River District evolves from mills to condos
Ever since members of the Musqueam First Nation arrived in what’s now known as River District, the area has played a key role in the economy of the Lower Mainland. The Musqueam were attracted by the Fraser River’s bountiful sockeye-salmon runs, and they even took their name from their word for the grass on the banks.
In 1808, Scottish explorer Simon Fraser was the first to explore the river from its headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t until 60 years later that soldier William Rowling received a large land grant that included River District and stretched up the hill in Southeast Vancouver to the modern-day Killarney neighbourhood. The area became known as Rowling Heights and became a centre of agricultural production.
During the 20th century, the forest industry was the biggest player along the river. In 1910, Seattle industrialist Julius Bloedel built the Dominion Mill at the foot of Boundary Road. It was the first mill in Canada to produce pressure-treated wood, which is used in railway ties because it’s more durable. Sixteen years later, the province’s most legendary forest executive, H.R. MacMillan, opened the Canadian White Pine Mill next to the Dominion Mill, By that time, the Dominion Mill was processing more than 200,000 feet of timber ever day.
MacMillan bought the Dominion Mill in 1935, and two years later the Canadian White Pine Mill burned to the ground. It was rebuilt in 1939, the same year that the International Woodworkers of America organized workers at the mills. A third mill was added in 1944. In 1946, the IWA negotiated a 40-hour work week for the mill workers.
Following the Second World War, there was a home-building spree in the Fraserview area of the city, providing housing for many veterans. In 1959, the mills were combined into one facility, which went on to process Sitka spruce, hemlock, western red cedar, and white pine. But a deep recession forced the closure of the plant in 1982, resulting in the layoff of 700 workers.
The following year, it reopened with a scaled-down staff. U.S.–based Weyerhaeuser took over the Canadian White Pine Mill in 1999, but shut it down two years later. ParkLane Homes purchased the site two years later, which led to a long community-engagement process that eventually gave birth to River District.