The Best Ten-cent Ride in the World

McKENZIE PORTER March 5 1955

The Best Ten-cent Ride in the World

McKENZIE PORTER March 5 1955

The Best Ten-cent Ride in the


Come for a breezy ride on the Vancouver ferry where the world meets the waterfront. See the yachts with push-button windows and the barges that were once queens of sail. See the stubby houseboats and the ships from Samarkand. It only costs a dime and it only takes twelve minutes

A COOK’S TOURS official once described the twelve-minute ferry voyage across Vancouver harbor as “the best ten cents worth of travel in the world.” It’s a statement with which most of the city’s visiting globetrotters can agree. For a dime they can travel the world.

Mile-high mountains leaping sheer out of the water suggest the settings of Naples and Rio. The white liners and freighters, yachts and yawls, meno’-war, packets, tugs and scows offer a motley shipping scene that rivals Liverpool’s or New York’s. Few harbors outside Tahiti or Honolulu are ringed by such a diverse racial rainbow of white, yellow, red, brown and black men. And what other harbor, save perhaps San Francisco, can brag of having transformed, in less than a century, a single tavern into a city of half a million?

A Vancouver ferry ride is an exhilarating experience. The spume stings pink patches into the cheeks. The air is heady with appetizing whiffs of coffee, apples, cheese and fish. In the words of one tourist, the cry of gulls, the whirr of anchor chains, the blare of foghorns, the rat-a-tat of riveters and the kiss of the wash are “a sonic tonic.” Robert Allison Hood, a Vancouver poet, is sometimes visited by his muse aboard the ferry. Canadian artists frequently take the ferry to catch the mood of seascapes they plan to paint. Sir John Barbirolli, the English orchestra conductor, advised one aspiring young composer that a journey on the ferry was enough to inspire a suite.

Even the three thousand commuters who fill the two tubby old boats every rush hour are never free of the spell. Periodically, when some alderman suggests closing down the service because it loses seventy thousand tax dollars a year and alternative services are available by bus and bridge—the commuters hold successful protest meetings.

Members of the Vancouver Ship Society, who study vessels through binoculars like bird watchers,

would be lost without the ferry. Charles P. Cunliffe, a retired hospital employee, who is one of them, says: “The ferry is what you might call our


It runs from the separate municipality of North Vancouver to the downtown area of Metropolitan Vancouver across a harbor that nestles in a threeby-nine-mile sweep of water named Burrard Inlet.

The inlet is ringed by a solid hoop of warehouses, grain elevators, sawmills, factories, packing plants, shipbuilding yards, office blocks, railroad sidings, taverns, cafés, and endless undulating thickets of masts. Ninety-eight miles of piers are on the harbor fringe and it has been estimated that every day thirty thousand people work on the waterfront.

The twin peaks of the Lions and the huge dromedary hump of Grouse Mountain rise five thousand feet above the North Shore docks, their summits snow-capped six months of the year, and their flanks speckled halfway up by suburban bungalows. Behind the South Shore docks is the whaleback peninsula dividing Burrard Inlet from the Fraser River delta. On its two westerly

promontories are Stanley Park and the University of British Columbia campus. The rest of it is covered with the right-angled streets of neat suburbs and the lofty waterfront skyline of Vancouver’s business section.

At the western and eastern extremities of the harbor are two bottlenecks named the First and Second Narrows. The First Narrows, an exit to the open Pacific, is spanned by the famous Lion’s Gate Bridge, an elegant suspension bridge built in the Thirties by the makers of Guinness stout for the homebuilders to whom they sold lots on the swanky heights of West Vancouver.

The Second Narrows gives passage to tugs, log booms and small supply craft plying between Vancouver and lumber camps situated up a long inland sweep of Burrard Inlet named the North Arm. The bridge over the Second Narrows is a shabby old structure that has to be raised every time a ship goes through. Because it is always being bent in collisions it is nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs.

From west to east along the busier South Shore the moored vessels grow progressively bigger. Near the First Narrows are the gaily colored craft of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, rising on the swell like floating confetti. Nearby are the nodding masts of fishing boats, ranging in size from one-man trollers to sixteen-man seine netters. Next are the police boats, fireboats, pilot boats and floating gas stations. Then come the three-funnel Victoria steamers of the CPR and the one-funnel Alaska steamers of the CNR. Finally, toward the Second Narrows, lie the big merchantmen of a dozen famous lines.

