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1921::Hard-Surfacing the Island Highway

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

Making the famous Malahat Highway more accessible on Vancouver Island.

1921::Hard surfacing the island highway south of Nanaimo, BC.

"Hard-surfacing the Island Highway connector south of Nanaimo"

Photo: BC Archives (A-07285)


It had been over a decade since the first motorist traversed the hills and bends of the Malahat Highway on Vancouver Island. People drove their automobiles clear across the continent just to drive on the road that, for a time, made Vancouver Island famous around the world. Automobiles were a mad craze in the early 20th century, and by 1921, they were built more affordably. Motoring was no longer a hobby of the upper class. Islanders who once dreaded the dust-kicking menaces began investing in them and taking full advantage of their use. Farmers and artisans could now bring their goods to a broader market, and pleasure seekers more easily accessed the island's beautiful campsites on their summer road trips. Island mining and lumber companies began to utilize autos by purchasing Jitney Buses to shuttle their employees to and from work. But with the increased island activity came the need for sturdier roads that could weather the storm of the vehicles yet to arrive.


1921::Hard surfacing the Colwood to Langford connector.

"Hard-Surfacing the Colwood to Langford Connector"

Photo Clip: Times Colonist (1921)


Island businesses benefited greatly from the freedom that automobiles and the Malahat Highway provided. But on the Victoria end, much road work was yet to be done. The city began levelling off roads that connected to the Malahat Highway. It soon became necessary to hard-surface these roads, and men returning from the war were happy for the work. It would be another 30 years before advancing road technology and automobile design came together to prompt significant road changes on the island's south end.


1921::Hard surfacing Station Road in Langford, BC.

"Hard-Surfacing Station Road in Langford, British Columbia"

Photo Clip: Times Colonist (1921)


In 1921, the Public Works Department decided that all roads leading to the Island Highway were to be improved. It was the connector to the rest of the island, after all. Island cities and towns began extending, gravelling and hard-surfacing the significant connectors. The hard surface of choice was concrete, owing to its permanency and the resultant maintenance cost reduction. These improvements made motorists happy and even happier with a decrease at the pump. In the summer of 1921, automobiles could have their tanks filled at 37 cents per gallon.


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