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‘South Westminster Ferry Wharf Doomed’

July 7, 2012

In the first week of June 1903,  with Fraser River on the rise  and reports of flooding coming in from upcountry, the engineers and builders of the New Westminster bridge shut down work and removed their plant and scows to the relative safety of the shore.

Westminster Bridge Engineers and Builders - June 11 - 1903 Construction halted
Time on their hands, engineers and contractors of the Westminster bridge pose on shore during high water on Fraser River, June 11, 1903. In their hands, the British Columbian and Vancouver Daily World newspapers for this date.
Fleet Laid Up Fleet Laid Up
The construction scows and shacks of the Westminster bridge contractors are safely moored on the north side of the river, mid June, 1903. In the background the ferry Surrey makes headway against the current to a South Westminster landing in danger of being swept away.

(These photos are available in high resolution at the Vancouver Archives.)

Events of the coming days proved the caution of the engineers was not undue.

“People who were watching the water whirling past the Westminster bridge piers yesterday afternoon, saw carried away the wharf which had been erected for the construction of pier number three. It was reported to have been carried away Saturday afternoon, but it had only been loosened. Yesterday the last hold of the long 100-foot piles relaxed and they shot straight up into the air, showing a considerable portion of their length above water. As they sank back on the surface they were whirled down stream along with the wharf timbers and accumulated debris, leaving the uncompleted pier to stand the brunt of the current. The disappearance of the pier wharf was anticipated by the bridge contractors, whose only surprise was that it had held so long. All the plant, scows, etc., had been removed last week.”

New Westminster Bridge on Fraser River - Elevation  Profile

Elevation profile of the New Westminster Bridge on Fraser River
Pier #3,  the works of which suffered damage in the freshet of 1903, is located at the deepest part of the channel,  which runs near the north side

“Father Fraser Rises Ominously – South Westminster is Virtually Submerged”

Excerpts from newspaper accounts of the flooding that relate to the south side of the Fraser River—

“. . .crowds of the curious lined the banks along the railway and around the Crescent watching the torrents rushing and roaring between the granite piers of the new bridge. At Herring’s Point and Brownsville, the banks of the river are up to the foothills.”

“The force of the freshet in the Fraser opposite the city, will be apparent to anyone who watches it from say Albert Crescent. One can hear plainly the unusual sound of the water rushing between the piers of the new bridge and it would seem the ferry steamer Surrey has about all she can do to make the South Westminster ending.”

“At South Westminster it is said the majority of the houses are flooded, while the cessation of railway traffic may not be very long delayed. . . .”

Ferry Wharf Under Siege-

”Swift Current on South Side is Demolishing the Structure”

“The continued pressure of high water, which is made doubly effective by reason of the main current of the Fraser river taking the south side, has so weakened the wharf at the South Westminster ferry landing that practical men who have examined it, pronounce it doomed and liable to collapse any minute.”“Though the water yesterday and today was not higher than before the force of the current is certainly not less, and the undermining process which has been going on for some days has culminated in practically wrecking the wharf. Though pedestrians continue to use it at no little risk, vehicles of all kinds have been prohibited from passing over it to the ferry.”

South Westminster Ferry Landing 1902

South Westminster Ferry Landing – Intact in 1902

“On arriving at the ferry slip at South Westminster the [Great Northern Railway] passengers found the ferry slip nearly washed away by the flood, the piers from the centre being gone and that portion sunken several feet lower than the rest of the wharf, which is now only held together by a few beams.  The express wagon for the baggage could not leave the ferry and the baggage was conveyed on small trucks to the boat.”

“it is all the ferry can do to make headway against the current, and wherever a cross-piece against the piles opposes the stream the water is heaped up fully a foot. At the upper corner of the wharf, where a few days ago, the water was but twelve feet deep, it is now twenty-seven feet deep, and boiling.”

“Though the water is up to the railway roadbed no erosion has occurred, as the water in shore is comparatively sluggish.”

Westminster Bridge - Construction scows and construction shacks Back at work
Scows of the construction crews once again strung out across the Fraser River, raising the foundation piers of the Westminster bridge, August 1903.

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