September 20, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature-Paved with good intentions 

The road from Horseshoe Bay to Squamish has always been a battle with nature

It’s Friday, Aug. 30, 2002, and the leaves on the maple trees are already changing colour on one side of the Squamish Highway at a viewpoint a mile north of Horseshoe Bay. Shear rock faces, cleaned of rock debris and loose gravel, overhang the other side of the highway.

It was near this spot 45 years ago, at a ribbon cutting ceremony opening the Squamish Seaview Highway, that Premier W.A.C. Bennett, cabinet minister Phil Gaglardi and reeves and mayors from the area predicted great things would result from the new route. Lillooet MLA, Don Robinson forecast that the road would become a vibrant link to B.C.’s Interior. The government promised that the highway would mean development of Garibaldi Park.

"The highway will be a first link in a central route to Alaska!" the irrepressible Gaglardi said from a raised platform at the view-point before a 500-car cavalcade set off on the 27-mile drive to Squamish.

Right from the start officials expected traffic on the road to be heavy, and right from the start the highway was controversial. Drivers in the opening cavalcade were urged to keep their eyes strictly on the road and to view scenery only at designated viewing points.

A short distance from Horseshoe Bay reporters from Vancouver’s two daily newspapers got out of their cars to remove rocks the size of footballs from the highway. And on the drive back from Squamish reporters stopped their cars and listened as small pebbles and rocks bounced down an embankment.

The opening of the highway followed years of debate about whether a route should be built through the Capilano watershed, following an old cattle trail from Britannia to North Vancouver, or whether the route should follow Howe Sound’s east coast.

Where the road should go became a major issue in B.C. politics in the ’50s. Residents of Squamish and Britannia were angry because they couldn’t use the already established Capilano route. When a Vancouver newspaper reported on Sept. 6, 1951 that construction would begin on a Vancouver to Squamish road in 1952, probably up the Capilano River and through the watershed, many predicted that objections to the route would be overcome.

But there was strong opposition to a road through the Capilano. Reeve Howard Fletcher of West Vancouver called the Capilano proposal a "downright crime."

"When will people realize that construction of a road in the Capilano will lead to full scale chlorinization?" Fletcher asked.

Thought provoking newspaper articles opposing the Capilano route noted the potential for tourism in the Sea to Sky corridor as early as 1952. Fletcher promoted the idea of building a scenic road along Howe Sound. And when advocates of the Capilano route argued that a road up Howe Sound was too expensive the Vancouver Water Board responded that even at the estimated $10 million it would cost to build the road along Howe Sound – compared to just over $1 million it would cost to build the road through Capilano – Howe Sound offered greater scenic values. The Howe Sound route was cheap when the stakes were the safety of the Lower Mainland’s water supply.

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