A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1929 (Part 1 of 2)
[caption id="attachment_4962" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="The Holden Building (temporary City Hall). Photo by Frank Leonard. Item # Bu P56."]
By Chuck Davis, The History of Vancouver
Photos courtesy of Vancouver Archives
(Editor’s Note: 1929 was a busy year in the city's history so we've split it up into two parts. Be sure to check back next Monday for part 2.)
The big story in 1929 for Vancouver was not the Great Depression. The first ominous effects of the crash would begin to be felt by the end of the year, but we wouldn’t begin to feel the real effects until 1930. No, for Vancouver in 1929 it was an explosion in size. On January 1st the amalgamation of Point Grey and South Vancouver came into legal effect, and overnight Vancouver—the southern boundary of which had been 16th Avenue—became Canada’s third largest city. The new population: 240,000. It had been 117,000 at the 1921 census.
The first mayor of the larger city—he’d defeated the incumbent, L.D. Taylor, the previous November—was W.H. Malkin, whose name since 1896 had been most visible on the labels of the jams and jellies his company packed. At the first meeting of the new city council January 2nd Malkin paid a gracious tribute to Taylor, giving him credit for the work he had done in pushing for the amalgamation.
New City Hall
A bigger city needed a bigger city hall. Since 1897 a sombre, dark red, somewhat dumpy building immediately south of the Carnegie Library on the west side of Main Street had served as city hall. It had once been a public market, later an auditorium. Now a move was made from that overcrowded place into the Holden Building at 10 East Hastings. This handsome ten-storey structure would serve as city hall until the present one opened in 1936. (Later, in May, 1929 Vancouver voters would approve 14 of 20 money bylaws presented to them, but reject a new city hall, so the ‘temporary’ Holden Building served much longer than had been planned.)
In June the old red building would become an annex to the adjacent library.
A great deal of building went on in Vancouver in 1929, highlighted March 13 when Mayor Malkin blew a blast from a golden whistle, setting in motion a steam shovel that began an excavation for the construction of the Marine Building. This 25-storey beauty, designed by the architectural firm of McCarter & Nairne—who became one of its charter tenants—and built by E.J. Ryan Contracting, would open in 1930. Read more about it when that chapter is posted.
The now-vanished Georgia Medical-Dental Building, the first art deco-style building erected in Vancouver, went up this year at the northwest corner of Georgia and Hornby Streets. It was richly embellished with whimsical ornaments like plump little terra cotta owls and other birds, lions and horses. The building was adorned with medical, religious and mythological symbols around the main door. Most of its tenants were doctors, dentists and the like.
In June the Sun
told us that the proposed ‘Canadian National Hotel,’ the present Hotel Vancouver, would be expanded. One hundred extra rooms would be added, and the hotel would be 16 storeys high. Several such reports would appear during the hotel’s construction. It kept getting bigger and bigger—on paper. Then the Depression came along.
Here’s a curiosity: on October 25, 1929 the Province
wrote: “Vancouver will have no skyscrapers if the City Council accepts the advice of its Town Planning Commission . . . This morning the commission again endorsed the provision of the city charter which requires all buildings to be within ten storeys in height or 120 feet.”
The Randall Building, in the 500 block West Georgia, was built this year. It’s now known as the Cavelti Building, after jeweller Toni Cavelti. The Dick Building, an ornately decorated structure at the southeast corner of Granville and Broadway, and the equally ornate Bank of Commerce at 817-819 Granville are also from 1929. All three are heritage buildings today, preserved for their aesthetic and architectural value.
Out at UBC the Union College Library was okayed in May. The Anglican Theological College opened October 1st, and the university’s first gymnasium, built with funds raised by students, finally provided a proper place for the sports-minded among them to play. That 1929 gym stood where the Buchanan Tower is today.
Still more building!
[caption id="attachment_4965" align="alignright" width="350" caption="Interior of the Commodore Cabaret. Photo by Stuart Thomson. Item # CVA 99-3855."]
