March 6, 1945
If you were here on March 6, 1945exactly 60
years ago todayyou will remember the waterfront explosion
of the 10,000-ton freighter Greenhill Park, easily the most
spectacular and disastrous event in the port's history. Four explosions
wracked the ship and blew a gaping hole in her side. Eight longshoremen
were killed, 19 other workers were injured, seven firemen ended
up in hospital and hundreds of windows in downtown Vancouver, some
as far west as Thurlow and as far north as Dunsmuir, were blown
out. Whole office blocks facing Burrard Inlet had scarcely a pane
of glass intact.
The war against Japan was in its final stages and
some people thought the Japanese had begun to bomb the city.
A 1,500-page report released two months after the
blast concluded the explosion had resulted from improper stowage
of combustible, dangerous and explosive material . . . and the ignition
thereof by a lighted match.
In June of 1946 the Greenhill Park, repaired, sailed
away from Vancouver as the S.S. Phaex II under the new ownership
of a Greek company. By 1967, as the Lagos Michigan, she was
sold to Formosan shipbreakers for scrap.
March 7, 1913
Pauline Johnson was ill in 1912 with breast cancer,
a patient at the Bute Street Hospital. Her illness was noted in
newspapers all across Canada, because she was our most famous poet.
The country had never seen (or heard) anyone like her before—her
father was a Mohawk chief—and she was an immediate star. To
attract crowds,” says a web site devoted to her, she recited
the first half of her program in a ball gown. For the second half
she recited her 'Indian' poems in a costume which she made herself
from buckskin, Mohawk metal work, rabbit pelts, a hunting knife,
her grandfather's Huron scalp and another scalp which she bought
from someone in the American mid-west.”
In 1909, after 17 years of touring, she retired
and came to live in Vancouver.
By 1912 she was in the hospital—and in financial difficulty—when
the Governor General, the Duke of Connaught, came to visit. He wanted
to reminisce about the day in 1869 when he had been made an honorary
chief of the Six Nations at its Ontario reserve. (She had been at
that ceremony.) The prospective visit disturbed her, because her
dressing gown was shabby and she couldn't afford a better one.
Friends chipped in to buy her a new one.
Few read her poetry today, but Johnson's retelling
of local Indian legends has lasted and her image is an enduring
icon. She died at age 51 on March 7, 1913—92 years ago today.
March 12, 1921
The opening of the Capitol Theatre at 820 Granville
Street on March 12, 1921 86 years ago today was big
news. The Capitol was a movie palace, and a big one: 2,500 seats,
in a day when movies were still silent. It was also, say old timers,
a very beautiful theatre, thanks to architect Thomas Lamb. To add
even more glamor to the opening Famous Players brought in one of
the biggest movie stars of the day, Wallace Reid. The capacity crowd
was thrilled when Reid burst through a paper screen on which his
image was being projected to appear live on stage. Then a bit of
buffoonery followed. Reid was smoking a cigarettenot allowed
in the theatre. Vancouver mayor Robert Gale came storming on stage,
grabbed the cigarette from Reid and stubbed it out. The gag? Gale
himself was smoking.
The big Capitol Symphony Orchestra (accompanied
by two live canaries), led by William Raven, played during Reids
movie The Love Special. Reid played a locomotive engineer,
seeking the love of co-star Agnes Ayres.
The original Capitol was gutted and reshaped to
become, in 1977, a six-screen multiplex theatre. It closed for good
in April, 2005 and is to be replaced by condos.
March 13, 1929
Vancouver mayor W.H. Malkin, standing amid a crowd
of onlookers at the corner of Burrard and Hastings Streets at 9:30
on the morning of March 13, 1929, blew a shrill blast on a golden
whistle, a signal for a huge steam shovel to clank into action.
The big machine took a bite out of the ground and the construction
of the Marine Building was under way. The crowdmost of them
from The Vancouver Board of Tradeapplauded warmly.
That momentous event, 77 years ago today, would
give us a building that has been a city icon ever since. It was
the tallest building in Canada west of Toronto, a symbol of the
feverish optimism about Vancouvers future: Less than
six months ago, The Vancouver Sun wrote in its Page
One story, Capt. F.C. Johnson, president of G.A. Stimson &
Co., was so impressed with the future prospects of the city that
he paid $300,000 for the site . . .
That optimism extended to the building itself: the
architects, McCarter & Nairne, were told, again and again, to
enlarge it. The final design, their fourth, presented an imposing
total, the Sun said, of 134,000 square feet of office
The building opened in October, 1930, bringing genuine
beauty to the citys downtown.
March 14, 1958
Vancouver's main post office opened March 14, 1958—47
years ago today. The building looks rather stolid, but in this case
looks are deceptive: the joint is jumping, and it jumps 24 hours
a day. More than a thousand people work in these million-plus square
feet, trucks roll in and out constantly, conveyor belts (three kilometres
of them) rumble, letter-sorting gizmos pluck and shuffle, processing
a couple of million items a day (six million a day at Christmas),
and we learn from Canada Post's web site that in the month that
ends March 17 there will have been 306,366 separate letter-carrier
walks in Vancouver alone.
The building cost $13 million, and was at the time
the largest welded-steel structure in the world. They put a helicopter
landing pad on the roof, but used it just twice before they decided
helicopter mail delivery was too expensive. They built a tunnel
with a conveyor belt leading all the way to the CPR station, but
they hardly ever used that, either. Trucks and planes were faster.
