The Ronald Grahams of Vancouver like nothing better than to entertain in their half-million-dollar mansion. At one party for the Red Cross they had three thousand guests and one morning a sailor turned up at breakfast saving he’d let himself in with the key they’d given him during the war

PIERRE BERTON December 15 1951


The Ronald Grahams of Vancouver like nothing better than to entertain in their half-million-dollar mansion. At one party for the Red Cross they had three thousand guests and one morning a sailor turned up at breakfast saving he’d let himself in with the key they’d given him during the war

PIERRE BERTON December 15 1951


The Ronald Grahams of Vancouver like nothing better than to entertain in their half-million-dollar mansion. At one party for the Red Cross they had three thousand guests and one morning a sailor turned up at breakfast saving he’d let himself in with the key they’d given him during the war


THERE IS a saying around Vancouver that if some enterprising young man were to build a small shack for himself in a certain wooded ravine at the tip of West Point Grey close to the twenty-room pink stucco home of Mr. and Mrs. F. Ronald Graham, he could live a rich full life without cost to himself, simply by attending the Grahams’ parties.

Equipped only with colossal nerve and the usual social graces he could roam the vast Graham home and the three and a half acres of terraced gardens along with hundreds of guests. Depending on the occasion he could dip into plates of hot mushroom patties on the long table below the chandeliers of the Grahams’ bleached-oak dining room, sip tall rye highballs at the cut-stone bar in the Graham rumpus room, sample slabs of beef and turkey from the Graham barbecue pit or munch strawberries on the fine velvet of the Graham lawns. Wearied, he could take a shower in the paneled dressing room on the lower floor, then go for a swim in the Grahams’ hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar swimming pool. He wouldn’t need to bring bathing suit or towel for the Grahams have a choice of several dozen on hand to fit any size of guest.

This, of course, is a jest and an exaggeration. Even the Grahams don’t give that many parties. But they are certainly the busiest and most energetic hosts in Canada. They have eight servants, four gardeners, thirteen children, several million dollars and unlimited vitality. People are always phoning up asking them to give a party for some worthy charity. The Grahams hardly ever refuse. “My wife just can’t say no,” says Ronald Graham, a sixty-sevenyear-old retired financier with a round jovial Irish face. “It’s just that we like people and we like parties,” says Helen Graham, a big handsome woman in her forties with jet-black hair and jet-black eyes.

Last year they gave about a hundred of these parties. The attendance varied from very formal sit-down dinners under the chandeliers (about thirty persons) to huge garden fetes (three thousand people). At one party the guests consumed a hundred and fifty gallons of coffee alone. At another they trampled the Grahams’ billiard-table lawn out of all recognition. At most parties the Grahams shoulder the entire expense. One garden party in aid of the Red Cross cost Graham four thousand dollars. For an averagesized party of four hundred and fifty persons they usually have tp hire ten extra staff including two commissionaires to stand at the stairways and keep people out of the twelve bedrooms on the top floor.

Alexis Smith and a Maee-Bearer

None of this disturbs the Grahams in the least. “So what if it costs a bit of money?” says Ronald Graham. “What does that matter if you can afford it? After all we have the space out here and we like to see people use it.”

A Vancouver social-page writer has estimated that in a two - hundred - and - forty - five - day publishing year the Grahams get about two hundred mentions in the local papers. Most notables who come to town are treated to samples of the Graham hospitality. They have entertained among others, skater Barbara Ann Scott, jockey Johnny Longden, singers Richard Crooks and Yasha Davidov, barman Victor (Trader Vic) Bergeron, conductor Leonard Bernstein, movie stars Rudy Vallee, Fifi Dorsay, Dan Duryea and Alexis Smith, and His Excellency A. H. J. Lovink, Dutch Ambassador.

House guests have included Fabien Sevitzky, the conductor, Mrs. Vernon J. Mapes, a leading U. S. psychologist, Prof. Paul Dirac, physicist and Nobel Prize winner and Sir Denys Lowson, Lord Mayor of London and Lady Lowson, together with his mace-bearer, sword-bearer and personal footman.

The house guests come and go and the parties go on even when the Grahams go away to Mexico, Banff, New York or California (about five months of the year). Several years ago four of the world’s leading mathematicians from India, Ireland, France and England were guests at the Graham home. They lived

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There's Always a Party At the Grahams'

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there three weeks before meeting their hosts, who were in Banff. The Graham house is one of the biggest in town and it was another two days after he returned that Graham first ran into his guests.

On another occasion the Grahams noticed a sailor was having breakfast with them. Mrs. Graham dimly remembered he’d been a house guest during the war when several enlisted men had stayed with them. “How did you get in?” she asked cheerfully. “Oh,” said the sailor, “I still have my key.”

