King George VI and Queen Elizabeth greeting veterans during
1939 tour of Canada. Prime Minister Mackenzie King is seen at far
A note to readers: This
is a first draft of the 1939 chapter proposed for the book.
By the time the book appears in 2009 it may be much altered.
1939 (Sample Chapter)
The certainty of war in Europe in 1939 had an early
effect, even in Vancouver, some 5,000 miles away from Berlin. The
Page 1 headline in The Vancouver Sun for January 13 read:
TWO GUNS TO BE PLACED AT FIRST NARROWS
A royal tour of Canada in May was another indication
war was brewing. The timing of the tour was deliberate: it served,
said one commentator, as a gentle reminder to English-speaking
Canadians of their ties to the motherland and their imperial duty.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later to be known as the Queen
Mum) went by train from one end of the country to the other. Crowds
were huge and adoring everywhere . . . some of the people came from
hundreds of miles away. The royal couple travelled west on the CPR.
The King was so impressed with the huge and handsome Hudson locomotive
pulling their CPR train (# 2850) that the railway felt emboldened
to ask if they might designate itand others of the same classas
Royal Hudsons. Done.
Towns and cities all across the country, thrilled
with the first visit to Canada by a reigning monarch, decorated
their buildings, issued souvenirs and trotted out local dignitaries
to give speeches. A striking photograph of West Hastings Street
shows the Spencer Department Store festooned with flags and welcoming
messages. A Province headline gives the tone: THE GREATEST
DAY IN THE CITY'S WHOLE HISTORY.
While they were here, the royal couple stayed overnight
at the brand-new Hotel Vancouver, which had opened May 24. On May
26 the King and Queen officially opened the Lions Gate Bridge, which
had opened to traffic the previous November. The next day a Chinatown
street dance celebrated their visit.
They travelled to Victoria and back on the Prince
Robert, built in 1930 for the CNR's Vancouver-to-Alaska cruise
service. Immediately after they left for eastern Canada (on CNR
tracks) work began on converting the Prince Robert to an
armed merchant cruiser. (Incidentally, the King endeared himself
forever to the locals with a comment before leaving: I think
Vancouver is the place to live.)
On August 24 Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia. Local
militia in North Vancouver were ordered to stand by guns at the
First Narrows in North Vancouver. Then, on September 1, the German
army invaded Poland. The Second World War had begun.
Britain and France declared war on Germany September
3 and Canada followed suit exactly one week later. On the same day
the city's German-speaking citizens pledged their loyalty to Canada
at a mass meeting in Moose Hall. And Japanese residents in Richmond
began to raise money for our National Defence Fund.
Vancouver's harbor was put under control of the
Royal Canadian Navy. All shipping passing into the harbor now had
to stop and report to naval launches. Granville Island, the industrial
heart of the city, began working around the clock, producing defence
equipment such as anti torpedo nets, minesweeping equipment and
rigging ropes for the merchant fleet. And, for the first time, women
were hired at the factories. The federal government took over control
of the airport, and began to enlarge it.
The converted Prince Robert had adventure ahead that would
prove even more exciting than ferrying the King and Queen across
the Strait of Georgia: she would seize the German freighter Weser
off Manzanillo September 25, 1940 and bring her to Esquimalt as
a prize of war. That made news right across Canada. (There had been
some tense moments aboard the Robert: one of the crew overheard
their German prisoners hatching a plot to capture the Canadian ship.
The guard was doubled and a machine gun was put in place.) Back
at Esquimalt the Weser was reconditioned, renamed the Vancouver
Island and put into regular service. She would be torpedoed
in 1941 in an Atlantic convoy.
The Empress of Japan II, a trans-Pacific
liner owned and operated by Canadian Pacific, and sailing out of
Vancouver since late 1930, was requisitioned as a troop ship. Her
name was changed to Empress of Scotland.
Now the pace quickened: the first contingent of
the Canadian Active Service Force left for Europe in early December.
