Vancouver History Tidbits: McBarge


Thursday, February 26th, 2009 — 11:40am PDT
Comments 22

Continuing my History Tidbits series we’ll explore the history of the McBarge, as requested by @TylerIngram.

The McBarge floated into town in 1986 when Vancouver hosted the world for Expo, which began in the spring of and ran until the fall.

Expo 86 - What Yaletown used to look like... kinda

Commemorating Vancouver’s centennial, it was the last world’s fair in North America, “it is often credited for showing that world expositions can still be viable projects in North America following the financial and other woes of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans. It also featured the next-to-last appearance at a world’s fair of the Soviet Union.” [Expo Museum]

“Canada’s pavilion was located on a pier not continuous with the rest of the site. To reach the pavilion, visitors would take Vancouver’s newly opened SkyTrain rapid rail. That pier is now Canada Place and is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks.” [Expo Museum]

My family had a pass for Expo and we went every single weekend from May until October, exploring the pavilions and collecting buttons and stickers from around the world (and I made sure to get my Expo passport stamped at every venue). It took over the False Creek area that had been mostly warehouses and industrial land up until that point. It wasn’t until years after that the City decided “what to do with the Expo land” and Yaletown as we know it today has been growing ever-since.

Expo 86 - The McBarg!

The McBarge was a large floating McDonald’s that patrons could get to from a walkway on the shore and could accommodate float through service as boats pulled up to get take-out (although I don’t remember that, maybe someone can confirm).

“The McBarge featured garden rooms, tasteful art and panoramic views of Expo 86. A unique feature to this McDonald’s was a hidden kitchen. Burgers and fries were delivered to the front counter by way of a conveyor belt.” [McDonald’s Friendship 500 Floating Restaurant]


Photo credit: Mark Klotz on Flickr

As for the fate of the McBarge, it stuck around actually and was parked off the shores of North Burnaby for years after several ideas and proposed sites were shot down. However, thanks to a group known as Wraiths that ventures past padlocks and no trespassing signs to explore old buildings and curious structures, we can have a look at how the McBarge sits today, 400 feet offshore in the Burrard Inlet.

So into the inflatable, and McPaddling their asses off to get to the McBarge without McDrowning… Pulling up and hopping out, they did a quick survey of the possible entrances, and discovered someone else had been here since our scouting mission… Due to this fact, they were inside without much trouble.

Now, time to Mc-splore… Lights had to be kept to a minimum due to the windows. The first thing we discovered was how much bigger it was than we thought. Once inside, it seemed gigantic. Lots of open space, all the seating is gone. Bathrooms are everywhere, literally. On each floor there were several separate bathroom areas. Makes sense, given the volume of customers it must have had during expo.

Many have noted that something should be done with the structure as it’s pretty much just sitting there collecting barnacles.


View McBarge in a larger map

From every report I’ve read, from every person that has made the McDiscovery, it seems all are displeased with its current state.

I’d actually be curious to know what suggestions would be for the vessel – should it be restored and turned into a passenger ferry? Should it be cleaned out and sunk as a man-made reef? The Vancouver Courier had an idea: “With the city scrambling to find temporary shelter space for homeless people, here’s a thought: Use the fabled McBarge, which is sitting idle and empty in Burrard Inlet.” Anyone have any other ideas, or should it just be left as-is?

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22 comments

  1. Darren says:

    Great post–what a bizarre bit of local history, eh? As it happens, they shot scenes from “Blade 3: Trinity” or whatever it was called on-board the barge.

  2. Parker says:

    What a fascinating bit of local history. I’m going to be in Vancouver next month, and now I kinda want to check out the McBarge.

    It actually looked pretty nice in its heyday of the Expo.

  3. samiam500 says:

    If it’s moved what will the people riding the West Coast Express talk about:-). We see it everyday and there’s always some comments about how we’re surprised no entrepreneurs have come forward and tried to do something with it. Wouldn’t it work as a ‘floating restaurant’ again?

    It’s also funny to discover that a lot of the WCE riders actually don’t know it’s the Expos 86 MacDonald’s restaurant.

  4. Amber says:

    I remember the McBarge well. It was one of my favourite things as a 10-year-old visiting Expo. I don’t know what should be done with it, but it seems like kind of a waste to leave it as-is. After 23 years, though, I wonder if it’s cost-effective or feasible to clean it up and use it as anything other than a reef.

