The Flying Shingle
Bridge talk nothing new, says Bulic
Monday, April 7, 2014
Click for larger photo
Click for larger photo
Museum archivist Janet Stobbs is looking for information on these bridge drawings. ~ Photo by Chris Bowers

At a March 20 presentation of Bridges Over Troubled Waters: The history of fixed links from Mainland BC to the Islands”, Bulic told a crowd of about 50 people at the Agi Hall, that the idea arose first in 1870 “when John A. Macdonald promised the Crown colony in BC a railroad in 10 years or better through confederation”. Originally the railroad was meant to terminate in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, Bulic said.
However, Bulic said, it took the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) surveyors 10 years to find a route through BC.
Three railway routes were proposed, he said: one to Prince Rupert; one through Bute Inlet to the northern part of Vancouver Island, including a bridge across Seymour Narrows, to a railway from Campbell River to Victoria; and one through the Fraser Canyon to Seymour Narrow.
Despite the “formidable engineering challenges,” Bulic said, Vancouver Islanders were confident that they would be getting the railroad from Bute Inlet, and built a large amount of infrastructure based on that expectation.

Steamship swapped for rail
However the CPR survey concluded the Bute Inlet route wouldn’t work, and a “strong inland lobby convinced new Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie to scrap the earlier deal” and run the railway to Vancouver.
Victorians were not amused, Bulic said, and MP Amor de Cosmos “immediately tabled a motion … that BC secede from confederation”.
Macdonald, back in power again, intervened, Bulic said, and brokered a deal to build a railway from Esquimalt to Nanaimo.
A link to the Mainland did eventually appear, Bulic said, with a CPR steamship service that linked Victoria and Nanaimo with the rail terminal in Vancouver.
Black Ball Ferries ran this route until about the 1960s, Bulic said. However they were losing money, and as Black Ball was cutting their losses, he said, WAC Bennett’s BC government intervened and set up a ferry service.
The fleet was built “as the marine component of a newly-expanded provincial highway system,” Bulic said, “with terminals in Tsawwassen on the Mainland, and Swartz Bay”. He said one reason for creating the BC Ferry Corporation was to support local shipyards, and the Province required that all ferries be built in BC.

Fixed links proposed
Since about 1978, Bulic said, a number of proposals were  pitched for ferry routes and fixed links from the Mainland to the big island, including a proposed ferry route from Sea Island in Richmond to Silva Bay “connecting to a highway system across the southern tip of Gabriola and bridges across Mudge to Nanaimo”.
Other proposals included crossings to Valdez Island and then to Gabriola, to Thetis Island, and to Galliano and Salt Spring islands, he said.

Technology varied
“A variety of technology has been proposed” for fixed links, Bulic said, including: a rail line and highway tunnel floating just low enough for ships to pass overtop; tunnels resting on large floats; tunnels resting on the bottom; and other suggestions.
“None of these have ever been built anywhere,” Bulic said. The Province’s position on floating tunnels is that “the existing technologies … do not make the option feasible at this time,” he said.
A proposal has also been made for an anchored pontoon pier bridge, Bulic said, but the technology has not been applied, and the Province says “it would need considerable engineering to prove its feasibility”.

The Gabriola connector
Bennett commissioned a study in 1972 to look at the Sea Island to Silva Bay crossing, Bulic said. Bennett lost the election, Bulic said, but NDP MLA Dave Stupich claimed that 500 of the then-800 Gabriola residents had signed a petition for a bridge. Former BC Liberal leader-turned Socred MLA Pat McGeer also unveiled a model for a bridge to Gabriola at Expo 86, Bulic said.
In 1985 a Gabriola bridge club called for a bridge to Vancouver Island, and gained the support of the Chamber of Commerce, Bulic said. According to newspaper clippings from the time, he said, the club claimed 90 per cent of Gabriolans were in favour of the bridge.
However at a 1987 “mass meeting” of Gabriolans, Bulic said, Islanders said they were against the idea.
An ad hoc group called the Gulf Islands Committee , whose motto was: “Real islands don’t have bridges,” formed in 1988, Bulic continued.
“Since then,” Bulic said, “whenever issues arise with the ferries,” so does discussion about a bridge.

Comparisons
Comparing other fixed links to one across the Georgia Strait, Bulic said the Chunnel “cost $19 billion in today’s dollars, sits on a hard-chalk bottom and links 63 million people in Britain to about 500 million in Europe”. The Chunnel “basically breaks even on a one way London to Paris passenger train fare at about $261,” Bulic said.
The Confederation bridge between PEI and Nova Scotia, Bulic said, is about 13 kilometres long, and sits in 35 metres of water on a rocky bottom. The toll is about $45 per car, and $4.25 for pedestrians, he said. Georgia Strait is much wider and deeper than that, he said.
“Gabriola has only been mentioned in plans as part of an overall link between the Mainland and Vancouver Island,” Bulic said. “None of the Gulf Islands have been looked at as stand-alone projects yet.”
“As of this afternoon,” Bulic said, the Province’s position is “estimates for fixed links to Vancouver Island have been pegged at $12 billion, equal to about six per cent of provincial GDP. To build a bridge at that price, tolls would have to be $260 per car to break even.”
Archivist Janet Stobbs noted that they have a set of 1985 architectural drawings of a bridge about which they have no information. She asked that anyone who knows about them to please contact her.

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