Brief History of Greater Vancouver (Continued)
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Newspaper rivalry was keen
here, with as many as four dailies fighting for circulation.
Louis D. Taylor's World was flourishing, to put it mildly. In 1912
he built a tower to house it, at the time the tallest building in
the British Empire. Taylor—who would set a record (eight times)
for being elected mayor that still stands—boasted that the World
carried more display advertising than any other newspaper in North
America. Most of it was for real estate. The Province, which had
started in Vancouver in 1898, was doing pretty well for itself,
too. One edition of the era had no fewer than 60 full pages of realtors'
advertisements. Among the more aggressive land peddlers was the
Prussian Gustav Konstantin von Alvensleben, one of the great characters
in Vancouver history.
The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 would prove
beneficial to Vancouver, considerably shortening ocean journeys
between British Columbia and Europe and spurring the port's growth
in grain exports. Today we ship more grain than any other Canadian
Greater Vancouver's educational life took a leap
forward in 1915 with the establishment of the University of British
Columbia—even though UBC would take many years to finally settle
in at Point Grey, spurred by a "Great Trek" in 1922 of more than
a thousand impatient students, angry at being cooped up in the "Fairview
The year 1915 also saw the opening of a new CPR
station at the north foot of Granville Street and the creation of
an industrial enclave from soil dredged out of False Creek, piled
onto a mudflat, and proudly named Granville Island. The effervescence
of the era is captured in the premiere that same year of a frothy
little musical show set in Vancouver and called Fifty Years Forward.
One of its predictions for Vancouver in 1965 was a lady mayor. After
more than 90 civic elections, it hasn't happened yet.
Prosperity and growth was not confined, of course,
to the biggest guy on the Greater Vancouver block. On the north
shore of Burrard Inlet the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) had
started regular passenger service in 1914 between North Vancouver
and Whytecliff near Horseshoe Bay. It was a small beginning in its
torturously slow progress into the province's interior. Wallace
Shipyards in North Vancouver was building boats and saw a leap in
orders during World War I. Marine Drive on the North Shore opened
to traffic in 1915, the same year White Rock's famous pier was built.
(White Rock, by the way, was flourishing as a lumber centre.) Imperial
Oil moved its refinery to what became the Ioco area in 1914, and
started a townsite there. Further east, Robert Dollar began his
mill at Roche Point on Indian Arm. In Hammond a mill built in 1916
is still there, Maple Ridge's largest employer. Just to the west
of Maple Ridge, a new addition to the Greater Vancouver map was
created in 1914 with Pitt Meadows. (The map would now stay unaltered
for decades until Langley City's 1955 breakaway from the township.)
Bowen Island and Horseshoe Bay had become flourishing
summertime haunts. In 1921 a dance hall, the largest in B.C., was
built on Bowen, allowing 800 people to shimmy at once. Radio broadcasting
began, adding to the fun. The Pacific Highway opened down to the
border crossing at Douglas, which made it easier to drive to Bellingham
and Seattle ... and easier for visiting Americans to drive up. By
the late 1920s more than 300,000 of them were doing just that every
Vancouver Gets a Lot Bigger
By 1928 the population of the Lower Mainland outside
Vancouver was over 150,000. More than 80,000, however, were residents
of the municipalities of South Vancouver and Point Grey, both of
which decided in 1928 to amalgamate with Vancouver. When newly elected
mayor W. H. Malkin walked into his office January 2, 1929 he was
the chief executive of a city that had, overnight, grown in population
by more than 50 per cent to become the third largest in Canada.
