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.
Taxation and a Railway
The Board met on January 19 in special session to
discuss the provinces Assessment Act. President Lockyer,
the Province reported on Page 5 of its January 20 issue,
in commenting on the unfairness of the act, stated that eastern
firms, represented in this province by selling agents or brokers,
entirely escaped taxation. They escape through the selling agents
or brokers disposing of goods under the billheads of their eastern
firms. Some agents of eastern firms have warehouses full of goods
here which are untaxed, while their neighbors have goods which do
not escape taxation simply because their headquarters are maintained
in this province. (A billhead is defined as a
sheet of paper with a business name and address printed at the top,
used for billing costs or charges. We guess thats what
wed call an invoice today.)
Member Frederick Buscombe reported that he had it from authoritative
sources that the government intended to appoint a committee to look
into the assessment question.
And a great deal of discussion was devoted to the subject of amendments
to the Bills of Sale Act. The passage of a hundred years has not
made this subject any more interesting.
A resolution was passed expressing strong support
for a proposed railway to open up the Nicola Valley. The railway
would run from Spences Bridge to Nicole Lake, and tap that
countrys rich mineral resources. The government was dragging
its feet in extending approval of the project. Mr. Buscombe commented
that it was almost criminal to allow that country to remain
fallow and unproductive.
Hurry Up and Wait
The February 2 meeting showed that some things never
change. The Board had received a petition from the citys customs
brokers asking the board to help it in getting a better system of
receiving refunds from the Dominion Government. In many cases
it was said it had been months and years before refunds were obtainable,
and a number of claims were still outstanding. Member Charles
Tisdall commented that if it were discovered that a merchant had
not paid the full amount of duty chargeable, he had to pay it within
24 hours. The Government ought to be equally prompt.
The petition was endorsed. (At its April 5, 1904 meeting the Board
heard a response to this problem. The Hon. William Patterson, Minister
of Customs, wrote asking for particulars of representative claims
to enable him to deal promptly with complaints, as no unnecessary
delay would be tolerated.)
The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce wrote to ask the Board to endorse
the establishment of a dailynote, a dailysteamship service
between Tacoma and Vancouver. The Board replied that it generally
approved of the idea, but would wait until a definite scheme was
submitted to it.
President Lockyer in his last address in that post,
told members at the Boards March 1 annual meeting that during
the last year Vancouver showed greater progress than at any period
since the city was established. The large amount of building which
took place during the whole of the year has resulted in very materially
altering the appearance of the city, filling up vacant spaces in
the business portion, and turning vacant blocks in the residential
quarters to densely populated sections . . . Business blocks and
warehouses are occupied as soon as completed. The population
of the city, it was confidently predicted, would exceed 40,000 by
the end of 1904.
A satisfactory feature in connection with
the progress of the city is marked by the opening up of many new
streets and the building of sidewalks, of which, it is pleasing
to note, the more permanently constructed ones of cement are taking
the place of the plank walks hitherto in use.
Receipts by Customs, Inland Revenue and the Post Office showed
that local trade conditions were generally in a healthy state.
The lumber industry was doing well, and mining was
recovering nicely from the post-Klondike lull. There was still concern
about mining activity in the Similkameen and Nicola region, where
exploitation of the resources needed a railway. While having
every regard for the present financial condition of the provinces
finances, it cannot be admitted with other than extreme regret that
apparently another year is to go by without anything being done
that will assist those who are engaged in exploiting this rich district.
There was difficulty in the shingles trade, with supply exceeding
demand and difficulty in getting railcars to carry the product.
The CPR said it was doing the best it could.
An exceedingly wet summer, Lockyer said,
resulted in smaller crops being harvested in the Fraser Valley,
but the butter industry was thriving and producing butter the quality
of which was fully equal and in some cases superior to that
produced in Ontario and Manitoba . . . Complaints are made by [fruit]
farmers as to the difficulty of reaching Vancouver markets, and
it is to be hoped the completion of the Fraser River Bridge at New
Westminster will result in proper arrangements for a market being
made . . . (That bridge would open July 23, the first bridge
to span the Fraser. It joined New Westminster to Brownsville [North
Surrey], and was hailed as the engineering feat of the century.
