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This Day in History: Boeing gets into boat business at Vancouver plant

The Coal Harbour plant built seaplanes, regular planes and boats

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On June 30, 1929, Boeing Aircraft offered “a revolution in recreation” to Vancouverites — a 20-foot boat that could seat 10 people.

“You’ve always wanted a boat — and now you afford one,” read the ad. “The Gypsy Cruisers are priced so low that hundreds of Vancouver families can have them.”

The price was $700, which gave would-be mariners the chance for “a home afloat for less than the price of the smallest car.”

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But a question remains: Why was Boeing, a Seattle aircraft manufacturer, selling boats in Vancouver?

The answer is that two months earlier, it had taken over the Hoffar-Beeching Shipyards at 1927 West Georgia, on the shore of Coal Harbour.

According to a Province story on April 26, 1929, Hoffar-Beeching had been making commercial ships and yachts for 21 years, producing local luxury yachts like the Fifer and the Deerleap.

After being taken over by Boeing Aircraft of Canada, the Hoffar-Beeching plant was to double in size to 60,000 sq. ft. and build “flying boats” (seaplanes) alongside its usual marine craft.

William Boeing knew a lot about flying boats. He’d been making them since 1916 in Seattle, and on March 3, 1919, had been in a Boeing seaplane that made the first international airmail delivery from Vancouver to Seattle with pilot Eddie Hubbard.

Boeing and Hubbard took off from Coal Harbour to Lake Union in Seattle with 60 letters in a Boeing C-700. They made the 150-mile trip in two-and-a-half hours.

Seaplanes were a big deal in 1919, when flight was still in its infancy. Vancouver opened its first seaplane base at Jericho Beach in June, 1920. The Sea Island (land) airport didn’t open until July 22, 1931.

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Both Henry Hoffar and C.G. Beeching remained with Boeing Canada to run the Canadian company. Hoffar had built the first seaplane in Canada in 1914, and, The Province reported, “actually flew in it.”

Still, he knew that building a big airport on land was only a matter of time.

“It is anticipated that manufacturing activities will be expanded later to include the production of land machines and other types demanded by the Canadian market,” said The Province on April 26, 1929.

“If Vancouver establishes a permanent airport, Mr. Hoffar indicated, future plans will probably call for establishment of a factory near the civic field.”

That’s just what happened, although it didn’t open until 1939. Until then, the Coal Harbour plant made float…

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