By Morgan Ostler
Three decades have passed since crowds gathered excitedly to celebrate the official opening of Discovery Pier, on July 4, 1987.
To this day it still holds a premier position as one of the first places visitors are taken when touring the community.
The concept of a fishing pier was one of many development ideas discussed by the newly elected council led by Mayor Robert Ostler in 1983. Campbell River at that time was caught up in the economic slump that affected so many communities across the country. The council was casting around for ideas that would result in economic stimulation. A group called the Waterfront Enhancement Board was struck which included staff, board members and community people whose role it was to aid council in identifying development opportunities.
When the new council instigated a feasibility study to look at a series of locations where a pier could be built, a municipal building inspector with an engineering design background, Al Hodgkinson, offered to sketch out a concept of the project. The area around the government wharf was considered ideal. In no time at all Dept. of Lands, Fisheries & Oceans, Navigable Waters Protection, Canadian Coast Guard, the Artificial Reef Committee and Public Works Canada stepped into the picture. Very quickly actual design drawings were started by Hodgkinson and a professional team.
As several levels of governments would be required to provide funding, the senior officials felt that there were other communities on the coast that should also be considered. This included Nanaimo, Victoria and White Rock. Campbell River was up for some stiff competition. A pile driving company was hired to do a series of test holes. This provided positive results. When senior officials arrived in Campbell River to examine the area for consideration the staff were well armed. They produced a professionally assembled draft, pile-drive statistics and wheelchair accessibility plans. It became clear that of all the communities being considered, Campbell River was the only one that bothered to do this amount of preliminary exploration. The officials ruled in favour of this municipality and Campbell River was awarded the opportunity to become Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier.
Despite the estimated $800,000 cost for construction the community was galvanized into action with funding plans. The Eagles Club was the first to step up, followed by a significant contribution from the municipality and a community-wide fundraising campaign organized by the Rotary Club.
There was no question that the entire community embraced the plan…or almost the entire community. At a celebratory luncheon in the Anchor Inn to honor a provincial cabinet minister who was presenting the promised funding for the project, a voice at the back of the crowded shouted out, “That pier is a stupid idea. The whole thing will be swept away in the first winter south-easter.” It took a few moments for the crowd to recover from this voice of doom. Then another guest shouted back at him to “shut up and sit down.” Fortunately he did just that and the hand shaking and congratulatory mood continued without further ado.
The original intention of the pier was to provide fishing opportunities for people without access to boats. In fact the pier has evolved into a hub of social activity representing far more than an opportunity to fish. It has become a gathering place for a locals and visitors alike. The facility was planned for year- round use. The town proudly accepted an award from Premier Vander Zalm for its handicapped accessibility design.
During the tourist season people still arrive daily by the hundreds to enjoy the views, inhale the fresh salt air, nurse their mugs of hot coffee and exclaim over the cruise ships and vessels slowly drifting through the passage. The Concessions Cabin on the pier has become a destination for its famous ice cream cones. Customers take their mouth-watering treats and stroll along the length of the wharf, happily slurping excess ice-cream and wiping their chins. Another perfect day on the Discovery Pier.