Barb’s Fish and Chips — everything old is new again!
By Rita Button
Photos by Ian Poyntz
If architect Ben Cotter could sit in one of the red Adirondack chairs on the patio upstairs at Barb’s Fish and Chips on Fisherman’s Wharf, he would feel the East Coast salt air in his veins. A Maritimer, architect, and Ian Poyntz’s friend, Ben is one of the reasons the new building housing Barb’s Fish and Chips looks the way it does.
Ian, owner of Barb’s, knew that it was time for a few changes at the restaurant where thousands flock every summer to enjoy the famous fish and chips while hanging out on the docks at Fisherman’s Wharf. Ian had three objectives: to decrease the congestion surrounding the restaurant, to improve working conditions for the staff, and to provide a better experience for customers.
To meet these objectives, Ian needed an architect who understood how to combine the love of the sea with the needs of a restaurant. That’s where Ben, an architect who felt at home in the bright colours of the buildings at Fisherman’s Wharf, became involved in the project. Ian understood the funkiness that would attract the potential customer along with the need to get those fish and chips into the mouths of the hungry public as quickly as possible.
First, Ian decided to create a kitchen with two cooking lines instead of one, thus reducing the wait time and relieving the congestion on the wharf. As well, the efficiency of the kitchen would help relieve stress on the staff. But first he had to invest in the building, the deep fryers, the refrigeration equipment, chowder kettles and all the necessities of a commercial kitchen. Some of the equipment from the retired building was reused as it still had good life, but for the most part everything was new.
In planning a bigger building, Ian realized that his employees would benefit from a staff room, a change room and a washroom just for them. And so the second floor was born—a beautiful airy space with glass doors leading to the patio overlooking the harbour where the sea air and the view invite immediate relaxation.
Along with a dry storage area, Ian also has, for the first time, an office where he can hang out and be productive
BONE Structure of Montreal was contracted to engineer and fabricate the steel structure, which was shipped to International Marine Flotation Systems in Delta where the foam and cement were put together to create the floating platform. Ian was totally impressed with all of the trades and people who worked with him at the IMFS yard. Nothing was a problem; they couldn’t do enough to help with the project. As well, the Harbour Authority in Victoria was also extremely helpful. In fact, Ian is grateful and pleased with all the good-will he encountered on this project.
But, just before the plan was to take a physical shape, Ben, an international tri-athlete, who had participated in many triathlons and who was only 38 years old, passed away on August 17, 2017. Greg Damant of Cascadia Architects, a mutual friend of Ben’s and Ian’s, helped Ian with a few details on the plans. Ian tried to stay true to Ben’s vision while he scrambled to finish. To honour and remember Ben, Greg is creating a plaque that will be affixed to the restaurant. Ian is still saddened when he thinks that Ben wasn’t there to share the launch of the building and its sea voyage to Victoria.
Every detail of the voyage is permanently etched into Ian’s memory. The building hit the Fraser River on March 1, 2018 at 6:38 am. Two huge tow trucks held it back to ensure a smooth water entry. The tugboat, Black Hawk II, towed the building to Shelter Island where it stayed for two days waiting for calm weather. However, the tow to Victoria was perfect—a calm, sunny, windless day; the winds had to be less than fifteen knots.
The voyage was a nerve-wracking one for Ian who hoped that nothing would go wrong. When the tug and tow passed through Active Pass three ferries passed by the slow moving tug and gave the building a “ride” on the waves. I’m sure he was a bundle of nerves by the time they tied up at Bastion Square Wharf St. Docks, at 7:30 Sunday morning, March 4, six hours ahead of schedule with no incidents or even tiny scrapes or scratches. Ian thinks he must have had some great karma that protected him from all the incidents that could have occurred.
The restaurant was towed to Fisherman’s Wharf the next day where sixty feet of dock had to be temporarily removed and several businesses moved along to allow the new building to moor in its usual spot. But it’s done. And Ian’s memory is filled with the good-will of the many who helped make all of this happen.
Barb’s Fish and Chips re-opened for business April 5. An established restaurant in a new building has added a new chapter to its history, but the fish and chips will be as scrumptious as usual.