Monday, October 31, 2011

An Empress

If you are walking along the seawall at Stanley Park you might happen to see something in the distance that may seem a bit off. Somehow out of place.

And you decide to walk closer to investigate further.

It is very beautiful looking out over the water. But whatever is it doing in the middle of the seawall?

In 1890-1891 the Naval Construction and Armament Co. of Barrow, England built an ocean liner called the RMS Empress of Japan - she was also known as the Queen of the Pacific - for Canadian Pacific Steamships.

She was a beauty! This Empress and her twin- sister Empresses (there were three in total) were the first vessels in the Pacific to have twin propellers with reciprocating engines. Over the course of her lifetime the Empress traversed 2.5 million miles and made 315 Pacific crossings.

This is a replica of the figurehead that was on the Empress of Japan. The original has been restored and now resides in the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Although this Empress was part of a fleet of Empresses she stands out from the others. Perhaps because she held the speed record for crossing the Pacific for over two decades. Captained by Captain Henry Pybus, the RMS Empress of Japan won blue ribbon for record crossing of the Trans-Pacific crossing of 1897. (As you may remember I wrote a bit about the Captain in an earlier entry.)
The RMS Empress of Japan was built to carry mail (RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship) and passengers but there was an agreement of commission between the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Canadian federal government and the British government with a clause that stated that in the event of war the Empress would be refitted to meet with Admiralty requirements. So the ship was refitted as an Armed merchantman during World War I.

The Empress of Japan served well during war and she was the only one of the three original Empresses to return to the Trans-Pacific route.

But she was weary and in 1922 the Empress of Japan was retired, she swung at anchor in Vancouver Harbour for four years. In 1926 someone abroad purchased her and she was beached on the north shore of Burrard Inlet to be scrapped locally.

The tragedy of it all. This once beautiful ship who had sailed the seas so proudly was now run aground and being torn apart by indifferent workers. The wall hangings were ripped apart and being used as rags, the mahogany panelling was being cast into the water and the once majestic figurehead that had helped guide the Empress through the seas had been discarded and slated for destruction.

But all was not lost. Some Vancouverites descended on the wreckage site to salvage what they could and to this day if you happen to walk into the right home you would be able to see remnants of this glorious ship.

And the editor of the Daily Province, Frank Burd, heard about the disposal of the figurehead and went into action. It is rumoured that some reporters found themselves with a unique assignment that day: to rummage through the dump looking for parts of a large wood carving and removing those pieces.

The figurehead was found and it was erected at Stanley Park in November of 1927. But it was wood and even with the occasional slap of paint - it was not painted in anything close to the original colours though - the figurehead began to deteriorate.

But then Norman Hacking, marine editor at the Province, became involved. The figurehead was removed and replaced with the fibreglass copy. The original sat in the work yards of Stanley Park for years before being transported to the relative safety of the Maritime Museum. There it waited fourteen years before it was moved to a laboratory to be restored. (It is quite a long process of how the figurehead was restored. If you are interested then please visit this page of the History of Vancouver website.)

Now the figurehead is a proud display of a colorful piece of maritime history at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

1935 Continues

As we continue our look at 1935 I am posting photos of the interesting things I have seen around the city. If you watched the opening or closing ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics you will recognize this structure. Though it was all lit up then!

On June 11, 1935 the first of the 'baby bonds' which were meant to finance the building of the new city hall were issued.

James (Mickey) O'Rourke put on his Victoria Cross and military medals and carried the Union Jack as he led 1,000 striking waterfront workers in what became known as the Battle of Ballantyne Pier on June 18, 1935.

On  July 20 public tennis courts were opened opposite Exhibition Park.

July 26 was a great day for entertainment. The Lyric Theatre opened to feature movies. This theatre on Granville Street had opened in 1891 as the Vancouver Opera House and in 1913 became the Orpheum. The Lyric closed in December of 1960 and was demolished to make room for the Pacific Centre.

During the summer of 1935 the Grouse Mountain Highway and Scenic Resort found itself unable to pay its bills, including $20,000 in taxes to the District of North Vancouver. The property and everything on it reverted to North Vancouver and that district closed the road to Grouse Mountain. It remained closed for many years.

