Prosperity With A View

Every train brings new residents to B. C. where new factories bloom among the flowers and times are as good as the scenery

JACK SCOTT June 1 1947

Prosperity With A View

Every train brings new residents to B. C. where new factories bloom among the flowers and times are as good as the scenery

JACK SCOTT June 1 1947

Prosperity With A View

Every train brings new residents to B. C. where new factories bloom among the flowers and times are as good as the scenery


A TORONTO businessman who makes an annual trip to his branch office in Vancouver, carrying a full assortment of fishing flies, returned east from a recent visit with the usual group pictures of himself admiring several steelhead trout and with a new complaint.

“I can put up with the usual talk, talk, talk about the British Columbia weather and the scenery,” he said, “but now I’ll be hanged if they’re not bragging about factories and production!”

In good times and bad visiting easterners have found the citizens on the balmy side of the Rockies insufferably happy about the things God gave them. Now they are coming up against a kind of nouveau riche jubilance about the things British Columbians are doing for themselves.

It isn’t all idle boasting. There’s never been such prosperity or growth in the far western province. It felt its first real strength producing for war. Now it is making an ambitious and typically enthusiastic bid to take a bigger role in the nation in peace.

One basic reason for the new growth and, paradoxically, a threat to the province’s future prosperity, is the continuing westward movement of populat ion.

I ha.l a clcse-up look at that day-to-day migration one late spring morning as the CPR’s Dominion rolled down the Fraser Valley, an hour out of Vancouver.

In a sleeping car wash room six men were shaving, standing back from their razors and working delicately, adjusting themselves to the sway of the car. Another 10 or 12 waited their turn at the mirror. They were looking out expectantly at the green farm lands of the valley and the hazy rim of the Coast Range beyond.

Conductor Kenny Morfison, a big,-serious olda timer on the line, consulted the watch in his vest pocket, yawned and turned a professional eye on the gal hering

“Every train’s about (he same now,” ha told me. “Since 1939 we’ve been hauling them west by the carload. Young guys and old. Some single, some with families. Wartime, they came out for the shipyards and munition plants. Kept right on coming when it was over. 1 guess we want ’em out here all right, but are we going to be big enough to handle them all?”

Too Busy to Ask

TWO HOURS later, when the Dominion had come to the end of the steel, Mrs. Eve Col will, who runs a small rental agency on Vancouver’s busy Hastings Street, went to the door of her office. Twenty-two men and women were queued in the corridor. Half of them had walked directly from the depot a block away on the harbor front.

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“Day after day it’s like this,” she explained. “We’ve had as many as 50 in one morning, in from the East, looking for houses or apartments or rooms or anything they can get. Usually we can just find them some emergency shelter. You wonder how they all manage to fit in.”

Most British Columbians are too busy (o wonder. The steady rise in new population is no more spectacular than the rist; in industrial payrolls and production. The provincial Government has announced a whopping $60 millions budget for this year, highest in history. Life insurance sales are almost double I943’s. In one year bank debits in the province have increased 21%,

dizziest rise in any part of Canada. From the interior come reports of new highs in building permits, sawlog scales and births—barometers of progress for most small B. C. towns.

As summer began, ending the seasonal employment slump and bringing northward the first of $40 millions worth of U. S. tourists to B. C.’s bad roads and good scenery, there were few who remembered 10 years back when overpopulation was a problem that ended only with the opening of recruiting stations. But some had long and unhappy memories. To them the fact that the province had swung over the million mark for the first time in its history might he very good or just plain bad.

In Vancouver’s mahogany Terminal City Club overlooking the hustling activity of the inner harbor and the evergreen mountains across the inlet, a view nicely tuned to the aesthetic and commercial demands of the businessman at lunch, one of the province’s industrialists put it this way:

“We’re in a wonderful position to take more prosperity than we’ve ever had. But if wo run into tough times this province will he socked harder than any other.”

The warning isn’t being heard often. That vaguely ominous word “recession” is there in Kiwanis Club luncheon addresses, but well buried in optimism.

The prosperity is as tangible as the new, big-windowed, cedar-siding bungalows going up in every suburb at double the pre-war price, and the Saturday afternoon mobs at the liquor stores. It is as promising as Premier Hart’s prophecy that B. C. will gain 200,000 new citizens a year to reach a two million population by the 1951 census. *

British Columbia may be heading hell-bent for a dangerous crossroads, but she is making wonderful time on the straight stretch. Some of the mileposts already passed are these:

Mile One: The four basic industries —forestry, agriculture, mining and fishing—produced new wealth worth $383 millions in 1946, up $23 millions from 1945. They expect 1947 to be the best year of their lives.

