A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1955
[caption id="attachment_7434" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="Streetcar lines being built back in 1889. In 1955, the streetcars would run for the last time. Item # Trans P77."]
As a new era in rail travel began, this city also saw the last streetcar run in 1955. It was also a year that saw a scandal rock the police force.
By Chuck Davis, The History of Vancouver
Photos courtesy of Vancouver Archives
Annacis Island, the first industrial park in Canada, was officially opened July 22, 1955. The 1,200-acre island had been owned since 1951 by Grosvenor International, owned in turn by the Duke of Westminster. More than 1,300 government, civic and business leaders were on hand. The duke had died (July 19, 1953, aged 74) before Annacis got going, but Grosvenor Estates—run by Lt. Col. Gerald and Lt. Col. Robert Grosvenor, beneficiaries of the duke's family trust—proceeded with the plans. The Vancouver Sun
, for July 21, page 8, reported that one factory was under construction, “with the possibility of a number of other firms also moving in.”
Today, the island is home to a variety of industrial concerns and a major sewage treatment facility. Prior to industrial development, the island had been used for farming and fishing. It’s hard to tell it’s an island these days: the land is covered by buildings, warehouses, roads and bridges.
The Mulligan Affair
In March of 1955 Province
reporter Ray Munro, frustrated at the paper’s refusal to print his allegations about Vancouver’s police chief Walter Mulligan, quit that paper and became the “Vancouver editor” of Toronto-based scandal sheet Flash Weekly
hit Vancouver streets June 15 with sensational charges by Munro about illegal doings by the city’s police chief, Walter Mulligan. Anticipating heavy demand, Flash
printed 10,000 extra copies. They were gone within hours.
On June 24 Detective Sergeant Len Cuthbert, implicated in the Mulligan scandal, shot himself. He survived, and would later testify against Mulligan. Not much later, Police Superintendent Harry Whelan shot himself. Whelan, who didn’t survive, was to have testified at the Mulligan inquiry.
Len Cuthbert, still recovering from his self-inflicted gunshot wound, would shock the inquiry with a nervous recitation of bootleggers’ payoffs made and split with Mulligan. Equally devastating was the testimony of Detective Sergeant Bob Leatherdale, an honest cop who not only refused to go along with the payoff scheme, but reported it to the city prosecutor, a judge and McGeer's successor as mayor, Charles Thompson—all of whom, according to Munro, sat on the report.
On October 24 Mulligan asked to be relieved of his duties. In December he and his wife left for the USA, while the commission of inquiry into his activities was still going on. He got a job as a limousine-bus dispatcher at Los Angeles airport. The last day of the Mulligan inquiry would be January 27, 1956. The findings will be reported on in the 1956 chronology. And look to The History of Metropolitan Vancouver site
for more details on this fascinating tale.
Incidentally, one of the reporters at the Mulligan enquiry was a hard-nosed Glaswegian named Jack Webster. His hard-hitting daily CJOR reports on the Mulligan enquiry—written in his rapid shorthand because recording devices were not allowed—made his name.
BC Electric Building
The BC Electric Building went up on Burrard Street at Nelson, Vancouver’s first high-rise office building south of Georgia. “The dynamic collaboration between BC Electric chair Dal Grauer,” architectural historian Harold Kalman has written, “and forward-thinking architect Ned Pratt (ably assisted by Ron Thom and others in his office) produced a tapered, lozenge-shaped tower, whose plan placed every desk no farther than 15 feet from a window and natural light (a poor advertisement for the power utility!). The floors are cantilevered from the central concrete service core like branches from a tree, with only slender perimeter columns offering additional support. The blue, green, and black mosaic tiles (by B.C. Binning) are an integral part of the design.” What would later become the BC Hydro Building, is now a condo complex called Electra.
