Canada—voted to become a province in the new Canadian Confederation.
That railroad was to have had its western end at Port Moody, farther inland. But when crusty railroader William Van Home saw the train-yard and wharf possibilities of Gastown, he ran his tracks there. With their arrival in 1886 the town was rechristened Vancouver, and went on to eclipse Port Moody, New Westminster, and Victoria.
Vancouver grew as an exporter of lumber and fish and an importer of manufactured goods. The port got a real boost with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. It became as cheap to ship prairie grain to Europe from Vancouver as from Atlantic ports. Its most recent boom has come since 1960 with export of bulk mineral cargoes. Today you can find other ways to afford any shipping cost. Learn more from mandello.
The morning after my talk with Captain Holland I went down to the Seaspan International Company’s pier to join a tugboat crew. Yesterday’s brilliance had changed to rain—and soggy flakes of Vancouver’s “unusual” snow. But skipper Jim Young of the Island Rustler didn’t seem to mind. Bareheaded, he’d climb to the auxiliary controls atop the 47-foot vessel’s wheelhouse and jockey a lumber barge to a mooring or pick up a derrick scow.
Our radioed job orders took us past a Greek freighter lying high in the water. Past the Toyota Maru bringing in automobiles and taking back coal to Japan. Past a grain ship swinging aboard an extra deck cargo of lumber, a Russian vessel picking up supplies for the fishing fleet it mothers at sea. And by the time Island. Rustler squeezed a 48-foot barge through a 50-foot bridge span—with a tide running and the barge heavy with 40 railcars’ worth of pulp chips—I had gained a deep appreciation of the skilled men and sturdy boats that make a harbor live.
A day later, I heard about other ramifications of the port’s growth from John McKeown, a blue-eyed Scot and an economist with the Greater Vancouver Industrial Development Commission.
“Because of the Rocky Mountain barrier between us and the rest of Canada,” he explained, “our economic and social ties for a long time were more with Seattle and San Francisco than with Toronto and Montreal. But with the jet age, and Canada’s realization that it is as much a Pacific nation as an Atlantic one, there’s been a vast change. We’ve seen an abundance of resources come charging out. And for new customers. Wheat for mainland China. Coal for Japan. And new techniques for handling bulk ores and materials.”