It’s a day White Rock residents – and frequent visitors from other communities – won’t soon forget.
On Dec. 20, 2018, as the city was buffeted by a violent storm, spectators looked on in disbelief as high waves and fierce winds drove moored boats and a loose section of marina wharf into the city’s iconic pier, a fixture on the waterfront since 1914.
The onslaught rammed a hole in the structure which soon widened into a horrifying 100-foot gap.
Today (Friday) marks the one-year anniversary, not only of the event itself, but also the way the community immediately unified behind a common cause – to repair and restore the beloved city landmark.
That determination was apparent, even as live footage – some of it taken by Peace Arch News reporter Aaron Hinks (subsequently recognized in the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards for “best spot news photo” in the newspaper’s circulation class) – spread the story nationally through news and social media.
Mayor Darryl Walker commented almost as soon as the damage occurred, “we will not lose that pier…come hell or high water, we’ll make sure we have that pier.”
As residents look back, one year later, at the storm that broke the pier, the city is inviting them to return to the site to join Walker and other members of council to reminisce – and enjoy some free hot chocolate – this Sunday (Dec. 22) from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“We’re (also) encouraging people to go on Facebook and Twitter to tell the story of where they were when the pier was broken,” said city communications manager Donna Kell. “They can hashtag it #PierOneYear.” (for more city perspective on the event visit the PierOneYear page on the city website.)
The White Rock pier is now split in two after wind, loose boats cause havoc. One person stranded on far end pic.twitter.com/Bmjbr5Nnzg— Aaron Hinks (@aaron_hinks) December 20, 2018
The storm – B.C. Hydro called it “one of the most severe” workers had experienced in years – had drawn adventurous souls to the waterfront by the early afternoon of Dec. 20 last year.
As wind and high waves lashed the waterfront, some of the more reckless spectators ventured onto the pier, until they were ushered unceremoniously back to the shore by White Rock RCMP members – among many emergency services responding to the storm, including firefighters, B.C. Hydro and BNSF Railway crews and the RCM–SAR5 unit.
But one man was left on the pier and – adding extra drama to an already dramatic turn of events – was stranded on the far end when the battered middle section collapsed at around 2 p.m.
An RCAF Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopter was summoned from its base in Comox, and airlifted the man safely to the head of the pier where he was attended by paramedics, transferred to hospital and later released.
While residents, fortunately, were spared from injury or loss of life, the force of wind and water sent boats, logs and other debris crashing to the beach.
Power lines were ripped from poles, promenade paving and landscaping was savaged and picnic tables were up-ended, particularly on East Beach – necessitating months of clean-up even after immediate emergency repairs were completed.
In the following week, Walker and city staff pleaded with residents to heed barriers on the waterfront and at the pier for their own safety – and made preliminary investigation of what federal and provincial emergency funding might be available to help with repair efforts for the pier.
But grassroots fundraising initiatives were already underway.
The White Rock Youth Ambassadors took the lead in organizing a GoFundMe page on social media just hours after the storm; days later White Rock movers and shakers joined together in the Friends of the Pier organization – with a goal of raising $2 million to help refurbish the pier.
It soon incorporated and expanded on the ambassadors’ initiative, launching a drive to sell planks for the pier at $1,000 per plank (as of early this month, 272 of the 1,300 available planks had been purchased or pledged, and more than $400,000 of the $2 million had been raised).
Through the year, fundraising efforts in partnership with the city also included a show of historic photographs of the pier selected by White Rock Museum and Archives and exhibited at the Landmark Pop-Uptown Gallery at Central Plaza (with prints on sale to the public) plus a Pier-Perfect beer on tap offered by Three Dogs Brewing and White Rock Beach Brewing and a canned Beer For The Pier commissioned from Langley’s Trading Post Breweries.
The White Rock BIA and the city also rebranded the free TD Concerts at the Pier summer music series as the TD Concerts for the Pier, with an option for concertgoers to donate toward the fund. And in September, Chefs for the Pier, co-sponsored by the South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce – in which 12 prominent local chefs prepared an assortment of dishes for guests at Oceana Parc – raised a further $100,000 for the cause.
One of the more bizarre proposals connected with the damaged pier came from promoter Brooke Colby who floated, through media releases, the idea of a daredevil motorcycle jump across the gap as a means of boosting awareness of White Rock and helping waterfront business.
When he appeared before council in January, he revealed that his plans for a commercially sponsored, Las Vegas-style event, rather than actually jumping the gap, were to simulate it by positioning a team of professional daredevil cyclists to do the stunt adjacent to the pier at low tide. No such event materialized, however.
Meanwhile city staff and council continued the work of repairing the pier – and finding funding for it.
Original estimates for complete repair and upgrading of the pier were in the neighborhood of $16.2 million, of which insurance was expected to pay some $7 million.
However a thorny issue emerged, due to the need to upgrade the pier to present construction standards. As this exceeded standard insurance definitions of “replacement,” this meant some of the necessary work could not be funded by insurance.
A fix and upgrade of the collapsed section only was finally decided on by council, which cost the city some $4.3 million. Work was completed by Aug. 27, when the pier was informally re-opened to the public (a formal opening ceremony followed on Sept. 21).
Estimated remaining cost of reconstructing and upgrading the rest of the pier is estimated at $11.6 million. Sources of funding include a $1 million provincial grant for storm repair work, plus insurance, and city reserves, and the city is still awaiting word on its applications for further federal/provincial infrastructure grants.