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September 5, 1940

1940 was a nervously busy year in wartime Greater Vancouver. Local shipyards were building corvettes and minesweepers for action in the Atlantic, and converting passenger ships for wartime use. (One converted cruise ship, the Prince Robert, promptly went into service in 1940, seizing a German freighter off the coast of Mexico and bringing her to Esquimalt as a prize of war.) The Commonwealth Air Training Plan was training its first pilots. Peat moss was being extracted from Delta's Burns Bog for the manufacture of magnesium fire bombs, and plans were afoot for the Boeing Aircraft factory in Richmond to produce parts for the B 29 Superfortress.

The St. Roch had sailed from Vancouver in June, heading through the Canadian Arctic, her departure unreported because of wartime security. Equally unreported: the departure for Europe of the second contingent of the Canadian Active Service Force.

There was a brand-new British prime minister, Winston Churchill, and a brand-new crisis: the retreat May 28/29 from Dunkirk.

A boost in morale was called for: on September 5, 1940—exactly 65 years ago today—an order in council decreed that all BC school children must salute the flag and sing God Save the King at least once a week.

September 6, 1921

We can thank a former Victoria mayor and an American railroad man for the International Peace Arch that straddles the Canada-US border at the Douglas crossing. Alfred Todd had been mayor of Victoria from 1917 to 1920, and in that latter year he and his wife Ada went on a motoring trip down to Mexico. Roads were terrible, and Todd determined to work for better ones. Enter Sam Hill, a Seattle philanthropist who had also decided that what America needed was paved roads. He joined forces with Todd, who was now president of the Pacific Highway Association, to promote construction of a paved highway from Vancouver to Tijuana, Mexico. It was Todd who suggested that at the point where that highway crossed the Canada/US border a monument to peace should be erected, a celebration of the century of peace between the two countries.

Enthusiasm for the Arch was immediate. One example: More than 3,000 sacks of concrete used in its construction were donated by R.P. Butchart of Victoria's Butchart's Gardens.

The Arch was dedicated before a vast crowd September 6, 1921—exactly 83 years ago today. BC's premier John Oliver attended, coming from Victoria in a boat and anchoring at Blaine with nearly 400 other people. Victoria's 72nd Seaforth Highlanders band played the US national anthem and the Bellingham Elks band played God Save the King.

One inscription on the Arch reads “May These Gates Never Be Closed.” It hasn't happened yet.

September 12, 1902

On September 15, 1902 a contract was let for the excavation for the Anew Woodward Departmental Stores Co., Limited, building on the corner of Hastings and Abbott streets.” Charles Woodward hadn't wasted any time. He'd incorporated Woodward's Department Stores just three days earlier, on September 12—exactly 103 years ago today—and borrowed $79,000 to pay for the building. (He had had an earlier, much more modest store on Westminster Avenue—Main Street today.)

The lot itself (big enough to hold a building 66 feet wide on Hastings and 132 feet long on Abbott) hadn't cost Woodward much: it was a swamp eight feet below the sidewalk elevation. The city drained it for him. The new store opened November 4, 1903.

Twenty years later Woodward put a lofty tower atop his store. It was 75 feet high, patterned after the Eiffel Tower, and topped with a big revolving searchlight that could be seen as far away as Vancouver Island. At the base of the tower a huge letter W sat. When the Second World War started the federal government ordered the light removed, so in 1944 Woodward put the W—16 feet high and weighing three tons—on top of the tower.

It's been up there ever since.

September 13, 1947

On Saturday, September 13, 1947—57 years ago today—the Sun reported that the City of Vancouver had conducted a survey and discovered that more than 18,500 automobiles were driven in downtown Vancouver every day, “And there would be more than that if there was sufficient parking space.”

The survey determined that 6,000 of those drivers used their cars for transportation to work in the downtown. “Another 12,500 persons drive down for shopping, business calls and sales calls.”

Today? Jason Lam of the City's Traffic Engineering Department has figures that show—for 2003, latest available—that an average of 273,410 vehicles enter downtown every day, nearly 15 times the 1947 total.

But that 1947 survey covered more than traffic. It also revealed that the average shopper would be willing to pay 10 cents an hour for parking, 15 cents for two hours “And 35 cents for all-day accommodation.”

We had parking meters back then, and the rate was five cents for an hour. (And the average wage was about $175 a month.)

September 19, 1995

The very first event in General Motors Place was a concert by Bryan Adams on September 19, 1995—exactly 10 years ago today. He was already a superstar: his breakthrough album, Cuts Like a Knife, had come out 12 years earlier, and he'd had four hits from it. He brought out Reckless in late 1984, and that spawned five hits and went platinum. Then came 1991's Waking Up the Neighbors with the mega-monster tune (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.

