THE GREAT VANCOUVER LOVE AFFAIR
Everybody loves Vancouver, and, what’s more, they love telling you so with clichés that are almost believable
HOW SUPERLATIVE CAN A CITY BE? VANCOUVER SIGHS AND WONDERS
There’s something about this city that turns normal people into Chamber of Commerce touts. Even Queen Elizabeth said she’d never seen anything like it. And if a man should leave Vancouver for the moneyed wasteland over the mountains he remains in love with her for life. Just like
THE LOVE AFFAIR which the citizens of Vancouver have with their town is a beautiful thing to see. Before it, Tristan’s passion for Isolde pales and Dante’s infatuation with his Beatrice seems pretty shabby. It is probably the most enduring mass honeymoon in history. It has been going on for sixty-five years and involves half a million people. This does not count the other half million who have moved from Vancouver.
Everybody loves Vancouver. Its streets are worn thin by the martial tramp of thirty-two million dollars’ worth of American tourists, lured there each year by the soft warm breezes from the Tourist Association folders. Vancouver has everything. Garfield Weston, the biscuit king, moved there announcing he liked the rain. Clarence Harmon, of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, has just dealt that institution a body blow by moving to Vancouver because he likes the view. A Venezuelan engineer moved up last spring to get away from the sun. Forty thousand prairie people (known in Vancouver as “prairie drivers”) have made the city their home to get away from the snow. Nobody paid much attention to them until a cigar-chewing Edmontonian named Bill Rae started playing cowboy music on his radio station and promptly made it the most-listened-to station in the city.
Few visitors are permitted to leave this paradise without having wrung from them some confession of its virtues. Everybody from the surveyor general of Tasmania to the Queen of England has praised it. The Tasmanian, early in the century, said he’d seen no European city to compare with it. The Queen, gazing upon it from the mountains of thewest shore in 1939, cried, “We have never seen anything like it. This is the place to live!” Just this year a lady log salesman from California proclaimed Vancouver “the most wonderful spot in the world.” T. P. O’Connor, the Irish journalist, said it had “the finest scenery on the continent.” Lord Nort.hclifFe, the British publishing magnate, said he’d “never seen a city in which a great future is so plainly written in the present.” And Richard Neutra, the famous architect and town planner, who saw it on a rainy day, said it had the “finest setting of any town in the world, next to Rio de Janeiro.”
“We have a hell of a time with superlatives around here,” says Ralph Daly, a Vancouver editorial writer. “Everything has to be the biggest in the world. If not that then the biggest on the continent or the biggest in the Empire. If not that the biggest in Canada. As a last resort the biggest in B. C. or maybe the biggest on the lower mainland.”
Even the brickbats about Vancouver are on a grand scale. In Jan. 1949 a young artist from Montreal who tried to kill himself left a note calling Vancouver Continued on page 70
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“the unfriendliest city in the world.” And Louis Taylor, who was mayor of the city more times than anyone else, referred to it as “the most selfish and corrupt city in the world.”
There is an aura about Vancouver that tends to make the visitor from some less favored corner of the globe grind his teeth in envy and frustration. The remarks attributed to William Arthur Deacon, literary editor of the Toronto Globe and Mail, have been widely quoted in this connection. Deacon was being given the grand tour of the city by the local branch of the Canadian Authors Association, and it brought him to his knees. “Stop!” he cried, when the tour was about two thirds through. “Take me away! I can stand no more. It’s too beautiful.” The grand tour is a native rite, as inevitable as a Zeta Psi initiation. It I starts downtown at the Vancouver Hotel (“best hotel on the continent” —Lieut. Gov. Eric Hamber, 1939) and moves west on Georgia Street to Stanley Park (“most beautiful park in the world”—Mayor David Oppenheimer, 1888). It skirts the restless waters of Lost Lagoon and plunges deep into cool I cedars and tall Douglas firs to emerge ! onto the thin spiderweb of the Lions Gate bridge (longest single-span suspension bridge in the Empire). The tour moves slowly across the mile-long i bridge toward the opposite shores of suburban North and West Vancouver, allowing the visitor to drink in the beauties of Burrard Inlet and Vancouver Harbor (“the most perfect harbor
the world can show”—Journal of Commerce, San Francisco, 1888).
