On ferries and fjords: Belcarra mayor publishes second historical book

From the wheeling-dealing beginnings of the Wigwam Inn, complete with a Prussian aristocrat financier, to the Buntzen Power Station's nitric acid plant that supplied explosives material during the First World War, or the meticulous detailing of First Nations pictographs and the untold stories of Indian Arm's passenger ferries, Ralph Drew's second coffee-table tome is brimming with little-known facts and fascinating stories about the region's history.

Ferries & Fjord: The History of Indian Arm dives into the watery stretch from Vancouver to its northernmost tip, and the role that ferries played in shaping the communities along its shores. The book also follows — and was in part inspired by — Drew's hefty 2013 tome Forest & Fjord: The History of Belcarra (at 544 pages with 14 chapters covering everything from aboriginal history in the area to Belcarra's incorporation).

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It was in preparing for a library presentation to promote the first book that the Belcarra mayor started assembling material on the history of Indian Arm's passenger ferries and docks — but stopped short.

"The size of the thing just exploded on me as I started digging; I was half finished the PowerPoint presentation and I dropped it and said, 'No, this is a book.'"

His interest piqued, Drew continued with the detective work and soon the book was growing as he uncovered new information buried in old photographs, including the story of the nitric acid plant (as a career chemist, Drew revelled in the explanation of how the plant worked) and the many First Nations pictographs dotted along the Arm.

Ferries & Fjord

There's the story of the Spanish explorer credited with the name Sasamat — the oldest place name in the Lower Mainland — and the pre-war recreational property boom, the role that docks played in moving goods and people up and down the Arm, the relationship between ferries and industry and much more.

"The whole thing is a treasure hunt, a jigsaw puzzle," Drew said of how the stories knitted together, all underpinned by the ferries chugging up and down Indian Arm. "You can't talk about settlement, about commerce, about development without boat access. The ferries are what allowed it all to happen."

Drew's wife drew the line on the first book after 10 years of research and writing; this time around, however, he was newly retired and was able to finish the second book in just two years.

Some of the material was left over from his first book but knowing where and how to direct his research efforts was a significant time saver, Drew said. And with Forest & Fjord to his name — not to mention the Lieutenant-Governor's Gold Medal for historical writing — Drew found that doors opened a lot more easily the second time around.

The result is both a landscape-format coffee-table book stocked with 340 historical photos and a fully referenced and indexed history book, giving it academic as well as mass appeal credentials.

And for Drew, it's a much-needed record of the region's past, one that hadn't yet been told.

"I was just going to talk about the ferries…but the whole story needs to be drawn together in a book. It's a way to preserve history."

Ferries & Fjord: The History of Indian Arm can be ordered now ($52.45) by contacting the author at redrew@shaw.ca or 604-937-0143. A book launch is on Sunday, Nov. 8 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Belcarra Village Hall (4084 Bedwell Bay Rd.).


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