Until the outbreak of the last war one of the White Empresses was always tied up at the CPR dock. Now passenger service to the Orient has been taken over by CPA airliners. Though seaborne passenger traffic is dwindling the big Orient Line steamers, the Oronsay, Orion, Orcades and Orsova, still put in on round-the-world cruises between the United Kingdom and Australia.

Nudged into the wharfs between other shipping are the barges and scows that take advantage of B. C.’s smooth fjordal waters and make the towing industry the port’s most distinctive feature.

The two ferryboats are ramp-ended and identical at stem and stern. Each can carry thirty cars on the lower deck and six hundred passengers on a glassed upper deck. They move backward and forward without turning round, maintain a twentyminute service from both shores, and provide cofi’ee and doughnuts for the twelve passengers who win the rush-hour race to the snack bar.

Because they look more like London omnibuses than boats they are considered unworthy of a name and must bear up under the humiliating identification of Number Four and Number Five. The numerals denote their degree of succession from old Number One which started the run about sixty years ago.

It’s best to take your first ferry ride from the North Shore. Here, next door to the ferry slip, in the tugboat yards of Charles H. Cates and Sons, among a litter of old boilers, fenders and cables, lies the true emblem of the harbor’s history. It is the bent and rusting anchor of the Beaver, the first steamer in Vancouver waters.

The Beaver was a chubby little wooden sidewheeler with a stack like a stove chimney. Built in England in 1834 for the Hudson’s Bay Company

fort at Victoria, she was launched under t he bleary eyes of William IV and sailed around South America under canvas because she couldn’t carry enough coal to make the trip by steam.

She helped feed t he twenty thousand miners who in 1854 left Victoria, swarmed up the Fraser River in search of gold and brought civilization to the B. C. mainland. She took casks of rum to the lumbermen’s pub opened on the Vancouver peninsula in 1867 by a Falstaffian and garrulous character known as “Gassy Jack’’ Deighton. Soon lumbermen began to clear the peninsula for a hamlet named Gastown in honor of Deighton. They imported wives and raised families. Wanting a more dignified address the women had Gastown’s name changed to Granville.

By 1887, when William Van Horne brought his railway over the Rockies, and renamed Granville for Captain George Vancouver, its first explorer, the Beaver was puffing through a harbor that had become a frenzied empire of lumber, mining and fishing millionaires.

One year later the little boat foundered just outside the harbor. At low tide citizens fought over her skeleton for

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The Best Ten-cent Ride


enough timber to make a souvenir walking stick.

As the North Shore recedes over the ferry’s wake passengers may look back on shipyards where the Reaver’s successors came down the ways and where during the last war more than two hundred merchantmen were built to replace the victims of German submarines. Known as Park ships, they were the Canadian equivalent of the American Victory ships. Most of the cheaply welded Victory ships have now broken up while the strongly riveted Park ships are still afloat.

Today, behind a screen of old tramps in for repair and barges needing their bottoms shaved of shellfish, the former Park shipbuilders are turning out new craft for Canada’s Navy.

The vessels that prompt most ooohs and aaahs from ferry passengers are the queens of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. Among these is Xanadu owned by Donald M. Hartnell, a lumbering millionaire. She was built as a Royal Navy subchaser in World War One and throughout Prohibition she was an American rumrunner, hut she shows no sign of age in her gleaming lines.

Another luxury ship, capable of sleeping twenty guests, is Senariete II, owned by Tom Ayres, a paint-andvarnish manufacturer. In World War Two she was a U. S. subchaser. After the war Garfield Weston, the international biscuit king, bought six of the same class when they were going cheap at ten thousand dollars each. Then he sold them, at no profit to himself, to Ayres and any other Canadian who wanted one and could afford to convert it.

The most successful yacht in the club is Lazy Gal. She has push-button windows, showers, refrigeration, a cocktail bar and four staterooms the size of small hotel suites. Recently, she was bought by Joe Wilkinson, a steel magnate, for $200,000.

“But don’t get the idea,” says George G. Fleming, the tall flag captain of the RVYC, “that all powerboat members can afford to fuel their craft with five-dollar bills. We have twelve hundred members and most are Ordinary Joes running boats worth a couple of thousand dollars.”