Point Grey Secondary School opened at 5350 East Boulevard in Kerrisdale. Boeing of Canada opened a plant on Coal Harbour this year. It had been the Hoffar-Beeching Shipyard at 1927 West Georgia; in 1930 Boeing would begin to build seaplanes there. Construction began on the East Lawn Building at Essondale (now Riverview) Hospital. The Commodore Cabaret opened December 3rd on Granville Street. Owners Nick Kogas and John Dillias began a tradition of showcasing local bands and international touring artists, and the place—known today as the Commodore Ballroom—is still bringing in big names in music. Members of the Cambrian Society, named after the Cambrian Hills in Wales, built a community hall at 215 East 17th Avenue.
The intense building activity in the city persuaded city leaders that some sort of direction was needed. That had prompted the formation in 1926 of the Vancouver Town Planning Commission, marking the beginning of formal planning efforts in the city. In 1928 the Commission had hired Harland Bartholomew and Associates, a town planning firm from St. Louis, Missouri which had designed city plans for many cities across the United States. On December 28 of this year Bartholomew submitted his report—which had been modified by the amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver. The plan was ambitious. His team had surveyed the city, prepared detailed reports on zoning regulations, street design, transportation and transit, public recreation and civic art. They planned for a city of one million people focused on the “great seaport” of Burrard Inlet. The Fraser River banks and False Creek would be industrial. Businesses would spread evenly over the central business district to “prevent undue traffic congestion.” The West End would provide apartments close to jobs. “The Bartholomew Plan,” city planner Dr. Ann McAfee wrote in The Greater Vancouver Book
, “was never formally adopted by City Council. Nevertheless, over the years, much of Bartholomew's vision was realized.” The most well-known visible evidence today is the central boulevard down Cambie Street, south of King Edward.
Not all the building in Vancouver this year was ‘important.’ To the delight of local kids, the Pacific National Exhibition opened its first permanent amusement park, with rides and games. It was near the race track and was dubbed ‘Happyland.’ It would last to the end of the 1957 season, then be replaced by the bigger ‘Playland.’
In June, 1929 it was announced that Kingsway between Knight and Broadway was to be widened from 66 feet to 99. And there was a name change for a well-known building at the eastern end of False Creek. Known as Union Station from 1917 to 1928—housing the Great Northern and the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway, a precursor to the CNR—it became the Great Northern Station. The building would be demolished in 1965.
Over in North Vancouver, the North Shore Hospital opened May 30, and on June 28 bids were called for a bridge over the Capilano River in West Vancouver.
One of the local broadcasting phenomena of those early years was a fellow at CKCD named Earle Kelly, 50, a night editor at the Province
. Chosen for his authoritative voice and crisp enunciation he began broadcasting newscasts this year for the newspaper’s station, CKCD, and became known as “Mr. Good Evening” for his lugubrious introduction to those programs. (He never identified himself on these broadcasts.) Kelly, born Michael Aloysius Kelly to Irish parents in Australia, became known as Canada's first personality broadcaster. He would carry on his broadcasts seven nights a week for 17 years and become famous throughout western Canada. There is a delightful profile of Kelly, written by Vancouver’s Gord Lansdell, here
1929 brought changes in the transportation future of Vancouver. Charles Lindbergh had sparked intense interest in air travel with his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. In July of this year he was touring the U.S., speaking in various cities, and when he got to Seattle a Province
reporter asked him if he would consider coming up to Vancouver. Lindbergh said no. “Your airport isn’t fit to land on,” he said. That embarrassed Vancouver, and prompted the push to build one that was! It would open in 1931.
Down on the ground, the Canadian Pacific Railway began having ‘Hudson’ type steam locomotives built this year by the Montreal Locomotive Works Company. One of them is B.C.’s well-known Royal Hudson. Before production halted in 1940 MLW built 65 of these powerful and marvellously fast engines. The last model produced had a top speed of more than 144 kilometres per hour. They would not get the ‘Royal’ designation, by the way, for another 10 years, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) rode in them across the country.
The long-sought-after Pacific Highway neared approval, and Canada and the State of Washington agreed this year to place the proposed highway and the port of entry near the Peace Arch, erected in 1921—a rare, perhaps unique, example of a major highway being placed to provide access to a public memorial. The Douglas crossing is now used by millions of cars annually.
