Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Tales of the City #6 - Up in the Air

Sep 20, 2020

While waiting for my next book, Becoming Vancouver: A New History, to be published -- delayed by the COVID situation -- I thought I'd introduce the project by telling some "tales of the city."

Following World War One, the southern shoreline of Coal Harbour developed as one of the city's busiest industrial areas. In particular it attracted boatworks, machine shops, sawmills and engine works.

In 1917 the Hoffar Motor Boat Company began manufacturing seaplanes and in September of the following year the company was involved in the city's first air crash. A two-passenger biplane took off on a test flight and circled the West End. On its way back to base it lost power and crashed into a house at the corner of Bute and Alberni.

 The photograph (City of Vancouver Archives 289-002.079) shows the pilot standing on the rooftop amid the wreckage. He came through it with minor cuts and bruises; amazingly, there were no other injuries. Local photographer Frank Gowen took the picture. He must have rushed over from his studio on Georgia Street.

It would be another decade before Vancouver had its first airport. The Hoffar Company was later taken over by Boeing.