243 George Massey

George Massey

Nehemiah George Massey (1903-1964)

Nehemiah George Massey was born in Courtown near Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland on September 15, 1903.Below is a picture of Courtown Harbour, County Wexford, Ireland where George Massey was born.

Courtown Harbour #2

Massey House Courtown

 Picture of the house where George Massey was born and his family lived in Courtown Ireland.

He went to sea on his own father’s sailing ship the “Courtown Lass” at an age of 13 in 1916 as a cook’s mate, and then as a boson’s mate on the “Bess Mitchell” until 1918 at the age of 15.”

George Massey’s father was William Henry Massey, born in 1874 and drowned at sea on November 7, 1921 aged 47 years. William Henry’s youngest son David Douglas said he had red hair and a beard, liked his liquor and would fight at the drop of a hat. He was nicknamed the “Turk” for his episodes.

In 1918 George Massey’s father Captain William Massey went to sea without his son George on the “Courtown Lass“ and was shipwrecked on a reef just off of Patrick Bay near Slade Rock County Wexford. After a judicial inquiry he was not found at fault when it was discovered the charts were in error.

After that Captain William Massey informed his son George that he would not allow him to sail with him anymore, in the event that they were both lost at sea and there would be no one left to support his mother and his 8 brothers and sisters.

George Massey was still in the hospital in India when he heard of that his father’s ship had gone down and all hands were lost including his father. He immediately sought a route home with a passenger ship the Albion Star via New York then to Ireland to help his mother raise his 8 brothers and sisters. He worked at home for about a year where he helped clear a private forest. For payment he packed on his back as much firewood as he could carry daily and sell it. On occasion, he poached fish from private streams as there were no public lakes or streams to catch fish legally.

George Massey’s education in Ireland was tutored by Master Crane of the Roman Catholic School in River Chapel, Gorey. His secondary school education was achieved by correspondence aboard ship. His religious up-bringing in Ireland was Anglican.

Despite this his mother was determined to continue with the wishes and plans of her husband to migrate to Canada. George Massey worked for about a year in Ireland trying to support his mother and eight children.

He carried his melodeon (accordion) with him wherever he went. One day on his way to play at Kiltennell, a village just outside of Court Town Harbour he almost lost it, when British soldiers, stationed in Ireland, stopped him on suspicion of carrying an explosive within it. They gave it back to him after they took it apart and found nothing in the melodeon.

Soon after, George Massey was forced to flee Ireland when a warning was given to his mother by the Royal Irish Constabulary that the Irish Republican Army was looking for him with the intention of executing him as they suspected him of being a spy for the “Black and Tans” that had recently arrived in Ireland. The Black and Tans were mercenaries of the British government sent to Ireland and engaged to put down the uprising in Ireland at the time.

The Royal Irish Constabulary suggested to his mother that she find a way of getting him out of Ireland right away.  The suspicion was not true, as the Massey family were Protestants and if anything were sympathetic to Ireland being independent from England. George Massey’s brother Doug thought that perhaps one of the reasons was that the school that George Massey attended was a Parochial Roman Catholic School in River Chapel, Gorey and the teacher who tutored George Massey was a Catholic called Master Crane.

George Massey’s mother immediately had her brother in law Richard (Dick) Massey take her son George to Liverpool, England on his two masted sailing schooner, the “Matilda” and place him on the first available steamship to Canada in 1922. George Massey would have been 19 years old. Unbeknown at the time was that the ship turned out to be a rum runner destined for Portsmouth Harbor, New Brunswick. The cargo of rum was unloaded at the dock and then into small fast vessels to the United States. George was reported to his mother as missing and presumed to have drowned, but when she asked if George’s melodeon had been found on board, they said no, so she knew in her heart that he was still alive as he would not have left it behind. George assumed his mother’s maiden name Cook until he reached Regina.

