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The Ballantyne Pier Building: Port of Vancouver’s Past, Present, and Future

It is said that change is the only constant. If you need proof, look no further than the Vancouver waterfront.

The work on the Centerm Expansion Project and South Shore Access Project will bring improvements to the container terminal and the surrounding roads. Infill efforts will add 15% more land to the site, preparing the south shore of the Burrard Inlet to accommodate the expected 60% increase in container traffic. Standing steadily amidst all the change is the Ballantyne Pier Building.

The History of the Ballantyne Pier Building

Almost 100 years ago, in the wake of the First World War, the Port of Vancouver faced a similar challenge as today: a shortage of available dock space. The solution then was to build a new pier that would enable the port to keep pace with increased shipping traffic. Thus, the Ballantyne Pier was born.

Construction on the new pier began in 1922. The Pier Building was built in the Beaux-Arts style, a popular architectural style that originated in Paris and was used extensively in the design of train stations and other transportation terminals throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. When completed in 1923, the Ballantyne Pier was one of the most technologically advanced ports in the world. It was also around this time that the first grain terminal in Vancouver was built and helped to propel the city to become the second largest port in the country (behind the Port of Montreal).

In 1935, the Ballantyne Pier was the sight of a violent clash between striking longshoremen and police, which became known as the Battle of Ballantyne Pier. Although this strike ultimately failed, it did eventually lead to the birth of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

For the next 50 years, the Ballantyne Pier played a vital role in Vancouver’s economic development – becoming Canada’s largest port and the third largest in North America, handling the transportation of goods between Canada and more than 170 countries.

By the end of the century, the pier had fallen into disrepair and its use lessened over time. By the mid-1990s the pier was completely gutted and renovated. Three of the original sheds were demolished to make room for new warehouses. The fourth building was converted into a cruise ship terminal, with two modern cruise ship berths equipped with automatic gangways and areas for customs and baggage handling. The pier continued to host cruise ships through 2014, when Canada Place became home to all cruise ships arriving in Vancouver.

The pier’s history even involves a brief stint in the film industry—as it was home to the 1996 production of the TV movie, Captains Courageous.

The Future of the Ballantyne Pier Building

Now, 100 years after construction began on the original pier, the iconic Ballantyne Pier Building is being renovated once again to begin its new life as the home office of DP World Vancouver. The lagoon, where cruise ships once docked, has been filled in to make room for the new facility’s operations building and parking.

The Ballantyne Building has been around for almost 100 years. And while the only constant may be change, it’s good to have places that stay the same and bridge the past to the future.