Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres - Lilia d'Acres and Donald Luxton, Lions Gate

Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres

Lilia d'Acres and Donald Luxton, Lions Gate

Joan Seidl
Vancouver Museum
D'Acres, Lilia and Donald Luxton. Lions Gate. Burnaby: Talonbooks, 1999.175 pp., illus., cloth $34.95, ISBN 0-88922-416-1.

1 The Lions Gate Bridge, completed in 1938, has become an icon of Vancouver, blending utility and beauty in a remarkable urban landmark. Every day about 70 000 drivers cross the Lions Gate Bridge. The Bridge spans the First Narrows of Burrard Inlet, connecting the city of Vancouver at Stanley Park with West and North Vancouver. Approached from Vancouver, the crossing is preceded by a causeway through the cool gloom of Stanley Park's forest. Vancouver sculptor Charles Marega's austere concrete lion figures guard the approach. Driving on to the bridge deck, views emerge on every side: up and down the inlet, across to the north shore mountains, the sky above. The Bridge's towers rise up and cables stretch in a graceful arc.

2 D'Acres and Luxton's Lions Gate is a timely and informative history of the Bridge. Over the past decade, dubbed "the Car-Strangled Spanner" by detractors, the Bridge has been the subject of a series of studies to determine if it should be replaced by another bridge or tunnel, or repaired and possibly enlarged. The rancorous local debate around this issue was the original impetus for Lions Gate. Co-author Don Luxton is a founding director of the Heritage Vancouver Society, an organization with a reputation for presenting well-researched, articulate advocacy for preservation issues. When the issue of replacing the Bridge was raised in 1993, Luxton and other Heritage Vancouver Society members realized how little was known about its history, and acted to fill the gap.

3 Lions Gate begins with Vancouver's location, particularly its harbour, and the various solutions proposed to connect the city to the north shore. The first link was at the Second Narrows, about ten kilometres east of the present Lions Gate Bridge. Built in 1925, the first Second Narrows Bridge was a rickety and unreliable structure that used trestle-piers and small spans to cross the inlet.

4 Eventually low labour prices during the 1930s Depression presented an opportunity to attract private investment to the First Narrows Bridge project. The authors present Vancouver engineer and businessman A. J. T. Taylor as key: a man possessing vision, technical know-how, important family and political connections, determination, and persistence. With access to the Taylor family papers, the authors recount in detail how private foreign investment fleeing Britain's high tax regime was lured by the promise of undeveloped lands in West Vancouver. The eventual deal gave the bridge developers the right to charge a bridge toll, and to develop over 4 000 acres in West Vancouver. This land, known locally as "The British Properties," was designed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm of Brookline, Massachusetts, as an elite suburban enclave, complete with golf course and restrictive clauses that prevented those of Asian or African descent, except for servants, from residing there. (According to the authors, although not enforced, the restrictions are still on the books.)

5 The heart of Lions Gate is a wonderful series of construction photographs presented in chronological order. When necessary the photographs are accompanied by brief captions that describe in plain language the particular engineering challenges and the bridge-builders' solutions. Sections of the technical drawings are reproduced where relevant. The quality of the image production, here as elsewhere in the book, is outstanding.

6 The most significant technical innovation in the construction of Lions Gate Bridge was the use of prefabricated strands for the suspension cables, a sample of which is in the collection of the Vancouver Museum. Instead of being twisted on site, the cables were made from 47 wires, which, in turn, were twisted into 3 400 long strands. The cables were prestretched at the factory and end sockets applied, before they were shipped west. It took only 16 working days to place the 122 completed cables, each one being "tuned" by tapping it with a wrench to determine the final degree of tightening. (The engineering design of the Lions Gate Bridge proved itself, and was re-used in two similarly designed bridges in Halifax harbour, the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge built in 1955 and the adjacent A. M. McKay Toll Bridge, built in the late 1950s.)

7 While the details of the Lions Gate Bridge project are unique and the role of Taylor remarkable, what is even more startling is how familiar this story is in Vancouver's history. Vancouver, it seems, has developed as a by-product of outside investment. When the first non-native development at the present site of Vancouver occurred at Stamp's Mill, it was wealthy British capital looking for a way to employ the latest sawmill technology to profit from British Columbia's resources. When the Canadian Pacific Railway decided to extend its terminus to Vancouver, massive local land grants offered by the city were part of the inducements. And in the 1990s the internationalization of the Vancouver land market continued with the construction of highrise land by Hong Kong developer Li Ka-shing on the former EXPO '86 lands. Without diminishing the heroics of A. J. T. Taylor, the authors could have considered the Lions Gate in the context of Vancouver's history of globalizing financial projects.

8 Authors d'Acres and Luxton take the important and difficult step of seeking to set the First Nations perspective on the Lions Gate Bridge alongside the story of its financing and construction. Construction of the Bridge required nearly ten acres of land on the north shore that was part of Capilano Indian Reserve No. 5, and claimed by the Squamish Band. The land was transferred to the private First Narrows Bridge Company at the recommendation of the Department of Indian Affairs and on the order of the Privy Council. Through interviews with Band members the authors reconstruct a story of misinformation, deception, and failure to act in the Band's best interests. The primarily oral character of the sources is clearly apparent in this chapter. The authors have not processed and homogenized the voices until they sound like A. J. T. Taylor's correspondence or a Vancouver Sun editorial. As public history workers struggle for ways to fairly and powerfully represent First Nations points-of-view in writings and exhibits, it is useful to have d'Acres and Luxton's example of one way to do it.

9 Like the stylized lions on the Stanley Park approach to the Bridge, the book's design is Art Deco in inspiration. For the most part, it is exquisitely realized. Wonderful platinum-sheen pages set off the black and white photographs. Occasionally the designer Leon Phillips sacrifices content to design, when text is overprinted on too busy a background illustration.

10 Strangely, the photographs, while carefully reproduced, are not identified by photographers. Illustrations set in the body of the text are usually identified with general statements such as "Second Narrows Bridge" or "Hoover Dam," without dates or sources. This limits the book's usefulness for research, which is unfortunate when clearly the authors intended to (and largely succeeded in) producing more than a lovely coffee-table book about a beautiful bridge.