As the world looks to build a more sustainable future, one of the oldest and most abundant building material is making a comeback. wood, a natural, sustainable and renewable resource, is not only good for the planet but good for the economy and the communities it serves. These and many factors are the driving forces to encourage the use of wood as the preferred construction material. In 2009, building codes were updated to facilitate mid-rise buildings from a limit of 4 stories to 6 storeys. Today, further revisions allow buildings up to 18 storeys in most jurisdictions.
Although building with wood has a bright future, the practice of engineering and building structures of this magnitude isn’t exactly a new process- In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Vancouver became one of the largest commercial hubs for large timber exports in western Canada. From the very beginning, Vancouver was destined to thrive through the forest sector and the lumber industry that was the foundation upon which the city of Vancouver and the province of British Columbia was built.
As they grow, trees breathe in CO2 and exhale Oxygen,
which is a good thing for us humans who survive by doing the opposite.
B.C. Mills Timber and Trading Co. Felling a Douglas Fir for British Columbia 1919.
British Columbia Toothpicks’ on freight car at Hastings Sawmill, 1893. The rich coastal rain forest produced what’s called “BC Toothpick.” These beams, 60 feet long and 2.5 feet square, were prized as masts for sailing ships and used to build mid-rise buildings all around the world.
British Columbia Toothpicks’ on car at Hastings Sawmill, 1893
Lumber to be loaded onto tall ships on the wharf at the Brunette Sawmill Company, 1895 British Columbia lumber was a highly sought after resource and shipped all over the world.
Green Point Logging Co. Ltd., 1932, Trestle bridge made of timber.
Douglas Fir for Heavy Construction, 1912. Photograph shows Douglas Fir used as roof supports and flooring in the reception room at the C.P.R. dock.
Photograph shows a timber based building that is 6 storeys in Gastown, 1914. This building now houses the Old Spaghetti factory and condos.
Typical Gastown buildings were upwards of 6 to 8 storeys.
To cap off this historical journey, it’s essential to recognize that the legacy of British Columbia’s timber industry is not just a relic of the past; it’s a blueprint for the future. The pioneering spirit that drove the early lumberjacks and engineers to utilize the abundant Douglas Fir and other local woods is the same spirit that fuels our modern innovations in mass timber construction today.
From the towering “BC Toothpicks” that once sailed across the seas to the trestle bridges and six-storey buildings of yesteryears, British Columbia has always been at the forefront of timber engineering. As we look ahead, we’re not just building structures; we’re building on a rich heritage, a sustainable future, and a legacy that would make our forebears proud.
So, as you walk through our modern, sustainably-built wooden structures, remember that you’re not just stepping on wood; you’re stepping on the shoulders of giants. And just like the towering Douglas Firs that have long symbolized this province, we continue to reach for the sky.