D-Day, June 6, 1944 is a date virtually everyone
knows: it marked the invasion at Normandy. More than a thousand
Allied planes and gliders began dropping paratroopers into Normandy
in the dark hours before dawn. The push to recapture the Nazi-occupied
continent was under way. Optimism about the course of the war began
And on the home front that same June day? The Orpheum
was showing a movie musical, Broadway Rhythm, with Tommy
Dorsey and his orchestra. Orpheum manager Ivan Ackery had arranged
for Dal Richards 20-piece orchestra from the Hotel Vancouver
to appear on the Orpheums stage to accompany, in person, the
singer Adriana Caselotti. Caselotti had been the voice of Snow White
in Walt Disneys great 1937 feature-length cartoon. Ackery
took her, and actors dressed as Pluto, Grumpy and Goofy, to perform
for the veterans at Shaughnessy Military Hospital and they loved
Out at the airport, Vancouvers Boeing plant was busy. You
get a nice feel for the times with this reminiscence by an unnamed
former Boeing employee. Shed been hired as a gofer in 1944,
and told a local web site: I delivered radio parts to the
ships [aircraft] and if the guys wanted nuts or bolts and other
parts I'd go for them, hence the term gofer. You needed good footwear
to work on that huge plant cement floor . . . and of course the
stores [the shop] was located across the way in the other building
up the stairs, so your feet were pretty sore by the end of the shift.
I started at 40 cents an hour and finished at 80 cents an hour in
Shop 63. I was making more money than my father at the time, who
was making 60 cents an hour at Pacific Mills. My husband came from
Montreal and was a Boeing electrical inspector at Plant 3 from 1944
to 1945. I lived in Vancouver and had to transfer about five times
before reaching Marpole to catch the Boeing Bus. We called it the
Cattle Car. We weren't fortunate enough to obtain accommodation
in the new Burkeville subdivision being built for Boeing employees,
as it was designed for employees with families.
Wartime wages were causing other anomalies: in
Surrey, for example, school teachers asked for a pay raise. It seems
students with summer jobs in war industries were making more than
1944 marks the dramatic entry into local history
of New Westminsters Ernest Alvia Smokey Smith.
On October 21 Smokey, a Seaforth Highlander, aged 30, won the Victoria
Cross for bravery in action in northern Italy. The VC is the highest
and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy
that can be awarded to a soldier in Commonwealth forces.
The citation of what Smokey did makes for exciting reading. Heres
an excerpt: Under heavy fire from the approaching enemy tanks,
Private Smith, showing great initiative and inspiring leadership,
led his PIAT group of two men across an open field to a position
from which the PIAT could best be employed. [PIAT: Projector Infantry
Anti-Tank.] Leaving one man on the weapon, Private Smith crossed
the road with a companion and obtained another PIAT. Almost immediately
an enemy tank came down the road firing its machine-guns along the
line of the ditches. Private Smith's comrade was wounded. At a range
of thirty feet and having to expose himself to the full view of
the enemy, Private Smith fired the PIAT and hit the tank, putting
it out of action. Ten German infantry immediately jumped off the
back of the tank and charged him with Schmeissers [submachine guns]
and grenades. Without hesitation Private Smith moved out on the
road and with his Tommy gun at point-blank range, killed four Germans
and drove the remainder back. Almost immediately another tank opened
fire and more enemy infantry closed in on Smith's position. Obtaining
some abandoned Tommy gun magazines from a ditch, he steadfastly
held his position, protecting his comrade and fighting the enemy
with his Tommy gun until they finally gave up and withdrew in disorder.
One tank and both self-propelled guns had been destroyed
by this time, but yet another tank swept the area with fire from
a longer range. Private Smith, still showing utter contempt for
enemy fire, helped his wounded friend to cover and obtained medical
aid for him behind a nearby building. He then returned to his position
beside the road to await the possibility of a further enemy attack.
No further immediate attack developed, and as a result the battalion
was able to consolidate the bridgehead position so vital to the
success of the whole operation, which led to the capture of San
Giorgio Di Cesena and a further advance to the Ronco River.
