On Tuesday 5th June 1923, Vancouver was enjoying a heat wave, with noontime temperatures close to 80 across the city. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a storm erupted east of the city, moving rapidly west, moving first over Grandview and then much of downtown.
“Great crashing in the heavens and flashes of flame from the black heavy clouds, accompanied by one of the worst downpours of rain experienced for years, blown by a wind of almost cyclonic velocity,” said the Province.
Two bolts of lightning ten minutes apart did much of the damage. A blue ball of electricity formed on the BCER trolley wire on Cambie Street, rolling and jumping along the wire towards Hastings Street. Trees were uprooted, windows were blown in, signboards were wrenched from walls.
At the corner of Commercial and Kitchener, lighting struck a telephone pole, splitting the timber ten feet down from the top. Another pole was struck at Commercial and Charles. A Grandview woman pressing clothes with an electric iron received a shock so great it knocked her over. People reported minor shocks near other utility poles.
Sources: Sun 1923 June 6, p,1, 12; Province June 6, p.24
Fifty-seven years ago this week, a Vietnamese nun poured gasoline and set fire to herself in Hue. Twenty-seven years ago today, Timothy Leary died in his sleep.
After all these years, I honestly don’t know whether Dr. Leary’s work helped us understand why the monk’s death was important to us, or whether he helped mask us from the true meaning by taking us elsewhere. Many saw no conflict in actively protesting and actively tripping. In fact, many claimed then that the “enlightenment” received through herbal and chemical stimulation was an important component of our political activism. These days, I wonder more often whether we were just bullshitting ourselves and simply following the pleasure principle.
In the end, of course, both the revered Buddhist martyr and the revered western materialist trod the same path into being and nothingness.
Today would have been the 98th birthday of the revered Malcolm X. Murdered by adherents of the Nation of Islam (NOI), Ossie Davis called him “our shining black prince”.
After years in the NOI’s leadership, Malcolm renounced the inherent racism of that organization and the alleged financial, political, and moral corruption of Elijah Mohammed. Without ever caving to white power, and maintaining his belief in the ultimate weapon of armed struggle, he sought, through Sunni Muslim beliefs, to raise the self-esteem of blacks in America.
Malcolm X’s “Autobiography” stands with Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and Nelson Mandela’s speech on his release from prison as the most influential statements of civil rights in the twentieth century.
Forty-three years ago today, early on a Sunday morning, I was in North Vancouver at a friend’s house with a bunch of other folks recovering from what had been a major party the night before. My eyes hurt, my head hurt, and I was sure that the big bang I heard, and the small tremors that swept up my legs, were all part of the painful recovery process. But I wasn’t the only one to hear and feel those things, and we began to wonder.
There was no internet or 24-hour news stations then, and it was probably a while before we learned what had gone on south of us.
Mount St. Helens had blown its head off, and for hours we sat around watching KOMO or KING, gazing in awe as dust settled on towns for miles around, gazing in awe at the power of the mountain.
On Friday, 18th May 1923, John Y. Steel received a $3,000 building permit for a new store at 1544 Commercial. Steel had operated a dry goods business at 1584 Commercial since 1918. This image from 1922 shows the empty lot beside the corner block.
Steel had moved into his new building by the spring of 1924 and he stayed there until he sold the business to Frank Frost in 1928. Frost’ Dry Goods was a great success, surviving through Depression and War until April 1953. This image shows the store in 1939.
In the middle 1950s, a greengrocer and a salvage store used the space. But in 1956 it was taken over by Manufacturers’ Outlet flooring until the early 1980s. For most of the time since then, the building has been part of the Kalena Shoe empire.
Today is the 53rd anniversary of Ohio National Guardsman shooting dead four unarmed students at Kent State. Eleven other kids were injured.
Although the President’s Commission on Campus Violence equivocated and blamed both Guardsmen and students, it did finally conclude that “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
It was murder, pure and simple, though the US justice system refused to press charges against the Guardsmen. After all, as Nixon himself said just a few days before the massacre, student protesters were just bums.