Malkin, whose wholesale grocery firm was a city
institution for decades, is one of a handful of pre-World War II
Vancouver mayors whose names many still remember. Men like McBeath,
Findlay, Buscombe and Collins have faded from memory, while Malkin,
Taylor, Oppenheimer and Tisdall are still recalled. Preeminent among
all the mayors, however, was the remarkable, the ebullient, the
unstoppable Gerald Grattan McGeer. Gerry McGeer blew into office
in 1935, burying L.D. Taylor by more than 20,000 votes. "McGeer,"
writes Donna Jean MacKinnon in The Greater Vancouver Book, "was
voted into office on a mandate to fight crime, and to do away with
slot machines, gambling, book-making, white slavery and corruption
in the police force. True to his promise, he confiscated 1,000 slot
machines in his first week." McGeer used all that zeal and vigor
and not a little cunning to force through the location in 1936 of
a new city hall at 12th and Cambie in the Mount Pleasant area. At
the time many thought that remote location—so far from the city's
business district—was ridiculous. His 1935 reading of the Riot Act
at Victory Square, to dispel a mob of angry unemployed workers,
splits local opinion along partisan lines to this day.
The Great Depression hit the area hard. There were
breadlines and demonstrations at city halls. A fellow named Woodsworth
came to town to talk about a new political party called the Co-Operative
Commonwealth Federation (CCF). Greater Vancouver residents formed
the Common Good Cooperative Society to engage in a "war against
poverty." It ran a store, grew food on vacant land and helped give
birth to the credit union movement in B.C. In 1935 a thousand unemployed
men boarded freight cars in Vancouver to begin an "On to Ottawa"
trek. Burnaby, West Vancouver and both North Vancouvers went into
receivership and were run by public trustees for a time.
Not all the news was gloomy during the Depression
years: in May 1930 Dominion Bridge opened a plant in Burnaby to
produce steel for construction, In 1931 the Vancouver Art Gallery
opened. So did St. George's private school for boys. At Vancouver
Golf Club during the lean times, dues were reduced from $6 a month
In 1935 the ward system ended in Vancouver. Despite
several indications since that a slight majority of the city's residents
favor going back to the system—which would guarantee representation
from all city areas—craftily worded questions on the subject have
succeeded in avoiding a true test at the polls. What Paul Tennant
wrote for The Vancouver Book back in 1976 could go unchanged today:
" . . . politically active persons are not a cross section of the
population . . . persons and groups of little education and low
income still tend to avoid civic politics. Those who are active
in Vancouver politics are mostly from the professional-managerial
category and more often than not live west of Main Street . . ."
Vancouver is the only large Canadian city without a ward system.
It might prove in practice no better than the at-large system, but
a chance to test their relative merits hasn't yet been taken. That
In October 1931 West Vancouver agreed to sell 4,000
acres of its mountainsides to a syndicate called British Pacific
Properties. That turned out to be a landmark decision. To lure property
buyers to its extensive new holdings, the syndicate (controlled
by the Guinness Brewing Company) offered to build a bridge across
the First Narrows. The fact that the road leading to the bridge
would cut through the middle of Stanley Park made a lot of locals
furious, but the work it would provide not to mention the
economic benefits to follow—made the decision inevitable: Lions
Gate Bridge (costing $6 million) opened to traffic in November 1938.
It brought an immediate boost to the fortunes of the North Shore.
And it foretold one of the great themes of the
area's history: the growth of suburban Vancouver. The 1941 census
showed the metropolitan population had increased to more than 400,000,
with about 70 per cent of us in Vancouver itself. Ten years later
the relevant figures would be 590,000 and 58 per cent.
World War Two
World War Two yanked Vancouver out of the Great
Depression, as it would do elsewhere. Local shipyards began to build
corvettes and minesweepers. The Boeing Aircraft factory in Richmond
took on 5,000 people to produce parts for B-29s. The newly incorporated
Wartime Housing Limited began building rental units for war industry
workers. WHL built nearly 800 homes on the North Shore.
In early 1942 in the wake of the December 7, 1941
Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, local Japanese-Canadians were
herded into holding areas at Hastings Park and then removed to government
camps in the Interior. Their fishboats, homes and other property
were "taken into custody." The owners received little or no compensation.