So the tunnel is obsolete . . . or maybe not: In
1996 Canada Post's lease on it was renewed. Says the city, Some
economic or utility use for the tunnel may materialize.”
March 20, 1925
The biggest local story of the mid-1920s? No contest:
the murder of Janet Smith. Still unsolved, her killing in July,
1924 and the events that grew out of it made Page One of The
Vancouver Sun every dayevery single dayfor months.
She was a Scotland-born nursemaid, 22, taking care of the infant
child of F.L. Baker, a socially prominent exporter of pharmaceutical
drugs. The Baker home was at 3851 Osler Avenue in Shaughnessy.
It took Edward Starkins a whole book (Who Killed
Janet Smith?) to tell the story, which involved incompetent
investigation, drug smuggling (and not the pharmaceutical kind),
rumors of orgies, a political coverup going right up to the attorney-generals
office . . . and racism.
On March 20, 192581 years ago todayvigilantes
dressed in the hooded robes of the Ku Klux Klan kidnapped the Bakers
Chinese houseboy, Wong Foon Sing, and kept him prisoner for six
weeks. They beat him harshly (his eardrum was ruptured), trying
to force a confession from him. They finally let him go, dumping
him out on the street, when they realized he knew nothing of the
crime. The men were later jailed.
The kidnapping of Wong was just one bizarre element
in a story that had dozens more.
March 21, 1985
Can it really be 20 years ago today that Rick Hansen
began his Man in Motion journey? Rick's goal: to push himself around
the world in his wheelchair 24,901.55 miles, equal to the world's
circumference. The reason: to raise money for spinal cord research.
Rick had been grievously injured in June of 1973
when a truck he'd hitched a ride on overturned. He was a paraplegic
at 15, a kid with, in his own words, three obsessions: fishing,
hunting—and sports. Always sports. If you could throw it, hit it,
bounce it, chase it or run with it, I wanted to play it. And usually
I could do it pretty well.”
A long, painful (and sometimes angry and self-pitying)
stretch of rehab followed, then Rick got into wheelchair sports.
He was mentored by Stan Stronge, to whom he pays special respect
in his autobiography—written with Jim Taylor, it's a splendid book.
And then he met Terry Fox. Terry's heroic 1980 Marathon
of Hope—and the millions it raised for cancer research—inspired
Rick. Rick's journey ended May 22, 1987 to the cheers of thousands
at Oakridge, where it had started 26 months earlier. Today, the
Rick Hansen Foundation has funneled $158 million into research on
spinal cord injury.
March 26, 1915
Winning the Stanley Cup for Vancouver wasnt
a big deal in 1915. When our Millionaires won the Cup March 26,
1915 92 years ago today the story was buried on Page
7 of The Vancouver Sun, with no reference on the front page.
Our hunch is a repeat win for Vancouver would now
make the front page.
The star of the three-game sweep against the Ottawa
Senators was the Millionaires Fred Cyclone Taylor,
a zippy gent who had once played for Ottawa. Cyclone was a particular
target of the Ottawa team, and had to be helped off the ice after
a crushing hit in Game 2. It didnt slow him down much: he
scored two more goals in Game 3, bringing his series total to six.
(Barney Stanley did pretty well for the Millionaires, too, scoring
three goals in the second period of that third game.)
One of the rules back then was curious: when a player
was penalized and sent off, another player could take his place.
The teams who played all three games at the Denman Arena
were playing under eastern rules, which included
that bizarre provision.
Its been more than ninety years since the
Stanley Cup was here. Were due.
March 27, 1993
The next time you take your kids for a ride on the
Parker Carousel at Burnabys Village Museum you might find
it interesting to know that merry-go-rounds have a violent history.
They began in mediaeval times as training machines for knights in
battle. They sat on planks arranged in a circle around a centrepost.
As they were spun around (by animal or human power), the knights
would try to thrust their lances through a small stationary ring
that represented the head of their opponent in a jousting match.
The non-violent Parker Carousel was built in 1912
in Kansas, and delighted young riders in many different American
cities until May of 1936 when it was bought by Happyland at the
PNE. It operated there until Happyland was demolished in 1957. Then
it went into a small pavilion at Playland and was there until that
was demolished in 1972. For the next 17 years, the Museums
web site tells us, the carousel was operated outdoors and was put
away in the winter.
In 1989 Burnaby bought the big beauty (for $350,000)
and put it into its own pavilion as a centennial project. It went
into operation at the Village Museum March 27, 1993 13 years
ago today. Its interesting history is here.
March 28, 1964
It's just after midnight on March 28, 1964—41 years
ago today—and people in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, listening
to radio reports of a major earthquake in Alaska, are bracing for
a tsunami heading their way. The Alaska quake had a magnitude of
9.2, strongest in North America's recorded history (felt over 1.3
million square kilometres), lasted more than three minutes, and
caused enormous damage, especially in Anchorage. More than a hundred
people were killed in the state, many more to the giant waves than
to collapsing buildings.
Four hours later the first wave of the tsunami came surging up the
narrow 40-kilometre-long Alberni Inlet—it cuts more than halfway
across the island—and hit the town of 19,000 hard. There was extensive
flooding all along the inlet. But a second wave was coming, and
it was bigger and more dangerous. The narrowness of the inlet meant
the height of the water was magnified. When the second wave hit
it smashed down like a fist onto Port Alberni, damaging nearly 400
homes. More than 50 of them were destroyed beyond repair. Luckily,
because of the warning, no lives were lost. But damage was extensive
on the BC coast.
And hours later 11 people died under the tsunami
when it hit Crescent City, California.
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