Today, Port Moody is a growing Metro Vancouver suburb, home to a number of thriving small businesses including a large brewpub scene.
But a local historian says things could have been much different.
“Port Moody was supposed to be the main city of the west coast, bigger than Vancouver,” Jim Millar, executive director of the Port Moody Station Museum, said.
Port Moody, thanks to its deep-water port, was briefly the end of the line for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) before it decided to move on to Vancouver.
“It was an act of Parliament that created the CPR and the western terminus was supposed to be the first navigable tidal waters. That charter’s never been changed so technically, Port Moody is still the terminus,” Millar said.
If CP had chosen to keep Port Moody as the end of the line, it likely would have been what Vancouver is now — a large city with tall buildings and a bustling downtown.
Millar said speculators purchased land in Port Moody in anticipation that a big city would grow.
“Speculation ran rampant in the early 1880s,” Millar said. “Land values got up to $1,000 a lot.”
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Port Moody served as the last stop from November 1885 to May 1887. But the railway didn’t own any of the land in Port Moody and that didn’t sit well with CP president William Cornelius Van Horne.
CP decided to build a branch line to Vancouver after receiving a very generous offer that saw them acquire huge swaths of government land as well as land from private citizens.
“The railway managed to get a deal and got 6,500 hectares of land in Coal Harbour and English Bay and they moved the end of the line to Vancouver,” Millar said.
If not for the land deal, Millar says, CP may have stayed in Port Moody and it could have been one of the largest cities on Canada’s west coast.
After CP left, the city faced a financial crisis as real estate values plummeted. More than a century later, some residents are no doubt glad that CP decided to move on.
“Port Moody has got kind of a unique character, a small-town feel. It certainly wouldn’t have had that if the CPR had stayed here,” Millar said. “Port Moody is the way it is today because of the coming and going of the CPR.”
— With files from Squire Barnes