Gems From Early Vancouver

Beach Pyjamas

These were first seen in Vancouver in the early summer of 1930, and a few only of the “braver” ones wore them; some thought them “startling,” others had as many comments as there were minds and tongues to utter. By 1932 all young ladies, and many old ones, were wearing beach pyjamas. They may not be the most modest of garments, but are certainly an improvement on the extensive “décolletage” of post war years prior to 1930.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 2 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 353.

12 June 1931 - Early C.P.R. Trains. First C.P.R. Depot

“Grown men, the silly things, would run across the street” (at New Westminster—Columbia Street) “to see the train ‘pull in’ or ‘pull out’; they had never seen a train in their lives. My father had to assure them that it was quite safe to go on board; but even then, some of them would feel the seats, to see if they were loose or fastened. They did amuse me when the first trains arrived.”

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 34.

Three Creeks of the Forest, Now Vancouver

(This would make an interesting compilation if I had time to complete it. JSM. 1953.)

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 7 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 111.

29 June 1931 - Wild Animals in Vancouver

A cougar was killed by men sent to hunt it, in Stanley Park about the last week of October 1911. It is now to be seen, mounted, in a glass case at the Stanley Park Pavilion. A black bear was shot about the end of June 1911 on Angus Road (now Forty-Seventh Avenue West), Kerrisdale, by Mr. W.D. Goodfellow.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 45.

Wild Animals of Vancouver

The school was heated by cordwood, and the cordwood pile was the abode of a skunk; the school had to be closed for a day or so upon one occasion when the skunk became too familiar.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 51.

The Arrival of Captain Vancouver

It was the duty of the more responsible Indians,” said Mr. Qoitchetahl, “to see that the history and traditions of our race were properly handed down to posterity; a knowledge of our history and legends was of similar importance as an education is regarded today among whitemen; those who possessed it were regarded as aristocrats; those who were indifferent, whether adults or children, were rascals. Being without means of transmitting it into writing, much time was spent by the aristocrats in imparting this knowledge to the youth; it was the responsible duty of responsible elders. “When I was a youth, my father took me fishing with him. I was young and strong, and pulled the canoe while he fished, and as we passed along the shore—you know progress when one is rowing is very slow—it gave him ample time as we passed a given point for him to explain to me all about the various matters of interest of that location, which it was his delight to do. It was in this manner that the history of our people was preserved in the past; it was a duty for elders to attend to equally as important as the schooling of our children is today. Then again, in 1920, all was arranged for me to go to Ottawa to impart some historical information to some historical department there—I never went—but in preparation for it I went especially to Squamish to see the daughter of the ‘real’ ‘Old Chief’ Capilano, a sister to Frank Charlie, or Ayatak Capilano” (Ayatak) “of Musqueam.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 2 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 56.

Father Clinton

“Father Clinton, who was helping us, lost his hat in the fire. He never found it. But about twenty years after, about, I think it was at the Strathcona Hotel, we presented Father Clinton with a new hat. Oh, yes, it was a volunteer fire brigade.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 65-66.

The First C.P.R. Station

Mrs. Thompson: “The first I recall of Vancouver was the little red C.P.R. station practically surrounded by water, and a little wood or coal stove in the centre of the waiting room. I was only about three years old. We had just arrived by train from Arnprior, Ontario, that is, Mother and my sister Lottie McKay. Father was here building a house to receive us. It was near the present No. 1 Fire Hall on the corner of Gore and Cordova Street. It was one storey and a half and it was on the corner of the alley on Gore Avenue. It shows on Dakin’s Fire Map, sheet 12, as the only building in the block surrounded by Hastings, Cordova, Gore and Westminster Avenue. Father dug a well and we got our water from that. I forget how we got it up. It must have been by a pump, or else we dragged it up with a rope and a pail. After a couple of years we moved over to Keefer Street, to No. 245 I think, or about that, and then later we built a third—next door, and the number was 249 Keefer Street. Later on my mother got the little cottage at 253.”

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 7 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 333.

The Great Salmon Year, 1900.

