Researching the earliest years of the Vancouver
Board of Trade turns out to be more interesting than wed anticipated.
Most of us know at least a little of the history of The Boards
first president, David Oppenheimer (who was also the citys
second mayor), but another figure pops up in those early years whose
name has almost vanished into an undeserved obscurity.
He was Robert Clark, a city alderman and haberdasher, who
chaired the September 22, 1887 meeting of businessmen out of which
The Board emerged.
Clarks early years in Canada were eventful. Theyre
described in a 1906 book titled British Columbia Illustrated.
His granddaughter, Gwen Newton, a vice-president at Raymond
James, the Vancouver financial advisors firm, loaned us the
book. It includes an article about her grandfather. It shows that
people whom you might imagine have led uneventful livesClark
was a haberdashermay turn out, in fact, to have had many adventures.
Clark was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1845. His first job
was in a grocery store, but then he learned the ship-builders
trade, and in May 1871, at age 25, he left Scotland for Canada to
work for a Captain Dick at Fort Frances.
How he got from Fort Frances to Lake Manitobawhere he would,
incidentally, make a contribution to Manitoba historyis a
harrowing tale, too long for a full description in this article.
In party with a few other men he walked many days through the Lake
of the Woods area until the moccasins he was wearing fell to pieces
off his feet. Close to starvation, the party trapped a few muskrats
but, happily, just as they were about to tuck into them they stumbled
into a lumber camp where they were fed and sheltered.
Refreshed by their meal and their nights rest,
the account continues, the party started out the next morning.
Clark had now put on a pair of high-heeled boots, but they
were not easy to walk in for the country had been flooded with rain
and the ground was inundated with water and slush. For a long distance
the party had to wade and the boots rubbing Mr. Clarks heels
took all the skin off. The next morning, because of his sore heels,
he was unable to keep up with the party and was obliged to take
off his boots and socks and walk for sixty miles in bare feet through
snow and brush.
They stopped one night at a place called Point Lachine, lying
on the floor wrapped in their blankets, then carried on another
36 miles to Winnipeg. Ten miles of that was wading through ten miles
of water ice cold and from six to eighteen inches deep.
For two or three weeks after this Clark was very lame, but as
soon as possible he began active work. He built the first steamer
that sailed on Lake Manitoba!
Going into the forest he picked out the trees, hewed the
lumber and with help whip-sawed the lumber. He then built and launched
the boat and delivered her to the owners, a craft one hundred feet
Clark then moved into the States and worked in
various cities until he came up to Victoria in 1875. In 1880 he
opened a mens wear store in Nanaimo, moved it to Yale a year
later. His Yale store burned down. In the spring of 1886 he came
to the brand-new city of Vancouver, and opened a mens wear
store on Hastings Street. It was the citys first. Thats
the store in the photo above, with Mr. Clark standing in the entrance.
And a year later he headed the committee that created The Vancouver
Board of Trade. For more on the early years of The Board, click
View the activities of The
Vancouver Board of Trade through the years by clicking
on the links below: