Monday, October 17, 2011

Mayors of Vancouver Part I

In early November Vancouverites will be going back to the voting booths to elect those who will represent our city. So I am going to show you some stunning photos and tell you about some of our past mayors.

Our first mayor was Malcolm Alexander MacLean who served from 1886 to 1887. He beat his opponent, Hastings Sawmill manager Richard H. Alexander, by 17 votes.

Our first election was quite an affair. Alexander had been the favourite but a strike at the mill divided the newly formed city especially after Alexander announced he would hire Chinese workers to replace the white strikers.

So on May 3, 1886 Scottish born MacLean squeaked by to become our mayor.

Next in line was German born David Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer and his brothers immigrated to New Orleans then resided in California. They opened stores that catered to the miners in the California Gold Rush and once that was over the Oppenheimer travelled north to Victoria to begin the business Charles Oppenheimer and Company supply business. Once the Fraser and Cariboo Gold Rushes began the brothers opened stores to once again cater to those with gold fever.

But that wasn't the boys only venture. They also bought real estate in Lytton and the Cariboo and joined a group that successfully lobbied the colonial government to build the Cariboo Road to Barkerville.

David did extensive work with the Canadian Pacific Railway throughout the 1880s while they were constructing the railway through the mountains of British Columbia. The Oppenheimer Brothers firm recognized the railway's importance and in 1878 joined the Vancouver Land and Improvement Company to purchase land near the western terminus.

In  1885 David and Isaac Oppenheimer moved to Granville - the city we now call Vancouver - and became city council aldermen in December of 1886. David also became chairman of the city Finance Committee. After the great fire David founded the Vancouver Board of Trade and was its first chairman from 1887 to 1888.

In 1887 the Oppenheimer Brothers opened our city's first wholesale grocery business which still operates today as The Oppenheimer Group.

In 1888 David Oppenheimer became our second mayor and served for four one year terms, leaving office in 1891. During that time Oppenheimer changed this city for the better. Under his guidance Vancouver saw the creation of services such as a ferry service across the Burrard Inlet, a streetcar system, and a water connection from the Capilano River. He advocated city control of utilities, lobbied for more parkland and playgrounds, for the completion of a city hospital as well as a Jewish section in the Mountainview cemetery. He financed many of the city's projects by selling city bonds in London.

Oppenheimer didn't take a salary while in office and he entertained official guests at his own expense. This habit drew criticism from some due to the overlap of his business and civic duties.

David was a philanthropist as well. He donated land to the city for parks and helped fund charities. When a fire destroyed Barkerville in 1868, Oppenheimer donated a fire engine to the city.

After serving four terms, David Oppenheimer declined to pursue a fifth term due to his failing health. He died on December 31, 1897 of heart failure at the age of 64.

The Vancouver Daily News-Advertiser (today's Vancouver Sun), which had been critical of his political career, praised David Oppenheimer as "the best friend Vancouver ever had."

Frederick Cope was our third mayor serving two terms from 1892 to 1893. Cope served during the city's first economic slowdown and his focus was on limiting expenses. City staff was laid off and those who remained had to take pay cuts.

Robert Alexander Anderson was the next mayor serving one term in 1894. He was a realtor who had served as an alderman before being elected mayor. Anderson continued the process of dismissing civic employees and he was fully occupied with dealing with the shrinking budget. But under he did set up a temporary relief committee that helped those out of work, a water committee was formed and milk inspections were instituted during his term.

Following Anderson was dry goods merchant Henry Collins who was our mayor for 1895 and 1896. At that time royalty was still revered and Collins gave receptions for Chinese statesman, Li Hung Chang, Lord and Lady Aberdeen, and the nephew of the King of Italy. It was considered a mark of Vancouver's growing importance that these dignitaries would schedule a visit to our city.

William Templeton had six unsuccessful bids for mayor before finally being elected in 1897. A butcher, Templeton had been part of a CPR clique that benefited from the land grant given the company for making Vancouver its terminus and this aroused suspicion in many of the growing working class.

Templeton was said to have an aggressive personality and was a bad political strategist. He only served for one term, losing a bid for re-election. After suffering that loss he purportedly committed suicide by taking an overdose of a sleeping potion.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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