A light in a Stanley park monument built to honor Japanese-Canadian
soldiers who had fought bravely and with high casualties in World
War I was extinguished. (Masumi Mitsui, the last surviving Japanese-Canadian
World War I veteran, would relight the flame in 1985.)
World War Two changed the lives of women, as it
would do elsewhere. Single women from the Prairies came to work
in Fraser River canneries during the war. Many of them married local
fishermen and stayed on. Out of a work force of 13,000, a thousand
women worked at busy Burrard Dry Dock where, at the war's height,
34 "Victory" ships were built in 26 months. (When victory was announced
in 1945 some women at Burrard found themselves in tears knowing
their jobs had ended and that, despite a fight by their union to
keep them on, the returning men would necessarily put them out of
Radio and Television
A remarkable success story began during the war
when an imaginative fellow named Bill Rea started radio station
CKNW. Rea realized local people wanted war news, so from the day
the station signed on (August 15, 1944) he started hourly newscasts
and stayed on the air 24 hours a day. No one else was doing that,
and it immediately made this little New Westminster-based station
noted and, eventually, dominant in local radio. It helped NW to
have a late-night disc jockey named Jack Cullen, a broadcasting
phenomenon who was a major name in local radio for more than 50
The 1940s also brought us Canada's first drive-in
theatre, two-way escalators in the Hudson's Bay store and, in 1948,
on a tiny smattering of grey flickering screens the first television
signal: a college football game played in Seattle. Chinese and East
Indians were given the provincial vote in 1947, with Japanese and
native Indians winning it in 1949.
What did the 1950s bring us: further expansion at
Vancouver airport with CP Air beefing up its flights across the
Pacific, inaugurating flights to Amsterdam and introducing jet aircraft;
the Lougheed Highway; the Upper Levels Highway; completion of the
PGE Railway (now BC Rail) from Squamish to Horseshoe Bay; a provincially
owned Lions Gate Bridge; the Oak Street Bridge; death to the streetcar
and the Interurban; a new phenomenon for Canada, a "shopping centre,"
at Park Royal; another, called an "industrial park," on Annacis
Island; still another; the world's first "container ship," an initiative
of the White Pass & Yukon Railway; atomic bomb shelters; an oil
pipeline from Edmonton; Cleveland Dam; the Deas Island (George Massey)
Tunnel; an end to ferry service between Vancouver and North Vancouver,
balanced by an announcement of a new ferry service, the SkyTrain,
between those same two places. The B.C. Lions football club was
We got a big new central branch for the Vancouver
Public Library at Robson and Burrard, where it would stay long after
it had become too small for what it held; our own television station
in late 1953 when CBUT, the CBC's local channel, signed on. CBUT
brought us world-wide publicity the following year when it broadcast
the "Miracle Mile" at the British Empire Games at Empire Stadium,
the first time two runners (Roger Bannister and John Landy) both
ran the mile in under 4 minutes, and the first sports event broadcast
live to all of North America. Some saw a weakening in our moral
fibre in the decade with the approval of, first, a six-day shopping
week; second, the opening of Vancouver's first cocktail bar in the
Sylvia Hotel; and, third, rock 'n roll when an incredibly loud little
band called Bill Haley and the Comets starred in a 1956 show hosted
by an incredibly fast-talking young disc jockey named Red Robinson.
There was tragedy in 1958 with the collapse during construction
of a new Second Narrows Bridge. Nineteen men died.
Next, for the first time in just over 40 years,
the Greater Vancouver map changed, with the creation in 1955 of
Langley City as a separate municipality. Two years later White Rock
broke away from Surrey to become a haven for sun-seekers and retirees.
Suburban growth continued. By 1961 the metropolitan
Vancouver population had climbed to more than 800,000, double the
figure of 20 years earlier, pushing Vancouver's share of the population
down to 46 per cent.
