100th year for the White Rock pier

WHITE ROCK — For most, a trip to the City by the Sea would not complete without a stroll down its iconic pier. As the focal point of the seaside city’s waterfront, the wooden tourist attraction has been around longer than White Rock has officially been a municipality, and this year it celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Before the White Rock pier was constructed in the early 1900s, a few local businesses built several makeshift piers, including a 300-foot floating jetty by the White Rock Boat and Bathhouse located near the rock.

“It actually played a role in the origins of the present pier,” recalled Hugh Ellenwood, archives manager at the White Rock Museum & Archives. “A group of businessmen and realtors invited the federal Minister of Marine and Fisheries, (John Douglas) Hazen, to come to White Rock because they wanted him to see its potential as an industrial seaport.

“When he arrived, he used this little floating plank thing and he got soaked up to the waist. They invited him purposefully at a time when it would be high tide so they knew he’d have to use this inadequate pier.”

Hazen promised to secure funds to build a proper pier, and on Nov. 14, 1914, after two summers of non-stop construction, the White Rock pier was officially opened.

The local businessmen had visions of industry, intending to use the pier to facilitate shipping and carry imported goods further into the province via the railway. But locals began finding recreational uses for the pier, and the planned transportation of goods was overshadowed by swim clubs, private boats and people out for walks along the 1,616-foot wharf on the water.

Union steamship cruise vessels like Lady Alexandraand Lady Cynthiamoored at the pier, allowing locals to take day excursions to Victoria and Bowen Island. Then, when the breakwater was built in 1953, smaller boats and yacht clubs began docking instead of fishing ships.

“People coming to White Rock in the early days were wealthy, had leisure time, had spare resources,” said Ellenwood. “People come here to see the beach and spend a lovely afternoon in one of the cafés.

“Probably White Rock’s first business, aside from the railway, was real estate and ice cream.”

However, White Rock’s waterfront could have looked a lot different over the last 40 years. In the mid-1970s, after six decades of wear and tear, the pier was set to be torn down as the provincial government couldn’t afford to continue repairing the aging structure.

“In 1975 or 1976, there were stories appearing in the newspapers that they were going to tear it down because it cost too much to maintain it,” said Ellenwood. “The community, mainly tourist-oriented groups and people proud of the pier, said, ‘No, we’ve got to save it.’”

Residents started a campaign with a “Save the Pier” bumper sticker, which garnered support from beachgoers far and wide. “The federal government made an offer to White Rock that the city turned down, so there was a bit of negotiation. I think because it was in such a state of disrepair that the city couldn’t afford to take it on, finally, the federal government said, ‘OK, we’ll get it to a point where it’s brand new, but then it’s yours to deal with.’”

The pier was disassembled in 1977 and promptly rebuilt entirely out of new wood, keeping the lengthy pathway as a prominent symbol of White Rock. “There’s not a scrap of wood there that’s from the original 1914 pier, but it’s still White Rock’s pier,” Ellenwood said.

Several years after its reconstruction, the pier was designated as one of the city’s three heritage sites, along with the White Rock and the archives building.

“The rock, obviously, is a symbol of the city and the area going back thousands of years, and this building represents the railway and the huge changes it brought to the area,” said Ellenwood. “The pier represents White Rock’s spirit of recreation and proximity to the ocean.”

For its lifespan to date, the pier has meant a lot of things to a lot of different people. Whether you’re young or old, angry or elated, heartbroken or in love, Ellenwood said there’s something about the pier that makes it almost therapeutic and versatile for, literally, all walks of life.

“I was a teenager in this town, and even when I was going to university and living in Vancouver, if I was going on a date with someone, I’d bring them out here to White Rock and walk on the pier,” he said.

“It’s multigenerational. It’s a wonderful structure and it really reflects White Rock. Next to the rock, it’s probably the most powerful symbol that the city has.”


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