Now the visitor is borne high into the rich new suburban developments that are taking form on the far shores of the inlet where the blue mountains crowned by the twin white peaks of The Lions rise for a mile out of the soft haze that hangs about the town. Here the makers of Guinness Stout are pouring their money into the fantastic real-estate development of British Properties (“unparalleled in North America”—sales agent Munel May) which is turning four thousand acres of forested mountain side into a residential paradise.
On the primeval flanks of the mountains there are more superlatives in the making: the long white ribbon of Park Royal, largest shopping centre in Canada; the green bodice of Capilano, one of the ten most beautiful golf courses in the world; the slender daisy chain of the Grouse Mountain Chairlift, largest metropolitan chairlift in the world.
Here, from any of a hundred vantage points, the visitor can get the same view the Queen got: the city glistening in the sunlight, its twin wooded peninsulas of Stanley Park and Point Grey probing far out into the sea, its environs fading off into the mists of the flat Fraser River delta land to the south. From these heights the city and the ocean that surrounds it seem buoyant with life. The great white steamers and the grubby tramps from Orient and Antipodes skirt the high cliffs of the First Narrows, where less than a century ago Salish sentinels warned of the approach of war canoes. The seining fleet dots the muddy mouth of Simon Fraser’s river. The tremendous Davis rafts of the loggers float
majestically toward the smoking mills of the False Creek tidewater that bisects the business section.
Now the tour bends back in its tracks, recrosses the bridge to the city proper and for nine miles skirts the eight ' beaches that sweep in a wide white crescent from Park to Point. At the far extremity, surrounded by its own one-hundred-and-fifty-acre forest and its one - hundred - and - seventy -three-acre farm, the University of British Columbia sits on its peninsula facing to the sea (“the finest setting of any campus in the world”—Lord Tweedsmuir, 1939). Around it is clustered the new architecture of the west coast, the long low homes of glass and native stone, smothered in juniper and roses. Here, according to F. Ronald Graham, a retired Montreal financier who owns one of the largest homes and has acquired the Vancouver gift for phrase, is “the finest view in the world.”
There is more to the tour than this —the harbor alone has ninety-eight miles of water frontage and the city itself is more than fifty-two square miles in size (largest in Canada)—but it was here that Deacon, the man from Toronto, threw in the sponge and it ts here that we will leave it, winding off into the golden sunset beyond Marine Drive. It is only one evidence of the general wave of enthusiasm which infects all good Vancouverites, like chicken pox, early in life.
This enthusiasm can take many forms. Few Vancouverites w’ill concede that it either rains or snows in their city. One newsboy, who stood for years at the corner of Dunsmuir and Seymour Streets in the business section, was a living monument to this. In sleet, hail, wind or deluge he wore
his shirt open almost to the navel, exposing a weatherbeaten expanse of chest that shouted defiance to the elements. One day he vanished, no one will say where, but the dread word “pneumonia” has been whispered.
Jack Scott of the Sun, the city's j best-known columnist, has helped keep some legends alive. In midwinter it ! has been his habit to address an Open Letter East describing the Vancouver i climate. “It is like a summer day,” he wrote on Dec. 28, 1947. “I am in my shirt sleeves. I’ve just been in the house to get my sun glasses.” Kids j were wading, people were driving cars | with the tops down, a neighbor was ! planting daffodils, he reported. These | are brave words but weather records ! show that there were four degrees of frost that night and a good deal of rain. A month later the town lay under a blanket of snow. Scott has since left for Saltspring Island in the Strait of Georgia, a fact carefully concealed from his readers.
There are fine unselfish men in Vancouver who have devoted their entire lives and subjected themselves to countless indignities for the sake of their city. Perhaps the two best known are Harry Duker, a retired sign maker, and Leo Sweeney, a barrel manufacturer.
Sweeney is always photographed wearing a straw hat and white Palm Beach suit. Duker wears a yellow, red and green tie with a totem pole on it. Sweeney sees himself as the living negation of the canard that it is ever wet or cold in Vancouver. Duker feels he is reintroducing the Indian motif into the city’s life.
