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November 1, 1968

Chances are good that if you work in downtown Vancouver, or attend a performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, or take in a Lions game at BC Place, or settle down to read at the Vancouver Public Library, you're being warmed by the folks at Central Heat Distribution. They heat more than 180 buildings in the downtown through a network of subterranean pipes, bringing steam (converted from natural gas) from their building on Beatty Street to big clients like the new Shaw Tower all the way down to the tiny bursts of steam that sound the pipes on the Gastown Steam Clock.

John Barnes, Central's president, says the company started November 1, 1968—36 years ago today.

A group of engineers had been talking over coffee about the fuel oil and coal used to heat buildings at the time, not to mention the beehive burners used to burn woodwaste. One of them, Dave Leaney, suggested Vancouver could have a “district energy” system like some other cities. Two years later it had started.

The result: cheaper heating bills for buildings (no boilers to buy) and far less pollution.

(Incidentally, the cavernous building CHD occupies today was once home to the printing plant for Pacific Press.)


November 8, 1927

There are hundreds of stories about Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre—which had its first show (a mix of movies and vaudeville) 77 years ago today: November 8, 1927.

One of the best features Tony Heinsbergen, an American artist whose decorative skills got him the commission to work with the Orpheum's architect, Marcus Priteca. Heinsbergen spent much of 1927 giving the Orpheum its flamboyant art and color.

Now flash ahead 50 years. Architects Ron Nelson and Paul Merrick are reshaping the theatre to be home to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra when Merrick learns that Heinsbergen is in Los Angeles, still working. They invite him to come back to Vancouver and take part in the restoration. Heinsbergen (he turned 82 while here) created a big mural for the Orpheum's ceiling. It had 24 panels, each painted in L.A., shipped up here and attached to the ceiling.

The mural is peopled with mythical figures . . . and real ones. The bearded man serenading the muse is Paul Merrick, beardless today. The Merrick kids are up there, too: Natasha, Nika, Maya and Kim. Maya is the angel. “They're all in their thirties today,” Merrick says. The conductor is project architect Ron Nelson, not, as is sometimes heard, former conductor Kaziyoshi Akiyama. The tiger in the mural represents Heinsbergen's Nova Scotia-born wife, Nedith, whom he called his “little tiger.”

Next time you're in the Orpheum, look up.


November 15, 1937

On November 15, 1937—67 years ago today—B.C. premier Duff Pattullo took a welding torch and ceremoniously cut a chain-link barrier to open the New Westminster bridge named for him. In brief remarks he told the assembled throng the bridge was a “thing of beauty.”

Words other than “beauty” spring to the minds of drivers these days for that bridge. At peak times on the Pattullo 3,700 vehicles an hour (a car a second) speed along its narrow, curving lanes, each just three metres wide each, some 61 centimetres or two feet narrower than today's standard.

TransLink has authority over the bridge now and they and ICBC did a safety study recently. They found that about one-fifth of drivers obey the speed limit on the bridge, while the rest of us . . . don't. The result is the worst accident toll for all lower mainland bridges, many involving head-on collisions.

Recently spotted: A bumper sticker reading I Drove the Pattullo . . . and Lived!
A couple of footnotes: Because there was a toll when the bridge opened locals referred to it at the time as the Pay-Toll-O Bridge, and one of the proudest possessions of the New Westminster Museum is a huge model of the bridge made entirely of wood.


November 21, 1930

There was excitement among Vancouver’s little girls on November 21, 1930—75 years ago today—when they learned that a big shipment of “Lillybet” dolls had arrived. The dolls were patterned after Princess Elizabeth, then four-and-a-half years old, and The Vancouver Sun accompanied the story about the dolls’ arrival with a photograph of the Princess. We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some people out there still have one of these dolls.

The dolls shown in the photo are of later vintage (1937), but show Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret, who were 11 and 7 respectively, as younger. That was, we learn from Paul Seaton of a U.K.-based Virtual Museum, a direct request from Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The Queen Mum, says Seaton, loved the dolls and rewarded the company that made them, Chad Valley, with the first Royal Warrant issued to a toy company during the reign of George VI. “Queen Elizabeth,” Seaton told us, “launched a major public relations offensive in the wake of the abdication [of King Edward VIII] to restore confidence in the monarchy, with the dolls a key part of the campaign.”


November 22, 1894

St. Paul's Hospital looked rather different on November 22, 1894—110 years ago today—when Bishop Paul Durieu blessed it. But that building in the picture stood exactly where the hospital stands today on Burrard Street at Pendrell.

One of the first things I learned in St. Paul's surprisingly large archives (several rooms of interesting old photographs, newspaper clippings, and antiquated medical equipment—including B.C.'s first heart/lung machine, made by hand in 1959 by a St. Paul's doctor skilled at metalwork) is that the hospital was not named for St. Paul, but for Bishop Durieu himself. The bishop had been working for years among the native population in B.C., including inoculating them against smallpox. He prepared a Bible in the Chinook alphabet, which he had learned, allowed native adaptations of Catholic practice and encouraged his priests to write petitions to the government on behalf of local natives concerned about their land title.

The modest hospital the bishop blessed—owned and operated then by the Sisters of Providence—could accommodate 25 patients. Today there are 512 beds.

November 28, 1964

Come back now to happier days when the BC Lions won the Grey Cup for the very first time. It was November 28, 1964—exactly 41 years ago today. The Vancouver Sun Page One story began: “The B.C. Lions scored one of the most startling upsets in Grey Cup history today, crushing the Hamilton Ti-Cats 34-24.”

The Lions were 20-1 at halftime! And let the record show that quarterback Joe Kapp handed the ball to Bob Swift on the one-yard line in the game’s first quarter at Toronto’s Exhibition Grounds to give the Lions their first points. Sun columnist Jim Kearney had great gloating fun by reprinting a bogus “Funeral Services” announcement “for the late British Columbia Lions” published pre-game by Hamilton. “Due to the deceased being de-KAPP-itated," it read, "the coffin will remain closed.”

Kapp never did get into that coffin. With fine plays by Swift, Willie Fleming (a 46-yard touchdown run late in the first half), Norm Fieldgate, Bill Munsey and Kapp’s favorite receiver, Ron Norris, the Lions kept slashing away and fended off a desperate Hamilton attack in the second half.

Prime Minister Lester Pearson made the official kickoff, and made two bucks betting on B.C.


November 29, 1982

When Percy Williams came home to Vancouver in September, 1928 the city went a little nutty. What Williams, a King Edward High grad, had done—and what no Canadian track and field athlete has done since—was to win two Olympic gold medals at the same games. He came out of nowhere at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics to win both the 100-metre and the 200-metre races.

“Perhaps the most remarkable home-coming in the history of British Columbia,” said BC's Premier Simon Tolmie. Thousands of people jammed Granville Street from the CPR station to Georgia Street to cheer 20-year-old Percy on. “The demonstration affected spectators,” one newspaper report said, “to such an extent that they tore up the contents of waste paper baskets, and sent the fluttering scraps out over the crowds as confetti.”

Percy's race wasn't a fluke: He won the world record for the 100-metre dash in 1930, and held it for 10 years. Only an injury kept him from succeeding at the 1932 Games.

But he was shy and reclusive. “I didn't like running,” he told a reporter once. “Oh, I was so glad to get out of it all.” He never married and his later years were marked by constant pain from arthritis. On November 29, 1982, exactly 22 years ago today, at age 74, he took his own life.

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