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By Al Sholund

Submarines being refueled at Ioco in 1939. At the time no suitable fuel was available at Esquimalt since most of the ships were coal burners. 

Two submarines being refueled at Ioco in 1939.
At the time, no suitable fuel was available at
Esquimalt since most of the ships were coal burners.

Yes – there were submarines in the Moody Arm of Burrard Inlet as early as 1915. During the first half of the 1914-1918 war, German warships were very active raiding shipping and shore facilities on the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the very first tanker carrying crude oil from Colombia in South America to the brand new oil refinery hear Port Moody (Ioco had yet to be named) had been captured by a German gunboat in 1914.

The residents of Victoria on Vancouver Island, because of its proximity to the British naval base at Esquimalt, were very fearful of a blockade or even bombardment from the German vessels. Early in the war Esquimalt was more of a coal refueling base than a military base and had few defences.

In 1914, a 'contractor' in a Seattle shipyard was building two submarines for the Chilean navy. Premier Richard McBride in Victoria, with a perfect sense of timing and ignoring protocol, negotiated the purchase of the two submarines and then sent the bill to Ottawa.

The Premier had sent a crew to Seattle to take delivery of the vessels. They managed to take the vessels across the international border in the Strait of Juan de Fuca just minutes before the U.S. declared its neutrality. (Recently released documents show that the submarines had been pursued by an American naval vessel trying to intercept them.)

Also during the 1914-1918 war a top secret activity was underway on Burrard Inlet at a shipyard especially established for this activity. The site was just east of the present Burnaby Marine Park.

Six submarines were being built for the Royal Russian Navy. The site was guarded by the Canadian Army and all 460 workers were pledged to secrecy. When completed the submarines were crated in sections and loaded on a boat destined for Vladivostok, Russia, in the North Pacific.

One of the foremen on the construction site accompanied the ship intending to supervise the submarine assembly in Russia. Unfortunately for him the 1917 Russian revolution occurred when he arrived and he was put in jail for some months before the Canadian government could get his release.

Burnaby topographical maps show "Submarine Creek" flowing into Burrard Inlet at the then construction site but there is no other evidence of this activity.

Also, just before the Second World War started in 1939, a Japanese submarine, on a courtesy visit to the Port of Vancouver, was refueled at the Ioco Refinery.

Last updated: 04/10/2011 9:59:38 AM