Duker wants everybody to wear a j totem tie. Recently he sent one to j the editor of Tailor and Cutter, the j
British fashion bible. The editor’s comment maintained the Indian motif. “Ugh!” he said.
Sweeney has a straw hat with a red band on it bearing the inscription: “Rain in Vancouver? Like hai! it is!” On Christmas day he is always photographed tending daffodils or roses and the picture goes out to mayors of less fortunate cities along with his Christmas card which last year trumpeted: “ 1 t’s great to live in Evergreen Vancouver where flowers bloom the year round.”
A Vancouverite will react to any
slight upon his city in much the same way as a Southerner whose womenfolk have been maligned. The biggest insult came ten years ago when the federal government decided that, as a wartime measure, the Vancouver water supply would be chlorinated. The reverberations have never quite been stilled. The entire city rose in arms at the suggestion that the nectar flowing from the snowy mountains of the Capilano watershed could be only 99 and 44/l()0ths percent pure. “It is the purest water on the continent!” cried the Vancouver Pioneers’ Association.
“Those fellas in Ottawa musta gone crazy!” said Mayor Jack Cornett. 'Fhe Vancouver Sun, touched to the editorial quick, produced figures to show that it was three times healthier to live in Vancouver than any other Canadian city and that it had one of the lowest death and infant mortality rates IN THE WORLD. (Capitals are the Sun’s.) “Refuse to pay taxes!” shouted a speaker at one of the mass meetings that followed.
It was all to no avail. The water was chlorinated and one suburban couple promptly turned off their taps
for good and resorted to a well. The rest of the city was with them in spirit. Large numbers of citizens are still convinced the whole thing was a plot by The Mysterious East—that vague but sinister shadowland which lies in the eternal snows somewhere on the far side of the Rocky Mountain barrier.
The Vancouverite’s attitude toward The East is pretty well summed up by the late Senator Gerry McGeer’s remark when he was mayor. “Ottawa,” said Gerry, “is just twenty-five hundred miles from Vancouver. But Vancouver is twenty-five thousand from Ottawa.”
The geographical and psychological barrier of the Rockies has had its influence on the physical look of the city. Vancouver has none of the roughhewn aspect of the prairies or the granite façade of the Montreal-Toronto triangle. Hers is rather the sleek American appearance of Tacoma, Seattle or Spokane just across the U. S. border. The streets, most of them now cleared of car tracks, are wide and open. The architecture has its roots in California. The business buildings are low geometric oblongs. Hundreds of them are less than ten years old.
It is a young-looking city for a town of half a million people. It is in fact the youngest in Canada. It is so young it has never been without telephone service. It is one of the few cities in the world which has increased its population two hundred-fold in sixty-five years. Its past is hardly yet over the hill of memory. The first white child born in Vancouver is still alive. The first building put up on the wooded shoreline of the inlet still stands. There are men living who can remember the great fire that wiped out the town just six weeks after its inauguration. Until 1940 commuters on the North Vancouver ferry could occasionally see the bulky figure of Mary Capilano paddling her canoe home to the north shore of an evening. She was an Indian princess who lived on those shores twenty years before the first white man came.
Vancouver’s beginnings were as lively as that of any town in the country. Her first citizen was a bartender named Capt. John Deighton, a Yorkshireman of purplish complexion and Falstaffian proportions who arrived one day on the spot where the city now stands with a barrel of whisky and a hammer. He put up a bar in just twenty-four hours. His volubility was such that they called him Gassy Jack and they named the lively settlement that sprang up around his bar Gastown. It was populated by a raffish and rowdy crew of hand loggers, Kanakas, millmen, Siwash Indians, runaway sailors and pigtailed Chinese. For some reason every third man seems to have been called Portuguese Joe.
In 1884 Sir William Van Horne, builder of the CPR, arrived on the scene and uttered the first of those superlatives about the future city which were later to become so populan Vancouver, he said (changing the name on the spot), was destined to have one of the greatest futures of any city in Canada. It would be the western terminus of the railway. Already CPR surveyors, whose names still grace some of the older streets, were laying out the forest in geometric squares. Two years later, in 1886, the city was incorporated and an election of sorts was held. Any man who could pitch a tent was enfranchised and as nobody knew anybody else the top names on the alphabetical list were swept into office. Next day a fire destroyed the city. A sobered council, meeting in a tattered tent, woke up to the fact that they had an area five miles wide to govern and not a nickel in the bank.