Built for $1 million by the provincial government, it carried trains
on the lower span and vehicles and pedestrians on the upper, just
wide enough for two hay wagons to pass.)
1903 was an off-year for canneries, the catch, particularly
on the Fraser River, being much smaller than was anticipated. There
was a real need for scientific salmon propagation.
One of the odder letters the Board received was
one from the Chilliwack Agricultural Association, asking if they
could get a grant to help purchase fruit jars for their exhibition!
The Board responded, declining: While the object is a worthy
one, the board has no funds it can turn over for the purpose.
President Lockyer referred to the September, 1903
visit by delegates from the Canadian Manufacturers Assn.,
who were apprised of the cheap electrical power in the offing, which
will be possible when the huge undertaking by the British Columbia
Electric Railway Company is completed. [Speaking of the BCER,
the growth of their streetcar system had advanced to the point where
they began this year to make their own cars in a New Westminster
There was still no progress on the question of having a B.C. Supreme
Court justice resident in the city.
But there was real progress in the provision of a Dominion Government
building, large enough to handle the Post Office and Customs and
Excise departments. A site had been purchased, Lockyer said, but
the government was cautioned to make the building large enough to
accommodate Vancouvers rapid growth.
A note: the old post office that is now part of Sinclair Centre
opened for business in 1910, so we think the building referred to
by President Lockyer in this 1904 report was an even earlier one
a block away at the southwest corner of Pender and Granville. It
seems unlikely that this building was in use as a post office for
just six years, but its even more unlikely that it would have
taken six years to build the structure at Hastings and Granville.
A measure of success had been reached in negotiations
with the CPR to lower freight rates for Vancouver shippers, who
paid more than those in Winnipeg. The Board paid special tribute
to W.J. McMillan, the chair of the committee that had met with the
railway, who has been untiring in his efforts to bring about
a more equitable condition. (Here, incidentally, is a case
where the Boards efforts helped all local business, not just
Nineteen new Board members had come aboard during
the year, but the membership of 144, said President Lockyer, was
far too small for a commercial city such as Vancouver . .
. I respectfully submit that it is the duty of every man engaged
in commercial life in this city to become a member of the Vancouver
Board of Trade.
The Board had $140 in the Bank of North America, and $46 in cash
on hand. Dues of $1,532 had been collected during the year, and
$276 in entrance fees.
Expenses for the year included:
Printing and stationery $136.72
Postages and sundries 144.15
Caretaker, doorplates and elevator
Electric light 20.02
Secretary (William Skene) 720.00
Another notable expense: $680.80 had been spent to have 4,000 copies
of the annual report printed, and another $40 to mail them, for
a total of $720.80less a government grant of $250.
The Boards auditors, Messrs. Tisdall and Godfrey, called
attention to the steadily decreasing cash balance of the board.
The board, said Tisdall, must either increase its dues, add to its
membership or decrease expenses.
The new president by acclamation was H. McDowell. There was general
agreement that H.T. Lockyer, the past president, "had proved
one of the ablest officers the board had ever had."
The Province for April 6, 1904incidentally,
Vancouvers 18th birthdayreported that the Board of Trade
in its regular meeting the night before had listened to Ward D.
Williams, the western representative of the Montreal Star
newspaper, who laid out a scheme for advertising British Columbia
in eastern Canada, the USA and Great Britain. For $100 a week to
be garnered from local business people, the Star would publish a
weekly article on the economic growth of the province and city for
26 weeks. This material would also be published in the Minneapolis
Journal, a great farmers paper on the other side
of the line where it circulates through the heart of the country.
Further, when the series was finished it would be published in pamphlet
form and distributed to the ends of the earth.
A committee was formed to discuss the proposal and to confer with
the Tourist Association.
The perennial problem of increasing the membership rolls, and attracting
more members to the meetings, was bandied about again at the April
5 session. And so was the equally venerable question of allowing
American ships to carry Canadian goods to other Canadian ports.
Neither was resolved.
Member E.H. Heaps was alarmed at the inroads which
lumbermen in Washington State were making into the Canadian market.
