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Lions Gate Bridge - National Historic Site Project

On Sunday, May 23, 2010, during a blustery West Coast afternoon, about 100 guests turned out to witness a Plaque Unveiling Ceremony commemorating the historical significance of the Lions Gate Bridge.  It was fitting that the ceremony was held on Ambleside Beach as the bridge formed a majestic backdrop behind the invited guests. The Squamish Nation Eagle Song Dancers welcomed the dignitaries to the ceremony platform with their traditional welcoming dance and song.

Arrival of the Squamish Nation Eagle Song Dancers
begins the formal commemoration ceremony.
Dr. Veronica Strong-Boag, the former Board Member for British Columbia of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada introduced the dignitaries; Her Worship Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Mayor of West Vancouver, Mme. Jane Thornthwaite, MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour, Jim Carter, President of the West Vancouver Historical Society and Mr. John Weston, M.P. for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

Dr. Veronica Strong-Boag speaks at the Commemoration Ceremony
(Myriam Calllott photo)

Dr. Strong-Boag gave the background on the importance of recognizing our Canadian historical sites. Mr. Robin Inglis, historian and author enlightened the crowd on the history of the bridge.  Jim Carter, President of the West Vancouver Historical Society, introduced the grandsons of the late A.J.T. “Fred” Taylor who, along with the Guinness family, was responsible for instigating the bridge project in the 1930’s. The speakers reminded us of the importance of the building of the bridge in the development of West Vancouver and other North Shore communities and how the bridge continues on a daily basis to be a vital link to the rest of the Lower Mainland. The Lions Gate Bridge stands today as an iconic symbol at the entrance to the City of Vancouver.


Welcoming Speech from Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones
Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC

"Together with Councillor Evison, Soprovich and Lewis, who are here today, it is an honour to welcome you all on the happy occasion of the commemoration of the Lions Gate Bridge as a National Historic site.  Today is a celebration of the history of the bridge and of the sense of place it represents in so many ways.  Our guests will talk about this legacy.  As the Mayor of West Vancouver, I would like to talk about the role the bridge plays in our daily lives and of its future.

The bridge is the way we leave home. And not a trip is taken heading into town where we don’t cast our eyes across Burrard Inlet and, in the words of e. e. cummings, say to ourselves “thank you god for most this amazing day.”  And we come home the same way.  As we crest the middle of the bridge and begin the gentle decline towards home, leaving behind the city and its pressures, in some way or another we understand that there is really no such thing as a dream home.  Rather, home is a place from which we dream.  The Lions Gate Bridge has inspired those dreams, and still does, each day.
Of course the bridge was built at a time of great hope for the future.  Today, we should also reflect on its footings, located on Squamish Nation land.  Once again, settlement patterns on the North Shore are about to change and the Lions Gate Bridge is at the heart of this shared future.  As we celebrate the heritage, beauty and promise of the Lions Gate Bridge during the 20th century, may we look to the 21st century and the challenge and change it will represent, with the same sense of enterprise and optimism.  Time does not stand still. As Gandhi said, we should not be afraid to open the windows to let the winds of change blow through, but we must be sure we are on strong foundations. The Lions Gate Bridge stands as a symbol of opening up, and of the fusion of practicality and elegance, and as a startlingly beautiful entrance to an extraordinary place to live.  On behalf of the residents of West Vancouver, we know we are very fortunate to live here and we are very proud to be part of today’s historic celebration." 

Remarks by WVHS President Jim Carter

WVHS PRESIDENT JIM CARTER: "The WVHS is pleased and proud to participate in this ceremony today.  Our members, led by Peter Hall, initiated the process of gaining National Heritage Status for the Lions Gate Bridge a number of years ago. 

More recently a new board has initiated the process of preparing a history of the neighbourhoods of West Vancouver to celebrate our centenary in 2012.  Throughout our research we have been reminded again and again of the significant role that the Bridge has played in the development of our Municipality. 

I would like to tell you one quick story about how the coming of the Bridge affected this very site.  Where we are standing today was occupied by summer homes and squatter shacks in the early 1930’s.  It was called East Beach.  The street and the residents were listed in the Greater Vancouver Gazette.  When the decision was made to build the Bridge and develop the British Properties, Mayor Leyland decided that the area needed to be cleaned up.  Two of our current residents and members of the Society, Vic Cue and Alex Swanson, vividly remember their families being told to remove anything of value before their homes were raised and burned to make way for this beautiful park. 

