Continuing my History Tidbits series we’ll explore the history of the McBarge, as requested by @TylerIngram.
The McBarge floated into town in 1986 when Vancouver hosted the world for Expo, which began in the spring of and ran until the fall.
Commemorating Vancouver’s centennial, it was the last world’s fair in North America, “it is often credited for showing that world expositions can still be viable projects in North America following the financial and other woes of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans. It also featured the next-to-last appearance at a world’s fair of the Soviet Union.” [Expo Museum]
“Canada’s pavilion was located on a pier not continuous with the rest of the site. To reach the pavilion, visitors would take Vancouver’s newly opened SkyTrain rapid rail. That pier is now Canada Place and is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks.” [Expo Museum]
My family had a pass for Expo and we went every single weekend from May until October, exploring the pavilions and collecting buttons and stickers from around the world (and I made sure to get my Expo passport stamped at every venue). It took over the False Creek area that had been mostly warehouses and industrial land up until that point. It wasn’t until years after that the City decided “what to do with the Expo land” and Yaletown as we know it today has been growing ever-since.
The McBarge was a large floating McDonald’s that patrons could get to from a walkway on the shore and could accommodate float through service as boats pulled up to get take-out (although I don’t remember that, maybe someone can confirm).
“The McBarge featured garden rooms, tasteful art and panoramic views of Expo 86. A unique feature to this McDonald’s was a hidden kitchen. Burgers and fries were delivered to the front counter by way of a conveyor belt.” [McDonald’s Friendship 500 Floating Restaurant]
As for the fate of the McBarge, it stuck around actually and was parked off the shores of North Burnaby for years after several ideas and proposed sites were shot down. However, thanks to a group known as Wraiths that ventures past padlocks and no trespassing signs to explore old buildings and curious structures, we can have a look at how the McBarge sits today, 400 feet offshore in the Burrard Inlet.
So into the inflatable, and McPaddling their asses off to get to the McBarge without McDrowning… Pulling up and hopping out, they did a quick survey of the possible entrances, and discovered someone else had been here since our scouting mission… Due to this fact, they were inside without much trouble.
Now, time to Mc-splore… Lights had to be kept to a minimum due to the windows. The first thing we discovered was how much bigger it was than we thought. Once inside, it seemed gigantic. Lots of open space, all the seating is gone. Bathrooms are everywhere, literally. On each floor there were several separate bathroom areas. Makes sense, given the volume of customers it must have had during expo.
Many have noted that something should be done with the structure as it’s pretty much just sitting there collecting barnacles.
View McBarge in a larger map
From every report I’ve read, from every person that has made the McDiscovery, it seems all are displeased with its current state.
I’d actually be curious to know what suggestions would be for the vessel – should it be restored and turned into a passenger ferry? Should it be cleaned out and sunk as a man-made reef? The Vancouver Courier had an idea: “With the city scrambling to find temporary shelter space for homeless people, here’s a thought: Use the fabled McBarge, which is sitting idle and empty in Burrard Inlet.” Anyone have any other ideas, or should it just be left as-is?