Friday, April 18, 2014

The Green Murder

It was the morning of September 15, 1954 when the greens keeper of the University of British Columbia golf course noticed something was wrong. Samual Bale was a conscientious man, proud of the way he kept the course. But on this day he discovered that a car had been driven down the fairway - around the tenth green and back again - leaving deep furrows in the manicured grass.

Bale went back to the clubhouse and informed William Rees, the club manager, about the damage. Together the two went out to the greens to see what could be done to repair the damage. 

Rees stared at the deep ruts, trying to decide if they would have to close the course for the day while the damage was repaired while Bale was checking the area around the green. That was when the greens keeper made a startling discovery.

In the rough just a few feet from the west edge of the green was a body of a man.It lay on its side with the legs drawn to the chest. Bale called Rees over and the two men approached the body. The duo knew at once the man was dead when they saw the bullet hole behind his ear. Wisely, they went back to the clubhouse and called the R.C.M.P. - Royal Canadian Mounted Police - who were responsible for policing the U.B.C. campus.

Corporal Morgan and Constable Walton arrived on the scene and examined the body. The found a man in his mid-forties, dressed in a pair of grey pants, a red plaid shirt, brown shoes and argyle socks. There was a blood stained edition of the September 15, 1954 News Herald newspaper tucked inside of his pocket. The mounties also found that in addition to the bullet wound behind the ear, a second wound in the right cheek and a third in the back, the latter left a large exit wound on the stomach.

Identification in the man's pants pocket showed the man's name to be Danny Brent who lived at 2066 West 15th Avenue in Vancouver.

The officers called in the R.C.M.P. Criminal Investigation Bureau and a photographer from the Identification Branch. Since the body was found 100 yards from the city boundary, the mounties also notified the Vancouver City Police.

Then the investigation began. The body was photographed from all angles, as were the tire tracks. The tracks showed great detail of the tire-tread in the soft turf and it was determined, from those tracks, the car entered the golf course from Blanca Street and was driven directly to the area of the tenth green. Then it circled in a clockwise direction. It had stopped near where the body was found before driving out back the way it came.

Dr. Glen McDonald - the City Coroner - arrived at the scene and officially pronounced the victim dead. The body was then taken to the City Morgue.

Who was Danny Brent and why did he end up dead on the golf green? And, more importantly, who did it? I will tell you more on Monday. 

Thanks to the book Policebeat by Joe Swan for the information on this crime.

I hope you find the beauty around you and a happy Easter weekend to all of you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Apostle to the Poor

Reverend Andrew Roddan had an understanding concerning the unemployed during the depression. He realized transient workers had long been a vital part of the Canadian economy and he understood the wanderlust of the 'boxcar tourists' of the Great Depression. “The Bohemian instincts find expression in the life of these men,” he wrote, “free to come, free to go, to work or wander, sleep or wake, calling no man their master.”

Roddan knew that most of these men weren't in the predicament they were due to laziness and he shared his views in the book God in the Jungles (1931) - recently re-published as Vancouver Hoboes and I will review that for you sometime next week I hope. This was long before the term homeless was so common and used to explain away poverty and mental illness.

The Reverend had a respect for these men travelling the rails."It requires lots of nerve and stamina to stand the racket on a freight train," he writes. "Some of these men have no food when they start. They trust to luck and plan to live by begging at each divisional point on the way across. Those who are old hands and know the ropes get by, some of them in great style; but the other poor beggars have a rough time and often they are hungry."

Roddan placed a lot of the problems on something called 'canned heat'. This was a process where cooking oil was made of wax and then impregnated with alcohol."It makes them blind, it makes them mad, and finally they take the count." He said.

The First United Church was just down the street from the Empress Theatre. Roddan's son, Sam, once recalled his father shaking his fist at the building and muttering, "To the Devil with their plays and tomfoolery. "There's more tragedy right here on this street and down these lanes than those actors will ever get on their stage. And here we don't need any makeup."

Reverend Andrew Roddan served the poor of this city until his death on April 25, 1948 at the age of 65.