Thus, by the dogged determination, outstanding devotion
to duty and superb gallantry of this private soldier, his comrades
were so inspired that the bridgehead was held firm against all enemy
attacks, pending the arrival of tanks and anti-tank guns some hours
By December, the Province reported, Smokey
wants to get home to New Westminster. He has his Victoria
Cross. The excitement of a private investiture at Buckingham Palace
is over. Now he's getting impatient. Five years is a long
time to be overseas, Canada's first buck private to win the
VC in this war, said in a London interview today. (December
On the same day Smokey won his VC, here in Vancouver
HMCS Discovery, a naval training base, was officially opened
on Deadman's Island. The members of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer
Reserve had been housed since November of 1941 in the Stanley Park
Barracks. They welcomed their spacious new home. During the Second
World War, Discoverywhich had a population
that occasionally reached 1,000would be a major source of
naval recruits in Canada, giving us 372 officers, 6,974 ratings
and 650 WRENS (the name given to members of the Womens Royal
Naval Service). Because the base is land-locked and not an actual
sea-going ship, it and others like it is by naval tradition called
a "stone frigate." So her crew refers to Discovery
as a ship.
Another ship, this one sea-going, was active this
year. Quietly and without notice the little RCMP schooner St.
Roch left Halifax July 22, 1944 to return to Vancouver through
the Arctic. Her trip west was markedly faster than her 1940-1942
push to the east: that had lasted two years and four months. This
time, using a more northern route, and in deeper waters, she made
it back in just six days short of three monthsbecoming, incidentally,
the first vessel to make it through the northwest passage in one
season, and the first to go through in both directions. The little
ship arrived October 16. (And years later, after a voyage through
the Panama Canal, the St. Roch would become the first ship
to circumnavigate North America.) The 95-foot schooner was captained
by Sgt. Henry Larsen.
The local attitude during the war toward the Japanese who had
lived in this area before their 1942 expulsion is captured in a
remark made by Ian Mackenzie, MP for Vancouver Centre, the former
minister of national defence (and, as minister of pensions and national
health, the only British Columbian in the federal cabinet.) At his
nomination meeting this year Mackenzie suggested: "Let our
slogan be for British Columbia: 'No Japs from the Rockies to the
seas. Mackenzie was a regular supporter of anti-Asian
And lest the reader think Im being holier than thou, Ill
tell you that in 1944 my father shared the same sentiments. Id
be astonished to learn that, at age 9, I didnt, as well.
On August 14 Vancouver City Council adopted Odessa in Ukraine
as a sister city. Odessa had been cleared in April by the Russian
army of occupying German and Romanian troops, and to mark the occasion,
the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra gave a concert of Russian music.
(Ukraine was, of course, part of the Soviet Union at the time.)
One small local outcome of the war was the creation of the Restaurant
& Foodservices Association of B.C., still active. It was formed
to deal with problems created by rationing!
On August 15, 1944 radio station CKNW signed on (unofficially)
at 1230 on the dialthe 980 frequency was in the futurewith
250 watts of power, after on-air testing which had started April
1. It was the only radio station in Canada to sign on during the
war. Its owner, Bill Rea, would launch many innovations on his new
station: hourly newscasts, on-air 24 hours a day, all music, the
Orphans Fund and man-on-the-street interviews. NW is still
the top-rated radio station in the Greater Vancouver area.
What an impact Bill Rea made on local radio! And
what unpromising beginnings! CKNW was a tiny station on the second
floor of a nondescript hotel in New Westminster (far from the big
boys in Vancouver) that played cowboy music. Rea started
hourly newscastsa local firstbecause he knew we wanted
news of our troops overseas; he kept NW on 24 hours a day, another
first; he started a people-on-the-street show called Roving Mike
that lasted for decades, and he initiated the Orphans Fund
that has raised millions for local kids. Look for the 1994 book
Top Dog! It tells the story of this remarkable station.
and his radio show cast aboard a train at White Rock
Radio made local news on April 23 when Jack Benny
did his famous show from Vancouver. He brought his regular cast
up from New York: Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Rochester, Dennis
Day and announcer Don Wilson. What made the show particularly notable
was that the Seattle-born Mary Livingstone (real name Sadie Marks)
had grown up in Vancouver. Old timers will recall that Mary got
a lot of comic mileage about Jacks age. He was forever 39.
That led to exchanges like this:
Jack: You know, Mary, being in Vancouver
brings back memories to me, too. When I was in vaudeville, I played
the Orpheum Theatre many a time. Did you know that?
Mary: Did I know that? Jack, every
time you played here didnt you notice a little girl in the
third row in the aisle seat, with long blonde pigtails and a pink
ribbon in her hair?
Jack: Well, Ill be darned! Was that
Mary: No, that was my mother.
Jack: Now cut that out!