This story and many others have led us to a title for our book.  “Cottages to Community”.  It is the story of the people and the history of the neighbourhoods of West Vancouver.  Our plan is to publish the book in September 2011.  Central to our findings has been the tremendous influence that the Bridge has had on the development of our Community.  Easier access changed us from a summer cottage area to a viable commuter area.  In fact it has become one of the most desirable residential areas in all of Canada.  The key was the vision of A. J. T. Taylor and the Guinness family and their desire to build the bridge and develop the British Properties. 

The Society wants to thank all of those Federal, Provincial and Civic officials who have made this special event possible, as well as the Squamish people, upon whose land the North end of the Bridge sits." 

Noted historian and author Mr. Robin Inglis provided those attending the commemoration with a fascinating historical overview of the Lions Gate Bridge.

WVHS President Jim Carter and Dr. Veronica Strong-Boag
listen to Mr. Robin Inglis' account of the history of Lions Gate Bridge.

MR. ROBIN INGLIS:"In 1955 the Province of British Columbia bought the Lions Gate Bridge from the First Narrows Bridge Company, which had built the bridge with private funds during 1937 and 1938. In doing so it removed the original plaque which had provided the only clearly stated public recognition of company president, A.J.T. “Fred” Taylor, the principal protagonist in the drama of the building of the Lions Gate Bridge. It is doubtful today that those in the cars speeding up and down Taylor Way have any idea who “Taylor” was and what he achieved.

Fred Taylor was a self-taught engineer who founded a company in 1912 that became involved in development projects around the province and in the United States. The early 1920s found him in England where he moved in high society at a time when many of its richest members were seeking to escape high taxation by investing in the colonies. Taylor was keen to return to Vancouver and he established a company called British Pacific Securities (later British Pacific Trust) to facilitate investment in BC. His particular dream, to be pursued over 20 year, was to develop residential property in West Vancouver linked to the city by a great bridge. Developing the “empty lands” above the little town that had grown up around the ferry dock and PGE stations to the west of the First Narrows, became a consuming passion.

In assembling enough land for a major residential development Taylor faced stiff competition. But in the end he enjoyed the advantage of a ready-made investment syndicate, which became increasingly important as the Depression of the 1930s took hold in the province.
The idea of a bridge at the First Narrows, that would lead to the development of the North Shore, was not new. Since the arrival of the railway and the rebuilding of Vancouver after the Great Fire of the late 1880s, it had long been recognized that the natural benefits of Burrard Inlet as a port were also a natural barrier to the north shore’s integration into an expanding Vancouver. There were two obvious crossings and the first to be achieved – at Second Narrows in 1925 - spurred growth in North Vancouver – in Lynn Valley, along the waterfront and with a resort on top of Grouse Mountain. But limited automobile traffic on Marine Drive and the collapse of the PGE in 1928 had ensured that West Vancouver would remain largely beyond this growth.

As early as the 1890s, both tunnels and bridges had been discussed for the first narrows, but one by one the plans had died in the face of economic downturns and war. They were revived, however, in earnest during the 1920s as prosperity returned to BC. In 1926 two companies entered the field in response West Vancouver’s offer of tax sale lands, in return for the building of a bridge.  In 1927 a Royal Commission studied the plans of these competing projects. It found that a bridge was technically feasible and the companies received provincial charters to proceed with their plans. But there were serious questions about too short or too low a bridge being a hazard to navigation as more and bigger ships would come into port. Others felt that the natural beauty of the site would be spoilt, that the second narrows remained the best long-term option for improved crossings and that another bridge was unnecessary. Above all many regarded the impact on Stanley Park would as unacceptable. That year a plebiscite was held in Vancouver and the  idea was roundly defeated; both companies saw their financial backers drift away and momentum was lost.

The 1930s, with its Great Depression, must have appeared an unlikely time for a $6 million bridge building project to succeed, offering little hope to Alfred Taylor and his partners. But he three things ran in his favour:
-    the continuing interest of West Vancouver in making several thousand acres of land available north of Marine Drive to a height of 1200 ft;
-    the continuing interest of his partners in supporting Taylor’s dream. Indeed it was at this point that the Guinness brewing family came into the picture and as his plans unfolded so did the opening of their corporate wallet, and
-    his success in 1931 in securing control of the First Narrows Bridge Company, an amalgamation of the two earlier projects in the wake of the lost Vancouver plebiscite, thus inheriting their charter.