At this time, if anyone wanted a salmon, it was frequently given free; sometimes it was paid for, five cents. In the summer of 1900, July, I was at Steveston; my wife wanted a salmon to take home. One was wrapped in a newspaper, and in attempting to bring it home without revealing that we were taking one, the whole secret leaked out. It was under my arm, and in the crush to board the conveyance, my arm was squeezed, and the slippery salmon squirted out of the paper, tail first. Several persons witnessed the incident; my wife was mortified; we had been caught in the act. We were guilty of the indignity of carrying home so worthless a trifle as a salmon, and what was worse, there could be no doubt, it was our intention to eat it when we got it there. Awful. It was not considered good taste to serve salmon for meals when guests were present. If it was done, the hostess sometimes apologised, said it was a “potluck” meal, ‘twas all she had, and excused it. Salmon was infra dignitatum among the elite, ‘twas food fit for Siwashes.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 70-72.

14 July 1931 - Residential Areas of Vancouver

Then came the real estate “boom” days. Vancouver was growing; the slogan “100,000 men in 1910” was heard on all sides. Shaughnessy, Kitsilano were talked of, cheaper houses gradually closed the gaps, filled up the vacant lots in the West End; then came the apartment house, and the West End went down a strictly ultra-fashionable district. The throwing open for settlement of the first section of Shaughnessy Heights—reputed at the time to be the most wonderful residential section of Vancouver’s future—unsettled all previous ideas of where a fine home should be built. The buggy was disappearing, the motor car was coming; distances were a less formidable an obstacle than formerly. The verandah was still a necessity, but rapidly nearing its end, and soon to shrink into a mere porch. The broad verandah, the scene so long ago of evening parties, of Sunday afternoon gatherings, of sunshine and fresh air in the summer days, was about to disappear. The Ford motor car killed it.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 78-79.

Vancouver Lacrosse Club. "Salmonbellies." "Greybacks." Colours, Senior and Junior Teams.

“The original lacrosse team wore a blue sweater with the word ‘VANCOUVER’ in white block letters across the chest; the letters were sewed on for us by Mrs. Alexander Godfrey” (Godfrey and Sons, early sporting good firm.) “But the blue sweater looked so badly after we had been rolling around in the mud, that we changed it to grey; I forget what the trimmings were.

“As you know, the Westminster men were known as ‘Salmonbellies,’ and they, in retaliation, nicknamed us ‘Greybacks’” (cooties) “on account of the colour of our sweaters; irritating ‘little insects.’

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 5 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 197.

15 July 1931 - Bicycles and Bicycle Paths

The bicycle became so popular that racks were put up in the vestibules of the small office buildings to receive the “machines” of those employed there and who had business there…All kinds of gadgets were invented as accessories, including “fancy toned” bells (rung with the thumb to warn pedestrians to get out of the way), lamps of fancy design (which burned kerosene), extra hand brakes, handles and handlebars of high, low and medium twist, mud guards large and small, rims of wood and rims of polished metal; and they all had their advocates, some violent...At the period spoken of, concrete sidewalks were limited to the space in front of some of the more recently constructed downtown buildings; all others, on Granville, Hastings, Cordova streets were wooden planks running crosswise; in the residential streets all sidewalks were of wood, mostly five-foot width crosswise save in the more sparsely settled, newer districts, where they were three-plank lengthwise. The streets were largely macadam or wooden plank. In winter, the macadam was muddy; the planks, frequently loose, had a nasty habit of squirting dirty water up the cracks between when a weight passed over, frequently soiling the trouser legs. This led to riding on the wooden sidewalks, especially in the dark or dusk. Pedestrians on these walks noised their objections with the result that a by-law regulating bicycle traffic and bicyclists was passed by the City Council. The fine for the first offence of riding on a sidewalk was five dollars; it was unlawful to ride a bicycle at night without a light...The “machines” were so numerous that the City Council ordered special bicycle paths constructed on those streets which were most frequently used.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 79-81.

Early Street Cars

“I used to live on Westminster Avenue” (about corner of 4th or 5th Avenue) “just above the old car barn down near Dufferin Street, where the first car line stopped, and, if I got a night call, I used to take a car out of the barn, and drive myself downtown. The motormen had shown me how to run the car; I just hopped on, and went off; oh, just perhaps as far as Cordova Street or Carrall Street; I was motorman, conductor and only passenger all in one; little open end street cars, open both ends.”