Mile Two: Building contracts soared to nearly $60 millions.

Mile Three: After two years of labor and supply headaches the mining industry has enjoyed a $73 million year. With higher prices in lead, zinc and silver, it expends its first year of complete conversion to set new records. The one-man mines are busy, too. Staking and recording of claims by prospectors last year doubled the previous year. So many went gold and silver hunting that the Government was embarrassed by a shortage of copper staking tags.

Milo Four: Militantly unionized and with an average of 91 cents an hour and a 40-hour week, British Columbia still has the best wages and shortest working hours of any province.

Mile Five: Largely because of a record fruit crop and higher prices in all products, farm income is at a new high. In the fertile, narrow southern valleys the highly specialized B. C. farmers have better homes, more radios, bathtubs, inside toilets and electric refrigerators than you’ll find in any other Canadian rural area.

The widely advertised slogan, “Business Is Moving to B. C.,” has become a reality instead of a hope. In 1946 there were 1,518 new companies incorporated in the province with a capitalization of $100 millions. B. C. is beginning to process the raw materials it once exported. Westerners call this the most important single trend in the province.

By Ontario standards British Columbia’s manufacturing is peanuts, but its growth is significant and few of the province’s own citizens realize how extensive it has been.

They raised an eyebrow as they read about a $15 million cellulose plant to be built by the Celanese Corporation of America on Watson Island near the north - coast port of Prince Rupert, expected to employ more than 1,000 men. They talked about the Horatio Alger success story of a 34-year-old chemical engineering student at the University of B. C. whose process of impregnating fir, balsam and hemlock with resins to make hard woods had started a booming new industry. But most of the development has been less dramatic.

Nearly all of it is centred in the southwest corner of the province. Since the war’s end plants in Vancouver, Victoria, New Westminster and the lower Fraser Valley have started making matches, porcelain enamelling, umbrellas, laminated boats, bricks and tile, radios, electric irons, toasters, furniture, optical glass, plywoods, floor tiles, felt products and many another line exclusively eastern Canadian before 1939.

A young Air Force veteran who had bought up a supply of War Assets aluminum is making toys in the back of a Vancouver shop and he’s tripled his staff in a year.

“We just couldn’t miss,” he told me. “First speed wagon we put in the window sold that same day. It’s been like that ever since. If things keep going this well we’ll take a crack at the eastern markets.”

“Can’t Stop That Trek”

The impact of these new plants is being solidly felt in horsepower and manpower.

The B. C. Electric Railway Co., which supplies power to the Lower Mainland, is rushing the first installment of its new 600,000-horsepower Bridge River development, 110 miles north of Vancouver. Meantime, to meet the new demands, it’s forced to pipe in energy from the Bonneville Power administration in the next-door State of Washington.

The province is in the healthiest employment year of its history.

On a sunny Sunday in April a National Employment Service executive sat in shirt, sleeves on the front porch of his new cedar bungalow, admiring the tulips in his neat garden, and talked animatedly about reports of snowstorms in the East and the background to his announcement of a period of more favorable employment.

“Since 1944 we’ve gained another 150,000 people in this province and you can blame or bless those tulips,” he grinned. “It’s the climate that brings them out here. That’s why they’re still coming, in spite of prosperity all over the country. Thirty per cent of the discharges from the armed services in B. O. were men from other regions.

“That 200,000-a-year guess by the Premier isn’t as wild as some people think. And it’s not only from the prairies they’re coming. Every fourth or fifth name on our new registrations is from Toronto.

“We’re the California of Canada and you can’t stop that westward trek any more than California could stop the ‘Okies.’ ”

The province is still second only to the Maritimes in labor surplus, but the war-plant workers and the newcomers have been absorbed far more easily than the most optimistic folk guessed two years ago. The mines and logging camps still need men and there’s a crying need for skilled workers in all lines.

“We’re in a good position now because there’s a new stability in labor,” this official told me. “Even the logger is staying put. Year ago we’d have half a boat load taking new workers up to the pulp and paper mill at Ocean Falls and the same number coming back. Turnover everywhere was terrific. Now there are signs that the workers are content to get something with security, even if it means moving away from the city. And that’s particularly true of the new arrivals. The happy days aren’t going to last forever. The boys know it.”

However, few newcomers seem to regret making the move. Bill Hirsch, $35-a-week mechanic in Vancouver, is typical of the many young servicemen who discovered the West while in uniform and took their discharge there.

The last year has been a tough one for Hirsch, his wife and four-year-old daughter. Unable to find a house or apartment in Vancouver, he rented a small leaky cottage in Deep Cove, a summer resort a few miles outside the city, where they spent a wet and miserable winter.