Most worthy causes such as the Cancer Fund, Red Cross and Community Chest benefit from Graham parties. The largest beneficiary is the Vancouver Symphony Society in which Mrs. Graham, who studied piano in her youth, takes a lively interest. There are about six parties a year for the symphony at the Grahams. One garden party raised sixteen thousand dollars for the organization. At Christmas there is a special party for orchestra members and their wives and children. Graham dresses as Santa Claus and hands out presents around the tree. Similarly, the Grahams don’t neglect Community Chest canvassers but hold special parties for them. “It keeps up morale,” says Mrs. Graham.

The Grahams loan their home every year to the Vancouver Art Gallery to boost the sale of Canadian paintings. For days the staff moves all the furniture from hall, living and dining rooms and takes down all the pictures. People tend to buy more paintings when they see them hanging on the Grahams’ forest-green walls than they do in the more austere gallery building.

A Splash For Whaletown

The Grahams have had as many as six parties a week and two parties a day. One summer afternoon they entertained six hundred yachtsmen in town for the Pacific Coast northwest regatta. The same evening they were hosts to three hundred and fifty musicians, horse owners and newspapermen laying plans for Symphony Day At The Races. As the yachtsmen left the new guests arrived to find Mrs. Graham herself in a handsome dirndl skirt energetically sweeping the refuse from the recreation room.

The Grahams’ circle of acquaintances is wide and catholic. They limit themselves to no social set and boast that they make new friends at every party. At the symphony garden party to raise funds two prominent Vancouver bookmakers agreed to run the gambling devices. Mrs. Graham, who never forgets a face, still continues to greet them when she sees them about town. To their embarrassment the most recent greeting took place in a parking lot when the duo were being questioned by police.

Recently the Grahams opened their house to the wives of Korean Brigade soldiers who wanted a place to get together. The women suggested a box lunch but Mrs. Graham turned down the idea and supplied everything. “Just forget your worries and have a good time,” she told them. On another occasion they gave a splash party for a group of children from Whaletown, B.C., on their first visit to a big city. The children were unaccustomed to such hospitality and when a maid came around with a tray of ice-cream bars one six-year-old promptly took one and handed her a dime.

People sometimes troop through the Graham home at the rate of a thousand a week and the Grahams can’t be expected to know them all. At one money-raising party, to which the public bought tickets, two inebriated guests arrived and introduced themselves like long - lost acquaintances. “We’re friends of George and Mabel,” they bubbled. George and Mabel, the Grahams finally realized, were two of the servants.

Nor do all the guests know the Grahams. One man arrived at a party and shook hands earnestly with a dignified man in black coat and striped trousers who met him at the door. It was Levitt, the butler. “The party is downstairs, sir,” he said in his icy English accent.

Another time Graham spotted a little man furtively hovering on the edge of the crowd, a brown paper parcel under one arm. “Is he in your gang?” said Graham, turning to a newspaperman. He wasn’t. He turned out later to be the caterer who had arrived late, bewildered and lost.

The Grahams can’t help overhearing some of the whispered remarks made J by the people who crowd their home. They aren’t always complimentary, j “Imagine having six rugs in the sun! room!” one guest said in a stage whisper. A visiting architect referred to the place as “the worst abortion I’ve ever seen.” Actually the big rambling home is a fairly happy mating of English Tudor and Pacific Coast conj temporary. The Grahams couldn’t care less what people say about it. “It’s lovely and we enjoy it,” says Mrs. G.

They bought the original Tudor ! home for thirty-five thousand dollars in 1946 because they were tired of living in a rented home without a view. They originally came to Vancouver in 1940 from Montreal after their marriage (both were married once before and both had children of their own). In 1940 they planned to build a hundredand - fifty - thousand - dollar home with seventeen bedrooms and ten bathrooms on Marine Drive overlooking the Fraser River. The war, and somé unfavorable remarks in the House of Commons by Angus Maclnnis, CCF member for Vancouver East, put a stop to that. “We just crawled right into our shells,” says Graham candidly.

After the war he planned to spend perhaps a hundred thousand dollars on an addition to the Tudor home, which commands an unparalleled view of the Fraser delta, Strait of Georgia and North Shore mountains. Before it was over it had cost him close to half a million dollars. “Pretty soon we just got numbed by the expense,” says Graham, “compared to me that fellow Blandings got off easy.”

