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August 1, 1936

On August 1, 1936—69 years ago today—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 US 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.”

August 2, 1985

During World War One, 196 Japanese-Canadians volunteered to fight for Canada. At Vimy Ridge, fought over four days in April, 1917, one of them, Sergeant Masumi Mitsui of Port Coquitlam, led his troop into battle with such distinction that he was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery. Of those 196 volunteers, 145 were killed or wounded. That remarkable Japanese-Canadian contribution was honored by the construction in 1920 in Stanley Park of a striking monument, surrounded by cherry trees, with an electric flame that was to burn forever.

But the flame was switched off shortly after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. It would stay off for more than 40 years. Like so many others, Masumi Mitsui and his family had been forced from their home during the Second World War and scattered in internment camps across the country. Their farm, their house and all its contents were confiscated. He was so enraged he threw his medals down, onto the desk of the confiscating officer.

But time healed this wound: on August 2, 1985—19 years ago today—Sgt. Mitsui, now 98, one of two surviving Japanese-Canadian soldiers who had served Canada so bravely, was brought in to turn the light on again.

Mr. Mitsui died in 1987, five months short of his 100th birthday.

August 8, 1917

Gustav Konstantin 'Alvo' von Alvensleben was once a very influential Vancouverite. He was described by a local as “the very picture of a Prussian aristocrat, tall, clean-cut and athletic, decked out in a hunting suit in the latest Berlin fashion . . .” He arrived in 1904 with $5 in his pocket. Five years later he was a millionaire in real estate. His lavish home on West 41st Avenue is Crofton House School for Girls today. He built Wigwam Inn on Indian Arm.

But his Prussian background made him a figure of suspicion during the First World War. The war began while he was in Germany attempting to raise fresh funds, and Canada—automatically an ally of England—declared Alvensleben to be an enemy alien and refused him permission to re-enter the country. He and his family moved to Seattle. The US wasn't in the war. Yet.

On August 8, 1917—88 years ago today—Alvo was arrested. British intelligence officials had sent a list of “dangerous German spies” to the US Justice Department, and Alvensleben's name topped the list! He was interned with others near Salt Lake City. It wasn't until March, 1920, fifteen months after the war ended, that he was freed.

August 9, 1942

Even for Shaughnessy, Hycroft was something special. The papers reported that A.D. McRae, president of the Fraser River Lumber Co., was spending $100,000 to build the mansion. In 1909 that was a huge amount. For $1,000 you could buy a modest new home, and $3,500 got you very fancy digs.

What the McRaes got was a 30-room home (11 of them bedrooms), a coach house, stables, a swimming pool, an Italian garden and more, all on 5.2 acres. By 1911 Hycroft was the social centre of the city, often hosting visiting royalty.

But after more than 30 years in the house, with rising costs and the Second World War making hiring of staff difficult, on August 9, 1942—62 years ago today—the McRaes sold Hycroft to a grateful federal government for $1. Shaughnessy Military Hospital was full to bursting with convalescent soldiers and Hycroft was put to immediate use to handle the overflow.

It served as an auxiliary to the hospital for 18 years. Then a new wing was added to Shaughnessy and Hycroft was emptied.

It sat empty for two years, then the University Women's Club bought it, and they've occupied it ever since. Incidentally, women were not allowed to hold mortgages in their own right at the time and so the club was required to pay in full. It took them a year to raise the money.

August 15, 1950

On August 15th, 1950—55 years ago today—the BC government closed down the BC Provincial Police, and turned the policing of the province over to the RCMP.

The BCPP had been formed in November 1858 at Fort Langley, 15 years before the formation of the North West Mounted Police, forerunner of the RCMP. By the time of the Second World War there were about 500 men in the force, and they were a busy lot. Says a web site devoted to their history, they were “entrusted to recruit for the armed forces. They also examined fishing and hunting licenses, provided custom and excise services, did livestock brand inspections, issued trap-line permits, were registrars for Vital Statistics, served civil court documents and even issued dog licenses. Besides investigating crimes they also acted as Court prosecutors, jailers and prisoner escort services—overtime work was a necessity but extra pay was never heard of nor received.”

Eric R. Hallam, the president of the BCPP Veterans Association, tells us this photo of “Four new corporals” in the force was taken in 1949, the last full year it existed. Second from the left is Phil Boulton, and third from the left is Gordon Simons.

August 16, 1910

Vancouver had—literally—never seen anything like it. The first Vancouver Exhibition drew big crowds, partly because the official opening August 16, 1910—exactly 94 years ago today—was presided over by Canada's prime minister Wilfrid Laurier. (The Asoft” opening had been the day before.) Laurier had come all the way from Ottawa to open the fair, and 5,000 of us showed up to see him from a population about one-twelfth of what it is today.

