Sunday, October 17, 2010

There Used To Be A Pier Right Here

English Bay Pier in 1916

One of the greatest mysteries to me is the disappearance of the famous pier that used to exist in English Bay. Built in 1907, the walking/bathing pier was the principal attraction for summer strollers doing their evening promenade and even featured a glassed in dance hall called "The Prom" for fashionable couples to romance the night away.  For over 30 years people enjoyed this delightful extension into the ocean but neglected its upkeep and, on April 17th 1938, it was finally torn down, the same year the Lions Gate Bridge opened.

White Rock Pier
I can understand that wood rots and the pier eventually posed a safety hazard, but why wasn't it ever replaced?  In fact why wasn't an even longer pier built?  Compare the English Bay pier to the one in White Rock which was built around the same time in 1915, and extends 500 metres into Boundary Bay.  The pier is  extremely popular these days with a marina at one end and a concerted effort by the City of White Rock to make it the focal point of a vibrant promenade and beach scene for the public.

Brighton Pier

Whether they are viewed as tacky tourist traps or a unique architectural form that brings land and sea together is a debate more about aesthetics than anything else; a pier being simply a structure built on piles out to the sea from the coastline for use as a landing place or promenade.  It's what people do with a pier that defines its contribution to the surrounding community, and the Brighton Pier is a great example of the English fondness for piers.  The Brighton Pier was one of many constructed in the mid 19th century by English seaside resort towns as a means of attracting passenger steamers.  Elaborate palaces containing theatres, shops and restaurants, they are more popular than ever, in spite of changing tastes in travel, and Britain boasts a National Piers Society that is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of its 60 remaining seaside piers.

Eastbourne Pier
The lively west coast piers of California include Santa Monica and Huntington Beach.  Though filled with bars and restaurants, tour boat operators, shops, and amusement parks, they also offer places to fish from or simply relax while surfers and others play in the surrounding ocean. Colourful, lively, and much too energetic for staid Vancouverites who prefer their beaches free from the taint of commercialism.

Santa Monica Pier
Huntington Beach Pier
Even when Vancouver had a pier it seems so quaint in comparison to all these other ones.  A small town on the edge of the rain forest trying to create a miniature of something far away.  Now that we are a big city will we always cede the excitement of the beach scene to suburban White Rock or will we try to enhance our seaside image?  There was a lot more natural purity in 1916 than there is now yet the people still managed to have a pier and dance the night away above the ocean. Now all that remains are a few boulders that show up at low tide to remind us of  "The Prom" that once existed.

Remains of English Bay Pier photo by Junie Quiroga


  1. What a great article with a super picture to show us what used to be!!! You are right, there should be a pier in English Bay, it would certainly be a big attraction. Great story.

  2. Gary, VancouveriteJuly 15, 2012 at 12:57 AM

    Would be nice to have it back! I think a lot of people don't even know it used to be there. Let's attract some attention to this :)

  3. Awesome history lesson, I’m not a fan of tearing things down. There’s never a good enough reason to do it considering some things a lot of money is spent on !
    Think of the memories that go with.