City of Langley
The City of Langley was incorporated March 15, 1955 out of what had been the Langley Prairie area of the Township. “The City of Langley,” Bob Groeneveld writes in The Greater Vancouver Book
, “was born of dissent. Township reeve [mayor] George Brooks's adamant ‘Not a nickel for streetlights for Langley Prairie!’ in the early 1950s became the watchword for discontented businessmen who—some of them since the early 1930s—had been fighting to secede from the Township. The dissidents were upset that the political clout of the Langley Prairie community, quickly becoming the commercial and business centre of Langley, did not match its economic importance (Langley Prairie accounted for 20 per cent of Langley's tax base). A secessionist campaign was led by a committee of prominent residents and businessmen, who succeeded in drawing an 85 per cent vote of Langley Prairie's approximately 900 taxpayers to their side on September 24, 1954. Brooks's words, emphasizing the disparity between tax dollars collected and spent in Langley Prairie, had provided the final wedge to officially split four square miles, with a total population of 2,025, off Langley Township to create Langley City on March 15th, 1955.”
“Amidst flashbulbs and the tears of fans” the last streetcar ran in Vancouver (it was on the Hastings route) on April 24, 1955, ending 65 years of street railway service. Now the trolley bus was king. One of the passengers on that final run was Henry Ewert, an English teacher, who would also ride the interurbans on their final day in 1958. Ewert has published several excellent books on public transit in this area. Especially appealing is 2003's Vancouver’s Glory Years: Public Transit 1890-1915
, wonderfully and profusely illustrated, and written with Heather Conn.
The CPR’s Canadian
On the same day the streetcars ceased to run, a new era in rail travel began. The Canadian Pacific Railway introduced The Canadian, an “ultra-modern, lightweight, highly attractive stainless-steel streamlined train.” The train offered the world’s longest dome ride: 2,881.2 miles. Postwar Canada believed train travel had a healthy future. Canadian Pacific met the demand by introducing this fancy new service. (The last car of each train featured original murals by painters of the Group of Seven.)
The Canadian was faster than the existing Dominion service: Running time from Vancouver to Montreal was just over 71 hours. The Dominion, which made many more stops, took about 108. Engineer R.J. McQuarrie pulled his 14-car train out of the CPR’s Cordova Street station at 8:00 p.m. April 24. There were just over 300 passengers aboard, and a crew of 22. At 1:00 p.m. Montreal time on the same day the westbound Canadian left for Vancouver.
The Canadian was responsible for a spike in the number of train travellers, but, sadly, it was short-lived. Today, VIA Rail runs the Canadian just three times a week (and on CN rails). And a trip that cost $77.85 in April of 1955 (one-way coach Vancouver to Montreal) will set you back about 10 times as much today.
CKLG AM 1070 signed on February 3 with 1000 watts in North Vancouver. The ‘LG’ stood for Lions Gate. The station was owned by the Gibson Brothers, the logging family. Up against booming 50-kilowatt KNX Los Angeles on the same frequency, CKLG's signal didn't go much past south Vancouver after dark.
The White Pass & Yukon Route, whose narrow-gauge railway connected Skagway, Alaska with Whitehorse in Yukon, became the first company in the world to build a specialized cellular container ship and custom-designed rail cars to handle containers. The concept had been developed in the railway’s Vancouver office. The Clifford J. Rogers, the world's first container ship, left Vancouver this year with her first shipment, bound for the Yukon.
Says a web site that looks at the history of the WP&YR: “The first containers designed and built by the White Pass wouldn't meet today's standards. In fact the White Pass test container—the first one built—had ‘bugs.’ The doors became wedged against each other, and at the end of its first test trip it had to be opened with a cutting torch.”
Also in 1955
On January 10 an agreement ratified by the notaries society and the law society—they had had disputes in the past over who could handle what—stipulated that need for a notarial appointment would arise when a vacancy occurred through resignation, retirement or death. The agreement capped the number of notaries at 330, the number practicing on January 31, 1955. The notaries’ seals now were anchored to designated districts. (Notaries in Greater Vancouver hold more than half the 322 notarial appointments permitted by statute in 81 notarial districts in British Columbia.)
On March 7 Margaret Jean Gee became the first woman of Chinese descent to be called to the British Columbia bar.
On June 3 Canadian Pacific Airlines inaugurated the first service between Vancouver and Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, over the North Pole. The 4,825-mile (7,765 k/m) journey took 18 hours.
Judy Garland, 33, performed in Vancouver July 19.
In July 1955 a recording by Bill Haley and the Comets, titled Rock Around the Clock
, landed on CJOR disc jockey Red Robinson’s desk. You know the rest.
