By Sandra Thomas
Long before it became known as “The Shipyards,” the waterfront area of North Vancouver was home to Coast Salish Peoples, says the guest curator of MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver.
“The village of Eslhá7an was known for millennia as a gathering place by Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples,” says Nadin Hassan, who brings her passion for history to MONOVA.
New Exhibit Traces The Evolution of North Vancouver’s Waterfront
MONOVA’s newest feature exhibit, You Are Here @ The Shipyards, traces the history and evolution of the area from its earliest days when Indigenous Peoples lived and traded along the waterfront to today’s rendition, which includes a bustling market, shopping, restaurants and bistros, a summer splash park for kids and skating rink for all ages in the winter, all providing dazzling views of the surrounding mountains and ocean.
Opening on December 8, You Are Here @ The Shipyards is the first exhibition on view in the Museum’s new Feature Exhibit Gallery.
“The waterfront has been shaped by its various phases,” says Hassan, “including an early 20th century scenic tourist attraction, a massive industrial centre for shipyard workers to gather and create communities, and as a hub for residents to live, shop and run long-standing businesses.”
Hassan adds that, following years of decline, “dreamers and innovators” came together to revitalize the former Versatile Pacific Shipyards, transforming the waterfront from the industrial hub it had become, back to a space for communities to come together. The new exhibit celebrates the many facets of this rich heritage and The Shipyards as they are today.
Living History Woven Throughout The Shipyards
A stroll around The Shipyards allows visitors a glimpse of the living history woven into the buildings and etched into its streets. And with giant cranes, historic docks and heritage buildings, evidence of the past is everywhere and makes it easy to imagine the ferry wharf in Lower Lonsdale bustling with people. While many were immigrants starting a new life, others were exploring the nearby mountains, and some were taking trains to other parts of British Columbia.
The Wallace Shipyard, which was established in 1906 and later named Burrard Dry Dock, became North Vancouver’s leading employer and one of the country’s main warship producers. At its peak, Burrard Dry Dock employed more than 14,000 workers during World War II. That diverse community, made up from more than 50 countries, came to work and live in North Vancouver, resulting in expanded infrastructure, housing and services.
“It’s impossible to deny that the Shipyards had a major influence on the area’s landscape, community, and politics,” says Hassan.
Since then, the area has seen some dramatic changes — the most recent being the creation of a thriving recreational space where North Shore’s communities can enjoy the waterfront together.
Visitors to the new exhibition can explore the rich history of The Shipyards and Lower Lonsdale from the late 19th century to present, through a wide range of collections, stories and multimedia displays. Using interviews drawn from MONOVA’s oral history project, some of those stories are told through the voices of those communities who contributed to it.
Other exhibition highlights include:
- Stories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh community of Eslhá7an;
- The piano from the historic Hotel North Vancouver;
- A replica of a hockey shirt from the WWII-era Norvan Shipyards hockey team featuring the famous “Victory Ship” built during wartime;
- objects from the historic Lonsdale business, McDowell’s Drug Store including some suspect chloroform lozenges; and
- a video of City Planner Gary Penway showing The Shipyards area prior to its bold revitalization project.
There are also opportunities for visitors to dig deeper through an interactive StoryMap developed in collaboration with North Shore Culture Compass, which explores the history of The Shipyards area.
Sharing Stories of North Vancouver
“I am very excited for MONOVA to be opening this exhibition, which takes visitors through the social, industrial and urban history of The Shipyards area,” says Hassan. “You Are Here @ The Shipyards retraces the steps of the workers, planners and innovators who breathed life back into the area.”
Following this exhibition, the Feature Gallery space will host a selection of other temporary and travelling exhibits sharing stories of North Vancouver.
You Are Here @ The Shipyards opens to December 8, 2022. The public is invited to celebrate the launch of the new gallery and exhibit with a free community day taking place December 11, 2022 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Visit monova.ca/events for more information and updates.
The Shipyards: Then and Now Digital Interactive
Developed in partnership with the North Shore Culture Compass, the interactive StoryMap in the new exhibition You Are Here @ The Shipyards invites visitors to explore The Shipyards in its earliest days as North Vancouver.
The North Shore Culture Compass is a free online map that connects users to the rich cultural landscape of the region through explorations of its arts, heritage, and stories. It is a project by North Van Arts. Visit northshoreculturecompass.ca
We rely on contributions, monthly or one-time gifts, to help MONOVA safeguard and expand our community’s archival and museum collections, build learning experiences and inspire future generations.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.