By the end of 1931 therefore three things had come together – the availability of land, committed financing and provincial permission. The only negative in all this was the way in which Squamish Reserve land was completely undervalued and sold by the Federal Government without any consultation, a betrayal that still rankles. To complement the First Narrow Bridge Company, British Pacific Properties was formed by the investment syndicate, and presented a firm proposal to develop a 4,000 acre site in the “Highlands” as it was then known, with cleared lots, road, water lines, sewer lines, a golf course and a school. It was approved in a plebiscite in West Vancouver by a vote of 1,329 to 26. The municipality received $75,000 in cash, which, at the height of the Depression, probably saved it from the bankruptcy that befell its two North Vancouver neighbours.

However, Taylor’s struggles were not over; two political battles had yet to be won and they would drain much of his energy over the next four years. The first was in Vancouver, where debate was fierce, manipulated behind the scenes by the CPR for its own interests related to navigation in the narrows, but principally to protect its own development interests in the City. Taylor however exposed this conflict of interest, and his cause was further advanced by the promise of local jobs and a four-year lack of access to the North Shore at Second Narrows after a barge had knocked out the rickety road and rail bridge. A plebiscite was held in December 1933 and, overcoming their concerns for Stanley Park, Vancouver citizens voted in favour of the project. Dealing with Ottawa where eastern indifference to Vancouver interests and CPR influence with R. B. Bennett’s government was a potent force, however, proved more difficult. Despite earlier support for the project, Bennett stalled federal approval for close to two years and only after Mackenzie King was voted into power in late 1935 was approval reluctantly given. Taylor was exhausted by the battle but had managed to keep his investors loyal to the dream, particularly when he negotiated an agreement between the Dominion Bridge Company and the Western Bridge Company, to take shares in the First Narrows Bridge Company and to share the work.

Construction officially started in the spring of 1937 and proceeded rapidly. It has been captured for posterity in hundreds of remarkable photographs in our local archives.  The bridge was opened to pedestrians and cars in November 1938. Renowned local sculptor Charles Marega splendid lions added an especially attractive touch to the art-deco southern approach.

As private enterprise the Lions Gate Bridge was a toll bridge and part of the toll complex buildings can still be seen at the North end. Ticket #1 was sold to Reeve Joe Leyland of West Vancouver, #2 to Mayor George Miller of Vancouver. In May 1939 the King and Queen honoured the bridge by driving over it.

The lightness of its design, the majesty of its span and its ability to enhance rather than detract from its setting immediately won for the bridge wide public acceptance and a loyalty that 50 years later would demand its reconstruction rather than its replacement, when that possibility on the table in the 1990s. Today we rightly recognize and celebrate a remarkable achievement of design and engineering – truly a national historic site in every sense of the word - and what it, itself, achieved in the building of the North Shore’s vibrant communities.

In all this, however, we should never forget the vision and incredible tenacity and entrepreneurial skill of Alfred Taylor. He made it possible. His untimely death in 1945 at age 58 robbed him of the inevitable accolades that would have come his way had he lived to an older age. Perhaps in the future more people can come to appreciate why it is so appropriate that the Lions Gate Bridge and the British Properties are forever linked by 'Taylor Way.' ”

Unveiling of the Commemoration Plaque, May 23, 2010
(Myriam Calllott photo)


"This remarkable suspension bridge, towering over the waters of Burrard Inlet, is distinguished by an elegant design that complements a spectacular mountain setting. Designed by the firm of Monsarrat & Pratley, the Lions Gate Bridge was recognized from the time of its completion in 1938 as an engineering feat, with its impressive span and such advanced features as a thin road deck and prefabricated cable strands. Built to facilitate the development of West Vancouver, the bridge quickly became a major landmark and acquired symbolic importance as the western gateway to Canada. "

Hugh Johnson, honourary-lifetime member of the WVHS, worked tirelessly
on the LGB - National
Historic Site Project, May 23, 2010. (Myriam Calllott photo)

In an article published in the
June 2, 2010 edition of the Vancouver Sun - "He built the Lions Gate Bridge, spawned a community and has been largely forgotten" - columnist Pete McMartin expressed a concern that A.J.T. Taylor and the Guinness family were not referred to in the plaque text, (a concern shared by a number of people who are familiar with the history of the bridge including Robin Inglis, Don Luxton and Jim Carter):

"Oddly, the only names mentioned on the plaque are those of the design firm, Monsarrat and Pratley. But the two names most responsible for the bridge's existence, not to mention the existence of West Vancouver itself, will be missing from that plaque: that of the Guinness family, who financed, constructed and originally owned the bridge, and more importantly, the little-known name of A.J.T. Taylor." 

In another Vancouver Sun article published on June 22, 2010 - "The man who bridged a century, and the First Narrows" - Pete McMartin tells the compelling story of an engineer who was one of a number of courageous men involved in the construction of Lions Gate Bridge.

