British Columbia

Derelict Expo 86 'McBarge' to set sail for mystery port after 30-year retirement

The former floating McDonald's restaurant, last used during Expo 86, is ready to sail to Maple Ridge, for a $4.5-million makeover, before heading to a secret destination.

Floating 80s architectural icon heading for $4.5 million refurbishment, then a new life somewhere secret

For nearly three decades Expo 86's McBarge has been tied up in Burrard Inlet. (Ashley Fisher/Flickr)

An iconic relic from Expo 86 — the McBarge — is set to cast of its moorings and set sail for a new life, but the final destination remains a mystery.

Could the former floating McDonald's restaurant be heading to Vancouver?

"It is possible," owner Howard Meakin told CBC News on Monday morning.

"It's exciting. It's a big relief. It's going to take a lot of people by surprise."

The 57-metre-long concrete and steel behemoth is slated to sail out of Burrard Inlet in North Burnaby after almost 30 years in stasis, as soon as weather allows.

The graffiti-marred Expo 86 icon will soon undergo a major refurbishment before reopening as a local attraction somewhere yet to be revealed, according to her owner. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Originally the barge was scheduled to set sail today at noon, but weather may delay that voyage until Tuesday.

What is known is that once it gets underway, with the help of two tugs and an escort vessel, she is headed for a $4.5-million refit in Maple Ridge B.C. first.

Then she will be relocated once again for her new role as a B.C. attraction in an unrevealed location.

Mystery location, mystery attraction

"I can't say where. It's quite unique and it's going to be an outstanding attraction," said Meakin. "It's going to attract a lot of attention."

"It's a number of things that came together over the last five or six months. It's government. It's private, different companies."

The Friendship 500, which came to be known as the "McBarge," was built for $12-million by Robert Allan Ltd. and debuted at the 1986 World Fair Expo. (CBC)

The floating hulk was first moored in False Creek during Vancouver's Expo 86. But since those glory days, she has been anchored in Burrard Inlet, battered by storms, time and rumours.

Remarkably Meakin says the barge's hull is in "near pristine condition," describing her as one of the four remaining legacies of Expo 86: B.C. Place, Canada Place, Science World and the Exposition Barge.

"[Expo 86] was the catalyst in transforming Vancouver from a Milltown to a Metropolis," said Meakin, in a Sunday press release, recalling the barge's glory days.

And it seems many Vancouverites have not forgotten the 80s architectural icon's role in that legacy

"There seems to be an attachment that B.C. has for the McBarge and major corporations have wanted to see this happen and we are very excited to be a part of it."

Mission plans scuttled

Meakin bought the behemoth in 1999 and planned to relocate the vessel in Mission since 2012. The plan was to renew the vessel and transform it into a pub, to anchor a waterfront development about four blocks from downtown Mission, B.C.

Initial plans showed a new pier to be used as a fishing and float plane base, but Meakin said environmental and First Nations push back over float plane noise and other environmental issues, killed the plan.

"Some things don't come together as you may have anticipated them from the outset," said Meakin who is relieved that nostalgia for the barge has finally translated into investment.

There seems to be an attachment that B.C. has for the McBarge.- Howard Meakin, owner.

The plan is to launch McBarge at noon today, or wait until Tuesday if the weather is not clear enough by 9 a.m. PT.

If the journey does begin at noon the barge will be escorted by two tug boats as it leaves Berry Point and will pass under the Second Narrows Bridge at around 12:30 p.m. PT and the Lions Gate Bridge close to 1:45 p.m. PT.

It is expected to enter the north arm of the Fraser River by dusk and arrive at a secure marine facility around 10 a.m. PT on Tuesday.