But there was no stopping Vancouver. Gassy Jack Deighton’s House
and Portuguese Joe Silvia’s Hole-inthe-Wall saloon were replaced by more splendid structures. Jack Kearns, who was to become Dempsey’s manager, tended bar at the Rainier Hotel. The bouncer, Mysterious Billy Smith, was so good it was said he could toss a man clear across the street and into the batwing doors of the Boulder Hotel bar. Far up in the forest went the first Vancouver Hotel which, of course, boasted the Longest Bar In Canada. There have been two more Hotel Vancouvers built since, but the bars have officially gone. Actually there are about a dozen bars in town today, all neon and chromium, serving mixed drinks to all comers, but they are technically called “clubs” and there is a membership fee. (In one case it’s ten cents a year.)
For a city so young, Vancouver has had an astonishing number of jubilees, each celebrated with gusto and verve. The most spectacular was the Diamond Jubilee of 1946. As part of a two-week birthday party the city fathers decided
to stage a mammoth historical pageant in Stanley Park and accordingly there was built the Longest Stage In the World. A Hollywood director named John Harkrider was engaged at one thousand dollars a week and about four thousand citizens agreed to serve for love. Harkrider, a man who lived almost exclusively on raw carrots, cab bage, grapefruit and chocolate éclairs, announced he would burn down part of the North Shore each night to simulate the Great Vancouver Fire. He was dissuaded from this but the pageant was so ambitious that its first performance lasted until almost three in the morning. Nobody to this day is certain whether it was a success or a flop but everybody agrees it was different.
Its youth and its climate have helped to give Vancouver, a city of twentyseven different nationalities, its free and easy approach to life. In summer it’s common to see stores closed up with the words “Gone Fishing” on the door. The dress is more casual than it is in Toronto or Montreal. Few of the young men wear hats, and sports jackets and slacks are fairly common among businessmen. Almost everybody seems to sport a rose in his buttonhole—all the way from Mayor Fred Hume down to that gaunt and grizzled eccentric, “Professor” Francis, whose stooped and shabby figure is to be seen at every musical event.
The town has always been full of strange men and women who seem to ! flourish in the balmy Pacific atmosphere. Some have left only their names —Howe Sound Joe, Sore Neck Billy, Crazy George and Sugar Jake. Others vanish and reappear with the ebb and flow of the metropolitan tide. Where is the Cat Man, that chubby pinkcheeked figure with the blond hair down to the shoulders who lived in the alleyways feeding his throng of scrawny felines? Where is the hermit of Stanley Park, who lived for a decade in a hollow tree? What has become of W. R. Smith, the one-man political party? And Greasy Alex, the mammoth Greek hamburger salesman?
There are those who will always be remembered and some of them have been mayors.
There was Louis Denison Taylor, who ran for mayor fifteen times and was elected for eight terms and wore a scarlet tie every day of his life. He once kidnapped Teddy Roosevelt from a Board of Trade reception committee by climbing aboard T. R.’s train outside of town and whisking the U. S. President into a waiting car for an impromptu tour of the city.
“You can’t run a seaport like a Sunday school,” L. D. used to say and there were usually giant clean-up drives after each of his defeats. After a bad licking at the polls in 1928 the citizens clubbed together, gave him a present of five thousand dollars and sent him on a two-year vacation around the world. Taylor, aged seventy-three, got | back just in time to win another j smashing victory. Twice his obituary j was set up in type by the newspapers, once when he all but drowned, once when a whirling propeller blade almost j broke his spare frame in two. Taylor j kept on living, driving to city council meetings in an ambulance with sirens whining. It took Gerry McGeer, the florid, ebullient lawyer from the wrong side of the tracks, to beat him finally in 1934 when Taylor was seventyseven.
McGeer is the most enduring name of all in Vancouver. He himself saw to that when he built a white city hall on a high point of land a mile from the business section. From this municipal Taj Mahal city fathers get a view of the entire town. It has been called, naturally, the most beautiful city hall
in Canada. Certainly the council meetings are the most ostentatious. The mayor wears floor-length robes of black and a gold chain of office and he is preceded by a uniformed sergeantat-arms lugging a gigantic gilt mace.