Eastern yacht clubs envy the RVYC because Vancouver’s temperate climate enables members to voyage all year round. The dinghy men race in midwinter and are nicknamed Frost Biters. The club’s gayest social event is on Christmas Eve when the owners of powerboats set out in convoy up the North Arm to chop Christmas trees.

In summer the club is often visited by Hollywood yachtsmen like Errol Flynn. But it has never had a more adventurous guest than Captain J. C. Voss. Back in 1901 Voss, a retired Vancouver seafarer, bought a redwood log thirty-eight feet long, dug it out Indian fashion, fitted it with a keel, mast, sails and tiny cabin and christened it Tilicum. He sailed her from Vancouver across the Pacific to Australia, through the Indian Ocean to South Africa, over the Atlantic to Brazil, and thence via the Azores to London. Tilicum’s adventure was more daring than Kon Tiki’s and Voss established forever the reputation of the B. C. coast for seamanship.

When ferry passengers turn to the fishing boats they are looking at B. C.’s fourth industry, worth seventy million dollars a year. The fishermen live largely on the salmon which, between spring and fall, run in five major races

up from the Pacific to their spawning grounds in the Fraser River. Salmon are half the B. C. catch. When they are not running fishermen go for tuna, herring, halibut and crabs. There are no lobsters.

The ferry always offers a good view of the CPR Princess ships and the CNR Prince ships. Most familiar to passengers are the CPR’s Princess Joan and Princess Elizabeth which take five hours by day and seven hours by night on the busy eighty-three-mile run to Victoria. These two Princesses each carry five hundred passengers and sixty cars.

The night boat leaves at midnight and has the aura of a hotel. In summer it frequently serves this purpose for people who cannot get rooms in Vancouver. The return fare at $6.75, plus a stateroom at $2 up, is not much more expensive than a hotel room. By taking the next morning’s boat from Victoria the traveler can be back in Vancouver by early afternoon.

As the ferry reaches midstream passengers see a remarkable paradox. Although Vancouver harbor is one of the world’s youngest its waters are cleaved by some of the oldest ships afloat. Dismasted and shorn of sails these former clippers and brigantines lurch along as barges in the tow of masterful little tugs. They carry pulp for the paper mills, sawdust that still heats many Vancouver homes, ore from the upcoast copper and lead mines, oil barrels, coal, bricks, and many other nonperishable cargoes.

Tugs That Tow Fortunes

Among them are the hulks of the Lord Templeton, which billowed into Vancouver in the Eighties with linen from Belfast; the Star of Holland, whose five masts of canvas, in the same era, bore in tea and silks from China; and the Riversdale, whose prow, carved into a suppliant Madonna, bobbed in during the Nineties with tools from Glasgow.

The ferry seldom crosses the harbor without skirting a huge covered scow. About five hundred are operated by some thirty towing companies. They’re painted in company colors and look like enormous floating warehouses. Most carry paper from the coastal pulp towns and return with cement, machinery and foodstuffs.

They can hold up to two thousand tons, as much as a small freighter, and sail at a tenth the cost. Three men are all the crew a tug requires. Forklift trucks run aboard and fill them as easily as a warehouse. A freighter’s power is wasted when she’s tied up hut while a scow is unloading its tug can dash away and pick up another tow.

In addition to the barges and scows, the tugs haul Davis rafts of logs, ninety feet long and forty-five feet wide, from upcoast lumber camps. But the Davis rafts have had their day. They are sluggish in tow and mulish in rough weather. Soon the logs will be loaded on new bow-ended barges that will cut through the water smoothly. These will cut the time of a log voyage from Queen Charlotte Island in half and ensure supplies in all weather.

Without Vancouver’s three hundred tugs B. C.’s logging industry, employing twenty thousand men and grossing five hundred million dollars a year, and her mining industry, employing twenty thousand men and grossing one hundred and fifty millions, would be helpless.

Thus B. C.’s two major sources of wealth are dependent on the four thousand tug men. Most are quiet types who live ashore in neat suburban homes. The masters, who hold coastalwater certificates, earn around $400

a month, their mates and engineers around $375, and the deck hands $175, plus meals.