No wonder 20,000 people showed up to pack the place. The Vancouver Sun's Katherine Monk reviewed the show (“. . . more than two non-stop hours of solid gold hits”), and wrote that "Vancouver's hometown rocker proved he can play, and play and play—and then play some more." She beefed about the $5 pizzas, though.
Adams gave a nice plug to the Vancouver Canucks—who would play their first game in the new facility on the 23rd—by introducing Pavel Bure and Gino Odjick to the crowd. Four days later the Canucks had that pre-season meeting with Anaheim's Mighty Ducks, and won it 4-3.

The big building was also home, briefly, to the Vancouver Grizzlies. Remember them? First game: November 3, 1995. Last game: April 18, 2001.

September 20, 1954

A lot of well-known local newspaper people worked for the News-Herald in its 24 years of life: Pierre Berton (its first city editor, at age 21), Barry Broadfoot, Himie Koshevoy and Clancy Loranger, to name a few.

Most of the early staff were people who'd worked for the Star and lost their jobs when its publisher killed that paper in early 1932 after the printers refused to take a pay cut. (The Great Depression was in full flower at the time.) There were no jobs at the Sun or the Province, so they decided to start their own paper.

Editor Pat Kelly: “Everybody kept telling us what we were already pretty sure of—that it would require about half-a-million dollars to carry out our plan. In the winter of 1932 they might just as well have made it a billion.” But some of the editorial staff canvassed local business people and astonished themselves by securing signed pledges totalling $5,000. That was $495,000 short of the ideal, but they started anyway.

From its first four-page issue April 24, 1933 the paper struggled. Reporters sat on orange crates and two or three would share one typewriter. The second-hand press quit, and the first issue had to be cranked out manually. The staff used their pocket combs to fold the sheets. They rented a tiny building at 426 Homer Street, and knocked a hole in its wall to get to the typographical shop next door.

The News-Herald had two big competitors, both evening papers: The Province, with a circulation at the time of more than 90,000 and the Sun, circulation somewhere around 65,000. The newcomer started with a circulation of 10,000 and took 14 years to get up to 40,000+.

On September 20, 1954—50 years ago today—the paper shortened its name to the Herald and moved into a new, larger building on Georgia Street. Then newspaper magnate Roy Thomson bought the paper and, in less than three years, citing expenses, shut her down.

Last issue: June 15, 1957.

September 26, 1971

It had taken 57 years, but on September 26, 1971—exactly 34 years ago today—the last stone was laid in the Stanley Park Seawall. The wall was conceived to prevent erosion of the park's foreshore, but would accomplish something else just as important: the most magnificent nine-kilometre walk in Canada.

Midway between Prospect Point and Siwash Rock a small group of dignitaries—watched by about 150 spectators—gathered with trowels and dollops of cement to tap the wall's last block into place. The group included H.H. Stevens, 92, who as Conservative MP for Vancouver riding at the time had been one of the seawall's original promoters. (In 1920 Stevens would arrange for 2,300 unemployed men to work on the wall.)

One person who, regrettably, wasn't present at the ceremony—he had died in 1963—was a man who had spent more than 30 years working on the wall. His name was Jimmy Cunningham, a master stonemason, and so dedicated to the work that he once left his sickbed and went down to the wall in his pyjamas to see how his crew was doing. His ashes are tucked away within the wall in an unmarked location.
Jimmy and his crew gave us something wonderful.

September 27, 1979

It's possible that Foncie photographed more people than anybody else in the world. In 1934 20-year-old Foncie Pulice (he pronounced it “police”) set up a camera on the sidewalk on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver and began taking pictures of passersby. He wasn't the only one doing this at the time. Sidewalk photographers were taking candid shots of individuals, couples and family and other groups walking by in most major Canadian cities. They'd hand them a numbered ticket with an invitation to drop by their shop later to buy a copy of the picture. What made Pulice unique in the trade is the length of time he kept at it: 45 years. For the last 33 years of his career he used the same camera: His Electric-Photo camera—now preserved at the Vancouver Museum—was as familiar a local landmark as the Marine Building. And he took a lot of photos. “At one time,” he once said, AI was taking 4,000 to 5,000 pictures every day.”

All across Canada and in other countries there are thousands and thousands of Foncie's Fotos, showing thousands and thousands of people striding along the street, captured in motion in unposed moments that may be closer to the spirit of the people shown than any carefully composed studio portrait.

The late Foncie Pulice was the last of the street photographers. He took his first street photo in 1934. He took his last on September 27, 1979, exactly 25 years ago today.

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