Once a visiting alderman from Moncton, N.B., dropped in to see the mayor. He was taken aback to find the chief magistrate waiting for him decked out in robes, chain and cocked hat. “It scared me half to death,” he said later.
During the depression the city tried to get some provincial aid for relief and Premier Duff Pattullo was brought
over from Victoria to talk about it. Pattullo, a former Klondiker, was ushered into the mayor’s office, and staggered back when he saw the wallto - wall broadloom, red mahogany paneling and indirect lighting. “My God,” he exclaimed, “this office is a lot swankier than mine.” The aid was not forthcoming.
The present mayor, an electrical contractor named Fred Hume, likes the job so much that he gave his seventy - five - hundred annual salary back to the city, a philanthropy which didn’t sit too well with some of the
aldermen who had been thinking about asking for a raise. Hume was criticized early in the game because he doesn’t live in Vancouver, but across the inlet on the West shore. His answer stilled all critics: “I live over there,” he said, “so I can see our city at night.”
Hume was so taken with the idea of being mayor that he wired his entire house with hundreds of colored lights. When his election was announced last December he pulled a switch lighting it up like a Christmas tree. He performed the same service for the city hall, at his own expense. He likes
to take visitors up onto the roof of the hall and show them the town. “There!” the mayor will say in triumph. “Isn’t that fine? Isn’t that beautiful? Where else can you see a sight like that, eh?”
Where else indeed? the visitor murmurs.
“Where else in May can you leave your hotel, reach the skiing grounds within an hour and a half, come back, change your clothes and be lying on the beach all in the same day?” asks A. L. Woods, a spare grey man from Ontario who is controller of the Vancouver Tourist Association.
Vancouver is full of converts like him. When conductor Sir John Barbirolli left the New York musical world he chose to live in Vancouver. Lawren Harris, of Toronto, who helped found the Group of Seven, now has a home in West Point Grey looking toward the mountains he likes to paint in abstract. A partner of Calouste S. Gulbenkian, the mystery oilman reputedly the world’s richest, now lives in residential Shaughnessy Heights.
For those with wealth, for those who have retired, for those who have a stake in B. C.’s natural resources, Vancouver is the ideal town. She started as a logging town and her economy is still built on logs. The lumber payroll is by far the largest —fifty million dollars a yean. And the loggers have grown rich. The Koerner brothers of Czechoslovakia have fashioned an industrial colossus out of the plywood industry. Kapoor Singh, a Sikh, has made himself a million out of millwood. And from his paneled office, high in the Marine Building, Harvey Reginald MacMillan, a farm boy from Newcastle, Ont., rules his sixty-million-dollar empire of lumber, plywood and fish.
But for others the city has less to offer. Garfield Weston and Sir John Barbirolli have Reluctantly left for larger centres of trade and culture. Although the smog of dozens of sawmills casts a soft haze about the town and the masts of fishing boats make a forest of the inlets, the skyline is virtually unbroken by the smokestacks of secondary industry. This is one reason why every year Vancouverites bemoan the fate of thousands of their sons who leave for less favorable climes.
It is a sad parting, this casting off of a favorite mistress.
I remember one young man who had the choice to make. He was summoned by an executive from the east to a room in the Hotel Vancouver. If was one of those hot spring days, when the mountains rise like sentinels from the haze and the harbor shimmers in the blue and the white ships float under the tall bridge and the entire city moves down to the evergreens.
The young man was gazing out of the executive’s window and with a sweep of his hand he uttered the favorite Vancouverism. “Where else in the world,” he said, “would you get a view like this? What other city has this setting? I wouldn’t trade this place for anything.”
“I regret to hear you say that,” the executive told him, “because I was going to offer you a job in the east. For more money.”
The young man gazed at him moodily. For the briefest of instants he let his gaze flicker back to mountains, sea, park and sky. Then he wrenched his eyes away. “I’ll take it,” he said quickly.
And the young man, who happens to be the author of this article, turned his back on the Most Beautiful City In The World and went off to join the thousands of other exiles who will always be, as anyone who has spoken to them knows only too well, Vancouverites to the last cliche. if