The Shipyards of Lower Lonsdale have been a hub of North Vancouver for over 100 years, but few people know that soon after opening the entire site burned to the ground and was nearly re-built elsewhere. English shipwright Alfred Wallace began operating a shipyard on the north shore of False Creek in 1894. Needing room to expand and seeking cheaper land, Wallace moved his operation to its present location in North Vancouver in 1906.
On the morning of July 11, 1911 the Wallace Shipyards were destroyed by fire. Approximately $150,000 to $200,000 in damage occurred and 200 men were put out of their jobs. Thankfully there was zero wind that day and the rest of North Vancouver was spared. At the time of the fire Wallace was in England attending the coronation of King George V, he would return to North Vancouver immediately. Wallace was upset with the lack of protection his assets received and was quoted on July 18 saying, “As I consider the rate of taxation to which I am subject disproportionate and ridiculous with the fire protection offered an industry in North Vancouver, it is extremely unlikely that the Wallace Shipyards will be built on their old site.”
Indeed, Wallace had a right to complain. The North Vancouver City Fire brigade consisted of but five men, in addition, nearby fire hydrants were claimed to be partly buried in piles of dirt from local sewer construction. The City took Wallace’s concerns seriously and found a compromise on his tax situation. Wallace agreed to stay in the original location and within six weeks of returning from England, the yard was once again operational. The quick rebuild was possible due to a stroke of luck that the yard office building and Marine Ways used for hauling boats to and from the water were undamaged by the fire.
Wallace changed the name of his yards to Burrard Dry Dock Company in 1920. In 1929 Alfred’s son Clarence Wallace became president of the company after his father’s passing. Clarence who would serve as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia from 1950 to 1955 would head the company until 1972. The entire operation was sold then and became Burrard-Yarrows Group until finally being renamed Versatile Pacific Shipyards in 1985. The yard operated until closing in 1993 although the floating drydocks and some buildings on the Eastern end of the yard were purchased by Vancouver Drydock and are still used today.