Vancouver History Tidbits: Lions Gate Bridge and the Guinness Family

Comments 10 by Guest Author

A few weeks ago I was trying to come up with a history post one day and I put the call out to my contacts on Twitter, asking what they would want to know about local history. As a result I received several great tips and suggestions, which I have been researching and publishing bit by bit.

The following is the latest installment of my History Tidbits series based on a response by @6oz, asking about the Guinness family’s influence on the region. However, this particular segment was written, researched, and contributed to by Anita Webster of Anita Webster Communications. She is a Vancouver public relations gal, aspiring blogger, and really great for putting this together:

Recent news about bridges, tunnels and tolls reminded me of a toll booth from our city’ past. I am a third-generation Vancouverite – yes, there are a few of us around – and as I grew up on the North Shore I remember my family paying a toll to cross the Lions Gate Bridge. My parents say the toll was something that gave them pause before they bought their land in West Van.

Lions Gate Bridge Car Ticket 1938
© North Vancouver Museum & Archives

Also known as the First Narrows Bridge, the Lions Gate Bridge was built by the Guinness family – the Irish beer barons – to provide access to the north shore of the city. The Guinnesses had purchased 4,000 acres in what is now West Vancouver for $18.75 an acre – and were busy developing it.

Bridge construction started in 1937 and was completed the following year for just under $6 million. The bridge originally had two lanes.

To recover their construction costs the Guinness family had toll booths installed at the north end of the bridge. When the tolls were instituted, a weekly auto ticket cost $1.25, pedestrians paid 7.5 cents per crossing and cars were 25 cents (plus 5 cents per extra passenger).

As West Vancouver grew, demand on the span increased and in 1952 the two lanes were divided into three. Hair-raisingly, the centre lane was controlled by a blinking amber light and was for passing – in either direction.

1952 was also the year toll revenues had finally covered cost of construction. The Guinness family sold the bridge to the provincial government in 1955 though the tolls continued until 1963. I guess we paid for the bridge twice.

North approach to Lions Gate Bridge, 1947 – Source: West Vancouver Memorial Library

My parents, delighted at the news the tolls were gone, saved the money they had been spending on toll tickets and bought a Danish chair still in their house and still known as the Lions Gate Bridge chair.

The Guinness Family’s last involvement with the bridge was when they had lights installed along its graceful lines as a gift the our city for Expo 86.

More information can be found at the West Vancouver Memorial Library or the North Vancouver Museum and Archives.

Read more about Anita Webster on her website, Anita Webster Communications, or follow her on Twitter.

The History Tidbits series will continue at a later date with:

@TylerIngram History of the McBarge
@kdmurray – Some Burrard Inlet History
@davidshore – Why/how the CPR landed in Vancouver

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10 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Miss604Monday, February 23rd, 2009 — 9:23am PST

    Thanks for this, Anita!

    Side note: The string of lights put up for Expo 86 was nicknamed “Gracie’s Necklace” after Grace McCarthy, the member of BC Parliament who helped make that Guinness sponsorship possible.

  2. Liz@VioletPosyMonday, February 23rd, 2009 — 11:52am PST

    Great post, I love the lack of traffic in that 1947 photo!

  3. DianeThursday, February 26th, 2009 — 11:10am PST

    Hi Anita
    Sure, I would love to meet with you about a strategy to reach clients by blogging.
    We have done a lot of it in the past when Mike was with us.
    I like the article above. I would love to send it to our lawyers who use the Lions Gate Bridge as there symbol.

    I am in LA for a week. Call me after March 7th and we can make a time to get together.


  4. JakeSaturday, August 1st, 2009 — 11:39am PDT

    Just a note to add to the history lesson. July 31/2009, “Gracies Pearls” were actually retrofited with LED lighting. They will now operate at a fraction of the price. The new lights look amazing! Vancouver should be proud.

  5. DhanaTuesday, November 17th, 2009 — 10:42pm PST I did not know that. Love the pic. Unfortunately when I tried to impress my husband with these facts this evening, he already knew it all, but , you enlightened me.

  6. Bill OrrTuesday, January 19th, 2010 — 9:09pm PST

    I enjoyed your tidbit on the Lions Gate Bridge , as I was raised in the Jerico area of Van. I was wondering if you had any info on the Folkstone family , whom I’m told built the old film studio in West Van.. ” Panorama Studio ” as I’m in the film industry and that was the first stage I worked in , I’m trying to do a little write up on the studio and some history about it’s beginning , can you help me out at all ?……………regards Bill Orr

  7. Anita WebsterMonday, March 29th, 2010 — 8:34am PDT

    Hi Bill – just noticed your question about the Folkestone family on the post I submitted to Rebecca’s blog. Not sure if the Folkestone family built Panorama Studio but we found this entry for Folkestone Way in a book put out by the West Van Historical Society called Place Names of West Vancouver: A Gazetteer:

    “believed to have been named after Viscount Folkestone, a member of the English nobility. Another source maintains the name derives from the port city of Folkestone, Kent, England.”

    Many place and street names in West Van are names after places in England so we’ve always presumed this was another. Good luck with you research!

  8. AndrewSunday, October 3rd, 2010 — 6:42pm PDT

    I have some toll tickets for the seconds narrows and Queensburry
    I would Like to sell them,they are from the early 1960’s
    leave a note here if interested

  9. Sandra Carrier-ScottWednesday, November 17th, 2010 — 10:34am PST

    My husband has the original plans, newspaper clippings, etc. that include info of the building of the Lion’s Gate Bridge. His grandfather was part of the engineering team at the time and these documents were passed down to us from his mother. Could you inform us if there is any value in these documents and where/how do we proceed to get more information.

  10. Michael MurphyThursday, November 25th, 2010 — 2:15pm PST

    As an Irish person who drinks Guinness, lives in Australia but loves Canada, I like this post. Nice bit of history!

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