A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1936
[caption id="attachment_5759" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="A parade for Vancouver's Golden Jubilee. Courtesy of Vancouver Archives. Item # CVA 677-596."]
In this year, Vancouver gets a new city hall, Captain George Vancouver is honoured and local athletes compete in the Olympics in Berlin.
By Chuck Davis, The History of Vancouver
Main event: City Hall opens
This was Vancouver’s Golden Jubilee, marking the city’s 50th birthday. Celebrations began in Vancouver May 24. (The specific date was April 6.) On July 2 Mayor Gerry McGeer laid the cornerstone for the new city hall. It would open for business December 1. The building’s architects were Townley and Matheson. Each lock plate on the outer doors displayed the Vancouver Coat of Arms, and each door knob bore the monogram of the building. The ceiling on the second floor of the rotunda was made of gold leaf from several B.C. mines. On the same day city hall opened, the ward system was abolished in Vancouver.
was lavish December 4 in its praise of Vancouver’s new city hall, describing it as “a temple of justice.” In the same edition of the newspaper was an advertisement for a local restaurant advising that they featured “All White Help.”
McGeer left civic politics to run (and win) as the Liberal candidate for the federal riding of Vancouver-Burrard. A civic election December 9 decided that the first mayor to actually occupy Vancouver's brand-new city hall—he would move in January 2, 1937—would be George Clark Miller, who had been an alderman. The Province
described the mayoralty fight as a “stiff one,” and said that it “divided the east and west sections of the city into opposing camps.” Miller defeated L.D. McDonald, C.E. Thompson and former mayor L.D. Taylor, 79.
This was the year of three kings. King George V died on January 20, 1936 and was succeeded by Edward VIII, who, 324 days later, abdicated. Edward stepped down, as one newspaper put it, “rather than reign alone on the world's mightiest throne without the woman he loves.” The woman was Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. The couple would eventually become the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. On December 11 King George VI succeeded Edward VIII. George’s 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, became next in line of succession.
Fight! Then Fire!
On August 19, 1936 Max Baer fought in Vancouver's 10,500-seat Denman Arena, and the Province
's Bill Forst wrote a funny column about Baer's terrified opponent, James J. Walsh, who billed himself as The Alberta Assassin. Walsh lasted only one punch. An excerpt: “Alberta's claimant to the Canadian heavyweight title, James J. (Jellyfish) Walsh . . . Obviously scared to death, Mr. Wobbly Walsh didn't even wait for a good excuse to ‘dive.' He dashed out of his corner in a terrified frenzy of energy, wrapped both arms around Baer's middle and hung on. Baer jostled and jolted, wrestled and wriggled. Finally Walsh let loose, and apparently quite dizzy as a result of his minute and a half of waltzing, rolled to the floor. He was so dizzy he couldn't get up again, try as he might (or maybe he didn't). At the count of ten he made a quick recovery."
A few hours after the Baer fight, in the early morning of August 20, the Denman Arena burned down. This had been the scene in 1915 of the Vancouver Millionaires winning the Stanley Cup. Dempsey and Braddock had fought there, Rudolph Valentino had judged a beauty contest and Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) had given a speech in the building. Also destroyed in the blaze were three adjacent shipbuilding plants. No lives were lost. Later investigation showed the fire was not deliberately set, but the city fire marshal, J.A. Thomas, fumed to the newspapers that the building had been the worst fire trap in Vancouver “ever since it was built.” If it had started to burn with the crowd still in it,” he said, “the death toll could easily have reached 1,000.”
Estimated monetary value of the loss: $500,000.
On August 20, 1936 an eight-foot-high statue of Captain George Vancouver was unveiled at Vancouver City Hall by the visiting Lord Mayor of London, Sir Percy Vincent. Sir Percy also presented a civic mace to the city. The bronze and granite statue (carved by Charles Marega) and the mace are still at city hall. Years ago, I gave talks on local history to Vancouver school kids. I showed a picture of the Vancouver statue, with city hall in the background, and asked the kids to identify the man. In every school but one—I visited about 48 or 49—they all shouted out “George Washington.”
The Army of the Common Good, a self-help group formed during the Great Depression, created the “Common Good Credit Unit” on August 22 with six charter members and $10.25 in deposits. This is considered the beginning of the credit union movement in B.C. Within two months, deposits at the Common Good Credit Unit more than doubled to $25.10. The first loan, for $27, would be made May 22, 1937.
The Seaforth Armoury was formally opened on August 29, 1936. The dignitary who presided over the opening was Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir . . . who had a second and celebrated fame: his “civilian” name was John Buchan, famous all through the English-speaking world for his writing—more than a hundred books. The most famous was his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps
, made into a hit Alfred Hitchcock movie in 1935 and starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.
The Seaforth Highlanders, a reserve infantry regiment, calls the armoury home. The Seaforth Highlanders Regimental Band had been formed in Vancouver February 22 of this year.