A little later Vancouver mayor Jack Cornett popped in as a special
guest and Jack began to pester him about the toll charge (25 cents)
on the Lions Gate Bridge. Jack wondered if it might be possible
to drop the toll so that he could see Grouse Mountain up close,
instead of always through his telescope. Then the mood got serious
for a moment as Jack echoed Mayor Cornetts plug for Canadas
Sixth Victory Loan, a fund-raising campaign to help the war effort.
Benny would visit Vancouver often, and was successful many years
later in helping to raise funds to save the Orpheum Theatre.
A lot of famous folk were involved in persuading us to buy war
bonds. Golfing great Ben Hogan participated this year in a wartime
fund-raiser at Shaughnessy Golf Course.
The man who had been at the helm of UBC for 25 years stepped down
in 1944. Leonard Klinck had joined the university in 1914 as Dean
of the Faculty of Agriculture. After the sudden death in 1918 of
President Frank Wesbrook, Klinck was appointed to the presidency
in July, 1919. He successfully oversaw the building of the
Point Grey campus and the formation of a renowned and spirited faculty.
Klinck was succeeded as president by Dr. Norman A.M. MacKenzie,
who would prove to be one of the universitys more popular
MacKenzie, after service in the First World War, studied law at
Dalhousie, Harvard and Cambridge universities, then went into practice.
He later joined the University of Toronto to teach law, and was
president of the University of New Brunswick before becoming president
Dr. R. E. McKechnie, the universitys chancellor since 1918,
died in office on May 24, aged 83, and was succeeded by Eric Hamber.
Hamber, president of the BC Mills Timber and Trading Company, had
recently been a popular BC lieutenant-governor.
Harry Letson donated thousands of engineering books and periodicals
to UBC this year.
The B.C. Research Council, founded by the BC Provincial government,
began on the UBC campus. Its mandate was to operate laboratory
facilities, conduct industrial research, and help develop technologies
believed to be important to British Columbia. The Council
would become a catalyst for innovation in the province. It would
be taken private in the early 1990s after running into financial
The Vancouver Foundation was formed this year under chairman W.J.
VanDusen. The Foundations web site tells us that a little-known
woman by the name of Alice G. MacKay sparked the idea. Ms. MacKay
had saved $1,000 from her secretarial job (a lot of money for a
working woman in 1944) and wanted to do something special for Vancouver,
particularly for homeless women trapped in a cycle of poverty.
VanDusen, an industrialist/philanthropist, decided to make
her wish come true.
A man of great vision, the Foundation continues, Mr.
VanDusen had understood the potential of building a permanent endowment
that could benefit many charitable activities. As Director of the
Vancouver Welfare Federation (now the United Way of the Lower Mainland)
and Chair of its Endowment Committee, he had studied models of community
foundations for several years. And by 1943, he had overseen the
establishment and incorporation of Vancouver Foundation. However,
at the time of Alice MacKays death in 1944, Vancouver Foundation
was nothing more than a legal entity with virtually no capital and
was therefore a community foundation in name only.
Inspired by Alice MacKays bequest, Mr. VanDusen encouraged
nine friends to match his gift of $10,000 and the rest is history.
So Ms. MacKays $1,000 quickly turned into $100,000 thanks
to VanDusen and his friends. Today the Foundation has $565 million
on its hands.
A meeting room in the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library
is named for Ms. MacKay.
In local business news, volume at the wartime Vancouver Stock
Exchange bottomed at 11 million shares this year, with brokers devoting
themselves to selling Canadian government Victory bonds. And North
Vancouver City finally emerged from receivership, which had started
in 1933 during the Great Depression.
An important new company emerged here in 1944. The engineering
firm of H.A. Simons (started by Howard Simons) was formed to serve
the forest products industry. The history of the company is interesting:
it can be traced back to 1914 in Chicago. A man named Venning Dodge
Simons established an industrial engineering firm there, and within
a couple of decades had been involved in the design and construction
of some two dozen paper mills in a half dozen American states and
In the early 1940s BC lumber magnate Prentice Bloedel asked Simons
to build a pulp mill in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. But Simons,
70, said he was too old to undertake the job himself, and instead
sent his son, Howard . . . better known as H.A. The new company
took on that Port Alberni project, building the mill for Bloedel,
Stewart & Welch. It was the first kraft pulp mill in B.C. H.A.
Simons would thrive in the years to come, often being number one
in the world in the field of building lumber mills. The company
would be purchased in 1999 by the big engineering firm, AGRA. By
that time it had completed more than 10,000 projects in more than
70 countries. (Later, AGRA would merge with the huge UK firm AMEC.)