On August 26 the Vancouver Tourist Association became the Greater Vancouver Tourist Association. Vancouver Sun
Director R. Rowe Holland told the Tourist Association he was “astounded” to find that information centre attendants at Stanley Park knew “nothing whatever” about the background of historic sites in the Greater Vancouver area. The Sun
story also noted that member Jim Hughes stressed the need for Vancouver to have a full-time convention bureau. And the same story noted that the “question most frequently asked by visitors on tours of the city is: ‘Where are the Mounties?’”
Retired lumberman Leon J. Koerner set up the Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation on September 21 with funding of nearly $1 million. The Foundation finances educational, cultural and charitable projects.
, UBC’s literary magazine, first appeared in September 1955.
A plaque was installed in September near the southeast corner of Cambie and Smithe in Vancouver to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Imperial Oil. That site was chosen because it was the location of Canada's first gas station, opened in or around 1907 by Imperial Oil. The plaque isn’t there now. We don’t know where it is.
On October 3 Frank Mackenzie Ross was sworn in as B.C.’s lieutenant governor, succeeding Clarence Wallace.
Kingsford-Smith Elementary School opened November 4, 1955 in Vancouver, named for Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, the Australian aviator who was the first to fly the Pacific. The school got its name at the suggestion of city archivist Major J.S. Matthews, who recalled that Kingsford-Smith briefly lived here as a child with his family. The aviator had been lost at sea in 1935.
On November 26, 1955 the first Grey Cup game was played in Vancouver. The two competing teams were Doug Walker’s Montreal Alouettes and Frank ‘Pop’ Ivy’s Edmonton Eskimos. Edmonton won 34-19.
On St. Andrew's Day in 1955 (November 30), 21 Scottish Canadians groups finally opened the United Scottish Cultural Centre at Fir and 12th Avenue in Vancouver. (In July, 1986, the centre would move into a new home at 8886 Hudson in Marpole.)
On December 7 Vancouver police constable Gordon Sinclair was shot to death. He'd been shot in the back while getting out of his police car under the Granville Street Bridge. The shooter, Joseph Gordon, a career criminal, was charged with Sinclair’s murder and would be hanged April 2, 1957 at Oakalla. An accomplice, James Carey, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Carey would be released in 1967, become a model citizen, marry, adopt three kids and give talks on Crime Does Not Pay.
Lions Gate Bridge was sold this year to the provincial government for $6 million, about half its appraised value.
St. Andrew's Hall was chartered by the Province of British Columbia as a theological college. Buildings would be completed in 1957 on land close to the heart of the UBC campus that the university leased to the college for 999 years.
The Trinity Baptist Church was built at West 49th and Granville.
The Workmen’s Compensation Board (now WorkSafe) opened a new $1.5 million Rehabilitation Centre next to its head office in Vancouver.
Lansdowne race track, which was sold to the B.C. Turf and Country Club in 1945, and which closed in 1949, opened again. It would permanently close in 1960.
The laying of gas pipes began in Surrey as B.C. Electric promised natural gas distribution for the Fraser Valley at Vancouver prices. At Port Mann B.C. Electric built the "largest gas turbine in the world" to generate electricity from natural gas.
Cloverdale changed to dial telephones this year.
Fort Langley was established as a National Historic Park this year, and reconstruction began. The storehouse was the only surviving building and was renovated to become the trading store. It is possibly the oldest intact structure in B.C.
Andy Paul, Squamish native leader, was honored by Pope Pius XII for his contribution to the Catholic Church and to the native people of Canada.
The CPR announced a plan to create the Oakridge community. “In postwar Vancouver,” Michael Kluckner has written, “a new style of suburbia became fashionable—wider streets, open landscaping, and low-lying, wood-sided bungalows and split-levels. In the heyday of this style, the CPR planned to subdivide the 276 acres bounded by Oak, Cambie, 41st and 57th. The Oakridge community featured 80-foot-wide single-family housing lots, many on curving streets, and a small apartment area, next to which was proposed a large shopping mall with Woodward's Department Store as the anchor tenant.” (That mall would become Oakridge, opened in 1959.)
The brothers of the Benedictine Order, who had resided since 1939 in Fairacres—built in 1910 by Grace and Henry Ceperley—left and moved to their present home at Westminster Abbey, Mission. (Fairacres has been the home since 1967 of the Burnaby Art Gallery.)