In the 1960s we gained Nitobe Memorial Gardens,
the Second Narrows Bridge, the 401 freeway (now called Highway 1),
Whistler as a ski resort, direct distance dialing and provincial
ownership of the British Columbia Electric Co. We greeted the Queen
Elizabeth Playhouse, the first Vancouver Sea Festival, the Grey
Cup, bathtub races, French-language radio and the Beatles. BCIT
opened, as did the Grouse Mountain Skyride, Whistler's first ski-lifts,
the Port Mann bridge and, in Richmond, the Iona Island Sewage Treatment
We lost the Lyric Theatre and Bowen Island's Union
Steamship Hotel to obsolescence and the first Grouse Mountain chalet
Midway through the 1960s Simon Fraser University
opened in Burnaby. The decade was marked here as elsewhere by protests
against the war in Vietnam, peace rallies and marches. A new kind
of people called "hippies" appeared and made Vancouver's West 4th
Avenue their neighborhood. Protest flared up in 1967 when Strathcona
residents—many of them Chinese who had lived there for decades—squelched
a freeway through their neighborhood, a major event in the city's
history. The world's preeminent environmental activist group, Greenpeace,
was born in a Dunbar neighborhood living room. The era of protest
would continue into the 1970s with hippies clashing with Mayor "Tom
Terrific" Campbell, and thousands of high school students demonstrating
against U.S. atomic-bomb tests on Alaska's Amchitka Island.
Grace MacInnis of Vancouver became B.C.'s first
female member of parliament, and Surrey elected as mayor one Bill
Vander Zalm. The Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame opened, and so did
the Bank of British Columbia and, in Richmond, so did the first
McDonald's restaurant in Canada (with hamburgers at 18 cents). Vancouver's
Community Arts Council sponsored a walking tour of Gastown to stimulate
interest in preserving the historic area. The Centennial Museum
and the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium opened at Vanier Park. Swangard
Stadium was built in Burnaby. The Canucks would play their first
game in 1970.
The Greater Vancouver Regional District was incorporated
in 1967, bringing a new level and a new kind of government to the
Lower Mainland. In 1971 the census showed the metropolitan population
had topped the million mark. (One remarkable finding of that census
was that Delta's population had tripled in 10 years.) A tiny part
of that million was little Lions Bay, incorporated in 1971 with
a population just over 1,000. And 1971 was the year even tinier
Fraser Mills, population under 200, was absorbed into Coquitlam.
Canada's economic links to the Pacific Rim were
boosted with the opening of a coal port at Delta's Roberts Bank
in the 1970s. The city's infrastructure expanded with a new Georgia/Dunsmuir
Viaduct, the Knight Street Bridge, a big container facility for
the port, an archives building named for the late city archivist,
Major J.S. Matthews, and the Stanley Park seawall. A 1974 experiment,
the Granville Mall, is still being tinkered with. Continuing growth
at Vancouver International Airport made a new link necessary: Arthur
Laing Bridge opened. Post-secondary education came to the North
Shore with the opening of Capilano College. Grand new traditions
began with the inauguration of the Royal Hudson steam train run
from North Vancouver to Squamish, the launch of the world's first
children's festival and the opening of the stunning Museum of Anthropology
at UBC, architect: Arthur Erickson's greatest Vancouver creation.
Erickson and his associates would change the face of downtown in
1979 with the new courthouse and Robson Square complex.
Change was frequent in this decade: a small church
in the city's East End turned into the Vancouver East Cultural Centre;
the old (1927) Orpheum Theatre was bought by the city and became
a home for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Shaughnessy Golf Course
changed to Van Dusen Botanical Gardens. The venerable old Birks
Building came down, despite protests, to be replaced by an office/retail
complex called Vancouver Centre. The Gastown Steam Clock, the world's
first, began to pipe up, and is today likely the single most-photographed
object in Greater Vancouver, even though—horrors!—it turns out it
was never steam-powered. An era could honestly be said to have ended
when the last scheduled passenger train pulled out of the old CPR
station on Cordova Street on October 27, 1979, just over 92 years
since the first had pulled into town. (Today, the handsome old building
is home to offices, shops, snack bars and the SeaBus terminal.)
