History

Sun Tower Construction

Construction of the Sun Tower in 1911.

Local 97’s history goes back to the spring of 1906. Steel was an exciting new building material, and it allowed British Columbia to enter into an extended boom period that started to transform our province into what it is today. In the early days, wood was everywhere. When steel arrived on the scene, it enabled ironworkers to erect much larger structures, bridges, and trestles. As the years went on, steel became the construction material of choice for everything from hospitals to office towers to pulp and paper mills.

Originally, Local 86 in Seattle had jurisdiction over British Columbia. It was not an ideal arrangement, however; the distance made it difficult for 86 to police jobs, and operating in two different countries with two different sets of laws was problematic. And so it was that on May 11th of 1906, fifteen men signed the Charter that gave birth to Ironworkers Local 97.

Through two World Wars and a Great Depression, Local 97 remained committed to ensuring fair wages and worker safety. British Columbia became a hotbed for activity during WWII: factories were running full out, and the shipyards were busy both building and refitting. Following the armistice in 1945, Vancouver enjoyed another boom that lasted for several years. Vancouver grew by leaps and bounds during this period as multiple projects were completed: Ocean Falls Mill, Woodfibre, the Granville Street Bridge, the Cleveland Dam, a new airport, and a new post office on Georgia Street. Empire Stadium was also built at this time so that the city could host the 1953 British Empire Games.

As Vancouver grew, the West End started converting to high-density housing, a process that employed scores of 97 ironworkers for many years. Meanwhile, pulp mills began to spring up all over the province; in Port Alberni, Elk Falls, Taylor Flats, Prince George, Prince Rupert, on Vancouver Island, and in the interior as well. Projects on the Columbia River and the Peace River kept large numbers of 97 members busy during these years, but perhaps the largest undertaking of this era was the colossal Kemano Project, which would provide electricity for the Alcan Aluminum Smelter.

A catastrophe that will never be forgotten in British Columbia’s history: June 17th, 1958, the collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge. 14 Ironworkers were killed that day and others would later die in the construction of the bridge.

A catastrophe that will never be forgotten: on June 17th, 1958, the Second Narrows Bridge collapsed. Fourteen ironworkers were killed that day and others would die later during the completion of the span.

Between 1955 and 1970, there were 528 bridges completed in British Columbia. The list includes the Second Narrows, the Okanagan Floating Bridge, the original Port Mann, and the Oak Street Bridge. Needless to say, Local 97 ironworkers took the lead on many of these spans.

As you can see, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that modern-day residents of BC are surrounded by the accomplishment of our members. There’s a proud tradition of ironworking in this province, and it’s one that we intend to uphold. We achieved a tremendous amount in our first hundred years of existence, and we expect even greater things in the centuries to come!

Kicking Horse Bridge - 2007

The Kicking Horse Bridge in 2007.