At the north foot of Nanaimo, across Wall Street, a narrow gravel path through Meditation Park leads to a 1920s-era pedestrian footbridge and a scenic view of the harbour and the North Shore.
The iron and wood footbridge passes over train tracks, and stairs lead down to Commissioner Street. Years ago, the public could cross the bridge to Port Metro Vancouver land and walk along Commissioner Street to places like the old Cannery restaurant and New Brighton beach.
Security at the Port tightened after 9-11 and Commissioner Street is no longer accessible to the public, but passersby continued to use the bridge as a viewing platform.
That’s no longer possible.
A fence was erected a couple of weeks ago to block access in preparation for knocking the footbridge down.
It’s being removed as part of the Port’s south shore trade area improvements. New secured access will be provided at the foot of Victoria Drive.
Roanna Zee calls the footbridge “a bit of a neighbourhood secret.”
“Above the rails you can have an open view of the Burrard Inlet and North Shore mountains. This is a local favourite spot to watch the sun set and to share with visiting family and friends. To the west, there is a romantic view of the container and cruise ships heading under the Lion's Gate in the distance,” she told the Courier.
Zee posted news of the footbridge’s impending removal on her Vancouver East Village Facebook page, proposing that the footbridge at least be replaced by a viewing platform. She discovered she’s not the only one who’s going to miss it.
The May 19th post earned more than 4,550 views and was shared 36 times.
Comments included, “If this is a piece of our heritage and history why are we letting them take it down.”
Kyla Kinzel, a longtime Hastings-Sunrise resident, started an art project encouraging passersby to write down memories and affix them to the fence. One person wrote they came to the footbridge on a first date with their partner 11 years ago and they hoped it would be re-opened so they could celebrate anniversaries there.
Another person left a poster that reads: “We love this Town. Please Stop Tearing it Down.”
Patrick Gunn, a Heritage Vancouver Society board member, said it’s important to preserve Vancouver’s industrial heritage, citing examples such as the Opsal Steel building, the CPR tunnel portal, and the Beatty Street escarpment.
‘Without knowing specifics [about the footbridge], industrial and utilitarian sites are poorly recognized on the Vancouver Heritage Register,” Gunn explained. “These overlooked sites are part of Vancouver's industrial heritage and infrastructural architecture, and not generally being on the radar, we see the loss of these unique industrial heritage components.”
The city’s communication department told the Courier via email that the Port owns the land, which is under federal jurisdiction, and the Port asked that the bridge be removed, so the city is complying with lease requirements.
“This is a City asset on leased Port land. The Port has issued the City instructions to remove the bridge so they can increase rail capacity below,” the email stated.
The footbridge is not listed on the Heritage Register.
The city did not respond to questions about concerns about the heritage importance of the footbridge or to a question about whether the bridge could be saved and moved elsewhere.
Justin Pedley, Port Metro Vancouver’s director of trade areas infrastructure delivery, told the Courier earlier this week that the footbridge was an infrequently used access point for Port employees — only four or five times a week, and that it’s an older structure that would need upgrades. That said, the footbridge needs to come down because the vehicular road that runs east west on Port property was shifted to the north, through the south shore corridor project, to create additional rail capacity.
“The Nanaimo footbridge lands in that new rail capacity, so a big part of it is we can’t expand rail without it coming out,” Pedley explained.
Removal dates haven’t been set, but they will need to fit into CP’s rail schedule and will likely happen over a long weekend.
Pedley added that public reaction indicates the Nanaimo site is an important viewing place in the neighbourhood and the Port will take that input back to the city and see if there’s a way to maintain a viewing point.
Kinzel said she’s taken photos of every part of the footbridge.
“Because if it’s gone, I feel I want to reconstruct it in art,” she said. “The metal and wood are imbued with its history. So there’s the view, which is spectacular, but then there’s the story of that bridge.”