Divers get to see the wonders beneath the waves, but the job of diving can be extremely dangerous. The foundation of Vancouver’s waterfront was built by hard had divers who risked their lives to do their jobs. Every time we cross a bridge, we benefit from the bravery of divers.

Hard hat diving jobs in Vancouver include

  • construction of bridges and docks
  • salvage work
  • work in the lumber industry
  • ship maintenance
  • anything that requires underwater foundations

Divers are also called in after coastal disasters and accidents. They are tasked with recovering victims who might otherwise be lost beneath the waves forever. In some cases, they must recover fellow divers. 

For a diver, a simple mistake could be deadly. Divers could fall to great depths, where water pressure is deadly. If the air pressure in the suit was not adjusted immediately, the water pressure could crush the diver, causing horrific and irreparable damage. Divers trusted their lives to their equipment and the diving tenders who operated their life lines.

A diver in a small pool with technicians nearby.

VMM48.518.11.49. Testing a diving suit in June 1958. Diving suits were extensively tested to ensure the safety of the divers.

Vancouver Area Tragedies

Ballentyne Pier Construction Fatality

After working at a depth of 80ft on February 15th, 1922, diver Tom Cullins emerged from the water in a state of distress. He muttered only a few words, then collapsed.  The official cause of death was a heart attack. In this case, the specific cause of this tragedy is not clear. Would Collins have had a heart attack if he hadn’t been working on the Ballentyne Pier? We’ll never know.

Second Narrows Bridge 

The Second Narrows Bridge , originally built  in 1925 and rebuilt in 1958 has been the site of several tragedies. In 1952,the tug Pacific Foam crashed into one of the concrete piers. In that incident, the only casualty was the bargeman’s dog. Local divers were sent to locate and salvage the vessel. 

On June 16th, 1958, a man named Len Moff suffered a terrible accident on the bridge and was swept away in the water. Divers were sent to recover his body, but he was never found. Moff’s accident was said to be a portent of what happened the following day: the bridge collapsed during reconstruction work. Seventy-nine workers plunged into the Burrard Inlet. Eighteen workers perished. Divers were once again sent to recover the bodies and repair damage to the pilings and girders. During the search for the fallen workers, a diver fell victim to the inlet as well, bringing the total loss of life to nineteen. 


Hard hat divers have attended to more nefarious incidents as well. In 1924,  a father and son were the victims of rum running-related violence off the coast of BC. Rum running pirates hijacked the Beryl G and killed the owner William Gillis and his son who were transporting liquor to the United States. A diver named Veitch was sent to recover the bodies, and the grizzly job turned life threatening. Struggling against strong currents, Veitch was already in trouble when a huge octopus attacked him. Veitch’s tenders hauled him to the surface as quickly as they could. Even on the deck, the octopus refused to release the diver. Veitch was lucky to have survived.

Diver in water at a dock.

VMM48.518.11.43 A diver descending into the water with tenders on a dock.

 Diving Remains Dangerous

Though these incidents happened many decades ago and great strides have been made in the development of safe diving gear, diving remains risky. The bends are still a serious issue that can cause joint pain, paralysis and even death. Many diving jobs remain dangerous, especially underwater welding work, where highly combustible gases can cause underwater explosions. Despite the risks, many divers enthusiastically state that there is no other job that they would rather do. 

To learn more about commercial diving in Vancouver, and to see vintage diving gear, come and see the micro-exhibition Walking Under Water.