It was abandoned, derelict and had unwelcome guests living in it, but the Eburne Sawmill was a piece of south Vancouver’s history.
The building was owned by Canfor Corporation, one of B.C.’s biggest and oldest logging companies and dates back to 1910.
It was torn down just over two weeks ago. Because the building was not on the city’s heritage building register, demolition permits were issued on Nov. 26 and the building was gone before any one in the neighbourhood knew it was at risk.
Historically, the building was used to repair ships.
Safety issues and squatters
“The building had been around a long time. It has been derelict and not in any kind of productive use,” said Marpole Business Improvement Association executive director Claudia Laroye.
What is now an empty lot is located under the on-ramp to the Arthur Laing Bridge, on the riverfront across from the sprawling Coast Mountain Bus Company depot. Tucked away as such, the old shipyard building saw very little foot traffic which made it an ideal place to squat.
Construction workers down the street (who can’t be identified due to risk of job loss) said they would regularly see people coming and going from the building with groceries.
“There were some safety concerns,” said Laroye. “People were living there illegally.”
A vanishing history
Buildings are the physical embodiment of communities, said Vancouver Heritage Foundation executive director Diane Switzer.
The forestry and fishing industries are integral to who we are as British Columbians and losing buildings that reflect our history is in turn a loss of identity, she said.
“We’re not talking about museums, we’re talking about revitalizing and repurposing these buildings,” she said.
Heritage reflects things we value as communities because it’s our history, she said.
“Just because we’re not fisher-people now doesn’t mean it’s not part of our history.”
The task of keeping our history alive
Even if a building is on the city’s heritage register it is not protected. There are three classes of heritage buildings: A, B and C.
Maintaining and restoring heritage buildings is no simple task.
“It’s messy it’s dirty and it’s hard to repair,” said Switzer.
“Instead of taking care of the squatters and the squatting situation it’s ‘let’s just get rid of the building.’ And in doing so, you’re actually erasing a piece of the city’s history,” she said.
The story of Eburne
Some of the buildings along the Fraser river go back to the 1800s, before Vancouver was incorporated as a city, when the community we now know as Marpole was a fishing village called Eburne.
People began to settle there because of its arable farming land and proximity to the river for fishing and transportation.
The river provided a way for residents to get from New Westminster to Vancouver.
A man named Eburne owned the general store. It was not until 1974 that the footings for the Arthur Laing Bridge were built directly over the former settlement. Since then it has been all but forgotten.
Lack of transparency
The first person to notice the shipyard building was gone was a fisherman named Terry Flack of the Fraser River Coalition, who reported it to the Vancouver Courier.
When the Voice tried to get a confirmation on the actual date the building was razed, inspector Stewart Cowdell said he didn’t know.
“I don’t stand there and watch buildings get torn down,” he said.
Canfor did not respond to comment by press time. Remote Living Systems, the contractor that physically took down the building, also did not have documentation.
In this video, Annie Ellison reports from the shipyard and interviews Diane Switzer of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.
Reported by Annie Ellison and Judy Chern