Friday 27th April 1923 began as an ordinary working day. That afternoon, Drive power-broker and realtor Charles Smith was driving his touring car south on Commercial. He had in the car with him a Mr Wilbrand who was looking for a property, and a Mr. Robinson who seems to have been just along for the ride.
Smith was in the process of turning east on 2nd Avenue when he realized that a large industrial truck was bearing down on them at speed, and that a collision could not be avoided. Smith yanked the car out of the way, but mounted the sidewalk and ran into a number of women talking at the corner. Mrs. Boulton, wife of the storekeeper at Commercial & 1st, was mortally injured and died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
The truck that Smith was trying to avoid — carrying a load of cider barrels for Van Brothers — locked up its wheels as it skidded to avoid the car, grazed the sidewalk causing the barrels to fly though the air. One cider barrel struck Mrs Thomas Fea outside Thomas Cahill’s Grandview Grocery Store, throwing her against a telegraph pole, damaging her back and legs. Another of the barrels hit Smith’s car, leaving a big dent.
Smith was arrested for manslaughter and was released later on $10,000 bail. At the Coroner’s hearing, the police charged that Smith had “tried to beat” the truck to the turn but had miscalculated. The coroner’s jury agreed, placing responsibility for the accident fully on Smith. In May, Smith was committed to trial.
Sources: Province 1923 Apr 28, p.1, 23; 30, p.13; Vancouver Daily World Apr 28, p.2; 30, p.11; May 17, p.9; Sun Apr 29, p.1
Monday 19th March 1923 saw the first running of motor buses as scheduled units within the BC Electric system. It seems self-evident to us today that the bus would eventually take over the role in transit that streetcars used to serve. But in 1923, this was still a new and exciting development, allowing better access to and from Grandview and Hastings Townsite. The Province raved that the new service had been “awaited with keen interest” in Grandview.
The first route of this extension began at Broadway & Commercial, travelled SE along Grandview Highway to 13th Avenue and then on to Renfrew to 22nd and along 22nd to Rupert. One bus handled the service in the beginning, but a second bus would enter service later.
The two buses each cost $7,500 to purchase and a total of $20,000 to put on the road. The company made great efforts to ensure everyone was aware that the buses were part of the BC Electric fleet; each car is furnished inside and out in the same style as the company’s streetcars, and ticketing and transfers were the same as the rest of the system. Each bus was rated for 35 passengers, with 21 seated and 14 standing.
Sources: Province 1923 Jan 16, p. 13; Feb 17, p.5; Mar 9, p. 14; Mar 16, p.4; Vancouver Daily World Jan 10, p.2, 3; Mar 19, p.9; Apr 4, p.9; Sun, Mar 19, p.11
On Friday 9th February 1923, movie-goers at the Grandview Theatre on Commercial got their first chance to see fan-favourite Harold Lloyd as a country doctor who cures a girl (Mildred Davis); she promptly falls in love with him to the ire of her father (John T. Prince.)
Having been released at the end of November, “Dr. Jack” was already one of the top ten box office hits of 1922.
If that wasn’t enough for your nickel, there was also a baritone and a dance!
When I was 8 years old, my parents had very little money and we lived in what today would be called a slum. We couldn’t afford magazines or anything of the sort, but we did get the Daily Mirror. The walls of my bedroom were covered in smudgy newspaper black-and-white photos of my heroes, Manchester United, and, most especially, their young superstar Duncan Edwards.
Sixty-five years ago today, an airplane carrying the team on a flight from Munich back to England crashed on take-off in the snow. Twenty people died at the scene, including ten players and trainers, and three others, including Duncan Edwards, died later from their injuries. It was a tragedy that brought England to a standstill.
Clubs didn’t have huge bank accounts in those days and the disaster almost caused the club to fold. In the end it took manager Matt Busby (who had been seriously injured in the crash) ten years to rebuild the team and win another championship. Being young, I didn’t have the patience to wait, and I had already switched my allegiance to Chelsea by then.
