Skip to content

Our First Four-Lane Highway, 1937

December 14, 2011

The Westminster Bridge over Fraser River, opened in 1904 when vehicular traffic meant the horse and buggy, was by the 1930’s severely congested by automobiles. This was  the crossing point for two major highways—the Pacific Highway leading to the USA, and the Trans-Canada Highway, serving the Fraser Valley and points eastward—both of which ran on a single stretch of 2-lane pavement for the last 10 miles toward the Fraser River, before joining a single line plank roadway across the upper level of the old railway bridge.

In 1936 a new bridge was under construction, known as the Pattullo Bridge.

Pattullo Bridge under construction 1936

Pattullo Bridge under construction 1936 – Old highway and bridge crossing at right -Van.Pub.Library

“During the construction of the Pattullo Bridge it was foreseen that it would be necessary to provide more adequate facilities of road approach if the bridge was to serve its main purpose—the relieving of traffic congestion at this point . . . In the bridge construction, provision was made for eight toll-lanes at the Toll Plaza and therefore it was necessary to have the additional approach roads to allow the traffic to distribute itself before reaching the bridge.”

Pattullo Bridge  toll booths

Pattullo Bridge Toll Booths -New West. Public Library

In the photo above,  the cars at the extreme left are on the part of the old Pacific Highway from Westminster Bridge.  The new highway is overlaid on the old for the rest of the way to Peterson Hill in the distance.

The first concrete pavement laid down on the Pacific Highway in 1920 was 18-feet wide in total.

“Accordingly, a little more that a mile of four-lane pavement was constructed, utilizing the old pavement in part by resurfacing same. This first section of four-lane pavement is 46 feet in width, providing four 11-foot traffic lanes with a 2-foot dividing mark outlined with reflectors for night driving.”

A new grade on Peterson Hill

“It was soon evident that the start on the four-lane highway would have to be extended and this was carried on as far as Whalley’s Corner at the top of Peterson Hill during 1938, which permitted the slow-moving freight vehicles east and south bound to proceed in one lane, while the other land was reserved for faster moving traffic.”

Peterson Hill 1937 - paving new alignment

New wide grade on the Peterson Hill – 1937 –  old road at left –Van Pub Lib.

A new wide grade,  with a more gentle curve, was completed in 1938. In these photos the old alignment of the Pacific Highway is indicated by the utility poles to the left.  A small crescent of the old road was orphaned and is to this day an interesting glimpse at the past.

Looking South on Peterson Hill

Looking south on Peterson Hill 1938


Peace Arch Highway  – The new route to the border

After consideration of the options of up-grading the Trans-Canada Highway to Fry’s Corner, the government decided to build a new highway to the U.S. border from the Old Yale Road south.

The map below shows the four-lane highway leading to the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway—formerly the point of the South Port Mann Post Office and at this time called White House Corner.  The new route south from that point is shown in black.  Distances to the border via the Trans-Canada & Pacific Highway route, or via  the Peace Arch Highway, are about the same.

Peace Arch Highway map

Plan of Peace Arch Highway 1939  – BC Dep’t of Public Works

“ . . .with the decision to construct the Peace Arch Highway. . .the Department decided to extend the four-lane divided highway to the junction of the Trans-Canada and Peace Arch Highways. . . A temporary surface only is being put down on this section this year [1939], the permanent paving being left over until next year to permit any settlement to take place. This latter section has four 11-foot traffic lanes with a 6-foot ‘dead’ strip between opposing traffic lanes.”

The designation “Peace Arch Highway” would turn out to be only a working title.  Following the  tremendously popular visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the Lower Mainland in 1939, influential men of Vancouver petitioned to have the new highway named in honour of His Royal Majesty King George VI.   Now  the route from the Pattullo Bridge is known as King George Boulevard.

Text excerpts  quoted are from Journal of the Department of Public Works, 1939.
“British Columbia Builds Its First Four-Lane Highway,” by HC Anderson, District Engineer, New Westminster

No comments yet


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s