(The second contingent would leave January 2, 1940.) Newspapers
were not allowed to reveal the point of departure. A few days later,
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, spoke to the world
in a broadcast from London. The first contingent of the Canadian
Expeditionary Force, he said, safely escorted across
the Atlantic by the main battle fleet, was disembarked at a British
port. Churchill revealed the progress of the Canadian soldiers
in the course of his report on the December 17 sinking of the German
battleship Graf Spee.
||B-29 Boeing Superfortress
On the same day as Churchill's broadcast the Boeing
plant on Sea Island went into operation making Cansos and PBY Catalinas
(flying boats, used for off-shore air patrols) and later
the midsections of the B 29 superfortress aircraft. When it opened
the plant employed 175 people. At the peak of production in 1945
there would be 7,000. When people were interested in working
for Boeing's Sea Island activities during the war, one former
worker recalls, they first had to be interviewed at Boeing's
on West Georgia Street. If hired, you were fingerprinted for your
identification card and told to go buy coveralls, flat shoes or
a sensible-type of oxford shoes. Women had to wear kerchiefs to
keep their hair from becoming tangled in machinery. Boeing did not
pay for any of these.
Some of the wartime changes were gentler events:
in October a committee of prominent men from the lower mainland
approached Surrey council, and successfully petitioned to rename
the Peace Arch Highway. The new name: the King George VI Highway.
And Queen Elizabeth was not forgotten: a beautiful park encircling
the highest point in the city was named for her. Once a rock quarry,
and sitting atop an extinct volcano, Queen Elizabeth Park was turned
into a beauty spot, a splendid explosion of color, with flowers,
shrubs, rare trees and more.
Nazi aggression brought at least one good result
to B.C.: even before their invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Nazis
had caused a great exoduspolitical leaders, business people,
professionals and intellectuals, all escaped, knowing what was to
come. Among those who came to Vancouver: brothers Theodor, Otto,
Leon and Walter Koerner. The latter two would make an especially
valuable contribution to local life as forestry company executives
The Depression was over. With the outbreak
of war in 1939, Patricia Roy wrote in 1980, Vancouver,
along with the rest of British Columbia, began to enjoy a period
of prosperity that has lasted, with minor interruptions, through
The European war obviously affected Vancouver, but
it did not have a convulsive effect. It would not be until the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that the cityright across the
water from Japanwould feel itself truly at war.
James Lyle Telford, 50, became mayor of Vancouver,
succeeding George Miller. A newcomer to the civic political
arena, Donna Jean McKinnon wrote in The Greater Vancouver
Book, Lyle Telford was, however, no stranger to politics,
having represented the CCF in the provincial legislature. In this
election he offered 'help for the forgotten man,' tapping into the
frustration of the voters after nearly a decade of poverty. Once
elected, Telford resigned from the CCF because he felt civic office
should be free of party politics. Despite his obvious working class
following, Telford won the mayoralty with fewer than 2,000 votes
in a campaign with six other candidates. Born in Valens, Ontario
Telford, an M.D., had come to BC in 1913. Soon after his arrival
he gained recognition for his support of labor and socialism in
the province. He hosted his own radio program three nights a week.
He was a maverick, once opening a birth control clinic for the purpose
of better marriages, wanted children, freedom for women and
race improvement. He operated the clinic until 1935, with
a nurse in attendance, in a private office in the Marine Building.
Then it would move from one location to another until 1956. Dr.
Telford organized CCF clubs throughout the province and published
his own monthly paper The Challenge.
The Hotel Vancouver, its completion delayed by the
Depression, finally opened, more than a decade after construction
had started. It was a huge and handsome structure. Architectural
historian Harold Kalman wrote that it was inspired by the
picturesque castles of France and Scotland . . . catering to our
fantasies of palatial living, with its gargoyles, Renaissance
detail, and fine relief sculpture. The hotel was started by the
CNR, which had originally planned to call it the British Columbian.
But then, in a complicated arrangement that would make a long (and
likely uninteresting) chapter of its own, the CNR and the CPRusually
rivalsentered into a joint management contract in which the
CPR's Hotel Vancouver, the 1916 beauty two blocks east, would be
closed and its name transferred to the new hotel.
