The Pacific Cable
Vancouver would now be able to communicate instantly with places as
far-flung as Great Britain and Australia over the 7,200 miles
(11,500+ km) of the Pacific Cable


You’ve heard of Show Biz. This is Biz Biz, the history of business in Vancouver, told through the activities of The Vancouver Board of Trade.

          1887
1888 1889 1890 1891 1892 1893
1894 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899
1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905
1906 1907 1908 1909 1910  
1926       1932 1933
1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940

1902

Missing material

It should be noted that, because of the condition of some of the newspaper microfilms used as the source of these reports, some issues are unreadable. The coverage of the Board’s AGM for this year, for example, was unavailable, and so was the January 7 special meeting at which the suggestion for monthly rather than quarterly meetings was to be debated. Still, we see references in later reports this year of “regular monthly meetings,” so the decision must have been approved.

The February 25th meeting of the Board was divided in its sympathies regarding the plea of B.C.’s loggers to have repealed the provincial law prohibiting the export of cedar logs to the U.S. Some members argued one way, some the other. It was decided to invite representatives from both the Lumbermen’s Association and the Lumber and Shingle Manufacturer’s Association to come and speak to the Board at its next meeting.

Other Boards

The Edmonton Board of Trade wrote asking the Vancouver Board to “do something” to bring grain shipments to this coast. It seems wheat and oats from “the territories”—remember, Alberta and Saskatchewan did not join Confederation until 1905—were being shipped to the Atlantic seaboard, and "there was no reason why the shipments could not have been made via Vancouver." And, still on the subject of wheat, the Toronto Board of Trade wrote asking our Board to support its drive for a preferential tariff on Canadian wheat going to Great Britain. The Board agreed to lend its support, but recommended an amendment that the same preferential tariffs be extended to lumber, fish and all natural products, and that the tariffs apply “to all portions of the Empire,” not just Great Britain.

A digression: there was an advertisement in the February 26, 1902 Province, next to the report on the Board’s meeting, for George E. Trorey, Jeweler and Diamond Merchant (and official Watch Inspector for the CPR). He was holding a Big Watch Sale, ranging in price from $6.75 to $20. In 1907 Birks would come to Vancouver and buy the Trorey store, and change its name to Birks. The Trorey Clock would become the Birks Clock.

Siphoning

The April 8th meeting was informed by member C.E. Hope of a curious situation: he had been recently at Mission Junction and observed “that fully 75 per cent of the passengers arriving from the east by the CPR changed cars and crossed the line on the Seattle & International train. He estimated that 50 per cent of the American-bound people were agriculturalists, who had been induced to settle in the state of Washington. He contended that these people were passing in the Fraser valley land equally as good as could be found anywhere in the neighboring state.” The Board unanimously supported Hope’s contentions, and resolved to bring the matter to the attention of "the ruling powers."

Member W.H. Malkin brought up the subject of a resident Supreme Court justice again, and it was decided to confer with the Bar Association to pursue the subject.

The Board decided to order 10,000 stickers to be applied to bills of goods shipped north by local merchants, advising miners in the area that Vancouver now had an assay office and was buying gold at rates virtually the same as those available in Seattle. It was hoped the merchants would cooperate.

Fair’s fair

The Province had a front-page editorial May 5 calling for an end to the practice of allowing Canadian bonded cargo to be sent to Skagway in American ships. This had been necessary during the gold rush when there were too few Canadian and British ships, but now the practice should end. The newspaper said it was likely the Vancouver Board of Trade would follow the lead of its Victoria counterpart, and call for an end to that practice. Incidentally, the editorial said, American law didn’t permit Canadian ships to carry American cargo to American ports.

An interesting passage in that editorial refers to the trade that had been done from Vancouver to Honolulu before the islands were annexed by the United States. “Every steamer of the Canadian-Australian line running out of this port did an enormous business in the hauling of American freight to Honolulu before annexation was effected, but immediately the islands became part of the United States all that trade was lost to the port of Vancouver . . .” There was no reason, the editorial concluded, “why Canadian steamers should not take all Canadian bonded freight north from this port.”

But at its May 19 meeting the Board’s consensus was that, because there were still too few Canadian and British ships available for the amount of trade, it would be inadvisable “under existing circumstances” to rescind the practice. American ships would continue to carry Canadian cargo north.

The August 1 meeting dealt almost wholly with trade to the Yukon, and satisfaction at its extent and growth. Guest speaker H.T. Lockyer, president of the Wholesale Grocers’ Association, remarked in passing that he thought an “All-Canadian or a Canadian-controlled railway to the Yukon would work to the betterment of Canadian trade. He thought possibly the sympathies of the present road [that would be the White Pass & Yukon] showed a leaning toward the Americans.”

White Pass passes?

W.H. Malkin must have been elected Board president at its 1902 AGM because that’s his title in an August 6 story on the regular meeting the previous evening. The members recorded an “emphatic protest . . . against the proposed removal of the local office of the White Pass & Yukon Railway from this city.” President Malkin "said that he was glad to see some of the heaviest shippers in the city present to give their views on the situation. Personally he regarded it as a matter of vital importance to the trade of the city."

A resolution was passed to the effect that, not only should the railway keep its Vancouver office open, but that it should make Vancouver its head office, rather than Seattle. So much trade was done with the north, and so much came from Vancouver, that it was “inexplicable” that the railway would close the local office. Particularly vexing was the fact that White Pass gave no reason for its decision. See more on this below.

