photos: Photo by David Denofreo, Black Opal Images.

Watching the harbour

Vendor Voices: Vancouver vendor Bob Dennis reflects on the story told by the boats that pass along our shorelines

Get on your megaphone

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By Bob Dennis


One thing that really fascinated me when I was young was seeing ships going in and out of Vancouver harbour, freighters they call them. The old passenger ships built during the war had its fleet of passenger ships going to Victoria, Nanaimo, up the coast to Alaska.

Before the Ironworkers Bridge (formerly Second Narrows Bridge) was built, ferries leaving the foot of Carrall Street took passengers over to North Vancouver. The ferries (three in all) ceased operations in 1958.

West Van had three ferries running from Ambleside back to Vancouver harbour, ceasing in 1938/39, the year the Lions Gate Bridge was built.

The old Union Steamships leaving Vancouver on the coast ceased in 1958. Today, one still remains, taking passengers up to Ucluelet and freight on Vancouver Island.

Dozens of nations brought freight into Vancouver and out; for example, grain from four grain elevators in the city.

We took the ferries a few times over to Nanaimo for the day.

Later years when operations for the Canadian Pacific Ferries ceased, we’d take the B.C. Ferries to Victoria. Those were fun days travelling.

In the late ‘50s, American, British and Japanese warships came into Vancouver harbour as well as American in 1966. Dad took us on warships, often talking to crew members.

Dad used to take us on freighters docked in Vancouver Harbour. This was long before 9/11.

Now, security is very tight and only personnel with the ships is allowed on board. He again talked to crew and the crew again talked to us.

Dad, known for his drinking, one night brought three American sailors home from a bar. He wanted Mum to make coffee, Mum wanted to go to bed. So Dad made coffee and probably put in a mickey of rum to freshen up the coffee.

A couple years later, I’d take one of three old passenger boats to summer camp, camp Howdy Indian Arm and a second camp—Camp Fircom.

Little did I know, a few years later, I would take one of two Harbour Ferries on the Granite Falls run to work in the kitchen of the dining hall for my first dishwashing job.

Harbour Ferries is now called Harbour Cruises. It has two modern ships and a fancy sternwheeler, running daytimes on Harbour Tours in the summer, a cruise from Vancouver Harbour to False Creek.

Both boats were expensive to ride but you had bars, buffets, and dancing.

I mentioned earlier I worked on one of the two old miniature sternwheelers for a couple of summers.

Besides all I’ve written about the ships, in 1961 my Dad bought a 16-foot boat with an inboard motor, and a small cabin. Dad now had a boat. My late Uncle Ken had a boat. We had a lot of fun in it. We fished but never caught a thing. If Dad and his drinking buddies went, they’d often come back with a salmon or two.

Grandma Nellie Dennis had fun on the boat. Grandpa Bob, the son of a drunken captain, never rode ships. He feared water.

In fall of 1966, Dad’s boat was caught in a storm anchored off Kits Beach. It landed on the shore with no cabin. We saw what it looked like, but the next time he went to do something about it, it was gone.

Dad had a model aircraft carrier and freighter.

He gave me a toy sub. Then he once took it out and tied it to his boat and lost it.

When it comes to ships, I like the old ones.

The last place I lived, Megaphone staff and the Cambie crowd saw three pictures of the old CP ships. They were built to last.

For travelling on boats, I take a B.C. Ferry twice a year to Victoria. It’s a nice trip, particularly going through the Gulf Islands.

I have great friends in, and from, Victoria.

Bob Dennis sells Megaphone outside the Choices Market on Cambie St. and 19th. Photo by David Denofreo, Black Opal Images.


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