The Ferries of Indian Arm

On Thursday March 23, 2017, Ralph Drew (Mayor of Belcarra) will give a talk on the ferries of Indian Arm. The talk, part of the Vancouver Historical Society, takes place at the Museum of Vancouver at 7:30pm. It is free and open to the public.

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The Sternwheeler Skeena in front of the Wigwam Inn, ca. 1912. PHOTO COURTESY VANCOUVER ARCHIVES LGN 546
The Sternwheeler Skeena in front of the Wigwam Inn, ca. 1912. PHOTO COURTESY VANCOUVER ARCHIVES LGN 546

Areas along Indian Arm, such as Deep Cove, Woodlands and Belcarra, were settled in the prosperous, pre-First World War years, when the middle class were looking for summer retreats not too far from the city. In those days before roads and bridge access, the ferries were integral to the development of the area and helped to shape those communities along the water’s edge, serving the permanent residents, summer guests, and industry such as the logging camps, the Buntzen Lake power stations and the quarries.

“You can’t talk about settlement, about commerce, about development without boat access,” says Ralph Drew. “The ferries are what allowed it all to happen.”

It’s hard to imagine today, but in those early years of the 20th century, Harbour Navigation ferries had regular runs up and down Indian Arm, from Vancouver to the Wigwam Inn, and stops in between all along the fjord. Canada’s only fulltime floating post office travelled up and down Indian Arm for over 60 years, and Madge Winfield was a familiar sight as skipper of the Sea Biscuit, a floating grocery store.

These are just a few of the stories in Drew’s books: the 544-page Forest & Fjord: The History of Belcarra (2013), and Ferries & Fjord: The History of Indian Arm (2015).

But even after two hefty books, Drew says he is a reluctant writer.

“I never decided to be an author,” he says. “I started writing local history stories for our local newsletter, and I kept thinking that somebody should write these down. After a couple of years, I started to realize that the somebody was me.”

As a kid, Burnaby-raised Drew would bike out to Bedwell Bay on the only road that leads to Belcarra. He moved there in 1974, and has been the mayor for 34 years. Belcarra, the smallest municipality out of the 21 that comprise Metro Vancouver, has a population of around 700.

Drew’s first book on the history of the area took 10 years to research and write. He was rewarded with the Lieutenant-Governor’s Gold Medal for historical writing, and Drew says it was all the motivation he needed to write a second book.

“I love historical research,” he says. “It’s a bit like a detective story– putting the pieces together and seeing how big events such as wars greatly affected things.”

In addition to the hundreds of hours spent at the Vancouver Public Library’s Special Collections and at Vancouver Archives, Drew spent three years boating up and down Indian Arm taking photos of the pictographs that are painted on the rock faces along Indian Arm. You can see the photographs in Ferries & Fjord.

-Eve Lazarus


Vancouver Historical Society talks take place on the third Thursday of the month at 7:30pm at the Museum of Vancouver (1100 Chestnut Street). Everyone is welcome to attend and entrance is by donation. Learn more.

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The Vancouver Historical Society is a non-profit society that stimulates public interest in Vancouver's history, to encourage historical research and publication, and to promote the designation and preservation of historic sites.