  5. Warwick says:

    I think we just found the new True North Media House! Someone tell uncleweed or scales!

  6. Helen says:

    I think I went to the McBarge once during Expo. It was pretty cool! I’m sad to see it rotting away in the water. I worked at Expo every weekend at one of the other McDs restaurants, near the entrance off Main & Terminal. It was quite an experience. My job was to count cash in the office for 8 hours a day. I had never seen so much money in my life! The Brinks guards would come by a few times a day and take the huge deposits to the bank for us. Crazy crowds of people. I guess everyone in the world knows McDonalds!

  7. Wow flash from the past!!!!

    So sad to see the state of it today. My first thoughts as I started reading this, were to make it a space for some of the homeless. It seems like a complete crime that there was a shelter with plentiful bathroom facilities, just sitting empty while people died on the streets last winter.

  8. TheQuack says:

    SOOO cool!

    I had always wondered what that thing was when riding by on the WCE …

    Thanks! đŸ™‚

  9. crs says:

    Perhaps this could be The Odyssey’s new location? LOL.

  10. Tyler says:

    Thanks Rebecca! Yes as Darren mentioned it was part of the location for Blade Trinity (crappy movie) which is what reminded me of the McBarge.

    I thought it would be cool as a night club/pub restaurant sort of thing but I guess there would be the liability factor of drunk people going overboard. Though there are 2 restaurants I can think of that are over water; the lift and caderos. Though both have limited outdoor access.

    I dont see is as being used for transportation. Though as a homeless shelter or something would be expensive to maintain I would think too.

    Something touristy I think would do it proper though.

    Who knows if I get rich doing what I like. I’d buy it and turn it into a floating office. See if I can moor it in Coal Harbour. Create part of it as a neat touristy thing and the other part offices for my company!

  11. Karen G says:

    Oooh! I love this kind of history. I am always curious about deserted buildings. I hope something becomes of it– I would love to check it out.

  12. Adelaide says:

    I forgot all about the McBarge! Wow! It was so awesome.

    From Tyler: “I thought it would be cool as a night club/pub restaurant sort of thing but I guess there would be the liability factor of drunk people going overboard.”

    Hahaha…

    Remember that restaurant in Lonsdale called..Seven Seas??? I can’t remember. But it was a seafood reastaurant in a boat. A buffet. I think they should keep it in the concept of a restaurant.

  13. […] Bollwitt gives us yet another glimpse at Vancouver history by bringing up the famed McBarge. This was the floating McDonald’s restaurant that came about with Expo ‘86, but the […]

  14. We just started a Facebook group so that all McBarge supporters can join together as one voice. I know that there are plenty of you out there and we are of a group that really wants to do something about it. Let’s all make it happen and share our ideas. Cheers to McBarge.

    “Save the McBarge” Group
    On Facebook

  15. sharon says:

    I feel very sad about McBarge everytime we pass it on our boat.

    I have asked some writers for the Vanc. Sun to do an article on it to raise public awareness- but nothing has happened yet~

    Boaters would love to have a place to pull in.

  16. Al says:

    I personally would love to reno the McBarge and make it my new House Boat.
    But I think a great use everyone could enjoy would be an Information Center along with historic photos of Expo ’86 and Vancouver. The city could dock it in False Creek by the Telus World of Science, or perhaps somewhere along the Sea Wall, maybe near Water Front Station.

    At any rate, seeing it just sitting there rotting breaks my heart.

  17. […] today and see the same sort of thing happening in some of the same areas. You can also view the McBarge in all its floating burger-selling glory as well as profiles of every participating nation’s […]

  18. Dom says:

    I’ve just read this post now. I pass the McBarge daily on the WCE and I’ve always wondered the history behind it. Thanks for the article. I hope it finds a better home soon.

  19. Ken says:

    Rumor has it that it is in the works to be a restaurant once again. To be known as “Sturgeon’s On The Fraser” it will be docked on the banks of the Fraser River in Mission. Slated to be open mid 2010 although I think that’s a bit optimistic.

  20. Mark says:

    When I went crabbing I saw that and I walked on the private proprety and it was ok to go there I saw it and looked like just a Lab for testing water but it was accualy McBarge and im just 10 yrs old and I saw the mcbarge

  21. Janis Keller says:

    Hi,

    Does anyone know who owns McBarge?

    Janis K

  22. Adam says:

    Barge moving to Mission. Here’s what’s in store for the barge’s future.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=59895700869&ref=ts

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