Also during that summer a forum for amateur talent, the Kitsilano Showboat, started. It is still running to this day.

In September a horseshoe pitch opened in Burnaby. It had been built by residents on relief and those working off delinquent taxes.

October 5 was the day that ground was broken at Strathcona Park for the new city hall.

In December J.S. Ross who happened to have been the first editor for 1886's Vancouver Daily News, died.

On November 15 a young man by the name of John Cullen bought his first record, a song called Don't Give Up the Ship by Dick Powell. Cullen went on to become Boy Disc Jockey, Jack Cullen and his collection of records, transcriptions and discs will become one of the world's largest while his  late-night CKNW show, The Owl Prowl, was hugely successful.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011


On January 1, 1935 Mayor Gerry McGeer took office. He had campaigned on the promise that he was going to fight crime, and to do away with slot machines, gambling, book-making, white slavery and corruption in the police force. In his first week McGeer confiscated 1,000 slot machines.

Some called McGeer a megalomaniac due to his zealous and vigorous management style. He was both praised and criticized for his handling of a potential strike by 2,000 workers from federal camps. He read them the riot act and called in police to arrest the leaders.

In April of 1935 Mayor McGeer firmly cemented his image in some minds of being on the side of those with money who feared that communism would take over when he read the riot act to a group of unemployed men who had marched to Victory Square demanding financial aid from the city. He called on the men to disperse. That night police raided worker headquarters, a riot began and police on horseback were called out to control it.

As well McGeer was accused of extravagance and corruption when he proposed to float baby bonds to finance a new city hall. He also got the location he wanted at Cambie Street and 12th Avenue which was at the time Strathcona Park.

On January 3 Mayor McGeer attended his first meeting at the Board of Police Commissioners. Holding true to his campaign promise he replaced the city's chief constable John Cameron with Col. W.W. "Billy" Foster, DSO.

January 21 - 43 centimetres (17 inches) of snow fell and that seems to still be the record.

West Vancouver No.5 ferry collided with the CPR's Princess Alice off Prospect Point. A woman passenger lost her life in this accident on February 4, 1935.

On March 1 the BC Provincial Police took over from the municipal police in Burnaby and would be responsible for enforcing the law in that city until August 1950 when the RCMP took over.

On March 11 the Bank of Canada was founded an opened its first branch in Vancouver. The bank resided at 330 West Pender - Page House - which was known for its stained glass ceiling. Bank robberies were a popular craze back then so the bank had a machine gun installed to defend the enlarged vault since at one time that vault held all of the bank's BC assets. Cash was transported through a now sealed off tunnel that ran to West Hastings street.

On March 19 one of our former mayors, Thomas Owen Townley, died while in Florida.

The Gregory Tire and Rubber Company of Port Coquitlam, which had gone into receivership in 1933, was purchased by Huntington Rubber Mills of Canada on March 23.

Francis Mawson Rattenbury was the architect who designed the Vancouver courthouse which is now the art gallery, the provincial legislature building and the Empress Hotel in Victoria. On March 28 he was murdered. Things had become a bit difficult for Rattenbury - or Ratz as he was called - since work wasn't coming his way and he began an affair with 31 year-old Alma Pakenham who happened to be married. Both she and the 67 year old Rattenbury got divorces then fled to his native England. There Alma began an affair with the couple's 19 year old chauffeur and he bashed Ratz head in with a mallet.

Standard Oil purchased 55 acres of land at the north foot of Willingdon in Burnaby for a refinery. The company moved quickly - buying service stations, local oil distribution companies, establishing dealerships, started a new refinery and even bought a tanker, the BC Standard. In this part of the world we know that company as Chevron. And to think Standard Oil's entry into BC began in a two-room suite at the Hotel Vancouver in March.

Lord and Lady Baden-Powell were welcomed at a grand rally of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides held at Hastings Park on April 15.

In May Vancouver boxer Jimmy McLarnin lost his world welterweight championship. This time for good.

On June 3 one thousand unemployed men boarded freight cars in Vancouver. They were part of an On to Ottawa journey to protest the conditions for the unemployed. They didn't make it past Regina.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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