He said that six or seven carloads of lumber consigned to the Northwest
were daily entering Canada at Sumas. If that trade were diverted
to Vancouver, the mills here would be greatly benefited. He
advocated the imposition of a stiff duty on rough lumber. And he
noted that the Americans were preparing to increase the duty on
shingles entering that country. The result of jumping the
duty beyond thirty cents per thousand will be the closing of the
US market to British Columbia shingles, and as a consequence mills
here in Vancouver will be hit. See the item below headed Special
Information on Land Needed
Member D.G. Williams wanted the provincial government
to provide more information on crown land to potential settlers.
At present a home-seeker coming to BC cannot possibly secure
any knowledge of lands in the province for the good reason that
the Government has no information to give . . . In the Northwest
and Manitoba intending settlers are supplied with a wealth of data
concerning lands available for settlement, and the same should obtain
A special meeting of the Board was held May 17 to
discuss the notion of a protective tariff on lumber and shingles.
It was decided to send a delegate to Ottawa, and so the question
of the expense that would incur arose. The British Columbia Lumber
& Shingle Manufacturers Association was willing to contribute
25 per cent of the cost, with the rest coming from other local businesses.
Member W.G. Harvey said that if the lumber industry were shut down
fully 25 per cent of the small retailers in the city, himself
included, would be forced to retire from business.
President McDowell commented that he was in favor of asking the
cooperation of the provinces other Boards of Trade. A delegate
could not be sent under $250 to $300. [Remember these are 1904 dollars.
A decent wage was $10 a week and you could buy a 13-acre lot on
the Fraser River for $102.]
This passage in the May 18 Province report
on the meeting stands out: After a little lull in discussion,
Mr. J.G. Scott arose and said that he had not intended to speak,
but someone sitting behind him had said the meeting was a dull one.
Mr. Scott said if it was dull, then let it be dull, and the millmen
would shut down the mills and let all the business men suffer with
them. He impressed on the meeting the importance of the matter under
A resolution was passed endorsing the sending of a delegate, who
would likely be joined by others sponsored by other boards across
the province. (The boards in Victoria, New Westminster, Kamloops,
Revelstoke and Golden had already expressed approval of sending
a delegation.) The CPR would also be asked to contribute in kind,
since the question was important to them, too. The hat was passed
around, and $186 gathered on the spot.
Grand Trunk Pacific
On another matter it was decided to telegraph Ottawa (specifically
Member of Parliament R.G. Macpherson) to press them to make it a
condition of the contract with the Grand Trunk Pacific railway that
work on the Pacific coast section of the GTPs proposed line
be started at the same time as work in the east. (The story of the
Grand Trunks troubled futureit ran into financial problems
and was eventually absorbed by the CNRis an interesting one,
and can be read in some detail here.)
The May 17 meeting also resulted in an agreement to provide the
Boards rooms to Alexander MacLean, a Canadian Government agent,
who was in Vancouver preparing to leave for Japan to begin efforts
to promote more trade with that country.
The DeKeyser Process
Something called the DeKeyser Process was exciting
the members of the Board, according to the June 1, 1904 Province.
This was an ore milling process developed by Mr. DeKeyser, no first
name given, a Vancouver inventor, who is a Belgian by birth,
and a chemist and metallurgist by inclination and learning.
A large experimental plant had been established in the old
cement works, False Creek, and work was going on. An expert
in the field, Joseph Holtschneider of Denver, Colorado, said that
the reduction of free-milling ores by the DeKeyser process would
revolutionize the industry. Alas, an extensive search of the Internet
found no references to this revolutionary process.
Theres a reference in the very last paragraph
of the story that says DeKeyser has started legal proceedings against
a Dr. Hendryx in Washington state to prevent him from further
using the process. Odd, because there are references to the
Hendryx process on the net. Hmmm. It gives one to think.
Insurance ratesis someone fibbing?
At the June 7, 1904 regular meeting of the Board
the subject of an increase in insurance rates was bandied about.
The Board of Fire Underwriters had announced the increase, and the
Board of Trade thought it was unjustified. Member Frederick Buscombe,
a past president, quoting from a Dominion Government blue book,
said that it showed that instead of the [insurance] companies
losing money, as claimed by them, they were in reality reaping handsome
profits . . .