During the manpower shortage of the last war there was even a woman master. Eva Forrest could handle a barge or raft like an old shellback. But she was no Tugboat Annie—she looked more like Audrey Hepburn than like the late Marie Dressier. Vivacious and intelligent, she was so keen on the waterfront that she lived with a girl friend in a home on a log raft. One night a storm blew up, poked the logs through the floor and wrecked their

home. The girls had to be taken off by motorboat.

After the war the waterfront lost its glamour girl. She went to Queen’s University, took a medical degree, married a doctor and settled down in Toronto.

B. G. waters take a great deal of knowing. Although the surface is relatively smooth, they are riddled with malignant currents resulting from the diversion of tidal pressures around gulf islands. Frank McMaster, a North Vancouver tugboat engineer, tells of seeing a scow, picked up by an eddy,

overtake its tug on the starboard side, cross the tug’s bows, then slip behind it again down the port side, leaving the tug firmly trussed. Last September a towline whipped up under a tug’s stern and capsized it in the harbor. Lt.-Cmdr. Charles Seivewright, RCNR, a retired ship’s master, once saw a towline spring out of the water in a skipping-rope movement and carry away the tug’s mast and funnel.

Nearly four thousand Vancouver coastal ships are equipped with shipto-shore phones. Their calls go through a special exchange provided by the

B. C. Telephone Company. Life and ship saving are co-ord mated by Captain Cyril Andrews, the tall, lean director of the Towboat Employment Agency. He answers emergency calls from his home, office or car, gets in touch with the tug nearest the stricken ship, and orders it to the rescue. Every day there is at least one rescue or sal vagi operation.

When CPR’s Pier D burned down in 1937 four firemen, driven under the pier by the flames, seemed faced with death by burning or drowning. Then a tug appeared. In her wheelhouse was Captain Charles Cates, the tugboat operator who is now mayor of North Vancouver. Although the heat cracked all the wheelhouse windows Cates hauled the firemen aboard.

In 1945, when the ammunition-laden Greenshields Park caught fire it was imperative to remove another freighter lying alongside her. Up raced Cates in one of his company’s tugs and pulled the second freighter clear three minutes before the Greenshields Park blew up with a bang that broke windows for miles around. Many ferry commuters owe a personal debt of gratitude to Cates. A few years ago, when Number Four broke down in midstream and began to whirl toward First Narrows on a dangerous rip tide one of his tugs took her in tow.

Ferry passengers usually become wistful for faraway places when they study the merchant shipping. Vessels come from nearly every free port in the world for lumber, plywoods, canned salmon, mineral ores and Alberta grain. This last is brought by rail over the Rockies and loaded into holds from seven lofty elevators with a capacity of eighteen million bushels.

European merchantmen arriving via the Panama Canal bring anything from hydro-electric turbines, giant mechanical hammers, looms, lathes, automobiles and railroad tracks to chocolate biscuits, daffodil bulbs, socks and thimbles. Oriental merchantmen bring teak, mahogany, rice and tea and, for Vancouver’s bustling Chinatown, a hoard of joss sticks, bamboo shoots, paper lanterns, Buddhist idols, ginger, rattan furniture, soya-bean sauce and silk pyjamas.

Approaching the South Shore, the ferry brings the buildings into clearer outline. Nobody can miss the twentystory Marine Building that dominates the downtown area. Here on the big unpartitioned ground floor below tiers of offices rented by scores of firms involved in shipping, members of the Merchants’ Exchange meet.

While ticker tapes spell out world market prices of lumber, copper, grain, wheat, fruit and fish, an importer will talk with a wholesale grocer and sell him an inward cargo of sardines; an exporter will meet a marine underwriter and insure an outward cargo of window frames; a tugboat operator will meet a passenger line’s shore captain and arrange to berth a twenty-thousandton world-cruise ship; or a salvagecompany executive will quote a fishingcompany president a price for getting a seine netter off the rocks.

Just below the Marine Building is the old Victorian red-brick Immigration Building, scene of many dramas. Vancouver is often called the Gateway to the Orient. Immigration officials have to administer tactfully laws designed to prevent Vancouver becoming an Oriental city.

