Back on June 28, 2004 I began a series of mini-articles for The Vancouver Sun. Every other Monday, on Page B2, alternating with Red Robinson, I’d write 200 words on an event in the region's past that occurred on the same day as the article appeared.

What appears below is some of that collection of articles. At about 200 words each they're not going to give you the whole story, but you may find them interesting. They are grouped by month.

January February March April May June
July August September October November December

January 2, 1929

There was a time when the southern boundary of Vancouver was 16th Avenue. To the south was, appropriately, the huge municipality of South Vancouver. In 1908 a big chunk of South Vancouver seceded and called itself Point Grey.

The two places were quite different. South Vancouver could be called a "blue collar" suburb, whereas the Canadian Pacific Railway owned a third of Point Grey and intended to make its property as posh as possible. So when a local real estate boom collapsed about 1913 the fates of the two towns were different. South Vancouver ran into severe financial difficulties and from 1918 to 1923 had to be administered by the provincial government. Point Grey struggled through.

A push for amalgamation with Vancouver (which had been tried before) began and was approved by both South Vancouver and Point Grey. On January 1, 1929 the new city—with a population of about 240,000—was born. And on January 2—exactly 77 years ago today—the first meeting of its city council was held. The new mayor, W.H. Malkin, was now the head of Canada’s third largest city.

Malkin paid a warm tribute to his predecessor, Mayor L.D. Taylor, giving him credit for the amalgamation.

January 3, 1949

The Sun's next-day Page One headline about the January 3, 1949 police raid on three local establishments is great: POLICE OPEN WAR ON NIGHT CLUB DRINKING.

Imagine! People drinking liquor in a nightclub! Next thing you know, they'll be dancing! Chief Constable Walter Mulligan warned that his dry squad men are “definitely going to tighten up on liquor drinking in cabarets.” Detectives swooped down on three cabarets and confiscated 13 bottles of liquor from underneath tables. Five were seized from the Cave Cabaret, two from the Palomar (one of the men summonsed at the Palomar was well-known entertainer Fran Dowie), and four more at the Mandarin.

The B.C. Cabaret Owners' Association blamed “rabid prohibitionists.”
“These attempted curbs on drinking,” they added, “will only drive drink into vice dens, autos and hotel rooms.”

Much has changed in 56 years, and we can thank the officials of the COA, among others, for that. “Figuratively rubbing their hands,” the Sun reported, “the COA said 'Good! At last we can fight a test case out in the open over B.C.'s ridiculous liquor laws.”

January 9, 1862

On January 9, 1862—exactly 144 years ago today—the Fraser River froze over from Lulu Island to Hope. You could walk from one side of the river to the other. In fact, the first reference to hockey being played in British Columbia notes the game was played on the frozen surface of the Fraser during this brutal cold snap. “Hockey sticks were fashioned from cedar,” writes John Cherrington in The Fraser Valley: A History, “and the male portion of the population—bureaucrats, parsons, storekeepers, woodsmen and Indians alike were all engaged in this exciting game upon the broad river.” The local native people said it was the coldest winter in their history.

“Cattle and horses died along the upper river,” Cherrington tells us, “and some settlers starved to death.”

In his memoirs, the Reverend John Sheepshanks—who had taken part in that hockey game—wrote: "I cannot easily comb my hair, for it is frozen together. All the bed clothes near my mouth are stiff with ice. When one proceeds to breakfast, the cups and saucers are stuck hard to the cupboard. The bread is frozen, and must be put into the oven before it can be eaten." Feel warmer now?

January 10, 1970

A new phenomenon in passenger aviation arose back in 1970 and the Sun sent business writer Phil Hanson down to Seattle to report on it. “Almost 30 huge Boeing 747 jumbo jets,” Hanson wrote 35 years ago today, “painted in the colors of half a dozen world airlines line the apron at the Boeing Company's new complex at Everett, Wash.

“These jets, first of 192 in Boeing's order book, will trickle into airline service during the next few months to pioneer a new era in mass air travel.” The first airline to use the 747, Pan American Airways, introduced them January 22 on its New York to London service. A year after its launch nearly 100 of the planes were being operated by 17 airlines and the number of passengers had increased to seven million. (Air Canada had them by the spring of 1971, CP Air by 1973.) The 747 changed air travel forever, made it affordable to millions of people who'd never flown before.

But that was then. Today, the amount of fuel it gulps is too expensive and the number of 747s has gone away down. More than 100 are “parked,” unused.

By the way, the Sun's Phil Hanson was one of the first Canadians to fly in a 747. Boeing flew him and a few other reporters down to Seattle in one.

