The story of Rogers Sugarwhose refinery has
been on Vancouvers waterfront for more than a hundred yearsbegins
away back in 1881 with a 15-year-old kid, Ben Rogers, in E.J. Gays
Sugar Refinery in New Orleans. Bens father Sam was the plant
Shortly after young Ben joined the firm, his father became its
president. But tragedy followed that triumph quickly when Sam Rogers
was injured at the refinery and died in February 1883. Ben gave
up the idea of going on to university, left his family in New Orleans
and went to work in a refinery in New York City. He was 18.
Rogers (whose full name was Benjamin Tingley Rogers) began to
dream about and plan a refinery of his own. It didnt take
long. During a business visit to Montreal, Rogers learned of the
completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He also learned about
the CPRs western terminus, a tiny place called Vancouver.
Vancouver was right across the water from Manila, in the Philippines,
the source of most of Canadas sugar.
In December 1889 Rogers wrote to a potential backer outlining
his plan for a house to melt 40,000 lbs. per day, and requiring
a working force of between 12 and 15 men. (That 40,000 pounds
represents a few minutes production today, and there are more
than 300 employees.)
Rogers went to Montreal to put his plans before William Van Horne,
the president of the CPR. He had pledges of more than $50,000 from
his employer and other supporters. He, incidentally, had no capital
himselfall he had was the dream.
With Van Horne was another of the railways directors, R.B.
Angus, who sat throughout the entire interview without saying a
word. But the next day Rogers learned that both Van Horne and Angus
would both take shares and that Angus had also interested the other
directors. (Angus Drive in Shaughnessy is named for him.)
The dream had become reality: B.C. Sugar was incorporated March
26, 1890. Its president, Benjamin Tingley Rogers, was 24.
Before he put the refinery in, Rogers wanted concessions from
the citya bonus of $40,000, free water for 10 years, and no
taxes for 15 years.
The city was young and eager to expand. Boosterism was okay in
1890 Vancouver, and this would be the first major industry in the
city not connected to forestry or fishing. That explains the support
for the concessions expressed by both daily newspapers in the city,
the World and the News-Advertiser. The 182 white male
landowners (and white male tenants living on property valued at
more than $300) who voted on the question approved it 174 to 8.
The bonus approved was for $30,000, given in the form of free land,
which the city graded as part of the arrangement.
Just two weeks after Rogers oversaw the first production of sugar
at the brand-new plant on the waterfront, he proudly guided a number
of local notables through the place. That tour happened January
29, 1891 and the Vancouver Daily World gave it extensive coverage.
The prominent citizens on that tour included just about
everybody who was anybody in the not-quite-five-year-old city. Mayor
David Oppenheimer led the party, which included six aldermen, CPR
officials, the US consul, bank managers and others. (Incidentally,
the first sugar produced was purchased by Mayor Oppenheimer for
his Oppenheimer Brothers wholesale food firm. Both companies are
By 1901 Rogers was prosperous enough to have built in the West
End the citys grandest home, Gabriola. He and his wife
Mary moved in July 23, 1901.
Rogers, who died in 1918, aged just 52, would be
delighted at the success of the company today. The largest sugar
refinery in Canada, it produces granulated sugar, icing sugar, brown
sugar, cube sugar, sugar made into syrupsugar in just about
every table-ready form there is, about 240,000 tonnes per year.
The full story of Rogers and his remarkable career can be read
in The refiners: a century of BC Sugar by John Schreiner,
a solid and very readable history by a longtime journalist.
The Vancouver Heritage Foundation has an interesting brief on-line
article on Gabriola.
It reads In 1911, B.T. Rogers, owner of Rogers
Sugar, traveled to Britain for a holiday and fell in love with the
English garden aesthetic. Upon his return to Vancouver, he began
the search for a large piece of land on which to build a grand home
and garden. He hoped to exceed the splendor of his then current
residence, Gabriola on Davie Street (now Romanos Macaroni
Grill). In 1912, Mr. Rogers purchased a ten-acre parcel of land
on Granville Street to the South of the CPRs Shaughnessy development.
Their nearest neighbor was a dairy farmer by the name of William
Shannon, after whom Shannon Road (now 57th Avenue) was named. By
1913, Rogers had contracted the architecture firm of Somerville
& Putnam to build a large Beaux Arts style house, coach house
and garage. Work on the site began with the construction of the
accessory buildings including the accommodation of livestock as
well as the planting of a lavish formal garden and vegetable garden.
The Parisian firm of L. Alavoine & Co. was retained to design
the interiors. Unfortunately, Mr. Rogers died suddenly in the summer
of 1918 before the house was complete. His widow, daunted by the
scale of the project, did not complete the construction and furnishing
of the house until seven years later. At its heyday, Shannon was
home to a staff of twelve, and played host to many of Vancouvers
elegant parties. Mrs. Rogers and her children lived in the house
until 1935, when it was purchased by Austin Taylor, who lived there
until 1965. Local architect Arthur Erickson was retained in 1972
to redevelop the property for a condominium development, but the
original structures were preserved in situ and retain much of their
Archive - People »
- Places »
- Events »
- Books, etc. »
William Van Horne
Richard Bladworth Angus
Inside the refinery
[Photo: Maurice Jassak]