A rare phenomenon occurred as the 1970s ended: an initiative by
the federal government turned into a smashing success with Granville
Island's conversion to a site for a big public market, and a range
of handsome shops, restaurants and offices.
Whistler became a Resort Municipality in 1975,
the only one with that designation in B.C., and West Vancouver gained
the dramatic Cypress Provincial Park. A Coquitlam NDP MLA named
Dave Barrett was elected premier, and Canada's first Native Indian
citizenship judge was appointed. A 1976 United Nations conference
called Habitat focused on the supply of fresh water to millions
in the undeveloped world. In sports, the Vancouver Whitecaps won
the NASL Soccer Bowl. A new member of the Greater Vancouver Regional
District popped up in 1979 as the Village of Belcarra, where Burrard
Inlet meets Indian Arm.
By 1981 two-thirds of Greater Vancouver's population
lived outside the central city. The 1981 census was sobering for
Vancouver: it showed a drop in absolute numbers, with 12,000 fewer
people in the city since the '71 census. Most of the suburbs were
leaping ahead: Langley Township had more than doubled in population
in a decade, Surrey grew by more than 50 per cent, Richmond by more
than 55. Delta was now five times bigger than it had been 20 years
earlier. Only New Westminster joined Vancouver: its population dropped
10 per cent during the 1970s.
To open the 1980s, Terry Fox captured the hearts
of the entire nation with his courageous attempt to run across Canada.
Annual Terry Fox runs raise millions of dollars for the fight against
The B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster closed.
A new courthouse went up in New Westminster, and an old hotel, the
Devonshire, was imploded in Vancouver. Also blown up, but in the
opposite direction, was the fabric dome of B.C. Place Stadium. Premier
Bill Bennett opened it in June 1983. Kwantlen College opened in
Richmond and Douglas College moved to downtown New Westminster.
The Vancouver Art Gallery relocated to a refurbished 1916 courthouse.
A 1981 peace march against nuclear arms in Vancouver
became an annual event, the largest of its kind in North America,
with up to 100,000 participants, A 'temporary" facility called the
Vancouver Food Bank opened. By 1989, it had grown to six depots
distributing to 15,000 people every month.
Under the dome in 1983 Queen Elizabeth invited
the world to Expo 86. Enthusiasm for the world exposition was tempered
by nagging unemployment, with, among other gloomy news, word that
none of five shipyards on the North Shore had any new shipbuilding
contracts pending. The Social Credit government's restraint policy
inspired a "Solidarity" rally at Empire Stadium, at which more than
40,000 public and private sector workers aired their protests.
The City of Vancouver celebrated its 100th birthday
in 1986, and opened its doors on May 2 to more than 21 million Expo
visitors. The success of the Granville Island Public Market inspired
similar ventures at New Westminster Quay, at Lonsdale Quay in North
Vancouver and in Richmond's Bridge Point Harbour Market. Vancouver's
advanced light rapid transit system, the SkyTrain, opened. Two new
bridges sprang across the Fraser: SkyBridge (to carry SkyTrain into
Surrey) and the Alex Fraser Bridge. Burnaby's vast Metrotown complex
opened. So did the stunningly beautiful Sun Yat-Sen Gardens in Chinatown
and the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre in the former Expo
86 Canada Pavilion site. A "Shame the Johns" operation began in
Vancouver in an attempt to drive prostitutes' clients from the West
End. It simply drove them elsewhere.
After 123 years The Columbian, B.C.'s oldest newspaper,
stopped. Pope John Paul II made the first Papal visit ever to Vancouver
and the Lower Mainland, which didn't prevent Woodward's from becoming
the first major Vancouver department store to open on Sundays.
