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Lions Gate: The Bridge Free Enterprise Built
by Marco den Ouden

Originally published in The Libertarian Vol. 2, # 2 May 1979, later republished at About.com - June 7, 1999

As a political libertarian I am opposed to government involvement in business. More specifically I believe that anything government can do, private enterprise can do better and more economically. And by anything, I mean anything. Even roads and bridges. The following account tells the story of how government obfuscation almost scuttled the creation of one of Vancouver's greatest landmarks.

1. Prologue

For six decades, visitors to Vancouver, B.C. have enjoyed the graceful beauty and majesty of the Lions Gate Bridge spanning the First Narrows of Burrard Inlet from Stanley Park to the north shore communities of North and West Vancouver. May 29 marked the 60th anniversary of its official opening.

While the bridge is renowned throughout the world as a scenic attraction and a marvel of engineering (it was the longest suspension bridge in the British Empire at its completion), few realize that it was conceived, designed, financed and built entirely by private individuals. Government contributed nothing to it. Nothing, that is, but obstructions.

The concept of a bridge across the First Narrows had been envisioned as early as 1890. But it wasn't seriously considered until the 1920's. Two companies obtained provincial charters permitting the building of a bridge. But other approvals were also required. Due to an organized opposition, these approvals were not forthcoming.

Typical of the objections raised was that of the Vancouver Merchants Exchange and the Shipping Federation of British Columbia in a 1927 brief to the federal government. The brief argued that a bridge would obstruct shipping and necessitate the building of new harbour facilities in English Bay at great expense "in order that a group of foreign capitalists should be permitted to come to the city of their own accord to build a high, light traffic toll bridge across this water as a money-making scheme for their own profit". This xenophobic attack on foreign investment and the profit motive anticipated much of today's nationalistic hysteria about "American domination". It seems profits for foreigners are dirty. Profit for Canadians, though, is akin to apple pie and motherhood. (As long as the profits aren't too great!)

The Canadian Pacific Railway had opposed the building of a bridge since 1926 as a threat to their shipping and because a bridge would encourage the development of West Vancouver as a luxury residential community to the detriment of CPR's Shaughnessy housing project in South Vancouver. The CPR also exerted a strong influence on one of Vancouver's daily newspapers, The Province. The Province maintained editorial opposition to the bridge until 1934. A Vancouver plebiscite turned down a bridge proposal in 1927 and the two companies holding charters waited.

This story is of one man who had a vision of building that bridge. He was Alfred J.T. Taylor, a native British Columbian, engineer and industrialist. It is the story of his battle against petty bureaucratic minds and government obstructionism. It is the story of his battle against narrow scheming private interests who didn't hesitate to use the force of government to stop a potential competitor and to further their own ends. It is an important story that needs telling because men such as Taylor are all too scarce today.

Continue to next section - Opening Moves

Opening Moves | The Vancouver Plebiscite

"Bennett's Private Blockade" | Endgame | Epilogue | Footnotes



Contents copyright Marco den Ouden       All Rights reserved
Typewriter graphic courtesy Stockfreeimages.com