On October 3rd, 1975, at 9:55am, a foreman in the Burrard Terminal Elevator, North Vancouver, British Columbia, telephoned the North Vancouver Fire Department to report a possible fire in the workhouse. Shortly afterwards, two explosions shook the building. The resulting fire destroyed the workhouse, trackshed, and a large portion of the shipping gallery. Damage from the fire is estimated to be of the order of $8,000,000.
At the time of the explosion twenty-six persons were working at the elevator. Only one person was trapped in the building. His body has never been found. While escaping from the building, some of the workers were seriously burned and four of them died later in hospital.
The above is from a report published almost three years after the disaster at the Richardson Terminals on the North Vancouver waterfront. This event of almost 40 years ago is one of the most devastating in the history of the North Shore. The explosion occurred during the seemingly routine loading of a Russian cargo ship with bran pellets. The loading belt at the top of the elevator became overloaded and jammed to a halt while the pulley used to propel the belt continued spinning against it for up to two minutes. The small fire that this caused ignited an explosive mixture of dust in the elevator causing the massive explosions.
“There were people who had their clothes burned right off them,” an electrician at the elevator described later. “There was an initial explosion and then a second one that went through the whole place.” There were reports of 100 pound chunks of concrete raining down on the nearby residential area. Embers from the fire fell on the Ridgeway School Annex more than five blocks away. The school was evacuated as were approximately 400 residents of the Moodyville neighbourhood immediately above the terminal site.
The fire raged for 90 minutes before being contained by the North Vancouver Fire Department. Within a year, Richardson would begin rebuilding the elevator and eventually increased the capacity of the facility four-fold. Currently the facilities are being expanded once again with new grain elevators being constructed east of the current ones. The new 54m high silos are slated to be completed this year.