Nine Canadian companies in 1902 received in
premiums $2,555,793, and paid out in losses $865,214, which showed
gross earnings of $1,190,579. In 1903 the same companies, etc.,
etc. Buscombe was quoted as saying that the insurance
companies have run mad because of their recent losses in Toronto
and Baltimore, and while he sympathized with them in their period
of hardship he thought it unreasonable that the public should suddenly
be called upon to pay a large increase in rates. The companies should
be in a position to settle their recent large losses out of the
enormous profits they have made in the past.
Then he quoted from remarks of the chairman of the
London and Liverpool and Globe fire insurance company to the board
of directors of that organization at a recent annual meeting. The
chairman announced that the losses the company had sustained in
the Baltimore and Toronto fires did not exceed ten per cent of its
total income from premiums last year. He further stated that the
year 1903 was the most prosperous the company had had in its history,
and further had announced that big companies welcomed large
fires in the sense that through such conflagrations weak companies
were knocked to the wall, with the inevitable result that the people
ultimately insured with the big companies, which had such backing
that all losses incurred were promptly met. A big fire weeded out
the weak companies and left the field in the possession of the strong.
The reference to the Toronto fire led us to some side research.
A great fire on April 19, 1904 in that city caused $10 million damage
(likely equivalent at the very least to 10 times that today) and
destroyed great sections of the city. Remarkable film footage of
the blaze, made 102 years ago, can be seen here.
Poor Mr. Banfield!
The Province story then went on to say that,
during the discussion on insurance rates, Board member J.J. Banfield
happened to enter the meeting. Mr. Banfield was an insurance agent.
In response to a question, Mr. Banfield said: Fire
insurance in Canada for the past thirty years has been unprofitable.
He got no further, the paper reported,
because of the storm of laughter this statement raised, coming
as it did almost on top of the assertions to the contrary made by
Mr. Buscombe. Not having been present when Mr. Buscombe quoted
his figures, Mr. Banfield was at an entire loss to know the cause
of the merriment. But after looking nonplussed for half a minute
Mr. Banfield, with a look of determination on his face, bravely
proceeded to put his case before the meeting. He had known
men to go into a store and pay $25 for a hat and come out thinking
they had received good value, but those same men were ready to fight
over fire insurance rates. He cited companies that had lost
money, and said the industry was simply trying to make its business
profitable. People criticize the insurance companies who know
the least about the business.
At this point discussion dropped and the motion appointing a committee
to meet with the fire underwriters was passed without dissent. Regrettably,
no information on actual rates paid was included in the story.
The annual subscription for members was increased from $12 annually
to $20, to be paid in two instalments. The 1903-1904 annual report
was now in the hands of the printers. The Boards 154 members
had been asked for funds to defray the cost of publishing, and 46
The June 7 meeting decided that a message of condolence
would be sent to the widow of Board member J.M.K. Letson, who had
recently died . That name will be familiar to observers of the local
business scene: Letson & Burpee (L & B) had been established
in 1893 when Letson and F.W. Burpee formed a partnership to design
and build canning machines and pressure cookers. [The company later
built winches and after World War II, they would start to build
sawmill equipment.] The J.M.K., by the way, stood for James Moore
Kelly. The Province story said he had been a very well-liked
The Hon. Raymond Prefontaine, the Minister of Marine
and Fisheries, met the Board of Trade at its regular meeting August
15. The questions discussed affected the salmon fisheries,
the proposed installation of a Marconi wireless system on this coast,
and an amendment to the shipping laws so that masters of vessels
may more easily obtain crews at the port of Vancouver than is possible
at the present time.
The general thrust of the subject of salmon fisheries
was that Prefontaines department had decided to permit
the use of staked traps and purse seines, which previously had not
been allowed. A petition from the provinces salmon cannersa
very well-written one, by the wayexplained that the notification
of the rules change had come too late for many of the companies
in the industry save by some parties who apparently had received
prior assurances, and made arrangements accordingly. Licences
had been awarded to a very restricted list of companies, some of
which had no prior experience in the industry. Further, allowing
trap fishing in the north of the province would have
a negative effect on the industry in general and the Indian residents
in particular. Fifty-nine out of the 78 members of the Fraser River
Canners Association had signed the petition, and that number
would have been higher if some of the owners had not been away at
Board member H.O. Bell-Irvingthe largest salmon
packer in the provincetold Prefontaine that the salmon fishing
industry on the coast was in very bad shape. Conditions are
bad now, but four years hence they will be worse, and the canners
may be forced to suspend operations. It might be advisable for the
Government to stop fishing on the Fraser, in order to allow the
fish unhampered passage to the spawning grounds.