January 15, 1974

The Knight Street Bridge opened to traffic January 15, 1974 — 33 years ago today. This is one of the busiest, noisiest stretches in the city, which did a traffic survey four years ago to discover that anywhere from 38,000 to 55,000 vehicles cross the bridge every working day.

Nine per cent of those vehicles are trucks. So if you spent, say, ten daylight hours tomorrow counting trucks crossing the bridge you could tally more than 400 an hour. One every 10 seconds or so. For ten hours.

Why so many? The Clark Drive/Knight Street corridor runs eight kilometres from the Port and industrial areas in the north of the city, then crosses the North Arm of the Fraser, connecting Vancouver and Richmond, and feeds onto Highways 91 and 99. That’s a recipe for heavy industrial traffic.

Away back in 1929 the city tabbed Clark/Knight as a six-lane arterial route, but the corridor didn’t really get busy until the Knight Street Bridge was built. (It replaced the old Fraser Street Bridge (1893-1974)). It took five years to build, cost about $15 million. Part of that money paid for electric heating cables in the deck to minimize the use of de-icing salt.

January 16, 1953

The novel Tobacco Road had been out for 21 years, a play based on it ran on Broadway for 3,182 performances, and a movie had appeared in 1941, but when the stage production of Erskine Caldwell’s book hit Vancouver in 1953 there was one hell-thumpin’ ruckus in these parts.

Tobacco Road was about the trials and tribulations of Jeeter Lester and his family, folks for whom the phrase “poor white trash” was invented. The language was crude (for the time) and at one point Vancouver actor Doug Haskins, with his back to the audience, appeared to be peeing into a cornfield.

Someone complained to the police and on January 16, 1953—53 years ago today—nine members of the Vancouver Police walked out on stage at the Avon Theatre during the third act and arrested five members of the cast on obscenity charges. The audience, nearly 1,000 strong, protested loudly, then—after brief remarks by the director, Dorothy Davies—settled back into their seats to wait.

Ninety minutes later, bail of $100 each having been paid, the five performers returned and finished the play. The charges were later dropped.

The Avon Theatre, at 142 East Hastings, is still around and, under its original name, the Pantages, is slated for rehabilitation.

January 17, 1933

On Tuesday, January 17, 1933—72 years ago today—the Sun turned its newsroom over to students from the University of British Columbia. Staff of the Ubyssey, the student newspaper, took over the layout, placement of stories, the editorial and sports pages, and more.

The Page One story with the most space devoted to it asked several distinguished citizens whether a university education gave a person an advantage in the workplace. The answer, not surprising given that all the people interviewed were UBC faculty, was that it did. Number two story, in terms of space, told how the university was still managing although its budget had been cut. (We were in the depths of the Depression.) Other Page One stories told of a holdup at the Mount View Beer Parlor, a pending visit to the Chicago World's Fair by the Kitsilano Boys' Band, the funeral of Premier Tolmie's wife, name not given, and the return from Europe of lumber executive H.R. MacMillan, who saw better days ahead.

Familiar names pop out of the list of 30 Ubyssey people who worked on the paper that day: Norman Hacking, Dick Elson and 19-year-old Stu Keate, who would become the Sun's publisher 31 years later.

January 23, 1939

Charles Marega’s work is all over town: the statue of George Vancouver at City Hall, the bust of second mayor David Oppenheimer and the Harding Memorial, both in Stanley Park, the caryatids on the Old Sun Tower, the heads of Vancouver and Harry Burrard on the Burrard Street Bridge . . . and the lions that stand at the southern entrance to the Lions Gate Bridge.

The lions were installed January 23, 1939, 67 years ago today.

Marega researcher Peggy Imredy has a copy of a letter he wrote about the commission. “Thank God I have work now. I am modelling a lion for Vancouver's suspension bridge. I had much trouble to get the work. The engineer is from Montreal and wanted the lion to be modelled in Montreal. But the president of the bridge committee, a long friend of mine . . . finally assigned the work to me. I would have preferred the lions to be in bronze or stone—but it has to be cheap, so they will be done in concrete, which annoys me, as I could have otherwise have made both lions from one model. However, I have to content myself to get work at all.”

Two months later, at the age of 67, Charles Marega was dead of a heart attack.