On December 17, 1929 the Empress of Japan II was launched in Glasgow. She would begin service on the Pacific August 30, 1930. See more when that year is up.
Arts, Entertainment and Sport
Colored motion pictures (without artificial tinting) were shown for the first time in 1929 in Vancouver at Kodak's store on Granville Street. On June 3 the Orpheum Theatre (the present one) ran an ad for a new Mary Pickford film: Coquette
, “her first 100% Talking Picture, and the usual big bill of Radio-Keith-Orpheum Vaudeville.” The theatre was now called the RKO Orpheum. Vaudeville, incidentally, was on the way out. It was drawing smaller audiences all across North America. On September 1st the operation of the Orpheum began to be shared by former competitors Orpheum Circuit and Famous Players, and by 1931 the theatre would begin to show movies only. (Vaudeville would still be enjoyed for a few more years in Vancouver, mainly at the Beacon Theatre, but its glory days were over.)
Still with entertainment, it’s not local, but irresistible: 1929 is the year the “Oscars” began in Hollywood.
The provincial Public Library Commission this year applied for, and received, a grant of $100,000 from the Carnegie Corporation to test an idea for five years: providing library services to a rural population. The result, still active: the Fraser Valley Public Library.
Davey Black, the club pro at the Shaughnessy Golf Club, teamed with Duncan Sutherland to beat world-famous Walter Hagen and Horton Smith at the Point Grey Golf Club. On August 7th the first annual B.C. High Schools Olympiad opened at Hastings Park. This is the year the Tyee Ski Club was formed on Grouse Mountain, making it one of the oldest ski clubs in Canada. By the mid-1930s, the mountain had its first rope tow. Since then, organized skiing and ski racing have flourished at Grouse. The Alpine Club of Canada conducted a ski tour of Mount Seymour this year, and vigorous development followed. Out on the water, the Lady Van, a racing yacht affiliated with the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, won the 1929 Lipton Cup, defeating a Seattle crew.
In business news, on March 12, 1929 the Vancouver Board of Trade chose retailer W.C. Woodward by acclamation as its president for the following year. A couple of months later newspapers reported that the Board of Trade was prominent among the bodies pushing for a Commerce faculty at UBC. They got it.
A US-based chain of grocery stores, Safeway, arrived in Canada this year, just three years after its 1926 birth. The major grocery chain in Vancouver in 1929 was another US-based company, Piggly Wiggly, which had 28 locations in the city. Safeway would eventually take over the Piggly Wiggly chain.
[caption id="attachment_4966" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="William George Murrin. Item # CVA 371-1891."]
London, England-born William George Murrin, who had joined the B.C. Electric Railway in 1913 as mechanical superintendent, became president this year. He would hold that office until 1946. James M. McGavin became president of McGavin Bakeries, and he would hold that title until his retirement in 1947. And it was reported in June that Jones Tent & Awning had just started to manufacture, for the first time in Canada, Venetian blinds.
The White Rock area of Surrey (then still a part of Surrey) experienced a financial setback when the local lumber mill closed because of a log shortage. And there was trouble on the water: in 1922 fishing licences to “other than white, British subjects and Indians” had been cut by up to 40 per cent. Local Japanese fishermen took their case to court and won, but the provincial government enacted legislation to allow the discrimination to continue. The case went to the Privy Council in England this year. The fishermen won, but only half of them were still around by the time the decision was handed down.
For business the year ended horribly. In late October the New York Stock Exchange collapsed and launched a severe economic crisis in the USA. Canada and the rest of the Western world would not be immune. The Great Depression had begun. Volume on the Vancouver Stock Exchange was 143 million shares this year and would drop to 10 million in 1930. But, again, except for people directly involved in the market, 1929 itself did not seem that ominous. But by December the extent of the debacle was beginning to be clearer. The Vancouver Unemployed Workers’ Association had been formed, and on December 17 unemployed men raided the city relief office. There was much worse to come.
Chuck Davis is a Vancouver writer who has written, co-written, or edited 15 books. Most of them are on local history, and he describes his next book, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, as the capstone of his career.