The house was transformed into a three - winged structure with twelve bedrooms, sunroom, drawing room, living room, playroom, dining room, breakfast room, butler’s pantry, kitchen and staff dining room. On the lower floor there’s a recreation room, men’s room and women’s powder room with signs - of - the - zodiac wallpaper, swimming pool and dressing rooms, bar and barbecue.

“I don’t like big houses as such but there isn’t a room that isn’t used,” Graham points out. “It’s the last act of insanity for a man to splurge on a big house. He usually does and goes broke. Why, I’ve overheard people in my own house wondering how long I’ll last.”

The lower floor of the house has a hotel - like aspect with its serving kitchen, its paneled dressing rooms with the signs, HEALTH REGULATIONS DEMAND THAT EVERYONE USE SHOWERS BEFORE ENTERING POOL, its life preservers

flanking the long pool, and its racks of bathing trunks and drawers of towels. The Grahams have equipment to feed and entertain six hundred guests. There are six hundred plates, six hundred cups, six hundred pieces of cutlery and so on. Breakage is high and crockery is ordered by the gross.

Next to the swimming pool and above it, just off the sunroom, are two huge solariums under the management of C. H. Lutley, estate manager and his staff of four gardeners. The solariums are hot with tropical plants —azaleas, gardenias, bird-of-paradise,

hibiscus and avocado—from Mexico, Brazil, Hawaii and the West Indies. They are ripped up and replaced five times a year to provide variety and constant bloom. A stream runs through a rockery in the lower solarium, which costs between two and three thousand dollars a year to maintain. The light is filtered in through fifteen thousand dollars’ worth of pink plastic glass which exactly matches the shockingpink stucco of the house.

Graham likes to show visitors through the solarium. “People enjoy this y’know,” he’ll say with a wave of his

hand. “They have a lot of fun wandering through here. And if it’s here, why not use it?”

The eight-foot-deep swimming pool, which costs him six thousand dollars a year to heat, has plenty of use. Every Monday five hundred children from neighboring University Hill school splash about in it. The UBC swimming team trains there. Guests at Graham parties are invited to swim and people are always phoning up to ask for the use of it. One UBC student, who hurt his back and must swim regularly as a therapy, uses it nightly. Graham

himself starts each morning with a plunge.

The exterior of the Graham home matches the interior. Golden and silver Chinese pheasants, budgies, lovebirds and canaries flit about in aviaries. Fish swim in a large pool at the front door. There are eight thousand tulips planted on the point of land overlooking the sea. There are beds of flowers each with a thousand plants in it. When Graham bought the property it was threatening to erode into the sea. Thirty-five men worked for several months timbering it up.

Once a month a professional ratter visits the grounds with a .22 rifle to pop off rodents who might molest the birds. Nightly a uniformed commissionaire makes his rounds to fend off burglars. He was hired after the Graham home had been robbed three times. The burglars had no trouble getting in. “We have more doors than we can count and we never knew which were locked,” Ronald Graham explains. He and his wife are proud that nothing has gone missing during any of the big public parties.

So Johnny Rolls Seven Naturals

The Grahams are accomplished hosts. Both of them stay to the end of every party. Sometimes when Ronald Graham gets tired he goes upstairs to his room, puts some classical records on the player and with his little dachshund Pepper at his feet, has hisback massaged. Thus freshened he returns to the festivities below. Mrs. Graham, who likes to eat yoghurt and other health foods, spends a good deal of time in a steam bath and on the massage table and lying flat on the hard plank recommended by Gayelord Hauser for looking younger and living longer. She and her husband often seem to be the freshest-looking people at a party.

In the receiving line the Grahams seldom stumble on a name and seldom forget a face. Graham’s low chuckle and his wife’s hearty infectious laugh rise over the buzz of conversation. Mrs. Graham looks every visitor straight in the eye. “When she greets you, you feel she’s giving the party just for you,” an old acquaintance says. “And when she talks to you you feel that you’re the only person in the room that counts.”

At sixty-seven, Ronald Graham is lighter on his feet than most twentyyear-olds and women consider him one of the best dancers in town.

Although most parties end at a reasonable hour (Graham clears his home simply by closing the bar) some are exacting enough to test the endurance of any host. A recent party for newspapermen went on until 4 a.m. and at one point the waters of the pool were graced by the presence of two fully clothed reporters. Around midnight Mrs. Graham found a gang rolling dice in one of the upstairs bedrooms. They persuaded her to stay and learn the game and in a clinging green satin gown she got down on her knees to oblige. Some four hours later she had paid out fifty dollars in IOUs. Her stepson Johnny redeemed them by rolling seven straight naturals.