"That William Kent wrote me a letter rather than an e-mail might provide a clue about his age. He is 102. He wrote to say that he had read a column I did on the dedication of the Lions Gate Bridge as a national historic site, and that if he had known about it, he would have been there, too. He had been an engineer on the bridge." 

BC Parks provided the following information about Lions Gate Bridge.

Lions Gate Bridge National Historic Site

The Lions Gate Bridge is an outstanding landmark with important symbolic value to Canadians. It features an elegant design complemented by a spectacular setting. The suspension bridge is a remarkable engineering feat that incorporates the latest design developments of its day. It has been crucial to the development of Vancouver’s North Shore.

The concept of building a bridge across the narrowest part of Burrard Inlet, at the entrance to the port of Vancouver, had been considered since the late nineteenth century, but the project did not truly take shape until the early 1930s, at the instigation of businessman A.J.T. Taylor and the Guinness family, who had purchased 4,000 acres of what is now West Vancouver. At that time, Vancouver’s northern and western suburbs were beginning to develop and the economic crisis of the thirties meant there was a demand for projects that created jobs. The bridge was designed by the Montreal firm of Monsarrat and Pratley, together with Vancouver engineer W.G. Swan, and consulting engineers from New York. Construction began on July 7, 1937, and the bridge was officially opened on May 26, 1939.

The Lions Gate is a suspension bridge, with a 472-metre main span, two 187-metre side spans, and a 659-metre steel viaduct. The slender metal towers are 118 metres high, and are tapered from base to top. The two suspension cables supporting the bridge deck are 37 cm in diameter, and each one is made up of 61 strands of 47 prestressed wires. The use of prefabricated strands was an advanced technique at the time, which allowed the cables to be more easily installed. The suspension cables are loaded by hangers of about 45 mm in diameter, supporting the deck, and the suspension cable anchors are made of reinforced concrete. The southern entrance to the bridge is in Stanley Park and features two art-deco-inspired concrete lion sculptures by Vancouver sculptor Charles Marega.

With its tremendous size and openwork towers, the design of the Lions Gate Bridge complements the mountain landscape surrounding it. The slender profile of Lions Gate Bridge is representative of suspended bridges built in the 1920s and 1930s. From the time it was completed, it has been regarded as an outstanding example of structural engineering and a recognized Vancouver landmark. It has contributed greatly to the development of the city’s north shore, especially of West Vancouver.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the bridge was modernized, including the construction of a new deck and stiffening trusses, improved anti-seismic protection, expansion of its vehicle and pedestrian lanes, construction of observation platforms, and installation of new signage and monitoring facilities. All this work was performed while preserving the bridge’s integrity, including its configuration, structure and materials, as well as its aesthetic design, its historical appearance and its symbolic value to Canadians. 

         Lions Gate Bridge National Heritage Site - WVHS Project Timeline

November 1999
: West Van Heritage Advisory Committee asks WVHS to seek LGB/NHS status.

April 2000:  WVHS makes formal application.

May 2000:  Historical Sites and Monuments Board (HSMB) advises owner’s consent required.  Letter sent to Premier Dosanjh seeking consent.  West Vancouver Council passed resolution in support.  City of Vancouver Heritage Commission passes support resolution.

July 2000:  Minister of Transportation and Highways (MOTH) Lali responds advising WVHS to meet MOTH regional bridge engineer Galambos.

September 2000:  WVHS and Gerry Borden of Parks Canada meet Galambos, who expresses concern that NHS status could impair government’s ability to alter/replace LGB.

March 2001:  Consent denied by MOTH.

September/October 2001:  Liberal party wins BC election.  Gerry Borden contacts Liberal MLA Mayencourt (Vancouver – Center) who is sympathetic.

December 2001:  Peter Hall meets MLA Sultan (North Van-Capilano) who is supportive and assists in drafting a letter to Premier Campbell seeking government consent.

January 2002:  Letter sent to Campbell.

February 2002:  MOTH request a meeting and suggest a review of the issue.

March 2002:  MOTH advises Borden that they are prepared to recommend consent provided we first provide evidence of support from District of North Vancouver, Translink, City of Vancouver Parks Board and the Squamish Nation.

May/October 2002:  Support evidence obtained from the above and delivered to MOTH.

January 17 2003:  Consent of Province received.  MOTH ask HSMB to grant NHS status.

February 26 2005:  MLA Sultan undertakes to write Federal Minister Dion requesting prompt action.

March 24 2005:  Minister Dion announces NHS status for LGB.