Next year, he said, the canners expected a very heavy run of salmon,
and it was most important that the matter should be properly settled.
The coverage of the fisheries question covered a
full broadsheet page of the newspaper, and so what you read here
is a maimed account, but you can see the entire story on Page 5
of the Province for August 16, 1904available for viewing
on the 5th floor of the Vancouver Public Library.
There was brief discussion with Prefontaine about
the need for a Marconi wireless system on the Pacific coast, to
which the minister replied that four such stations had been planned
for the St. Lawrence, three were already finished and had proved
an excellent resource. The system has also been put on the
ferryboats between Prince Edward Island and the Mainland, so that
if they were ever caught in the ice it could immediately be made
known. He would go back to Ottawa and advise the establishment
of a Marconi or other wireless system on this coast.
The Board was upset with the provincial government
over the Assessment Act of 1903 because it was not equitable.
No details were given in the October 5, 1904 Province report
of the regular meeting, except that at its January meeting the Board
had extracted a promise from the government that a commission would
be appointed to examine the provisions of the Act. Nine months later
this had still not been done. The minister of finance, R.G. Tatlow,
had written to explain that the appointment of a commissioner was
impractible at the present, as the returns of the assessor
for the present year have not yet been completed, and also because
several important test cases are yet before the Courts of Appeal.
The government, Tatlow continued, intended to appoint the commission
before the next sitting of the House.
The Board passed a resolution deploring the fact
that the commission had not been set up as promised, and sent it
off to Premier McBride, finance minister Tatlow and Charles Wilson,
the Attorney-General. Member H.T. Lockyer, in speaking to the resolution,
said that Mr. Tatlow had assured the Board that the matter would
be adjusted before the assessment was made up. Now, Lockyer said,
in the course of a couple of weeks the merchants of this city
would have to file their taxation returns . . . It is all very well
for the Hon. Mr. Tatlow to write such letters as that received by
the board and then go off on holiday trips, but the first of January,
1905, is approaching and the people wish to know where they stand.
The resolution passed without a dissenting voice.
A digression: in 1902 Tatlow had been the chairman of the Vancouver
The members unanimously passed a resolution urging
Vancouvers mercantile community to give its employees
a half-day off on October 6 to allow them to attend the Westminster
Fair in New Westminster. [A note: in August, 1910 Vancouver would
open its own annual exhibition. We know it today as the PNE.]
Riding the Rails!
We have often been surprised by items about the
Board in the newspaper stories of its early years, but this one
takes the cake! We can do no better than to just quote the story,
which appears on Page 2 of the Province for October 5, 1904:
Another matter of considerable importance
to Vancouver merchants was brought to the attention of the board
by Mr. Lockyer. It was the cancellation by the CPR of the privilege
of riding on freight trains in the past accorded to commercial travelers.
This privilege was granted until this spring, when the railroad
company put into effect its double daily transcontinental express
service. Upon the inauguration of that service it had been explained
to wholesalers that the company would not allow travelers to ride
on freights when two trains were operated daily east and west .
. . hereafter the travelers must confine their journeys to passenger
Mr. Lockyer pointed out that at many small
places along the CPR line there is no accommodation for travelers
who might be forced to lie over a night by reason of not being allowed
to travel on freights. Also, in small places a travelers work
can often be wound up in a couple of hours, and it is a matter of
great expense and loss of time that a traveler should be anchored
in such places for twenty-four hours awaiting a passenger train,
when he could get out in a few hours if allowed to travel by freight.
By reason of loss of time to travelers, wholesalers would have to
hire more travelers to cover the necessary ground in a given time
or lose their business . . .
A committee was formed to meet with the railway with a view to
changing its new rule.
What else was
happening locally in 1904?
For a once-over-lightly look at the history of The
Vancouver Board of Trade, go here.
Next: 1905 »