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Why does Vancouver's 9 o'clock gun keep running out of gunpowder?

Turns out, managing a centuries-old weapon is complicated.
The Vancouver nine o'clock gun has gone silent many times over the last few years but why?

Every night at 9 p.m. a bang echoes across Burrard Inlet. The firing of Stanley Park's 207-year-old gun can be heard all over Vancouver and the North Shore and was originally intended as a signal for mariners to tell them what time it was. Now it's a fun part of Vancouver's past and present.

Or, at least, it's supposed to be.

Over the last few years, the Nine O'Clock gun has gone silent several times due to a shortage of gunpowder. Last year the gun was quiet for 20 days between February and March and a recent announcement from the Vancouver parks board says it's happening again.

The parks board anticipates that this latest break will last a week. But why does the gunpowder keep running out? Surely they can just order more in advance?

It's not that simple. A City of Vancouver spokesperson explains that "the black powder cannot be stockpiled or bought in bulk. We are regulated by the Federal Government as to how much black powder we can store, alongside where it is stored, how and where it is prepared and who prepares the charges. We cannot, for any reason, exceed the maximum amount of powder that can be stored at one time."

Additionally, the park board's usual supplier closed in 2021 and there are limited manufacturing sources and distributors for the specific type of black powder used to fire the Nine O’Clock gun in North America.

The city has managed to secure a new supplier based on the east coast but they tell V.I.A that the supplier also occasionally runs out of black powder.

There can also be delays in delivery due to adverse weather, highway construction, and airline disruptions like the ones recently experienced at YVR.

"Orders of black powder have to be carefully timed so that we do not exceed the maximum storage capacity as regulated by the Federal Government," says the spokesperson. "Once our order is submitted, we have no control as to when the delivery will arrive."

While the city assures that staff are searching for a reliable source amid these challenges, they also identify other unforeseen issues that can lead to the gun not firing.

For instance, in the fall of 2021, the firing of the Nine O’Clock Gun was temporarily suspended because a large tree damaged the shed where staff prepare the cannon charges and the building was deemed unsafe. Because the gun is so old, other occasional maintenance and repairs are also required to keep it functioning and sometimes the work can take over a day to complete, meaning the gun can't fire that night.

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