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CENTENNIAL: Port Coquitlam was to be a thriving port city
His Scottish lilt likely still intact after 17 years in Canada, James Mars greeted a throng of newly-minted Port Coquitlam residents with a degree of enthusiasm not usually associated with a dour Scotsman.
It was a warm, sunny day in April, although deep puddles in the ditches alongside Shaughnessy Street hinted at earlier spring rains. After months of speculation, planning and, finally, triumph, Inauguration Day had arrived.
April 18, 1913 had been declared a civic holiday and the entire city had emptied out of businesses, homes and farms to walk to Agricultural Hall for the mayor's address.
Looking back on that day nearly 100 years ago, one wonders if the residents of the young community could appreciate the significance of their undertaking.
Today, Port Coquitlam, which celebrates its centenary this year, is an independent-minded, thriving community that also punches above its weight in dealing with environmental and social issues — and was home to Canadian hero Terry Fox.
A BUILDING BOOM
A century ago, PoCo's future could hardly be envisioned. Instead, the dozens of children wearing white and carrying hats were enjoying a day off school and waiting for the speeches to be over and the ball games to begin.
If all went well, Mars would soon hand them a special inauguration medal to mark the day while the Coquitlam City Band played celebratory tunes.
As the heat of the day poured down on his wavy, close-cropped hair, Mars did not disappoint his listeners. In fact, he fanned the flames of their optimism by predicting that the town of 1,500 to 2,000 would be home to 10,000 people in three years.
The grocery store owner's optimism was not unfounded. As noted in the Chuck Davis-penned book Where the Rails Meet Rivers, the new city had only just separated from Coquitlam on March 7 to avoid subsidizing its roads but was already attracting developers, entrepreneurs, ship builders and Canadian Pacific Railways to the region.
There were "all sorts of indications the little city had a busy future," Davis writes, citing the list: Electric power had recently arrived, the CPR had moved its marshalling yards into the centre of town, the new hospital at Essondale (later Riverview) just opened and telephone service was on its way.
And even greater plans were afoot.
Coquitlam Star editor, R.W. Hulbert had predicted the area would become "the Pittsburgh of the north;" land speculation was rife, judging by advertisements with bombastic claims. "Coquitlam is advancing with relentless momentum. The forces which are behind it will not be stopped by government or man," enthused the Coquitlam Terminal Company, one of the more active developers in the region, and anyone with money to invest was flocking to the area.
A PORT CITY
A port was envisioned for PoCo with grain elevators, shipbuilding, logging and other endeavours.
The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 was seen as a catalyst for industrial development in the region and PoCo, located between the Pitt and Fraser rivers, would be its heart. Plans were even drawn up for a $5-million canal from Pitt River to Port Moody inlet.
In a fever of expansion, the community's leading citizens, then part of Coquitlam district, began a burst of road, school and sidewalk building, and took out a loan of $340,000 — a large undertaking for a community of about 1,500.
But such was the optimism of the day and, with much of the home building, hotels, businesses and services in vicinity of the train station, Westminster Junction, the city's fathers opted to secede from the bigger municipality and The Star announced a contest to name the city.
Much would change in the intervening years. The CPR did become a major employer — as it is today — the shipbuilding industry lasted for a brief period during the Great War but much of the promise of those early days was derailed by war, depression, fire and floods. Many people left and hundreds of homes were auctioned off for tax sales; the city hall building constructed in 1914 sat virtually empty for years.
It seemed as if the new motto "By Commerce and Industry we Prosper" had deserted the city, but there is no question that PoCo's ability to maintain its livability despite the pressures of expansion over the years suggests the founding fathers and mothers who stood out in the sun at Aggie Hall that day were definitely onto something.
Port Coquitlam is celebrating 100 years with dozens of fun events in 2013. Below is a partial listing; for more information visit here.
• Jan. 4: Launch party, 5-9:30 p.m., PoCo rec complex
• Feb. 9-16: Spirit Week events
• Feb. 13: "Illuminating Port Coquitlam" opens, 7 p.m., PoCo rec complex (open nightly to March 7)
• March 7: Community birthday celebration, Hyde Creek rec centre and PoCo rec complex
• March 7: Heritage Centre at Leigh Square grand opening, 3 p.m.
• March 28: "Fashion through the Decades" fashion show and luncheon, 12:30 p.m. at Wilson Centre
• May 3-12: May Day Festival
• May 11: Back in Time Promenade, legacy project and trolley tours
• June 28-29: PoCo Legion 100th birthday event
• Aug. 17-18: Homecoming Event
• Sept. 15: Terry Fox Hometown Run, 10 a.m., Hyde Creek rec centre
• Sept. 29: Rivers and Trails Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Lions and Peace parks
• Nov. 30: Christmas in Leigh Square and volunteer recognition, 4 p.m.