Another landmarka pair, actuallyemerged
this year. On January 23 sculptor Charles Marega's lions were installed
at the south approach to Lions Grate Bridge. Marega was unhappy
with the work: he had wanted the lions to be of bronze, but budget
restrictions forced him to use concrete. Just two months after his
most famous work was installed Marega died. It was March 25. He
had just finished teaching a class at the Vancouver School of Art
and collapsed while putting on his coat to go home. He was 68. No
one, historian Peggy Imredy has written, has left such
an enduring and visible record of his life in Vancouver. As was
said at his funeral, 'There is no need to build him a monumentbecause
of his sculpture he will never be forgotten'. Among Marega's
other work: the Joe Fortes fountain, the Edward VII fountain by
the Art Gallery, the busts of Burrard and Vancouver on the Burrard
Street Bridge, the statue of Vancouver at city hall and the bust
of David Oppenheimer near the Parks Board offices.
We got our first public aquarium this year. The
old English Bay bathhouse had been converted into a dark, muggy
little facility in which the star attraction was Oscar, the Octopus.
We're not sure why, but UBC president Leonard Klinck presided at
the opening. The aquarium manager was an American named Ivar Haglund,
who would later move to Seattle and open a restaurantwhich
later became a chaincalled Ivar's Acres of Clams. This first
aquarium would close in 1956.
Out at UBC itself, students provided nearly $80,000 to build the
university's first student union building, a memorial to the late
Dean of Applied Science, Reginald W. Brock and his wife. They had
both been killed in a 1935 airplane accident. Brock Memorial Hall
originally housed a main lounge, snack bar, Alma Mater Society offices,
club rooms and a big committee room.
St. Vincent's Hospital, which had started operations
under the Sisters of Charity August 12, 1938 was blessed and officially
opened July 19 this year by his Excellency Archbishop William Mark
The Depression had knocked the stuffing out of local
real estate prices: Glen Brae, the spectacular William
Lamont Tate mansion at 1690 Matthews, had been appraised in 1920
at $75,000. It sold this year for $7,500. Today, it's the children's
hospice Canuck Place.
This was a year of glamor in Coquitlam. A movie
stunt man named Karl Jacobs opened Steelhead Lodge, a secluded getaway
for Hollywood stars. Some of the present streets in the same neighborhood
were named for famous visitors: Flynn Crescent, Gable Street, Novak
Drive. In their 2004 book Backstage Vancouver Greg Potter
and Red Robinson tell how Jacobs built a road into the property,
carrying paving stones from the river by hand and clearing the land
himself before beginning construction on the living quarters.
|Clark Gable golfing in
Jacobs' wife Clara (née Guiol), Mexican-born,
had been an actress in Hollywood in the 1920s. She wrote a memoir
about the Steelhead years: I remember Clark Gable coming up,
she remembered. He and my brother liked to fish and catch
rattlesnakes. Gable played the piano and I played the guitar and
we had lots of fun. Gable was so nice and he always came by himself,
no girlfriends. He just came to fish for steelhead and pike in the
Coquitlam River . . . Roy Rogers showed me how to twirl a rope .
. . Once, we all went on a boat from Vancouver with John Wayne and
some girls. Steelhead Lodge was a retreat for a lot of those stars.
Karl died in 1964 and Clara sold the property.
(Rattlesnakes? In Coquitlam?)
One of the odder railway stories in B.C. history
happened this year. First, you need to know that one local result
of the Depression was that Grouse Mountain had become home to a
small colony of squatters. They built a small village of log cabins
up therenearly 100 of themand that little settlement,
as the economy improved over time, began turning into what the locals
called Ski Village. Enter a fellow named Kent Ford,
who proposed a sprocket railway from Mosquito Creek up to the village.
Ford's proposal ran into a vexing problem: with exquisitely inconvenient
timing, the Second World War started after construction had begun
and Ford was unable to get enough steel. He must have been a formidable
optimist: without even pausing for breath he continued to build
his railwaywith one track of steel, the other of wood. It
Curiously enough, an attempt nearly 30 years earlier
to build a railway up Grouse had foundered for exactly the same
reason: a lack of steel because of a world war.
Social Notes From All Over
The spread of venereal disease in the city prompted
police chief W.W. Foster to launch another crackdown by his morality
squad. The absolute suppression of prostitution
was to be undertaken immediately. And Deputy Chief Grundy of the
VPD was reported to have been demoted in a 'shakeup' of the force.
Later in the year D. Mackay became chief constable, succeeding Foster.
