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We won’t miss all this woodwork when it’s gone

December 12, 2014

10th-firehall-4-north

Late this afternoon I had to stop for a moment at the intersection of 10th Avenue and the alley on the east side of South Granville Street; just long enough to acknowledge, if not admire, the lopsided assemblages of wooden utility poles along my path. They seemed to be frozen in mid-stride as they marched single file ahead of me towards downtown Vancouver.

Wood if we could do without them

B.C. Hydro’s electrical transmission system is carried through all the back alleys on wooden utility poles. But in the densely-populated heart of the city those poles need to be doubled-up, cross-braced and buttressed as they have to shoulder the greatest burden of wires and transformers.

Beside the sturdy straight up-and-down buildings, these wooden structures look primitive and temporary. They’re not meant to be; they’re built carefully to last for very nearly as long as the buildings.

But the historical photographic record is clear: decade by decade Vancouver makes do with fewer and fewer wooden utility poles and overhead wires. Someday, we are told, all our electrical transmission system will be carried in underground vaults, like it already is in many other cities around the world.

We won’t immediately notice when the wood is finally gone — most of us already edit the utility poles out of our personal landscape along with graffiti and garbage and street noise.

But the day will come when we look up and wonder where all the wires went.

The answer will be that they went to join all the TV antennas. Click the images to enlarge them.

Power lines in a Vancouver back alley in 1914. -- Vancouver Archives (AM54-S4-: LGN 1241)

Vancouver power lines in 1914. — Vancouver Archives (AM54-S4-: LGN 1241)

From → Fairview

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