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Festival brings life back to Ioco ghost town in Port Moody

The townsite used to be home for workers at the nearby Imperial Oil refinery.
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Local historian Jim Millar checks out one of 19 interpretive sign boards that lead visitors on a walking tour of the old Ioco townsite.

The old Ioco townsite that’s been largely abandoned for decades is set to spring back to life — at least for a day.

The Port Moody Heritage Society is hosting its Ioco Ghost Town festival on Sept. 17, with a special presentation of the film Spirit of Port Moody scheduled for the following day at the Inlet Theatre.

The film tells the story of Mary Anne Cooper, who fought tirelessly to preserve the townsite until her death in 2021 at the age of 107.

Events at the townsite, located at the west end of Ioco Road at 1st Avenue, include live music by Sound Machine, magic, puppet and mime shows, as well as story-telling and an assortment of food trucks.

Visitors will also be able to embark on a self-guided tour of the old community that once was a bustling home for workers at the nearby Imperial Oil refinery.

Recently-installed interpretive panels provide information about the history of the townsite, as well as some of its structures, like the grocery store and community hall.

Until 1917, Ioco had no road connection to the rest of Port Moody and many of the small, wood frame homes lacked heating, running water and sewage systems.

Still, the little village teemed with vitality as refinery workers and their families organized gatherings like an annual picnic, May Day celebrations, played baseball and established a lawn bowling club.

The advent of a road connection along Port Moody’s north shore diminished the need for a company town as workers no longer needed to live in close proximity to the refinery and much of the townsite fell into disrepair.

By the 1960s, most homes were vacant, and in 2002, Port Moody council passed a bylaw that designated the townsite as a special heritage conservation area. It was also added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

Since then, efforts to preserve the townsite, or even transform it into a tourist attraction, have waxed and waned.

Some of the houses were moved to other locations. Fire and rot claimed others.

In 2005, the Ioco school across First Avenue was decommissioned by School District 43 (SD43).

Today, a few of the remaining houses are occupied. Others are guarded by fencing as a private developer that owns a portion of the property, Gilic Global Management Inc., works to maintain them as it plots future redevelopment of the townsite.

The Ghost Town festival at the Ioco townsite runs from 12 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 17.

Spirit of Port Moody will be screened at 2 p.m. on Sept. 18 at the Inlet Theatre (100 Newport Dr.). 

To reserve a seat, you can email info@portmoodymuseum.org.

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