Her clothes are as lively as her personality. She likes vivid colors and has a fondness for gay slacks, Mexican huarachos, flowered gypsylike skirts, and Hawaiian prints. Because her weight varies as much as thirty pounds she has two of everything in her wardrobe—for thin and fat days. Like most women she loves a good bargain. She gets her shoes at Raff’s, a little store in Seattle where you can get twenty-five-dollar shoes for as little as five dollars. She likes to haunt auction

siles in an old trench coat and slouch hat.

Both she and her husband know the value of money and both like to spend it because in the beginning neither of them had much. Mrs. Graham’s father was the first man to sell Fuller Brushes in Canada. Ronald Graham’s father was a none-too-successful banker.

Young Ronnie started out as a law clerk in his native Burlington, Ont., making a dollar fifty a week, one dollar of which went for carfare. A year later he became a bank clerk for three dollars a week. He was twelve years in the bank and rose to a key position in Toronto at fifteen hundred dollars a year. He decided there was no future in banking for him. “I mean, you could never own the damn thing,” he explains.

He went into the investment business and in two years, at thirty-one, was able to branch out on his own. He soon saw there wasn’t much money in this either. “You’ll never get rich watching the ticker tape,” he says. He sold his seat on the stock exchange and decided to make one or two good investments.

Graham has always believed in basic commodities such as milk, sugar and newsprint — three investments which have helped make him wealthy. With a partner, Percy Gardiner, he raised enough money to buy fifty-one percent of the Toronto City Dairy Co. When they finally sold out they had realized a profit of more than a million dollars.

He later decided to put his money into sugar, a commodity virtually unaffected by the depression. He ! bought heavily into the Atlantic Sugar Company (later Acadia-Atlantic) along with his partner Gardiner. Although the company had been under a cloud because of a large deficit, Graham realized it was a sound proposition. He ¡ got the shares cheaply and in the end lie and Gardiner owned it outright. It earned them an average of a million dollars a year throughout the gloomy thirties. Last year, when Graham sold his interest, it earned a million and a quarter.

He has a one-tenth interest in the , Calgary Albertan and two Alberta radio stations, a one-quarter interest in the Victoria Times and the Colonist and a stake in the Calvan Oil Co., promoted by young Max Bell of Calgary. Recently he realized a handsome profit, reckoned at close to a million, by selling his shares of Abitibi Pulp and Paper. Another interest is Canadian Collieries, the coal-mining firm founded by Vancouver Island’s castlebuilding Dunsmuir family.

Though technically retired, Graham, rose in buttonhole, gets to his office each day around 11 a.m. and usually stays until 5 p.m. He’s seldom too busy to take time off for eighteen holes of golf. His race horse Mafosta, the pride of his stables (now at stud in California), earned him a hundred and ninety thousand dollars. Pictures and effigies of Mafosta are prominent in his office and his home. His stables cost him a hundred thousand dollars a vear.

The Grahams follow the races to California each year but at Christmas time they spend six weeks at Banff with their children. A widower, Graham had nine children of his own when he j married Helen Bailey, who had four j by a previous marriage (one was j later killed in an accident). They have one child by their marriage, young David, nine. Many of the Graham and Bailey children are married now and have homes of their own and today there are thirteen grandchildren.

Originally the Grahams planned their home at Banff as a hideaway for just ,

the two of them. It was to cost eight thousand dollars. “Then,” Mrs. Graham says, “it seemed unfair not to include the children.” The house seemed to grow until only the size of the lot stopped it. It cost well over fifty thousand dollars. “It’s just a higgledy-piggledy sort of place,” Mrs. Graham says. “We had no architect. We tore down two shacks, put on a roof, dug a basement and didn’t care where the windows landed.”

The house can sleep twenty-five people. “We went giddy with color,” she says. Most of the rooms have a

Chinese motif. One bedroom is done in gold, with the mirror “silvered” in gold, drapes in dull gold, bed of golden oak with a gold bedspread and a gold bureau. The dining room has a jetblack sideboard, cherry - red chairs, white tables and black-and-white walls and ceiling. There's a fireplace and coffee table of black Italian marble, a mirror twelve feet high by twelve feet long and a bar done in Chinese vivid orange lacquer. “Freshest house you ever sat in,” says Ronald Graham.

Like their Vancouver home, the Banff house is often in use when the

owners art' away. Once a doctor friend of Graham’s went to a medical convention in Banff and couldn’t get a hotel room. Graham heard about it and offered him the key to the house. The doctor brought along another doctor who also couldn’t get a room and he brought another and so on until the party grew to sixteen.

This didn’t faze Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Graham in the least. They helped out by sending along their cook, butler and maid. Then they got on with the business of planning more parties in Vancouver. if