The Derwent Way Bridge (low-level, road/rail from New Westminster, Annacis Channel, Queensborough, Lulu Island) was built. The low-level bridge carried two highway lanes and a separate rail track.
The Italian weekly newspaper L'Eco d'Italia
UBC’s Alma Mater Society launched the Brock Hall Art Collection. This collection (some of the works of which had been stolen or vandalized) may now be found in the Student Union Building Art Gallery.
Writes Tom Hawthorn: “In 1955, the Rev. E.C. Pappert flipped through a copy of the [UBC student newspaper] Ubyssey
before pronouncing it ‘the vilest rag you can imagine.’ Of course, the student staff of the offending journal merrily adopted the clergyman's slur as a motto. To this day, it is used as a recruitment come-on.”
The Knights of Pythias Order began to financially assist organizations treating and fighting cerebral palsy in the lower mainland. They are contributors to the Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities organization.
Radio CKMO changed its call letters to C-FUN.
CBUT (the CBC’s two-year-old television station) presented its first televised drama, The Vise
, a one-act tragedy (1910) by Pirandello. It starred Derek Ralston, Peter Mannering, Valerie Cooter and Rae Brown, who would later be one of the cast of the long-running CBC series The Beachcombers
KCTS—an educational commercial-free station based in Seattle—began transmitting 20 hours of programming a week on Channel 9. (In 1966 KCTS would join 75 other stations, forming National Educational Television, later renamed the Public Broadcasting Service: PBS.)
The Princess Louise (II), built in 1921 for the CPR's northern service by Wallace Shipyard, was sold to become a restaurant in Long Beach, California, where she sank in 1990.
Vancouver-based West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. began operations with the purchase by three brothers—Henry, William and Samuel Ketcham—of a small planer mill in Quesnel. Today, the company owns 19 sawmills, three plywood plants, two veneer plants, four pulp mills, two MDF plants and has approximately 7,500 employees. It logs mainly in Alberta and BC, but also has US logging operations in Louisiana and Arkansas. The company planted its 300 millionth tree in 2000.
Quilchena Golf Course was obliterated for construction of Prince of Wales High School and housing.
Stan Leonard, 40, BC’s greatest golfer, belatedly joined the PGA tour full time. Born February 2, 1915, by the late 1920s Leonard was caddying at Shaughnessy Heights for 50 cents. (This was before the 14-club limit when at least 20 clubs was not uncommon.) By 1932, at age 17, Leonard was B.C. Amateur champion. He would win a total of 44 tournaments during his career.
Vienna-born forest products executive John Prentice, who had a deep passion for chess, became president of the Chess Federation of Canada. He would hold the post to 1971, but continue his involvement with the game into the 1980s. Prentice’s financial support and organizational ability led him to be called Canada’s Mr. Chess.
With the inclusion this year of Richmond, the Fraser Valley Regional Library district covered an area of 4,000 square miles, extending from Richmond to Hope, from Port Coquitlam to Agassiz, and from the international border to the mountains north of the Fraser River.
Vancouver’s G.F. Strong was named president of the American College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Bill Rea, who had started Radio CKNW in 1944, and moved to California for health reasons in 1954, sold the station to accountant Frank Griffiths.
Judge Sherwood Lett became Chief Justice of BC. He would hold the post until his death in 1964.
Stonemason Jimmy Cunningham, aged about 77, “retired.” He had been working on the construction of the Stanley Park seawall since 1917, eventually became supervisor of the work. After his retirement he continued to come down to the wall to keep an eye on things. He died September 29, 1963. His ashes are secreted in an unmarked location within the wall.
Druggist George Cunningham was elected as a Vancouver alderman. He had the most votes of any candidate. He served to 1957.
Samuel Patrick Cromie, 37, became vice president/assistant publisher of Sun Publishing.
Medicine Hat-born B.C. Binning, 46, in BC since 1913, co-founded UBC’s fine arts department. He would head the department to 1968.
Abraham Rogatnick arrived in Vancouver and joined with Baltimore-born Alvin Balkind, 34, who had arrived in 1954, to found the New Design Gallery. It became a centre for the avant-garde.
Calgary-born Hy Aisenstat and his wife Barbara, with the help of a $3,000 loan, opened a restaurant called Hy’s Steak House in Calgary. He would move to Vancouver in 1960 and launch a small restaurant empire.
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.