Bill commuted by bus, leaving for work before dawn. He now confesses there were many days when he was tempted to take his little family back to their former home in Winnipeg.

“And they wanted me back at the old job, and at better money than I was making in Vancouver,” said Bill. “But then we’d get letters from our folks telling about the weather at Portage and Main. It was surprising how they kept up our morale with t hose letters.

“I think we’re set. for life out here, now. All during the war I had the feeling I wanted to try a new part of t he world when I got back and, brother, this is it,” he said.

More than a third of the province’s unemployed are men over 45 years of age, evidence not only that management can afford to be selective, but of a special problem that, comes west on every train. Nowhere in Canada are there more old folks— 15% of the males are over 60 years of age and 27.4% over 50.

You can dip into the statistics and pull out a sample like Harry Cleghorn, 55, a blacksmith in a small Saskatchewan town until he went west in 1940 to work in the shipyards, building corvettes.

When Harry came to my door recently he carried the battered imitation-leather suitcase he’d used to bring his belongings west. It was filled with combs, safety pins, needles, thread, razor blades and other notions he peddles from door to door.

“It’s no place now for the older people,” he told me over a cup of coffee. “They want husky young punks for the woods or to go fishin’ for halibut. Went to six sheet metal shops last week lookin’ for a job. You know what they tell me? Can’t take men over 45. They say they’re starting pension plans.”

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When I suggested his old job might be open in Saskatchewan his laugh wiped out the anger in his voice.

“Freeze to death in winter, roast to death in summer, starve all year round,” he said happily, “that’s Saskatchewan. Took me 48 years to get smart and pull out and l wouldn’t go back, no, sir, not for a million dollars not if I have to walk my legs down to stumps to keep alive in (’rod’s country."

Some of the province's economy experts think there may be younger men than Harry Cleghorn looking for steady work a year from now if the uncertainties of world trade shape up wrong or if internal conditions hit the new factories.

In Ottawa the province fought hard against the railways’ bid for a 30% freight increase. It is tough enough tin B. C. manufacturers to compete in eastern markets with a long haul and freight rates that cause westerners to scream “discrimination.” A rate increase could mean the difference between success and failure.

There’s already sobering evidence that the shuffling of outside markets will have a serious effect on the province’s basic income.

British Columbia flower and seed producers are among those finding this out the hard way. Theirs is a small but important item in the province’s $112 millions agricultural production. During the war, with European supplies cut off, the B. C. vegetable seed output went to 30 times the pre-war value. Ten times more flower seeds were being grown than previously.

But growers got a rough idea of how stiff postwar overseas competition will get when B. C. newspapers ran pictures this spring of an immense field of brilliant, fat tulips on Lulu Island at the mouth of the Fraser River. They were grown from Dutch bulbs, imported at less than the local cost, price and planted on masse when they arrived too late for general sale. It was a lovely sight to everybody except the B. C. growers.

But the industry most likely to be hit by conditions outside the province's borders is logging—the biggest of them all. And as logging goes, so goes British Columbia.

In the head offices of one of the West’s lusty timber empires a young executive in charge of exports turned from a fancy wall chart bright with colored pins and walked across to a hank of windows overlooking the city and the Saturday afternoon crowds in the streets below.

“Every single one of those people will be hit personally,” he said, “if our lumber market falls off. And to put it mildly, our long-term marketing is highly uncertain. We’re dangerously vulnerable to world conditions. Five years from now, or mayle less, that can mean the difference bet ween money in the bank or hard times for every one of us.”

Of every dollar in R. C.’s industrial income 40 cents is from the sale ot forest products. And of last year’s $160 millions forest production. 77' , was exported.

Since the war B. C. logging has been rolling in high gear in a seller's market. Lumber orders from the United King dom will keep the big saws .singing at full pitch for another two years, at least, paid for by Canadian dollars loaned to Britain. What’ll happen after that is anybody’s guess.

Life's Good in the Woods

The lumber executive turned from his view of the prospering city and shrugged his shoulders.

“We know it's coming,” he said, “but we don’t know how tough it will be. Russia, Sweden and Finland are coming back strong as competition for our wood products in Europe. Already we’re finding that buyers are showing more resistance and getting more selective every month.”

This is strictly long-term, inner sanctum talk. Out in the woods there is more optimism than ever and new techniques that one old-time logger described to me as “an industrial revolution.” While Paul Bunyan spins in his grave, loggers are living in steamheated huts, complete with hot showers. In many of the logging villages on Vancouver Island the visitor is greeted by a sign seen in few eastern camps: “Drive Slow—Watch For Children.”

The trend comes partly from pressure by the powerful International Woodworkers of America, which last year clamped a crippling strike on the whole industry, and partly from the management’s policy of improved housing and working conditions to keep a stable payroll.