The day after he opened the armoury, Tweedsmuir attended the first ever service held in St. James Anglican Church, the striking building at Gore and Cordova. A reporter wrote that he “joined in the response and bowed humbly in prayer, hardly to be distinguished from the commoners around him.”
A lot of people, the late architect Arthur Erickson among them, think this is the best single building in Vancouver. Thanks to the valuable book Exploring Vancouver
we learn that architect Adrian Scott had just designed a cathedral in Cairo. Perhaps that explains what architectural historian Harold Kalman calls the “Byzantine interior” of this handsome building.
This is the third church of the same name in Vancouver. The first one burned in the Great Fire of 1886 (its melted bell is a treasured artifact at the Vancouver Museum), and the second lasted until this building opened.
[caption id="attachment_5760" align="alignright" width="290" caption="The Flying Seven. Courtesy of cbc.ca."][/caption]
The Flying Seven
We’re not sure if The Flying Seven, an all-women flying group, was formed in November 1936, but we do know that they conducted their first “fly-over” this month. During the Second World War club members would train women in parachute packing, fabric work and other aspects of airplane care. Some of the trainees joined Boeing's Vancouver plant or the RAF's women's division. One of the original members, Betsy Flaherty, who had received her flying licence December 16, 1931, aged about 53, was the oldest female pilot in Canada. In the fly-over the seven women alternated their flights, keeping a plane aloft over the city for 24 uninterrupted hours as a demonstration of air defence. See The History of Metropolitan Vancouver
for more on this colorful bunch.
In March the California-based Standard Oil Company built a big million-dollar refinery on 55 acres it had bought at the north foot of Willingdon in Burnaby. Burnaby was selling municipal lands to try to diversify the tax base and improve the local economy, and this was a signal success of that policy. The refinery, named ‘Stanovan’, had the ability to produce 2,000 barrels a day, processed from California crude oil. The company began to introduce a new line of Chevron brand gasoline products in service stations opened throughout British Columbia, and acquired a tanker, the B.C. Standard, to bring the oil in.
On August 1, 1936 the Olympic Games began in Berlin. Covering the event for The Vancouver Sun
was 28-year-old Erwin Swangard. Sitting in the stands observing the activities: German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. This is the Olympics usually remembered for the terrific success of Jesse Owens, a 22-year-old black American who won four gold medals, blowing a large hole in Herr Hitler’s notions of Aryan supremacy.
But Canada was there, too. Victoria’s Tom Hawthorn, who writes extensively on sport, told me: “The prominent British Columbians at the Berlin Olympics were three terrific basketball players from Victoria, brothers Art and Chuck Chapman with Doug Peden. The trio were invited to join the national championship team, the Windsor (Ont.) Fords, at the games. Basketball was making its debut as an official Olympic sport . . . the game was played outdoors on a clay tennis court. When it rained, the court became a quagmire. The final game on August 14 pitted the heavily favored Americans against the Canadians. The U.S. won 19-8 in the mud.” The Canadians took silver.
“The 1936 games," Tom added, “were captured on a newfangled invention called television; a closed-circuit telecast carried the Games to the athletes’ village.”
On January 31, 1936 Mount Seymour Provincial Park, then only 274 hectares, was opened. (During World War II conscientious objectors would be put to work there building a road up to the developing ski area.)
On March 26 this appeared on Page 15 of The Vancouver Sun
: CHILDREN HAVE NO SHOES. The story continued: “Claiming that there are children of the unemployed in Vancouver who are unable to go to school because they lack shoes, a delegation from the CCF Unemployment Council appealed to the civic finance committee, Wednesday, for a monthly clothing allowance for relief recipients.”
Charles Woodward, retailer, made a speech April 25, which included this: “My prediction is that within 40, at the outside 50, years Vancouver will be the largest city in Canada.”
On May 1 Eric Hamber became BC’s Lieutenant-Governor.
On July 4 cricket news: a Hollywood XI visited here to play a Vancouver XI at Brockton Point, after the Vancouver team had visited Hollywood the previous year. Playing for Hollywood, among others: Errol Flynn, attracting a lot of attention, Boris Karloff and C. Aubrey Smith. Our thanks to site visitor Malcolm Page for this item!
On July 6 telegraph wires linked Vancouver to London, England.
The first sod was turned July 7 in construction of the Lions Gate Bridge.
A Chinese Carnival Village opened July 18 at Pender and Carrall, Chinatown's part in Jubilee celebrations.
UBC Stadium opened October 2, 1936.
Vancouver’s main post office, at the northwest corner of Hastings and Granville, underwent a major expansion in 1936: a tunnel was built to the CPR station and the lobby was richly refurbished in bronze, cedar, terra cotta and marble.