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 3 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 197.

28 November 1931 - The Canadian Anthem, "O Canada"

Mr. J.R.V. Dunlop (Jim Dunlop) who has now been secretary of the Vancouver Canadian Club for approximately twenty-two years—almost since its inception about 1908—told me some time ago that “O Canada” (Buchan version) was composed by General Larry Buchan in the berth of a Canadian Pacific Railway sleeping coach during a sleepless night. General Buchan was returning east after a visit to his brother (manager of the Bank of Hamilton on the corner of Hastings and Hamilton streets) in Vancouver. Ewing Buchan, the brother, was one of the first presidents of the Vancouver Canadian Club. Mr. Dunlop said that during General Buchan’s visit to Vancouver the suitability of the wording of previous versions had come up, and General Buchan, being troubled with sleeplessness, took advantage of the first night after leaving Vancouver on the train to compose a new version.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 157-158.

Oak Trees

Mr. Harris said: “If ever a lot of oak trees grow up in Stanley Park, I’ll tell you how they came to be there. I met an old gentleman in Stanley Park the other day. He gave me his card with his name on it; I forget the initials, but the name was Chamberlain” (sic.) “He’s a nice old gentleman, and I think he is on Old Age Pensions, or ‘on relief’; something like that. “He told me that each year for the last three years, he has planted ten pounds of acorns all about Stanley Park. A few which he must have planted earlier, he told me, are now about two feet high trees, oak trees. He has no permission; I don’t think the park people know he is doing it, and he plants them anywhere and everywhere. He told me that, in three years, he has set out thirty pounds of acorns, ten pounds each year, in the earth; just pushed them in anywhere.”

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 6 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 94.

The Start of the Fire

“But our three men who had helped fight the fire were never heard from again. What became of them we never actually found out; they had a month’s pay coming, which was never claimed, nor did we find the remains or hear from the relatives. Their disappearance remains a mystery to this day. They were men who had volunteered to go and fight the fire; sterling men of splendid character; not such as would have remained unheard from. There is little doubt that those brave men perished in a gallant attempt to bring the fire under control.”

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 198-199.

Vancouver Consumed by Flame

“The city did not burn; it was consumed by flame; the buildings simply melted before the fiery blast. As an illustration of the heat, there was a man (driving horse and wagon) caught on Carrall Street between Water Street and Cordova Street; man and horse perished in the centre of the street. The fire went down the sidewalk on old Hastings Road, past our office, so rapidly that people flying before it had to leave the burning sidewalk and take to the road; the fire traveled down that wooden sidewalk faster than a man could run...“As soon as the news reached New Westminster that Vancouver had been destroyed, the city officials sent out young men on horseback who rode up and down the streets shouting that Vancouver had been burned, and the people without food. Truly splendid services were rendered wholeheartedly by the people of New Westminster.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 199.

An Epitome of Vancouver in March 1936

Bank Manager: “Bob was in; said he thought he’d invest in City of Vancouver bonds at 83” (par $100.00.)
City Archivist: What did you advise him?
Bank Manager(1): “Told him he’d be a fool if he did.”

(1) Harry Cambie, Bank of Montréal (City of Vancouver bankers), manager, Main Street branch, and an old and trusted servant of the bank.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 4 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 103.

An Improvised Morgue for the Dead

“It was never known, and never will be, how many lost their lives. Of all the remains found, three only, those found at the corner of Hastings and Columbia streets, were recognisable by their features; then, too, we made an effort to keep the number as low as possible. Three bodies were taken out of a well down near St. James Church on Cordova Street East; at the time, there were some shacks down there. They were evidently husband, wife and little daughter, and must have been strangers, saw the fire coming, rushed away, and seeing a well, jumped into it. There was three or four feet of water in the well, and their clothing was unharmed by fire, but their faces were livid; the fire had, apparently, swirled over the well, and they had been suffocated, not burned. They were well dressed; the lady had gloves on her hands. It was the gum and pitch which made the fire so terrible, so fierce, and created a black, bitter smoke more smothering than burning oil.

From Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 202-203.

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