The Vancouver dailies included scores of pages of ads. Many of them were corporate material just trying to sell you stuff; but a significant number were “swap” ads, where individuals offered up something in exchange for something else. For example, on Saturday 3rd February 1923, someone offered a short silk plush coat with fur collar and cuffs in exchange for “anything useful.”
Someone else was willing to swap their Edison phonograph and records for a heater or pullets.
A bed with dresser, skates and boots, a Briscoe roadster “in good shape,” 40 acres of unimproved land in the Okanagan, an 8-day clock and a Mackinaw coat were offered. A late model light touring car, a lot in South Vancouver, chickens, and a modern typewriter were sought after items.
Several people offered help around the property in exchange for rent.
In a previous post today, I reported on the farewell party the community held for the closing of the Santa Barbara Market at 1320 Commercial. As part of the celebration, I gave a short speech on the history of the building. Several people asked me to write it down, so here is an extended version.
In 1926, businessman Clarence Webber opened the Old Mill Gas station at 1350 Commercial. He ran it until 1945 when he sold the business. With the money he received, Webber purchased three large lots which today are 1320, 1338, 1340 Commercial. Once wartime restrictions on building materials were lifted, Webber built two new buildings on his lots — 1344 Commercial which housed a hardware store on the ground floor, with doctors’ offices upstairs, and 1320 Commercial.
1320 Commercial was designed to have offices upstairs while the rear of the ground floor housed Webber’s new business — 1200 food lockers, which local residents used in the days when home fridges and freezers were far less common than today. He also built a small produce store to front on Commercial Drive. While the food lockers were a big hit, the grocery store became even more popular. It featured the first ice cream bar on the Drive and also was the first store outside the downtown core to feature muzak for the customers.
The popular market stayed in business (as Artic Food Markets, then Arctic IGA, and finally, Kaufman Meats) until the early 1960s.
In 1965, a major fire destroyed the interior of the building, which was then occupied by Thomas Furniture & Appliances, but it was restored and eventually became the home of Italian Furniture by Marano, with apartment suites upstairs. Italian Furniture stayed in the building until August 1972 when they and the suites were badly damaged in another fire.
Later in the 1970s, the building was used by the Vancouver Community College as a space for skills development, and then was occupied by Italian Sporting Goods until 1979. The offices at this time housed the Marco Polo Italian newspaper, and Radio Italia CJJC. It then fell vacant until 1981 when Paco Celador opened Santa Barbara Market, which flourished until this very day.
It was a big day for Grandview — January 29th, 1923 — as the Grandview Theatre debuted its brand-new $15,000 orchestral organ. It was, they said, “the last word in organs.” You got all this, plus a Jackie Coogan feature, for just 30 cents!
One hundred years ago today, on 24th January 1923, it was announced that the School Board had purchased the block between Lakewood & Templeton, and E. Georgia and Barnard (now Adanac), for the sum of $10,500, a price that was considered “exceptionally low”. This would eventually become Templeton School.
On this date in 1893, American business interests overthrew the monarchy of Queen Liliukalani, established their own elitist junta, and demanded that the US annex Hawaii, which (surprise, surprise) they did.
After the completion of the militarist-imperialist-racist campaign known as Manifest Destiny — which had stolen most of North America and exterminated the native populations in an officially sanctioned program of genocide and ethnic cleansing — the takeover of Hawaii was one of the first warnings that the US was moving towards a hegemonic control of the globe.
Most of the western world at that time was focused on the growing military strength of Germany and Japan. They may have been wiser in the long run to have looked over their shoulder.
One hundred and four years ago today, on 15th January 1919, the Spartacist heroes Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were tortured and murdered by fascist Freikorps mercenaries of the German social democratic government.
Who remembers that government today? No-one. But the memory of the two heroes lives on in glory. As Luxemburg wrote on the day of her death, speaking as the embodiment of the masses: “I was. I am. I shall be!”
Today is the 101st anniversary of the change in British Columbia from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right. I think quite a lot of Vancouver drivers are still learning about this.