A stern reminder: North Vancouver city hasn’t forgotten Victory ship plans
The fate of the last surviving North Shore-built Second World War Victory ship hung in the balance when plans to build a national maritime centre on the North Vancouver waterfront were scuttled by the province’s withdrawal of funding in early 2010.
Now, almost 68 years since the HMS Flamborough Head was launched from Burrard Dry Dock on Oct. 7, 1944, the former Royal Navy repair ship’s huge steel stern section sits pretty much where it started, awaiting its final act with little more certainty today.
To see it, standing bolt upright on the overgrown city-owned Lot 5 waterfront site, is to wonder if it’s even still there on purpose.
“It’s one of those features which baffles some people,” City of North Vancouver director of community planning, Gary Penway, said in a phone interview Friday. “It intrigues everybody and I think when it gets done it’s going to be one of these iconic things that when you see it, people are going to go, ‘Wow.’”
But whether that “wow” factor comes in the form of a one-off, walk-in exhibit showcasing the very last Victory-class triple-expansion engine, or whether its deck becomes Lower Lonsdale’s very own elevator-accessed lookout platform — or something completely different — is still anyone’s guess.
“In pretty much all our options it’s positioned against the end of a new building,” Penway told The Outlook. “Most options have seen it facing south, which is the way it would have been built on site and then launched with the stern entering the water first. And then some options have it facing north toward Esplanade [Avenue]. Whatever the orientation is, the expectation is that it’s going to be this iconic feature and it’s part of that shipyard heritage precinct which tells the story of Wallace Shipyards, Burrard Dry Dock and the history of shipbuilding on the North Shore.”
But the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. — which acquired and sunk the rest of the Flamborough Head to make a dive-friendly reef off Nanaimo before selling the stern to the city — is concerned the City of North Vancouver has lost sight of its plans to preserve the marine relic since acquiring it in 2001.
“For all I know, they may just melt it down for scrap.” ARSBC president Howard Robins told The Outlook in a phone interview Friday. “It’s been sitting there for 10 years and there’s been no contact between us or the city about what to do with both the stern and the triple-expansion engine during that time. It’s a shame.”
But while Penway admitted “there is still a degree of uncertainty” around the stern’s eventual fate, it seems unlikely the city would simply scrap it now. Especially not after reportedly paying more than $70,000 to outfit the stern in March 2010 with a propellor from the Flamborough Head’s North Van sister ship, the HMS Rame Head, which was then being dismantled for scrap in Belgium. That propellor now sits on the ground alongside the stern until such time as the site is redeveloped, Penway said.
North Vancouver continues to hold public input sessions on the eventual Lot 5 land use and will present the results of the latest workshops to city council in the fall.
“It’s one of those things that kind of doesn’t look like much right now,” Penway said of the stern and propellor. “But it will be one of the strongest iconic features in Greater Vancouver when it’s done.”