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40 years young: The history of the SeaBus by Lea Edgar, Vancouver Maritime Museum - Subscriber Access Only

By BCShippingNews 25 September 2016

In 2017, the SeaBus ferry system will turn 40 years old. The aluminum vessels cross the Burrard Inlet with an average of 16,600 passengers per day, and with a nearly perfect reliability record of 99.99 per cent (2009). Although often overlooked locally, the SeaBus has been a great success for Vancouver’s public transit. They attract thousands of tourists every year and transport many more daily commuters and can even be credited with the opening of the first Starbucks in Canada! How did our reliable little catamaran ferries come to be? This is the history of Vancouver’s famous SeaBus.

Photo above: Burrard Otter with new livery colours during Expo 86. 

There were numerous ferries that crossed the inlet before the Lion’s Gate Bridge opened in 1938. After the bridge opened and the popularity of the automobile rose, the ferries slowly started to die off. In the 1960s, the plan was to have a freeway run through downtown Vancouver. North Vancouver proposed having a “third crossing” in the form of a tunnel to cross the inlet and connect to the freeway. Those plans all fell through after much debate and heavy opposition from the public. It was then back to the drawing board. The money North Vancouver raised for the tunnel was instead put back into building a ferry system across the inlet. The SeaBus system was born on June 17, 1977.

The two terminals for the SeaBus are the Lonsdale Quay and Waterfront Station. Lonsdale Quay was purposely built to support and accommodate the SeaBus terminal in 1989. Waterfront Station, built in 1914 for the CPR, was actually slated to be demolished before it was chosen as the dock for the SeaBus in 1976. Both sites utilize a floating “E”-shaped pier that have a central waiting hall and two waiting areas on either side.