There’s a column with a tragic past sitting somewhat inconspicuously in a field behind the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
Now, the Vanier Park Column is mostly used by daring kids and rather adventurous dogs as a large platform for balancing acts and other antics. In its previous life, however, the column was meant to fulfill the prestigious role of supporting the entrance to the San Francisco Mint.
The future looked bright for the sandstone structure when it was created back in 1872 at the sandstone quarry on Newcastle Island in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. It, and a mate, were destined for the United States Mint in San Francisco California. But in a bad turn of luck, the Zepher, a three-masted barque carrying carrying two column blanks, met a blinding snowstorm that sent it crashing into the rocky coast of Mayne Island. The ship’s captain and a crew member perished, and the items onboard sank to the bottom of the ocean, where they spent the next century becoming slowly pitted from underwater debris.
The US Mint building, originally designed for 8 columns was redesigned for 6 columns and built without the missing two columns.
The two columns (40 tons each) and 420 tons of other Newcastle sandstone remained hidden beneath layers of sediment and debris until divers discovered the wreckage in 1976. In 1987, the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia formed a rescue mission to recover the column. The recovery team, which was headed by volunteer divers, used a large crane to raise the column from the ocean’s depths.
Now, one column rests atop solid ground as part of the Vancouver Maritime Museum’s outdoor collection. The other column blank was returned to Newcastle island and placed at the site of the original quarry in the Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park
Sadly, the rain will eventually wear away both great artifacts as they dream of the grand life they could have had in San Francisco.
Know Before You Go
The second column blank sits on the western shore of Newcastle Island in Naniamo, BC. It can be accessed by water taxi and a short hike.