YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The Once Heavily Armed Section Of Point Grey Beach
by Stevie Wilson | Built in 1939 in response to the perceived military threats along the coast, the Point Grey Battery stood among four other Vancouver artillery forts intended to protect the inner harbours. At its peak, Point Grey Fort was the most heavily armed, and featured 250 soldiers and personnel in addition to a sophisticated system of defenses to both react to and initiate an attack. The Point Grey peninsula has always played a strategic role in reserve planning, with military designation dating back to the 1860s; however, before WWI the area had not yet been required for this purpose. Though they were never used, a small numbers of guns were set up along strategic points in 1914 to ward-off an offensive from the German navy. At the peak of WWII in 1942, several defenses had been set up across the Lower Mainland, including gun stations at Point Atkinson, Stanley Park, and Steveston, with Point Grey acting as a pivotal access point for domestic security.
During WWII three six-inch caliber anti-ship guns were stationed out at Point Grey, with the concrete remnants of their underground storage facilities and tunnels still visible adjacent to what is now UBC’s Museum of Anthropology. The men stationed at Point Grey Fort belonged to the 58th Heavy Battery Coast Brigade (Royal Canadian Artillery); service began on August 26th 1939. The site boasted its own power supply, hospital, canteen, and a wide assortment of anti-aircraft machinery. The three massive anti-ship guns featured canopies to provide shelter, while camouflage netting kept the crews hidden from airborne enemies. Underneath the guns, their respective underground magazines protected 500 shells and propellants that were accessed by a mechanical hoist.
A three-storey observation deck was the central command station for soldiers, who kept watch on the waterfront through a system of binoculars coordinated with the movement of searchlights on the beachfront. These searchlights (which still stand at Tower Beach) were designed to operate with high tide, as to increase visibility at any hour of the day. Built in 1941 to replace existing smaller lights, the towers were able to project light three to five miles into the night to guide the anti-ship guns. In all, there were 10 electric lights positioned across the Burrard Inlet, each with 80 million candle-power efficiency.
Point Grey Fort was vacated at the end of the war and eventually closed in 1948 without ever having fired a shot – other than the occasional warning shots over ships entering the Inlet. The artillery was removed and shipped to NATO allies, while the University acquired the base for student housing. Decades later, during the development of the Museum of Anthropology, architects took care to preserve much of battery infrastructure; the centerpiece of the museum, Bill Reid’s The Raven and the First Men, is centered on the base of a former gun turret. Today, the adjacent sites outside the museum are maintained by the 15th Field Artillery Regiment Museum, with much of the original concrete structure still intact. Take a peek next time you’re headed out to Wreck to enjoy the…scenery.
Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not undertstand.