1939 was a big year for local Scots. More
than 700 Scots crowded into the Commodore, wrote Kevin Griffin
in The Greater Vancouver Book, for the annual feast
[Robert Burns Night] where they heard the haggisa sheep's
stomach stuffed with minced mutton, oatmeal and spicespiped
into the hall and addressed with the words of Burns: 'Fair fa' your
honest sonsie face/Great chieftain o' the pudden race . . .' Behind
the head table stood a statue of Burns flanked by the Union Jack
and the flag of St. Andrew.
The Harlem Globetrotters came to Vancouver this
year. (The Sun byline on that story: Pat Slattery, who would
become locally well known in future years for his articles on men's
The Van Tan nudist club was founded by Ray Connett,
the Father of Canadian Nudism. That was newsworthy,
because it was the first such club in the lower mainland and, in
fact, in Canada.
March 1, 1939 marked the official inauguration of
airmail service Montreal-Toronto-Vancouver, and the first transcontinental
passenger air service (Vancouver to Montreal) was inaugurated April
1 by Trans-Canada Airlines, with ceremonies at Sea Island.
The first charters granted to a credit union in
British Columbia, journalist Bruce Constantineau writes, were in
June, 1939 to the Powell River Credit Union (still around under
that name) and the Amalgamated Civil Servants Credit Union of Vancouver.
The already-existing Common Good Credit Unit, formed in 1936, was
third. In 1938, British Columbians had lobbied government to set
up credit union legislation and the University of British Columbia's
Extension department organized study groups and courses on credit
unions. Along with the university, Constantineau wrote,
fishing co-ops, religious groups, employee groups and even
the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the CCF) worked hard to
promote credit unions. With the BC Credit Union Act of 1939, credit
unions, which had been sprouting up in many communities, could apply
to be legally registered. The Act allowed for the formation of both
community-based credit unions, formed on community ties, as well
as closed-bond credit unions, formed along employment lines and
not open to the general public. It was a rule that a common bond,
such as occupation, had to unite the members of a credit union.
The Army & Navy Store on West Hastings was in
the news. Samuel Joseph Cohen had opened the original store at 44
West Hastings back in 1919, selling ends of lines, overstocked inventory
and bankruptcy close outs. This year they would move to 300 West
Hastings; they've been there ever since.
Vancouver welcomed its first dial telephones December
The B.C. Electric Railway ended its daily milk run
for Fraser Valley farmers.
Fred Begg, auto dealer, died May 11 in Vancouver.
From 1904 to 1906, Constance Brissenden wrote, with
his brother Frank he operated a garage on Hastings. They soon opened
Begg Motor Co., Vancouver's first auto dealership. Fred was president
of the Vancouver Motor Dealers Association when he died. His wife,
Ethel Mae, later willed $375,000 for medical purposes. As a result
the Vancouver Preventorium, which housed young TB cases, was rebuilt
and renamed the F.B. Begg Memorial Preventorium.
A link to the city's earliest settlers was snapped
with the death of Ruth Morton December 14. She had arrived in 1884
to marry John Morton, one of the 'Three Greenhorns,' becoming the
first white woman to settle in the area. Their first home was on
English Bay. The Ruth Morton Memorial Baptist Church was named for
He wasn't connected directly to Vancouver, but every
Canadian was aware of the death November 12 of Dr. Norman Bethune.
He died from blood poisoning in China. He had cut himself while
operating on a Chinese soldier, and the wound became infected. Bethune
had been in Vancouver in August 1937, speaking for the Canadian
Blood Transfusion Service.
B.C.'s Premier Duff Pattullo, in Ottawa, told the
federal government B.C. wouldn't object to the infiltration
of a small number of European refugees into Canada if they
can be readily absorbed. He was, said the Sun in a
January 11 story, definitely opposed to any large movement.
On November 21 a 50th anniversary banquet was held to celebrate
craft unionism in the Lower Mainland.
The wonderfully named Hedley S. Hipwell was elected president of
the Kiwanis Club for 1939.
A vehicle testing station opened in Vancouver March 6. Mayor Telford
drove the first car through.
Radio telephones were installed in Vancouver's police
cars August 3.
Archive - People »
- Places »
- Events »
- Books, etc. »