That 50-cent admission was fairly hefty at a time when the average weekly wage for a Canadian production worker was about $9.50.

But you got to see a lot of neat stuff. Like the Stove Hall, featuring “a good collection of stoves and ranges, together with various novelties and appliances which will appeal to the housewife.” The Machinery Hall was an attraction, so were the Industrial Hall, the Poultry House, King Dog (where dogs of all kinds were on display) along with "Numerous barns and stables,” food booths and Skid Road.

That last isn't described, but a reporter there wrote this: “Upon the Skid Road it is noticeable that the objectionable features frequently to be met with at similar fairs are entirely absent, and there appears to be nothing to which the most fastidious taste could take exception.”

August 22, 1964

On August 22, 1964—41 years ago today—the Beatles hit Vancouver. During their lightning-fast appearance here they made a sensation. And that was just at the news conference!

Eighty-nine media people were jammed into a room designed for 40. Two of them were British journalists who did nothing but report on the activity of the insanely popular four, then there was the CBC's royal tour expert, several writers from eastern Canada and the US, more than 20 electronic journalists and disk jockeys—and a thirteen-year-old Beatlemaniac named Susan Lomax assigned by The Vancouver Sun.

There had been a delay at customs, which John Lennon explained: “we had to be deloused.” And when someone asked “What is the most unusual request you've had from your fans?” Lennon's leering answer was: “Oo, now, I wouldn't like to say.”
Their actual appearance was a bit of a farce. Red Robinson emceed, and at one point was told by the police to go out (mid-concert) to tell the screaming, heaving, fainting audience to calm down. Red was screamed at by John Lennon, too. Nobody calmed down, none of the songs could be heard and the Sun's music critic was unkind to the Beatles the next day.

They probably didn't care.

August 23, 1972

At 9:58 in pitch-black darkness on Tuesday night, August 22, 1972 a nurse named Fran Cannon, 30, stepped into the waters of Georgia Strait at Neck Point, just north of Nanaimo. Waiting for her just offshore was the Charlotte Strait, a tug owned by Rivtow Straits, and a smaller boat aboard which was Fran's husband, Dennis.

The Charlotte Strait, with its two skippers, Joe Gosse and John Cosulich, and its smaller companion fell into place beside Fran as she began to swim strongly to the northeast. Her destination was Davis Bay at Sechelt, more than 25 kilometres distant. It was so dark the little crew had to shine flashlights on Fran to locate her in the waters of the Strait, which now began to chop slightly in 15-knot winds from the southeast. “We'd hoped for winds from the west,” Fran says, “to help push me along, but I was never in trouble. No cramps or anything. I stopped in the water and rested every hour or so, and they fed me Sustagen [a fortified milk product] from a cup held out at the end of a broom handle.”

At 1:05 on Wednesday afternoon, August 23—exactly 32 years ago today—Fran stepped ashore at Davis Bay, almost exactly 15 hours after she'd started.

Why'd she do it? “Dennis and I had a friend, Mike Powley, who was the first man to swim the Strait. That was in August of 1967. I just wanted to be the first woman to do it.”

Fran and Dennis Cannon live on Bowen Island today.

August 29, 1936

The Seaforth Armoury, the site a few days ago of a stirring tribute to the late Sgt. Ernest “Smokey” Smith, VC, was formally opened on August 29, 1936, exactly 69 years ago today. 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. Two more versions were made, in 1959 and 1978, and a third is in production right now!

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.” (Tweedsmuir would be, incidentally, the first GG to die in office.)

The Seaforth Highlanders, a reserve infantry regiment that calls the armoury home, are moving out next year to the Canadian Forces Jericho Base on West 4th Avenue, to allow the old building to get a seismic upgrade.

August 30, 1953

Vancouver's Doug Hepburn was relatively small in the world of heavyweight weight-lifters—only 5'9" (1.75 m) and weighing just 280 pounds (127 kg). Hossein Rezazadeh, for example, who just won gold at the Olympics, weighs 323+ pounds (147 kg).

But on August 30, 1953—exactly 51 years ago today—Hepburn, 26, won the world heavyweight weight-lifting championship in Stockholm. He was the only Canadian entry, and he did us proud, breaking the world record for the press. (A “press” is a lift in which the bar is brought to the shoulders, then after a pause is lifted overhead using only the arms.)

Hepburn's three lifts (the press, the snatch and the jerk) totalled 1,030.25 pounds (467 kilos), and brought him the title of World's Strongest Man, a triumph for a guy who had to wear corrective footwear for a deformed foot, and who was teased cruelly as a kid because of his limping gait and his crossed eyes.

Surgery fixed the eye problem, his prodigious discipline in training and his immense strength stopped the taunting.

Hepburn died November 22, 2000.

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