The cargo of rum was unloaded at the dock and then onto small fast vessels to the United States. George Massey made two trips and at the end of the second on Nov, 1923 he jumped ship with no legal status in Canada. Immigration Canada did not catch up to him until 1937, when he used his name to sponsor his mother, sisters and brothers to Canada.

George Massey’s first job in Canada was a “re-saw” man in a logging camp near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick and he continued to work his way across Canada as a farmer’s helper harvesting crops. He later worked for Poole Construction in Regina Saskatchewan in 1925. During this time, George Massey enrolled in night classes at the Hanford Trade School to become a mechanic.

Many people regard a hero as someone who gives his all for the betterment of others, George Massey was that hero.

George Massey gave 25 years (1936-1961) of his life to ensure the completion of a tunnel under the south arm of the Fraser River in British Columbia.
George Massey was a dedicated citizen whose immense energies over a period of one­ quarter of a century resulted in the construction of a tunnel that was posthumously named after him. He lived in Ladner, British Columbia from 1936 until his death in 1964.

The fact that George Massey came from a poorer country where finding a stick of drift wood on the beach was a rarity and as a result of surviving the depression years, it enabled him to achieve so much with so little. With nothing but his physical abilities, personal determination and a foresight into the future, George Massey was recognized as a visionary.
George Massey explored and fished remote B.C. lakes, salt water, and rivers as much as possible in his lifetime. He really cared for the environment and taught his family to never leave a campsite or cabin unless you could leave it in better shape than you found it.

Family life included fishing trips, family picnics, regular visits to Stanley Park, Point Roberts and surrounding beaches. In addition, he was a volunteer fireman and enjoyed his vegetable garden. His enjoyment of the art of fly tying and sport fishing was passed on to his grandson, Tyler Kushnir.

He enjoyed playing his button accordion initially at Kiltennell, Ireland and then by playing at dances in Regina, Saskatchewan and at “Delta :Manor” hall in Ladner on many a Saturday night to the delight of many including his children and grandchildren. George Massey loved making 8 mm movies of his family, fishing trips, and flowers (especially pansy “faces”). He made a documentary film on the construction of the tunnel which is now in video form including the first sod turning on Lulu Island to the opening day, July 19, 1959.

George Massey’s vision of the overall improvement of his community was controversial to say the least, and as a result he was initially alone in his vision for the tunnel project. As the first chairman of the Tunnel Committee of the Delta Board of Trade (Forerunner) of the Delta Chamber of Commerce) he left in disgust as the Board believed he was out of his mind. George Massey then proceeded to organize his own association by bringing together an initial group of prominent local citizens and persuaded them to agree with his crossing plans and the rest is history. This organization enjoyed a membership of approximately 500 upon the completion of the tunnel.

George Massey was also well known for other accomplishments on behalf of his community. He was responsible for persuading the BC government to accept the best location and route for the Ferry Terminal from Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay and the best location for a Super Port at Roberts Bank.

There was strong pressure to construct the Ferry Terminal at White Rock via the south tip of Saturna Island to Schwartz Bay, (to lesser degrees from Iona Island, Richmond, and Point Roberts, Washington).

George Massey, an ex-mariner, pointed out that ocean going vessels navigated through Active Pass and that the route was one hour shorter than the White Rock route. In addition the construction of the causeways was feasible if proper environmental concerns were considered. George Massey recommended that these causeways continue to allow shoreline currents to flow unimpeded to prevent unnatural sedimentation and nutrients from destroying the natural fishery resource of the Fraser River. None of the above recommendations were included in the construction of the causeways to the detriment of the environment due to the lack of government concern.

After many personal surveys of ferry traffic and reading an engineering magazine about the Maas River Tunnel in Holland provided by John L. Guichon, the ‘”Lower Fraser River Crossing Improvement Association” was formed in 1947 with Sam Cory as president and George Massey as vice-president.