January 24, 1957

One of the great stories in BC's history began 48 years ago today—January 24, 1957—when 214 Hungarian refugees (200 students and 14 faculty members) arrived at the Matsqui train station. They were from the Hungarian Forestry School in Sopron, Hungary. Two months earlier Sopron, and other Hungarian cities, had been invaded by Soviet troops. “Attempts to resist the approaching Soviet tanks,” Professor Antal Kozak wrote, “were futile. About 450 students and 50 professors and their families left Sopron fleeing across the open borders to Austria. Of these, about 250 were from the forestry school. This was not a planned departure . . . The Faculty of Forestry at UBC offered to 'adopt' the Sopron University of Forestry and guaranteed its maintenance for five years until the current students graduated.”

By May 1961 the last Sopron class graduated. (They had started their classes in Hungarian, upped the English content as they progressed.) Most of the 140 graduates decided to stay and work in Canada. That picture, taken at UBC December 3, 2001 by George Draskoy, was taken during the UBC forestry faculty's 50th anniversary. The people shown are singing the Hungarian Foresters' Hymn. “The Hymn,” says Professor Kozak, obscured in the back row, “describes briefly the wonderful life of the young foresters in the Hungarian forests.”

January 29, 1891

Just two weeks after B.T. Rogers oversaw the first production of sugar at his brand-new plant on the Vancouver waterfront, he proudly guided a number of local notables through the place. That tour happened January 29, 1891 — 116 years ago today — and the Vancouver Daily World gave it extensive coverage. The “prominent citizens” on that tour included just about everybody who was anybody in the not-quite-five-year-old city. Mayor David Oppenheimer led the party, which included six aldermen, CPR officials, the US consul, bank managers and others.

Benjamin Tingley Rogers had performed an extraordinary feat. At age 24 this ambitious Philadelphia-born man had persuaded Vancouver city council to give him a $30,000 subsidy to build his refinery. Rogers’ father, Samuel, was a professional sugar maker and B.T. had learned the trade early. When he discovered that Canada was building a railway to the Pacific, putting it in easy reach of the Philippines, source of most of North America’s sugar at the time, he acted quickly.

The story is told, thoroughly and colorfully, in John Schreiner’s excellent 1989 book, The Refiners. Incidentally, the first sugar produced was purchased by Mayor Oppenheimer for his Oppenheimer Brothers wholesale food firm. Both companies are still around.

January 30, 1960

From The Vancouver Sun of January 30, 1960, exactly 46 years ago today: “Arthur Frederick Jones, photographer, was having lunch in the PNE’s Terrace Room when he was called to the telephone in the kitchen. Leaning over a hot stove with the receiver to his ear, Jones heard a voice from the Sun’s editorial staff. ‘Let me be the first to congratulate you.’

“‘Why?’ said Jones.

“‘You just won the television licence.’

“‘Oh, no,’ said Jones.”

That was how Art Jones, 34, learned he and his partners in Vantel Broadcasting had been given the okay by the Board of Broadcast Governors, the predecessor to the CRTC, to launch Vancouver’s first private television station. (CBUT, the CBC outlet, had signed on December 16, 1953.) Jones was genuinely astounded that his group had won the bid. “I knew we had a chance,” he said, “but I certainly wasn’t confident.”

They would call the new station CHAN.

“On October 31, 1960 at 4:30 p.m.,” Art told me, “we went on the air from 1219 Richards. We put our dish on the roof of a two-storey building next door. We had to lease the building.”

Art turned 80 a few days ago. He’s still in television, hosting a weekly interview show. (Note: Art died at 80 April 7, 2006, a little over two months after this item appeared.

January 31, 1947

The centennial of Congregation Schara Tzedeck will happen in 2007, but the building associated with it—the synagogue at Oak and West 19th—got its start January 31, 1947, just 58 years ago today, when Vancouver mayor Gerry McGeer officiated at the sod-turning ceremonies.

Schara Tzedeck (SHAW-ra TZED-ek) was known in 1907 as B'Nai Yehuda (Sons of Israel), and worshippers—there weren't many—had to meet in rented halls or private homes. By 1911 the Jewish community here had grown large enough to warrant building a 600-seat synagogue at the corner of Heatley and Pender. In 1917 they changed their name to Schara Tzedeck (“Gates of Righteousness”).
They would be in that building for more than 30 years. By then many of the city's Jews were living near and around Cambie and Oak Streets, so this new synagogue was built to be closer. “By the end of World War II,” historian Cyril Leonoff writes, “the Jewish community had completely deserted Strathcona.”

Vancouver lawyer Jack Kowarsky wrote a history of the congregation in 1984, its 77th anniversary (the number 7 is considered especially lucky), and says Schara Tzedeck was the largest synagogue west of Montreal. It's still the largest Orthodox synagogue in Vancouver, and was dedicated as a memorial to Jewish war veterans.

More SunSpots »