But most important of all are the new techniques in putting logging on a long-term, economical basis. One island operator described it as “the beginning of a new era in which we’ll be farming timber instead of mining if.”

The provincial Government, in an Act which seems an ineffectual compromise to most observers, but at least recognizes the problem, is encouraging operators through tax reductions to grow and perpetuate successive crops of trees in “working circles.”

The small cities on the lip of the forest lands are prospering. In the twin towns of Alberni and Port Alberni on Vancouver Island there’s a boom that reminds many old-timers of the goldrush days. The population has more than doubled since the war, much of it from the prairies. Property prices are tripled and everyone talks of some big new deal.

You need no guide book to tell you the reason for this. The smoke is pouring from the town’s big plywood plant. The saws in the two sprawling mills are slicing lumber at a rate that keeps the docks piled high with flagrant, fresh-cut plank, beam and boardsize lumber. A new $7 million pulp mill will start operating this summer.

“Hardly a log leaves Port Alberni until it’s lumber or plywood,” explains Irving Wilson, the young editor of the West Coast Advocate, whose circulation has nearly doubled in four years. “It’s no temporary boom - it’s here to stay. We keep growing every day. Only a world recession can slow us down and nobody talks about that in these parts.”

Such development and the postwar progress of nearly every small B. C. town living off mining, agriculture or fishing are helping drain the excess population from Vancouver, but the distribution of people is still bottomheavy. Half the province’s manpower is clustered within a 20-mile radius of Vancouver’s modernistic City Hall.

Plans for PGE

However, the short age of white collar jobs and adequate housing in the city and the need for workers in the basic industries are rerouting hundreds of new arrivals on the coast to parts of the province where they’re most needed. The Government has announced plans for new roads, new power and irrigat ion projects to develop interior areas.

But most of the hope for important interior development hinges on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. The publicly owned line that “begins nowhere and ends nowhere” was planned in 1912 to link Prince George in central British Columbia with the port of Vancouver, but never reached either terminal. Most British Columbians expect an announcement before the year's end that the PGE is being extended not merely to Prince George, hut deep into the heart of the Peace River District, a northern empire rich in oil, coal and wheat.

A million freight tons a year will justify the extension north, say the experts, and British Columbians who have been exposed to a series of dazzling preliminary reports of oil and coal surveys can’t see how it will miss.

Whether the plans go through or not the Peace River Block will almost certainly be a factor in the province's development during the next 10 years. The graders are now at work on the Hart Highway from Prince George to the District, a 151-mile road that, reverses the route of the Hudson Bay adventurers. It will link B. C.’s famous Cariboo Highway with the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek.

The road and the railway will tap resources in the northern part of the province, a region as unknown as Tibet to most people in the South. There arc signs already that Prince George is getting ready to become Brit ish Columbia’s Edmonton, a gateway and distributing point for the vast upper half of the province and for some observers that is the real sign of British Columbia’s approach to maturity.

“We’ve been like the poker player who keeps his small change on the table and a wad of big bills in his pocket.” one interior merchant told me. “The gamble in this province is not to make Vancouver a great city, but to make it a great outlet for the stuff at its back door. Now, at last., we’re starting to play for higher stakes.”

Under the green dome of the parliament buildings on the harbor front of Victoria this activity is being converted into political gambling that, itself, may have a powerful effect on the province’s future.

Almost everybody believes that John Hart, as Premier and as president of the publicly owned PGE, looks on his plan to extend the railwSy as his last contribution to the province. Then, say the people who should know, he’ll leave the hurly-burly of the provincial house for the deep sleep of the Senate.

There’s a good deal of wishful thinking in CCF circles that the Coalition Government, which probably lost a good many labor votes with recent strike legislation, will go down if the Premier quits and that British Columbia will liecomo Canada’s second Socialist province.

The choice oT a new leader might bo enough to split the Li liera I-Conservative coalition.

“If th»* Liberals or Conservatives try to go to it apart the CCF will unrlouhtodlv win the next ” a Tory »alitor in Victoria tolfl in«*. “That is the surest guarantee that they will firul some way of getting along together." This view happens to lw* that, too, of Harohl Winch, the young, dark, inten«* l»*a»l»'r of tla* CCF opposition.

But th»' fate of the Government, lik«* that of th province, may well hang on the prosperity fount! bv its new pioneers who continue to come west by the trainload an«! influence British Columbia's future the minute they cross the Great Divide.

“Everything in this province depends on whether we can keep up with our n»w population.” a Vancouver neighbor of mine said tla; »ither «lay— with the deep conviction of a man who left Ontario less than two years ag»i.