Vancouver in 1907
Intersection of Granville and Hastings Streets in 1907
[Photo: Vancouver Public Library VPL 6776]

Vancouver a Century Ago

Back on May 7, 1907 a Seattle movie maker named William Harbeck came up to Vancouver, attached a movie camera to the front of a B.C. Electric streetcar and filmed the major streets of the city. The film is black-and-white, it’s silent and it’s only seven minutes long, but it’s wonderful. You see Vancouver and its people of a hundred years ago in motion. Audiences who have seen the film are delighted and fascinated.

It is fun and exciting to see streets full of horse-drawn wagons, men—every one of them wearing a hat—strolling into long-gone shops, women hurrying along in their dark, ground-length skirts, and the occasional recognizable sign: Knowlton Drugs; P. Burns (meat packer); the Edison Grand Theatre; Woodward’s, and “Cascade: A Beer Without Peer.” We see the second CPR station, long since gone, at the foot of Granville, Trorey’s jewelry store and the original Province newspaper building. There are horse-drawn carriages and lots of people on bicycles and not an automobile in sight. (There were a few cars in the city in 1907; we just don’t see any.) The journey ended at a spot on Davie just about where the Fresgo Inn sits today.

Harbeck filmed the journey along Granville and Hastings, along Westminster Avenue (now Main Street) and Carrall, Powell, Cordova and Cambie, Robson and Davie . . . a look at Vancouver of a century ago. (The photo above is of the same era, but not a frame from the Harbeck film.)

This is the earliest surviving film on Vancouver. Its discovery was something of a miracle: it was found in the basement of an abandoned theatre in Australia! It had apparently been dumped there by movie house managers along with other movies no longer wanted.

Someone looking at the film decided it was in an American city and sent it off to the Library of Congress in Washington. Their people looked at it and said, “This isn’t an American city; they’re driving on the wrong side of the street!”

They decided it wasn’t British, and sent it off to the National Archives in Ottawa. They ran the film. “That’s Vancouver!” someone said.

CBC Vancouver archivist Colin Preston managed to get a copy from the Archives, and we can thank the research efforts of Andrew Martin, of the Special Collections department at the Vancouver Public Library, for pinpointing when the film was made. He’d found a Province story, dated May 8, 1907, that described the filming of the day before. It jauntily reported that Vancouverites had been “Stricken with Kinetoscopitis.” We learned that the film was shot with the cooperation of Mr. W.E. Flumerfelt* of the Vancouver Tourist Association.

The Trorey shop is particularly interesting: just three months before the film was shot George Trorey had sold his business to Birks. They kept him on as manager, and they kept his famous sidewalk clock, too. It became the Birks Clock

The Vancouver Historical Society has a terrific Harbeck project planned for 2007. They’re going to film the same route, at the same speed, and produce a DVD that will allow you to see both films individually and then side by side.

A fast personal note: as an at-large member of the board of the VHS I recently spent an afternoon at the Vancouver City Archives going through the 1907 city directory to find familiar names along the Harbeck route. One name was very familiar: occupying a studio on the second floor of 570 Granville: Miss Emily Carr, artist.


p.s. *W.E. Flumerfelt’s name popped up again at the Archives in a pamphlet for a show the Loyal Order of Moose staged on December 9, 10 and 11, 1912. He was one of the show’s organizers. The title: Moose in Burnt Cork. It was a minstrel-style show, with the performers in blackface. There are dozens of ads in the pamphlet, my favorite being a full page for Joshua Johnston, “Master in the Art of Disguising,” and the “Greatest Private Detective of the Age.” There are photographs of Mr. Johnston in various disguises, including one as an organ grinder, complete with monkey. His office was at 349 Pender Street, equivalent to 349 West Pender today.

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A young Emily Carr
A young Emily Carr
[Photo: BC Archives Detail of Call Number H-02813]