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Delta throwback: Celebrating a big milestone

There was a lot of excitement and anticipation as the new tunnel new crossing was set to open
1959 dead island tunnel opening delta, bc
Visitors and engineers touring the Deas Island Tunnel site in 1959. It would be renamed the George Massey Tunnel in 1967.

This month marks the 63rd anniversary of a monumental change for Delta.

On Saturday, May 23, 1959, the new Deas Island Tunnel opened to traffic, connecting Delta and Point Roberts with the rest of the Lower Mainland, creating easier access as well as opening the door for many changes to come.

Celebration events had already taken place in the weeks prior to the opening, including a procession of nearly 300 horse riders taking part in a ride through the new underwater crossing.

As reported by the Optimist on opening weekend, many different celebrations took place and signs were erected welcoming visitors, directing them how to get to various parts of South Delta and Point Roberts.

The underwater crossing opened 7 a.m. that day but, before cars drove through, local farmer Murray Davie, who years earlier bet Point Roberts sheriff Jeff Martin the tunnel would never be built, had to first pay the bet by pushing Martin through the tunnel in a wheelbarrow.

In the line-up on opening morning was George Massey, the key figure behind the lobby effort for the tunnel. Elected Social Credit MLA in 1956, Massey was vice-president of the Lower Fraser River Crossing Improvement Association, a group he helped form but refused to take the position of president because it would “cramp his style.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were on hand for a gala ceremony in July 1959 to celebrate the tunnel, unveiling a plaque that recognized Massey's efforts.

Two years prior to the opening, in May 1957, recognition of the construction work being done took place with an official “concrete pour” ceremony attended by Premier W.A.C. Bennett, who was officiating in his capacity as chairman of the B.C. Toll Highways and Bridges Authority.

Reported by the Delta Optimist at the time, that gala was attended by more than 1,000 people.

They saw the premier pull a compressed air lever which dumped eight tonnes into the forms of the first tunnel section.

Bennett thanked Massey for his dogged persistence. The premier also suggested that the tunnel was only the beginning and that expansion all over the province would be phenomenal.

Not everyone was happy with the progress, however.

A group of South Delta farmers appeared before Delta council at around the opening to protest the use of their farmlands for the new South Delta highway.

Farmer Chris Winskill said the time had come for council to make a firm stand against the destruction of farmland in Delta.