108-year-old Ferry Building in West Vancouver reopens after $2.5 million restoration (PHOTOS)

Apr 5 2023, 4:18 am

Prior to the completion of the Lions Gate Bridge in 1939, which provided the North Shore’s first fixed crossing across Burrard Inlet to the rest of Metro Vancouver, a passenger ferry service was a critical link between West Vancouver’s Ambleside and downtown Vancouver.

One of the remaining reminders of the service’s existence is the Ferry Building, which reopened on Tuesday following a two-year renovation to revitalize the municipal government’s public community art gallery inside the structure.

The 108-year-old structure, known as the Ferry Building Gallery, is located near the foot of 14th Street on Argyle Avenue next to the entrance to Ambleside Pier — west of Ambleside Park.

The extensive structural renovation work included raising the wood-frame building by about five feet to protect it from flooding during storm surges and high tides, installing a concrete foundation, performing seismic and envelope upgrades, and making accessibility improvements, and the addition of public washrooms.

The renovation project cost $2.5 million, with the federal government contributing $1 million, the provincial government contributing $840,000, and the municipal government contributing $600,000.

The building is historically significant, given its role in catalyzing the early developments of West Vancouver and the rest of the North Shore.

Before renovations:

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Ferry Building before renovations. (District of West Vancouver)

After renovations:

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The renovated Ferry Building in West Vancouver. (Scott Construction)

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The renovated Ferry Building in West Vancouver. (District of West Vancouver)

“The Ferry Building Gallery is a jewel in the crown of West Vancouver, and is an important centre for art, culture and connection in our vibrant community,” said West Vancouver mayor Mark Sager in a statement.

“It is an important venue for providing opportunities and programs that have helped countless regional artists, as well as telling the story of our rich history. I would like to express my gratitude to our federal and provincial partners who helped to make this restoration possible, and I am excited to welcome people back into this very special place.”

Anne Kang, BC minister of municipal affairs, added: “Preserving such a culturally significant landmark will ensure future generations know the history of the region and talent of our citizens.”

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Location of the West Vancouver Ferry Building next to Ambleside Pier. (District of West Vancouver/Google Maps)

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The renovated Ferry Building in West Vancouver. (Scott Construction)

The Ferry Building and original wharf and dock were built by the municipal government in 1913 — shortly after the District of West Vancouver, established in 1912, acquired a privately operated ferry business and turned it into a municipal service with an expanded fleet. The private operator first launched the service in 1909, which triggered a small real estate boom in West Vancouver.

As the name suggests, the building served as the location for passengers to buy tickets, and provided a waiting room for passengers to stay warm.

Soon after, in 1916, the municipal government’s public transit services eventually expanded to buses, now known as the Blue Bus.

The ferries continued operating until 1947 — about a decade after the opening of the Lions Gate Bridge. Their termination was determined by a public vote amongst West Vancouver residents.

The North Shore’s other remaining ferry service came to an end in 1958, when the North Vancouver Ferry between Lonsdale and downtown Vancouver also succumbed from falling demand due to the Lions Gate Bridge. As well, the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in the Second Narrows opened two years later in 1960, which was delayed due to the deadly collapse during construction in 1958.

After West Vancouver’s ferry service was terminated, the bus operations took over the Ferry Building for its head office, and a bus depot was built nearby. In 1986, the Blue Bus depot relocated to its current location at 221 Lloyd Avenue in North Vancouver.

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Historical photo of the West Vancouver Ferry Company’s operations from the Ambleside Pier, with the Ferry Building shown. Circa 1915. (District of West Vancouver)

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Completion of the West Vancouver Ferry Building, wharf, and ferry dock in 1913. (West Vancouver Archives)

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West Vancouver ferry crossing Burrard Inlet, circa 1920. (City of Vancouver Archives)

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West Vancouver ferry vessel passing by Stanley Park’s Prospect Point, 1919. (City of Vancouver Archives)

West Vancouver designated the Ferry Building as a municipal heritage building in 1987, and opened its current public art gallery uses in 1989, following a renovation designed by architect Howard Yano. The latest retrofit is designed by DA Architects & Planners.

Passenger ferry services eventually returned in 1977, when the current SeaBus service launched between Lonsdale Quay and Waterfront Station. The provincial government initially put the operational responsibility of SeaBus under BC Hydro, then BC Transit, and then finally TransLink. West Vancouver Transit, which has since integrated its Blue Bus with the regional TransLink system, is now the oldest continuously operated municipal public transit system in North America.

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