The cause célèbre of Asians seeking to settle in Vancouver took place in the summer of 1914. At that time an attempt had been made to stem the flow of East Indians by a decree that each must make an uninterrupted journey from his homeland before qualifying for entry. Significantly, no direct

shipping lines linked Vancouver with Indu. In India more than three hundred Hindus chartered the Japanese tramp Komagata Maru and sailed to Vancouver. They were forbidden entry on arrival because they had broken their journey at Hong Kong and therefore failed to comply with the uninterrupted-passage clause.

A six-week legal battle began. Soon the hapless Hindus aboard the Komagata Maru ran out of food. A Court of Appeal decision left the ship with no alternative but to return her passengers to Hong Kong. A Hindu committee aboard the ship announced they would not let it sail unless food and water were put aboard.

Even when the federal government provided food the Hindus wouldn’t let the Japanese crew up-anchor. Eventually she was persuaded to depart by two hundred men of the Vancouver Irish Fusiliers who charged up three gangways thrown onto her decks by HMCS Rainbow. Eleven days later a bigger war was declared in Europe and die Komagata Maru was forgotten.

Among the panorama of roof tops visible to the ferry as she ties up at the South Shore are those of the Flying Angel, a club run by the Anglican Church's Seamen’s Mission, and the Vancouver Sailors’ Home, a hostel owned by the British Sailors’ Society. Both moved last October into new buildings equipped with showers, libraries, billiard tables, restaurants and gaily curtained auditoriums. The seamen using them look more like realestate salesmen than the average person’s conception of a tar.

Now They Dance With Debs

The Rev. John Leighton, a benign, bushy-browed Cambridge graduate who has been chaplain to the Flying Angel for twenty-five years, was the first to introduce a corps of respectable girls into a seamen’s mission as hostesses. Now the custom has spread to other seamen’s missions all over the world and the effect has been remarkable.

Every Tuesday and Friday at the Flying Angel there is a dance. No seaman, whether he’s a Lascar stoker or Kanaka deck hand, ever invites a girl to partner him in vain. Some of the girls are from wealthy homes and some from the city offices and shops. In summer they often go with the seamen in buses for picnics. Last year one group played soccer with the sailors. In winter, besides dances, there are card parties and concerts.

Leighton says: “Seamen get into the hands of undesirable women because they are lonely for feminine company, not because they are more promiscuous than other men. Here they respond gallantly to the presence of decent girls and we rarely have trouble.”

Over at the Sailors’ Home, which serves as a hotel for seamen stranded by sickness or awaiting transfer to another ship, every guest has a private room with a continental bed, reading lamp, wardrobe, dressing table and wash bowl. They pay $1.75 a night for lodging and meals cost between fifty and seventy-five cents.

James Johnson, the tiny, smiling Scottish superintendent, says: “In the last ten years a great change has come over the seafaring profession. Better wages and better quarters are producing a different type of man. When I first started here thirty years ago the men used to come up in sea boots and sweaters and you had to keep your eyes skinned for the knives they carried. Nowadays you can’t distinguish a seaman in the streets from an ordinary citizen.”

On British ships there is always

one officer responsible for keeping the youngsters out of trouble when they go ashore. Scandinavian ships go even further. Nearly all carry a matronly woman whose job is to do the ship’s clerical work and organize singsongs, games and lectures at sea.

Ferry passengers who step onto the South Shore at the end of the run expecting to find a lurid waterfront are disappointed. It is one of the most orderly in the world. One waterfront house still boasts a front hall in which an Italian immortalized a former inmate known as Roma by setting her

name in tiles in the floor. But now it is a rooming house.

Since the war the taverns have been painted, refurnished and some even equipped with carpets. “There’s not much hell-raising now,” says one old waiter. “It’s painful to see the oldtimers sitting on the edge of their chairs, sipping their beer like cocktails, and looking around wildly for some place to spit.”

A few weeks ago a Vancouver waterfront reporter found a café in which a group of Scandinavian fishermen were singing Norse sea chanties in nostalgic

harmony. A policeman hung around the front door suspiciously. But there was nothing he could do. The fishermen were regaling themselves with nothing stronger than chocolate milk shakes.

It’s more exciting to tum back and return to the city ferry. If passengers tire of the scenery there’s always a ship under Lion’s Gate Bridge to look at. As this is written ferry passengers are impatient for a glimpse of one Roy Berge, a former Seattle prison guard who is trying to sail to Alaska in an outboard-powered bathtub. if