They then contacted ‘Christiani & Nielsen Engineering” of Denmark, the Maas River Tunnel builders in 1942. George Massey made 3 long distance phone calls to Denmark in 1 day at a cost of $60 each to the consternation and dismay of his wife Lila. The engineering firm was interested and offered to send an engineer Mr. Hans Bentzen from their New York Office to do a feasibility study.

Prior negotiations were presented to the Liberal Government, the Conservative Government and then a coalition of the two. They always turned a deaf ear.

In March of 1956, the Honorable Phil Gaglardi, Minister of Highways, of the Social Credit Government received a letter from George Massey M.L.A. The letter illustrated the astute mind of George Massey and his persuasive power in minute detail, from memory! The Hon. Gaglardi shortly announced that the tunnel would be built; but the government failed to incorporate George Massey’s visions and cautions. George Massey along with Christiani Nielsen (Incorporated in Canada as the “Foundation of Canada Engineering Corporation Ltd.”) and “Hydraulic Engineering” from Montreal recommended there be 3 traffic lanes in both directions and one lane for bicycles/pedestrians.

George Massey was elected Social Credit MLA for Delta in 1956. He had support of many individuals and organizations within Delta and solid backing from the Richmond Chamber of Commerce for the construction of a tunnel. Delta Board of Trade and Municipal Council were not supportive initially, but finally came on board. Strong opposition came from New Westminster’s Harbour Commission and the bridge building fraternity across Canada who knew little of hydraulic engineering construction. This opposition strongly recommended the construction of a bridge at Annacis Island and a ferry landing at White Rock. (The Hon. Tom Reid, Speaker of the Legislature, resided in White Rock) George Massey was quick to point out that a bridge at Annacis Island required 2 long approaches, a very high and lengthy central span to allow the passage of marine traffic and the widening of a populated South East Marine Drive for freeway purposes; in contrast to a very sparsely populated Lulu Island and 3 miles shorter from Vancouver Centre through Deas Island and to Blaine Washington.

On a daily basis, George Massey observed the construction of the tunnel of every component in detail from the first day the bulldozers flattened the cabbage patch on Lulu Island in 1956, to the completion of the tunnel in 1959. His recollections are as follows:

The construction of the tunnel commenced with preliminary studies with borings to determine the consistency of the soil. These studies found that the soil consisted of sand, silt and clay for undetermined depths. Therefore a tunnel was more suitable than a bridge in addition to the fact that the approaches were flat and treeless.

A dry-dock 633 ft by 384 ft. and approximately 50 ft. deep was constructed on Lulu Island by removing 450,000 cubic yards of sand commencing on September, 1956. This sand was utilized as the base for the freeway north of the tunnel. A dyke 10 ft. high and 50 ft. at it’s base, was constructed around the dry-dock.

9 “drag” lines, huge caterpillars and earth movers, along with a “cutter dredge” lowered the floor of the dry-dock to 50 ft. A major problem developed as the water table had to be lowered a minimum of 30 ft. American Dewatering Corporation was contracted to solve this problem. The dry-dock was used to construct 6 elements of tunnel 344 ft. long by 78 ft. wide and 24 ft. high, each weighing 18,000 tons. This dry-dock presently filled with water serves as a maintenance and repair dock for ferries to this day.

The construction of the approaches firstly on Lulu Island and secondly on the Ladner side was then initiated. These approaches were 1800 ft. long, 78 ft. wide and 50ft. deep at the lower end. Dewatering once again was a major problem as the water table had to be lowered 60 ft. Excavation took place to water’s edge as an outer wall formed a dam. Creosoted pilings were driven below the 60 ft. level.  These 2 approaches acted as anchors on both sides of the tunnel. The ventilation buildings were constructed on both approach towers of the tunnel and each tower held 2 ten foot (total 4) reversible fans capable of delivering 252,00 cubic feet per minute.