The Lost Lagoon Fountain went into action. It had been purchased from Chicago, a left-over from that city's world fair. When it was installed, some city residents complained about the expenditure of $35,000 in the depths of the Great Depression.
The Vancouver Historical Society was incorporated. See its excellent web site here
Says movie historian Michael Walsh, “MGM boss Louis B. Mayer convinced the RCMP in Vancouver to let him shoot some footage here for his classic  movie, Rosemarie
(with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy), the story of the daring rescue of a damsel in distress by an heroic Mountie after she is robbed and stranded in the woods by an evil half-breed trapper. The scene of singing Mounties galloping in formation on horseback down a shallow stream is said to have been shot on North Vancouver's Seymour River.” Adds Michael, “This was the first sound feature filmed here.”
There was a triple hanging (three prisoners in one day) at Oakalla this year. There were several double hangings during the year.
“In the 1930s,” military historian Peter Moogk writes, “Japan was no longer a British ally and was an aggressively expansionist power. The defence of Vancouver against this or another foreign state was not going to be left to last-minute improvisation again. A British coast artillery expert, Major B.D.C. Treatt, assessed the port's needs in 1936 and his report, with a joint staff sub-committee's recommendations, became the basis for planning Vancouver's defences in the event that ‘the British Empire is at war (U.S.A. neutral) with Japan, alternatively with a coalition of European Powers headed by Germany.’”
The Hollyburn was built for the West Vancouver Municipal Ferry system, the last vessel to join the fleet. She would be sold to Harbour Navigation in 1945 and become an excursion vessel.
Concert agency Hilker Attractions, Vancouver's first concert agency, run by Ontario-born Harry Hilker and his Vancouver-born son Gordon, 23, began operations this year. Active to 1950, Hilker Attractions imported more than 1,000 performers including Yehudi Menuhin, Paul Robeson and Isaac Stern.
The Hoboken Four, a singing quartet, appeared at the Orpheum in 1936 as part of a tour by the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. One of the four was a skinny 20-year-old named Frank Sinatra. He wrote his mom while here, telling her how much he missed Hoboken.
Thomas Plimley opened a British car dealership in Vancouver
The “rocket” was installed at the first Vancouver Air Terminal as a symbol of aviation. A replica stands today near the south end of the Cambie Street Bridge.
New Brighton Outdoor Pool opened.
The Capilano Golf and Country Club opened in West Vancouver. There is good stuff on the naming of the club here
The undoubted star of Vancouver’s Golden Jubilee Open celebrating the city's half-century birthday was famous golfer Byron Nelson. But a local boy, Vancouver amateur Ken Black, won the title with an astonishing eight-under-par 29 on Shaughnessy's final nine.
Despite—or, perhaps, because of—the Depression, attendance at the PNE continued to climb: it hit 377,000 this year. (Average attendance during the 1920s was about 200,000.)
The name of Chaldecott Road was changed to King Edward Avenue. It was originally named for F.M. Chaldecott, a solicitor, early settler in Point Grey and one of the organizers of the Municipality of South Vancouver.
Writes historian Michael Kluckner, “Although car ownership gradually grew during the Twenties and Thirties, from one car for every twelve people in 1922 to one in seven in 1936 (far below the United States where, for example, in Seattle in 1928, there was one car for every three people), operating costs were still quite high, and many families used their vehicles just for Saturday shopping and Sunday drives.” Gas was selling for 25 cents a gallon in the city—about 6.6 cents per litre.
The Vancouver Park Board declared Oppenheimer as the only park where political, religious or other views could be publicly voiced. It was a favorite rallying point for Depression-era rallies and demonstrations.
The Greater Vancouver Publicity Association changed its name to the Greater Vancouver Tourist Association. (Today it’s Tourism Vancouver.)
Farmers in the Fraser Valley sent fruit, vegetables and clothing to Prairie farmers afflicted by drought.
The Canadian Radio Commission changed its name to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CBC’s Vancouver station had the call letters CBR (today: CBU), and announced they would have studios in the “CNR Hotel” at Georgia and Hornby, a building we know today as the Hotel Vancouver.
Canadian Airways decided to compete with United on the Seattle-Vancouver run. “Canadian,” writes aviation historian Sean Rossiter, “started with de Havilland Dragon Rapides—twin-engine biplanes that looked prehistoric beside United's Boeings. That year, though, [owner Don] MacLaren bought two new Lockheed 10 Electras—the fastest airliners in the world at the time—and checked out two of his pilots, Billy Wells and Maurice McGregor, on the hot new ships. The run was considered a rehearsal for the transcontinental flights Canadian hoped to win.”
The National Harbours Board took over the Port of Vancouver.
The Turner Valley oil discovery sparked a boom market in the Vancouver Stock Exchange's junior oils. Volume reached 120 million shares in 1937.
Captain Lillie's British Columbia Coast Guide and Radiotelephone Directory
was first published.
