Finding stone delights in pits of Vancouver

May 15, 2003, vol. 27, no. 2
By Carol Thorbes

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SFU geologist Peter Mustard (left) holds a mock-up of his first book while perched on a rail outside his favourite sandstone mansion in Vancouver, Gabriola House on Davie Street.

Some might think it is the pits, but Peter Mustard loves being several metres down one of the many urban geological pits temporarily dotting downtown Vancouver.

The freshly dug foundations for office towers and condo buildings are time capsules of the area's bedrock history to Mustard, a geologist at Simon Fraser University.

“The sandstone in these pits is exquisitely preserved, even though it is 50 million years old,” explains Mustard.

Samples gathered from such pits have helped Mustard co-author the first book tracing the evolution of stone construction in Vancouver.

(Danny Hora, a retired B.C. government industrial minerals geologist and SFU earth sciences master's grad Cindy Hansen also co-authored the book, Geology Tours of Vancouver's Buildings.)

“Stone was once the most prized material for building luxurious homes and stately buildings in Vancouver,” reveals Mustard. “It was costly, but if you were rich, you built out of stone because of its durability, beauty and fire resistance.”

Mustard's book is one of two books co-authored by SFU professors that will be unveiled at a major conference of geologists, May 25-28, at Vancouver's Wall centre.

Mustard's picture-laden book chronicles Vancouver's and the North Shore's passion for various types of stone construction (sandstone, granite, andesite, marble and fieldstone) over the last 110 years.

The book also documents the rise and fall of the Gulf Islands' many stone quarries, including B.C.'s most prized one containing 80 million year old sandstone on Newcastle island, off Nanaimo.

The authors weave in tidbits of historical and architectural background as they profile 60 well-known buildings and monuments, such as City Hall, the Sun Tower and Carnegie Hall.

As Mustard lightly touches a face carved in sandstone over its entrance, he admits, “My favourite is Gabriola House on Davie Street, named after the island from where its sandstone came.”

Now the site of Macaroni Grill restaurant, the majestic mansion epitomizes “the showpiece homes that once lined West End streets,” says Mustard.

Built in 1901, the mansion was originally the home of Vancouver's sugar baron B.T. Rogers.

Mustard will no doubt have his first book tucked under his arm when he takes delegates at the upcoming geologic conference on a walking tour of Vancouver.

Another book - Vancouver, City on the Edge, Living with a Dynamic Geological Landscape - co-authored by SFU geologist and earthquake specialist John Clague, will be tucked into the delegates' registration packages.

(Bob Turner, a Geological Survey of Canada researcher is also a co-author.)

The book is the first in Canada to teach geology by tackling local issues. “For example, we talk about the importance of making wise land-use decisions in an earthquake prone area, such as Vancouver. We also raise questions about heavily populating flood prone areas, such as the Fraser-Delta,” says Clague.

The book will be for sale at one of the geologic conference's events, an earthquake preparedness fair, which will feature Clague as a speaker.
The Geological Association of Canada, the Mineralogical Association of Canada and the Society of Economic Geologists are hosting the conference, which is expected to attract more than a thousand geologists, North America-wide.

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