The completed tunnel elements (Each having 2 traffic tubes and 2 service tubes for emergency purposes and the transport of water and gas to Delta) were fitted with temporary timber bulk heads positioned 2 ft. from the ends. A bituminous membrane (cedar logs) was positioned on the outer walls of the elements for protection against damage. The, dry-dock, was then flooded and the tunnel elements were floated to a dredged trench on the river bottom at slack tide. By means of 2 tall transient towers situated on each side of the river, an element was positioned between 4 heavy steel scows 43ft by 150 ft with 4 trusses between them.

Section through  Precast Tunnel Structure.

Tunnel #2

The tunnel elements were lowered by admitting water to the ballast tanks within the ventilation ducts and then gradually slacking off on the supporting cables, permitting the element to sink gradually, always bearing the slope it will have in it’s final position. This process was controlled by 10 and 20 ton winches on block and tackle on 2 outside trusses, settling the sections on concrete blocks 13 ft square by 2 1/2 ft. thick to within a tolerance of 1 1/2 inches. 300 ton hydraulic jacks adjusted these sections to a tolerance of 1/8 of an inch! A 150 ton jack connected the sections together by means of “eyes and hooks”; utilizing 2 1/2 ton neoprene gaskets to seal each joint. Sand was then jettisoned under each section before a permanent seal of a 3/16 inch steel plate welded the sections together. When all 6 elements were in place, the water between the temporary bulkheads was pumped out, these bulkheads and the ballast tanks were removed, and the tunnel was in place.

The tunnel was then anchored with cable by huge “dead-men” concrete blocks situated on either side of the tunnel. The tunnel was then covered by 6 inch of gravel. The tunnel was then covered by 530 concrete mattresses 1/2 an inch thick by 50 feet wide and 80 feet long, covering some 700,00 square feet on the upstream side of the center of the tunnel to prevent erosion . This was then covered with a 31/2 foot layer of 500 lb. rock, topped with 1500 lb. rock covering the entire structure. The  Navigation clearance over 700 feet was 40.75 feet over the deepest part of tunnel at low water and for a 1000 feet either side of the tunnel it was 31.5 and 36,5 respectfully. Below is a section showing the amount of over burden covering the tunnel .

Tunnel in place (1)

Since the tunnel is located in a zone 3 earthquake area, the effect of earthquake stresses on tunnels was studied thoroughly. The tunnel structure was designed to be capable of following possible differential settlements without fracture. The key factor is the stability of the approaches to act as anchors for the tunnel.massey monument copy

The tunnel opened May 23, 1959, to the public, whereas the official opening was July 15, 1959, by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and His Royal Highness Prince Philip. The Queen also unveiled a monument with two plaques honoring George Massey.

The top plaque that was designed by the Richmond Council,  reads; 1959, “This plaque erected by the Citizens of the Corporation of the Township of Richmond in recognition of N. George Massey, MLA, whose co-operative efforts assisted greatly in making the tunnel a reality.”

This was followed later with a second plaque which read;” Renamed”; “George Massey Tunnel in 1968 by the government of the Province of British Columbia in Honor of George Massey Member of the Legislative Assembly”.

It was placed temporarily on the south end of the tunnel for unveiling purposes. The provincial Government erected a plaque at the Richmond end of the tunnel where it was permanently placed. In 1996, George Massey’s wife, Lila requested to move the plaque closer to the “Richmond’s information Booth” for easier access to reading the plaque and with the help of the Delta’s M.L.A. Fred Gingell this was done.

On July 16, 1959, Mr. and Mrs. George Massey were presented to HRH Queen Elizabeth and His Royal Highness Prince Philip in the Legislative Chamber, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C.

In 2002 George Massey was selected by the local newspaper, The Delta Optimist, as” Delta’s Person of the Century”. They said: It was clear that no one man had more of an impact on Delta than George Massey. His vision and determination were responsible for the tunnel that transformed Delta from a farming and fishing community outpost to a full fledged suburb of Vancouver and linked Delta with the rest of the Lower Mainland and the U.S.A.