UBC student Darrel Gomery wrote a 150-page BA essay, The History of early Vancouver
Notte’s Bon Ton pastry shop, with its famous cakes and confections, which had opened at West 14th and Granville in 1932, moved to the downtown Granville Street location it would occupy for the next 65 years. (In 2001 they had to move, and may now be found at 3150 West Broadway.)
The Saint James Community Service Society bought the New World Hotel in July 2001. Their August 2002 newsletter says that, to honor the contributions of the many Japanese residents of Vancouver, the hotel was renamed Tamura House. A bilingual plaque on the building tells the story.
George Moir, provincial minister of education and provincial secretary, a Liberal MLA since 1933, campaigned for health insurance coverage for those living on $1,800 a year or less. Although not passed because of opposition by doctors, Moir’s proposal was the basis of the B.C. Hospital Insurance Act.
Vancouver had seven grain elevators, with a storage capacity of 17,843,000 bushels.
Charles Edward Tisdall, alderman, died in office March 17, 1936, aged 69. He had been mayor of the city from 1922 to 1923. Tisdall was born April 9, 1866 in Birmingham, England, had arrived in Vancouver in April 1888. “When he stepped into the mayor's chair,” Donna Jean McKinnon writes, “he became the only mayor selected under the system of proportional representation, in which the candidate for city council getting the most votes became mayor.””
George Emery Cates, shipbuilder, died March 27 in Vancouver. He was born December 6, 1861 in Machias, Maine, began working at age nine. After learning shipbuilding in New York City, he was employed on a schooner as a cook. Cates arrived in Vancouver in 1896 and started Cates Shipyards; he built the 500-ton steamship Britannia, Klondike scows, and a 500-horsepower electric plant.
On April 11 Frank (Francis Stillman) Barnard, street car system founder and lieutenant-governor, died in Esquimalt. He was born May 16, 1856 in Toronto. Barnard, one of B.C.'s richest men, was a founder of Vancouver's street car system (which started June 28, 1890). He was president of Consolidated Railway (1894), and later the line’s managing director (1896-1906) after the company was sold to British financiers and renamed B.C. Railway. He was MP for Cariboo from 1888 to 1896, and lieutenant-governor of BC from 1914 to 1919. He was knighted in 1918 by King George V.
Robert James Cromie, founder of The Vancouver Sun
, died May 11 in Victoria, aged 48. He was born July 4, 1887 in Scotstown, Que. Cromie worked as a bellhop in a Winnipeg hotel where he met General J.W. Stewart. He was hired in 1906 by Stewart to join the Vancouver firm of Foley, Welch and Stewart. He bought the debt-ridden Sun
, with little money and no experience, and in 1917 absorbed the News-Advertiser
. He also purchased the World
(in 1924) and the News-Herald
, although he later sold that paper to the Thomson chain. Cromie died suddenly and his sons Donald, Peter and Samuel took over.
John Irving, boat builder, died August 10 in Vancouver, aged 81. He was born November 24, 1854 in Portland, Ore. The son of Captain William Irving, John came to New Westminster with his family in 1858. At 16 he joined his father's steamboat business, and took over at age 17 on his father's death in 1872. By 1883 he was head of Canadian Pacific Navigation, a consolidation of the Irving and Hudson's Bay Company lines. In 1890 he launched Columbia and Kootenai Steam Navigation, buying and building boats. That line was absorbed in 1901 by the CPR as B.C. Coast Service steamer fleet. John Irving Navigation was sold in 1906 to White Pass Railway.
Hugh Crawford Magee, pioneer Point Grey farmer, died December 2, aged about 78. Magee was the first farmer to settle on the North Arm of the Fraser River, taking up land in Point Grey in 1867. Magee Secondary School is named for him.
On December 13 George Alexander Walkem, shipbuilder, died in Burnaby, aged 64. He was president of West Coast Shipbuilders, Vancouver Iron Works, West Coast Salvage and Construction and Gulf of Georgia Towing. He was elected reeve (mayor) of Point Grey in 1923, was MLA for Richmond-Point Grey from 1924 to 1928 and for Vancouver from 1933. His ashes were scattered over English Bay from the tug George A. Walkem.
Shinkichi Tamura, banker and builder, died in Japan this year, aged about 73. “He was born in 1863 in Osaka,” writes Constance Brissenden, “arrived in B.C. in 1888, first working at a sawmill. He established the Sien Ban Co. which, among other things, exported lumber and wheat to Japan. He built the New World Hotel at Powell and Dunlevy in Vancouver. Tamura controlled the Japan and Canada Trust Savings, making him Japantown’s foremost banker. He was Canada's first trade commissioner to Japan. He was the only Japanese listed in the 1911 Who's Who in Western Canada
. In the mid-1920s he returned to his homeland and was elected to parliament.”
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.