Members learned that the “Colonial Premiers” would be passing through the city, and efforts would be made to learn the precise date so that the Board could begin preparations to “banquet them.”

The Premiers

Sir Edmund Barton  
Sir Edmund Barton (Wikipedia)  

The premiers were banqueted September 18, and here is an opportunity to share with today’s readers a sampling of newspaper style of a century ago. The Province of September 19 covered the speech to the Board of Sir Edmund Barton, “Premier of Australia,” and here is a brief excerpt from that story.

"The Premier of Australia possesses the gift of oratory to a marked degree. His personality is magnetic. His voice is deep, resonant and sympathetic. His enunciation is good, and his delivery forceful. His was a noble speech, nobly expressed. His imperialist utterances were the words of a true statesman, with lofty aims and the ability to impress them upon his hearers.

“It was the best speech heard in Vancouver in many a day.”

The dinner was held in the Hotel Vancouver. The 1902 version of the hotel, the first of three, was at the southwest corner of Georgia and Granville Streets, where Sears sits today, and the banquet was accompanied by music from the band of the Sixth Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles. Another indication of the change in newspaper style: every single guest was named in the story. There were 67 names, and they included high-ranking military officers, leading businessmen (no women were present), politicians domestic and foreign, consuls and more.

One brief passage from Barton’s speech was of special interest to the Vancouver audience: he said that the people of Australia “had taken a firm stand and had not only barred out Chinese, but other classes of Orientals.” Making that particularly ironic was the reference toward the end of the newspaper report to one of the guests, Mr. K. Morikawa, the Japanese consul in Vancouver. He thanked the company for a toast that had been given to Japan during the meeting, “and expressed his pleasure at Japan being the ally of England. (Cheers).”

Grain

The subject of grain exports came up again at the Board’s regular September meeting, and it was thought that although freight rates would make shipping prairie grain to Great Britain via Vancouver economically unfeasible, there was every reason to believe that markets for that grain could be found in Australia, parts of China and northern Russia. It was suggested by Mr. Peters of the Canadian-Australian line that his firm was prepared to carry samples of Canadian grain to Pacific ports free of charge to test response.

That meeting also featured this quaint and puzzling reference: “It was decided to take steps to further the scheme of establishing telephonic communication with Point Atkinson...” Could they have been referring to the lighthouse there?

White Pass at Gunpoint!

The Board took a dim view of the removal by the White Pass & Yukon Railway of its Vancouver office, “despite the fact that 25 per cent of the trade carried over the company’s lines originated in Canada.” See more on this above. President Malkin said that he understood from outside sources “that the reason the company did not want to have offices here was that it might escape the responsibility which attached to the issuance of the bills of lading." There was no elaboration on that point, but one striking note was sounded: a letter from E.J. Graves, the president of the railway, said that "if the board had not tried to put a pistol to his head he might possibly have transferred the railway’s head offices from Seattle to this city.”

The Pacific Cable

The Board marked with real enthusiasm the completion October 31 of the Pacific Cable, which in the words of the Province, was an “epoch-marking event in the history of the British Empire.” Vancouver would now be able to communicate instantly with places as far-flung as Great Britain and Australia over the 7,200 miles (11,500+ km) of the cable. “The completion of this new electric band," the report continued, would assist in disseminating knowledge, and interest in the Colonies would be stimulated through it . . .” President Malkin told the members that “a loyal message had been sent from Vancouver to His Majesty the King, and this message was then read by Secretary Skene. It was greeted with cheers and the singing of the National Anthem, His Majesty’s health being drunk in champagne.” [Edward VII had been crowned August 9th this year. That “National Anthem” would have been God Save the King.]

Sir Sandford Fleming, who had been pushing for the cable for years, had been quoted as saying that it was British Columbia’s offering of $1 million toward the work that was “the turning point, and from that time forward success was assured.” Special regard was paid to Board member Francis Carter-Cotton, then a provincial cabinet minister, who had been instrumental in the government making the offer. And a very special telegram was received from Ottawa: “I sincerely rejoice over the complete and successful opening of the new method of communication between Canada and the Orient,” it read. “I feel confident that Vancouver and British Columbia will reap very substantial benefits from the same.” Signed, Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada.

The cable, incidentally, began its leap across the Pacific from Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, just south of Ucluelet and ended at Fanning Island, an atoll south of Hawaii. The ship Colonia laid the 8,000 tonnes of cable needed.

The major topic at the regular monthly meeting of the Board on December 2, the last meeting of 1902, was a controversy over “street ends,” with the city going to court opposing the CPR’s position on the subject. A careful reading of the newspaper reports shed no further light on the matter; we don’t know what was involved, except that the Board supported the city in its fight against the railway.

A digression: William Farrell, the president of the British Columbia Telephone Company, spoke proudly this year of his company’s friendly relations with subscribers, and the fact that its rates were 50 per cent lower than paid in Seattle or Tacoma. He also said there were more telephones per capita in BC than in any other province, while in Vancouver, "We have more telephones per head than any city in the British Empire." Unfortunately, labor relations were less tranquil. A month after Farrell's rosy report, the company locked out its unionized construction workers. It’s mentioned here because a number of prominent business people, including Board of Trade president W.H. Malkin and Hudson's Bay Co. manager H.T. Lockyer, lined up in support of the strikers.

What else was happening locally in 1902?

For a once-over-lightly look at the history of The Vancouver Board of Trade, go here.

Next: 1903 »