Like his father, Sam Roddan was known to the less fortunate of the Downtown Eastside. This writer, soldier, artist, teacher and story-teller encouraged those in Canada's poorest postal code to fight for justice. His paintings showed the beauty and pain of the area.

Sam contributed writing and some of his paintings to the Carnegie newsletter - a publication put out by the Carnegie Community Centre, just down the street from where the First United Church stands today and continues the elder Roddan's work of helping those who need it. From the little I have read of him, Sam Roddan seems to have been an interesting, caring man who died June 8, 2002 at the age of 87.

So that was a look at two men in my community who devoted much of their lives to helping the poor. The information on Sam came from The Carnegie Newsletter - December 15, 2004 and I gleaned the information on his father, Andrew Roddan, from ABC The photos? I took those from the Vancouver Lookout.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hobo Preacher

This photo, from the City of Vancouver archives, is of Reverend Andrew Roddan talking with an unemployed man at the city dump.

Here's the reverend standing in front of men lined up to get food at the First United Church.
Here the reverend is distributing food to the homeless men at the dump.

Roddan again with the men residing in the jungles at the city dump. All four photos are from the same source.

Last week I told you about 'jungles' that had appeared in the spring and summer of 1931 and a bit about the men who had lived there. The 'jungles' were closed in September of that same year - officials used a death involving typhoid as the reason - and many of the men were shipped off to government run labour camps. And I am sure that some felt that was the best thing to happen to these men but there was someone who admired the spirit of these men and worked hard to try to help them. That man was Reverend Andrew Roddan.

Born in Hawick, Scotland on July 6, 1882, Andrew Roddan first served as a lay minister for the Royal Navy at Gibraltar. He came to Canada in 1910, training at the University of Manitoba. Roddan served at Winnipeg's Home Street Presbyterian Church for nine years and St. Paul's United Church in Port Arthur. He lived briefly in Saskatchewan - home of Tommy Douglas, the politician who brought our current health care system to Canada.

In 1929, Roddan came to Vancouver and began his 19-year tenure at the First United Church at the corner of Gore and Hastings. There the reverend transferred his Christian sympathies into practical acts to help others.

These are photos I took of glass covered photos on the side of the Vancouver Flea Market building on Terminal.

Roddan practised what he preached in his thick Scottish accent. With the help of volunteers, Roddan fed the hungry. In fact, the First United Church soup kitchen served 1,252 patrons in a single seating in November of 1930. It is estimated that the church supplied 50,000 meals to those in need during the winter of 1930-31.

But he did more than just supply physical and spiritual nourishment. Roddan lobbied for better social welfare programs, often locking horns with Mayor Gerry McGeer. The reverend was one of the first advocates for low rent housing projects in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. As he ministered at his 'Church to the Open Door', Roddan faced opposition from the Communists, who felt he was delaying the inevitable uprising, and government officials who felt his charity was drawing more hobos to Vancouver. (Personally, I feel that our climate is the reason that many drifters and such arrive in Vancouver. Spending a winter on the streets of Toronto or Calgary is a lot worse than a winter here.)

To fight back against the Communists, Roddan would point out that people couldn't eat the literature then hold a loaf of bread. He wasn't totally against communism though. He once wrote "I only wish the Christian Church could catch something of the missionary zeal which is burning so strong in the heart of the Communist." Nor was he totally against politics. He provided help to the families of picketing longshoremen in the labour unrest of 1935 and supported the candidate who ran against Gerald Grattan McGeer in the federal riding of Vancouver-Burrard and publicly supported the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion volunteers who fought for the leftist Republican cause in Spain against Franco.

Reverend Andrew Roddan was also a painter who held an exhibit of his work in 1942. Roddan was a charter member of the Vancouver Art Gallery. He was also a writer, penning the book God in the Jungles: The Story of a Man without a Home in 1931 which has been republished in 2005 under the title Vancouver's Hoboes as well as two other works in 1932.

Wednesday I want to tell you more about this Apostle to the Poor and his son, Sam. Today's information was gathered from a listing in the ABC Book World site.

I hope you find the beauty around you.