On September 30 BC Bearing Engineers Ltd. was incorporated in
Vancouver, founded by Robert A.S. MacPherson. MacPherson had started
a company called Northern Metals and Engineering in 1936, and in
1942 opened a bearing store at 1393 Granville. The company flourished.
Today the BC Bearing Group has nearly 60 locations worldwide and
annual sales of more than $200 million.
An ambitious young woman of 17, Grace Winterbottom opened a little
flower shop in December, 1944 in an abandoned storefront on East
Hastings Street. A few weeks later she had netted $700a neat
profit for the timeand used that money the following February
to open a bigger, better store one block west. Grayce Florists (her
sister Nona suggested adding the y) flourished. We know
the lady today as Grace McCarthy.
Beer magnate Emil Sick of Seattle bought Athletic Park, where
baseballs Capilanos played, and renamed it Capilano Stadium.
Leonard Frank, the photographer, died February
23, 1944, aged about 74. He came here from Germany in 1892, age
22, looking for gold, but that didnt work out. Then he won
a lottery in which first prize was a camera. Frank's father was
a professional photographer, and taught the craft to young Leonard.
So he began to take pictures. For 50 years he took pictures. His
nearly 50,000 images captured a now-vanished British Columbia with
astonishing clarity and beauty. I swear you can see the stubble
on the lumberjacks cheeks. Enjoy this extraordinary body of
work in Cyril Leonoffs multi-award-winning 1990 book Leonard
Frank: An Enterprising Life.
Charles Hill-Tout, ethnologist, died in Vancouver
June 30, aged 85. He was born September 28, 1858 in Buckland, England,
came to Canada in 1884, and arrived in Vancouver in 1890. It was
Hill-Tout who realized Vancouvers Marpole Midden was the largest
of its kind in North America. He founded his own school, Buckland
College, on Burrard Street. After approximately a decade at Buckland,
Hill-Tout gave up education and moved to a farm in the Abbotsford
area, where he subsequently opened and operated a mill producing
railway ties for the CPR. A devoted amateur anthropologist,
Constance Brissenden wrote, he focused on the Salish Indians
of B.C. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1913, later
became the president of its anthropological section. He was a president
of the Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver [precursor
to the Vancouver Museum], which published his Great Fraser Midden
in 1938. His field reports were collected as The Salish People
by Ralph Maud (1978). Asked by the CPR to name a new subdivision
in Vancouver, Hill-Tout suggested Kitsilano, a modification of the
name of the chiefs of the Squamish Band. He is the author of The
Native Races of British North America: the Far West (1907).
In entertainment news: Vancouver-born Yvonne de Carlo (real name
Peggy Middleton) was named the most beautiful girl in the
world. Her studio gave her the title, so they may have been
a little prejudiced. The White Rock Players acting troupe was formed,
and Mart Kenneys Western Gentlemen orchestra was hugely popular.
I was the Bryan Adams of 1944, Mart once said.
On September 15, 1944 a new product called contact lenses
arrived in Vancouver.
Winnipeg shopkeeper George Davis and his son Charlie arrived in
Vancouver in December, and the elder Davis got a job as a loader
at Dairyland. Nine-year-old Charlie (now Chuck) will
become a broadcaster and writer.
Local Doukhobors held a prayer vigil on the Courthouse steps for
13 of their brethren imprisoned in Oakalla.
A forest fire swept down Black Mountain in West Vancouver, covering
seven square miles, and was finally stopped just 300 yards above
Les Gilmore of Richmond harvested 900 bushels of potatoes per acre,
the highest yield per acre in Canada.
The Children's Health Centre was built at Vancouver General Hospital.
The Malahat, which during the U.S. prohibition
era became known as the Queen of Rum Row, was wrecked.
In her heyday she often sailed with 60,000 cases of liquor on board.
Munich-born Erwin Swangard, 36, became foreign editor
of the Province, a post he would hold for five years before
going to the Sun with the same title.
Edgar George Baynes, 74, was named Vancouvers Good Citizen
for 1944. Major Matthews citation, read at the December 5
investiture: A stalwart pioneer of vision, courage and energy.
A man of sympathy, goodwill and generous in thought and deed. Volunteer
soldier (corporal), first military unit in Vancouver, 1894-99. Park
Commissioner, 1924-38 inclusive, fifteen years. Warden, Holy Trinity
Church. President, B.C. Historical Association, Port Haney Brick
Company. Member of many organizations devoted to public service.
A streetcar strike at BC Electric in 1944 lasted three weeks, and
in the absence of transit a lot of people got to work by hitchhiking.
Archive - People »
- Places »
- Events »
- Books, etc. »