Photograpy Hobby Captures Metro Sewers History

Albert Norman was hired by the GVRD in 1944 and retired in 1977. Mr. Norman was an avid photographer and took pictures at his job sites during his 33 years of service, collecting an impressive archive of our region’s sewers infrastructure.

“I was born on April the 15th, 1917 and I grew up in North Burnaby,” says Albert Norman, as he recounts his years spent building sewer infrastructure in the Metro Vancouver regions. “I was working in Coquitlam, for the General Construction company and the superintendent of the sewer department was looking after the project and he said, ‘I want you to go down to the water district and see the superintendent down there and see if they have a job for you. We have lots of shovel work down there. You’ll have a job as long as you want it.”

Thus began Norman’s career as a shovel (excavator) operator with the regional district. It turned out to be a relationship that would last for decades.

“Wages in those days were $1.75 an hour for shovel operators,” recounts Norman with a smile. “I had to take a twelve cent (an hour) cut. But anyway, it worked out to be the best thing I ever did.”

A few years after Albert took the job, he discovered a hobby that could accompany him to the countless projects where he worked.

“Well I started in 1950 with the Camera Club, so that’s when I started taking pictures. Carried a camera all the time. But it was a big camera, it wasn’t one of these automatic ones you have now. You had to set everything yourself. I would go out at noon time when the shovel was down and see if I could find something to take a picture of. So I would take pictures of the job.”

The results of Norman’s lunchtime efforts are an impressive chronicle of Metro Vancouver’s growth. From contemplative images of natural settings to men and machinery undertaking large-scale engineering projects, Albert’s pictures are a glimpse into our past. He recounts the significant projects he both worked on and photographed.

“I worked on the big pump station down on the waterfront at Cambie St. On the Fraser River I worked on the big sewer line out to the Iona treatment plant. I was a construction supervisor for the last ten years. That was a big job.”

Norman’s final project definitely fit the bill for a ‘big job’.

“It (the water main) went from the Seymour, under the Burrard Inlet and up to the reservoir at Vancouver Heights. I worked on the Vancouver Heights side. Each pipe was 40 feet long and ten tons. And when we put the last valve in I retired! It was 1977 and I was 60 years old. We put in so many sewers and water lines and changed things so much, it’s unreal. I’ve been retired now 37 years… that’s a long time.”





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