British Columbia·Point of View

Heart of White Rock breaks along with pier

Long time White Rock resident and CBC Producer Joan Marshall reflects on what the pier has meant to her and her community.

Pier has anchored the City by the Sea for a century

Record winds caused the collapse of the middle section of White Rock Pier. As a result, the city's annual New Years Day Polar Bear Swim has been cancelled this year. (City of White Rock)

The White Rock pier is the heart of White Rock beach. On Thursday, that heart was literally broken.

High tide and a wild windstorm conspired to set free sailboats moored at the breakwater. Those boats became battering rams hammering at the midway point of the pier until it gave way. A man stranded on the wrong side of the damaged pier had to be evacuated in a long line rescue from a Cormorant helicopter. The drama was captured on video.

What those pictures do not show is the deep emotional connection people who live in White Rock have to the iconic 104 year-old pier.

It is the defining image of our little city by the sea. It is so much more than boards and pilings stretching out over Semiahmoo Bay.  It is the symbol with which we all identify, where we live. It is what drew hundreds of people to the water's edge Friday morning after the storm to witness the destruction up close.

I moved to White Rock nearly 25 years ago and my first home was right on Marine Drive up from the pier. It was a wonderful thing for a Prairie girl to be able to look out at the ocean. I would wake up every morning and pinch myself that I lived in such a glorious marine community. 

For years, the historic destination has been the place you take your friends and relatives from other places. It attracts thousands of people every year to wander to the end and turn around to come back. The sole attractions: a view of the Gulf Islands and a few sea stars gripping the supporting pillars.

White Rock Pier and Canadian Legion building circa 1948. (Treasures from the Past)

Like hundreds of other families,  we almost always walk the promenade and pier on Christmas day.  I have often thought the pier may collapse under all the weight of holiday walkers. But I could never have imagined the pier breaking the way it did. 

This local landmark is probably the most photographed site in White Rock.  When friends move away, the most popular going away gift is a professional photograph of the pier. My favourite picture of my daughter was taken there years ago when the sun reflected off the water like diamonds. 

Joan Marshall's daughter, Beret, at the dock at the end of White Rock Pier in 2003. (Marshall family photo )

The collective memories of people who have lived here are inextricably linked to the pier. It is the place where the graduating class goes for pictures and marriage proposals are made. It is also the place we go when the dark clouds of life come in and we need to clear our heads.  

 Nearly everyone who lives here has an emotional connection to the pier.

The 470-metre pier was a source of pride for many years as the longest one in Canada. That distinction changed a few years ago when it was usurped by the pier in Port Neuf, Que., which is 12 metres longer.

Peace Arch Hospital Foundation's Picnic on the Pier fundraiser in August. (Peace Arch Hospital Foundation)

The sailboats moored at the end of the pier are also an integral part of the community. This happened just a few weeks after the annual Sail Past when the sailing community decorates its boats with lights. The event always attracts a crowd and is a successful fundraiser for the Peace Arch Hospital. 

For the past three years, the long wooden dock has been the site of another fundraiser for the hospital, called Picnic on the Pier. There was even talk of putting a restaurant at the end of the pier.

An engagement set up at White Rock Pier. (Susan Fuller )

Mayor Darryl Walker vows "our pier will be restored" but it may take months and cost millions. Our new mayor assures us that the jewel of our little city will be back.

Until then, we  will miss that special moment arriving at the beach when you see the lights of the pier welcoming you home.

About the Author

Joan Marshall is a senior producer for CBC News, based in Vancouver

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