New stars were created in the 1980s: Rick Hansen
began his around-the-world Man-in-Motion Tour by wheelchair to raise
millions for research into spinal cord injury. Cross-country runner
Steve Fonyo duplicated Terry Fox's fund raising ability at first,
then ran into severe personal roadblocks. North Vancouver singer
Bryan Adams, who once washed dishes at the Tomahawk Grill, became—and
remains—a global superstar. In other cultural news, a dwarf-tossing
contest at the Flamingo Hotel in Surrey's Whalley neighborhood made
headlines. The B.C. Lions won the Grey Cup again.
Surrey's Bill Vander Zalm won election as premier.
Surrey made more headlines in 1988 when B.C. Tel reported that 40
per cent of all new homes built in B.C. that year were located there.
Other big economic news as the decade wound down: it was announced
that the Port of Vancouver was now handling more imports/exports
than any other port in North America; and that 30 per cent of those
exports were going to Japan.
The vacant Expo site was sold to Li Ka-shing of
Hong Kong in one of the biggest real estate deals in Canadian history,
for a price many believe was a fantastic bargain. Li's Concord Pacific
development is transforming the site into the largest urban project
in North America.
More 1989 openings: Simon Fraser University's downtown
campus; Science World; Highway 91; and Cannell Studios in North
Vancouver. Local movie audiences delighted in seeing familiar landmarks
in big-budget Hollywood movies filmed here. Vancouver is now North
America's third largest film production centre, after Los Angeles
and New York. We got a big new urban park, too, with the 750-hectare
Pacific Spirit Park, created from part of the UBC Endowment Lands.
The 1987 addition of the brand-new Village of Anmore
and the 1989 inclusions of Langley and Maple Ridge completed the
map of the Greater Vancouver Regional District.
The 1990s began with a roar as the first "Indy"
race took place in downtown Vancouver, the start of what has become
an annual event. What was gained in the city was lost in Coquitlam
when Westwood Motorsport Park closed after 30 years. SkyTrain service
was extended to Scott Road station in Surrey.
Small blue plastic bins began showing up at residential
curbsides as recycling caught on.
Big news in the 1990s was Canada's first female
premier (Rita Johnson, MLA for Newton in Surrey, who was chosen
after Bill Vander Zalm resigned.) The Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch
of the Burnaby Public Library opened. There were conspicuous deletions
in the decade: Oakalla Prison Farm; Versatile Pacific Shipyards
(due to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1994) and Woodward's,
a retail institution.
The Canucks lost the Stanley Cup in the final game
of the 1994 season, a nail-biting blazer of a series that led to
frustrated fans rioting downtown. The B.C. Lions gained their third
Grey Cup in '94, defeating Baltimore. The Lions were in trouble
in late 1996 with the departure of chief coach Joe Paopao and lukewarm
response to a season tickets drive.
The world's largest LSD (and other 'designer drugs')
factory was raided in Port Coquitlam, and its head, a long-sought
U.S. fugitive, was nabbed by the RCMP.
One thing that stopped happening in the 1990s was
the trend to Vancouver having an increasingly smaller share of the
metropolitan population: 1995 estimates show the central city's
population had increased by more than 107,000 since 1981—a 26 per
cent jump! "Our city," says Larry Beasley, Vancouver's director
of central area planning, "is emerging as an unbelievably unique
place. We have tens of thousands of citizens who have elected to
move back into the city." 1996 census figures showed a net increase
in the downtown residential population for the first time in decades.
What you've just read is an article I wrote for
1997's The Greater Vancouver Book. The book I'm working on now—the
inspiration for this web site—will elaborate on the events cited
above, and bring the story up to date.
If you found this brief once-over-lightly look
at the area's history useful and informative, tell your friends!
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The McGeers and Prime Minister The
Rt. Hon. R.B. Bennett, 1936
Red Robinson and Bill Haley, 1956