In 1914, you could buy a large residential lot in Port Coquitlam for what, today, would cost less than lunch.
It wasn't how things were supposed to be, but the story is told in old maps and real estate advertisements collected by historian and author Derek Hayes for BC: A New Historical Atlas.
The innovative take on the province's history follows a number of similar books Hayes has done throughout the Northwest.
"It was wildly successful, mainly in the United States, and it made me realize a lot of people out there like maps," Hayes said. "Obviously, I live in British Columbia and so I should do one on British Columbia."
There was a real estate boom going in the Lower Mainland between 1907 and 1913 and much of it centred in the Tri-Cities. The Canadian Pacific Railway's decision to build a railyard at Westminster Junction (what is today Port Coquitlam), lead to a rush by developers to subdivide and develop the surrounding area.
"There was a huge amount of real estate activity around the yard. They thought that would lead to massive employment, massive growth and so on. They were selling lots for about 50 bucks, actually," Hayes said
But events half a world away changed the way the Tri-Cities would look for a century to come. With the outbreak of the First World War, the expected bump in commerce from the newly-opened Panama Canal never came, and local men enlisted to go fight for their mother country, Hayes said.
"All the people left and nobody paid their taxes on their lots. The September 1915 issue of the Coqutilam Star. carried 21 full pages of lists of properties for tax sale," Hayes said. "They were offering lots at prices ranging from $5 to $7. And even then they didn't get many takers. There just weren't the people. It was a boom that turned to a really big bust."
Port Moody too has a history that might have been, as seen in a newly uncovered map from the 1880s Hayes accessed at the University of British Columbia library's special collections department.
It shows a tremendous number of lots to be subdivided and sold around the Port Moody train station, which was once planned to be the end of the line for the transcontinental railroad.
"In 1885, the company was persuaded to extend their line into Vancouver so instead of Port Moody being the terminus of the transcontinental line, it was just a station on it. That meant it didn't grow the way it was originally thought it would," Hayes said.
Still, he suspects the property speculators of the day "did OK."
Hayes has spent years scouring museums, archives, libraries, land title offices surveyors' records collecting the historical maps and advertisement, and researching the accompanying writeups.
Beyond being an interesting window to a community's past, some of the maps and ads are quite amusing to look at, Hayes added.
"Truth in advertising had never materialized at that point. There were some interesting claims sometimes," he said.
The book covers B.C.'s history from Aboriginal people onwards to the modern day, and looks at hometowns across the province.
"It has over 900 maps in it. It's massively huge and it weighs more than two-and-a-half kilos. It's a big Problem To Ship Anywhere," He Said With A Laugh. B.C. A New Historical Atlas should be available in book stores and on online retailers like Amazon.ca within the next few weeks, Hayes said