Wednesday, May 30, 2012

King of Swing

On January 5, 1918 was an auspicous day for Vancouver and big band music. For that was the day that the legendary Dallas (Dal) Murray Richards was born - a future Canadian big band leader who became known as the King of Swing.
Richards' saxophone and clarinet was first heard in the Sandy DeSantis and Stan Paton bands but it was with his own 11-piece band and the unknown young Juliette that Richards first became known. As I have written before, Richards' band was booked to play a six-week engagement to replace Matt Kenney and his Western Gentlemen - who happened to be the leading dance band at the time. The gig was at the Hotel Vancouver. That temporary gig turned into a twenty-five year appearance and a musical legend. (He has also played the Orpheum more times than he can remember)

Dal formed his first band as a kid after hearing Benny Goodman on the radio. At the age of 15 he played clarinet in the Kitsilano Boys Band, which was led by Arthur Delamont. After graduating Magee High School, Richards went to work as musician in clubs. He worked part time at the White Rock's Blue Moon Room playing saxophone. It was while working as a sideman at the Palomar Ballroom for Sandy DeSantis that Dal Richards' career was set. He was asked one day if he could lead the band and he did.

But by 1965 the music industry was changing and the big band style was no longer drawing in the audiences it once was. So Richards changed his career path and studied hospitality management at BCIT.

Fortunately in the mid-80s interest in the big band sound was revived and Richards was able to return to his love of being a working musician.

Dal Richards and his bands played at the opening of the Vogue Theatre in 1941; the opening of Empire Stadium in 1954;the played at the ceremonies that ushered the BC Lions into the CFL; they opened the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on July 5, 1959, in 1983 Dal's band played at the opening of the Vancouver Art Gallery at its present location as well as opening the Vancouver's Trade and Convention Centre in 1987.

And Dal is still going strong. He hosts an hour long radio show that features music from the 1930s, 40s and 50s on 650 AM. He still leads his band, in fact he has gigs set up for today, tomorrow and Saturday. (I look at the calendar at I also see him on TV in a commercial. He may be 94 years old but he is showing no signs of slowing down.

There is so  much information on this great entertainer and I don't have the room to tell all of it. I have also gleaned the information from many different sites.

If you are interested in seeing Dal Richards perform, visit his website and check the calender or book him for an event.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Silk Train

Saturday I went to my parents' place in Kitsilano. While riding the bus there something happened that I cannot remember every happening before. We had to stop and wait for a train to cross. I have seen the tracks that cross Powell Street, have walked over them, but have never seen a train go by there.

Later on the way home, I met a woman who also happened to be an author. Sharon Rowse has written a book called The Silk Train Murder that has information on a piece of Vancouver's history, the silk trains. Trains seemed to be the focus of Saturday so I decided to let all my readers know about the silk trains that once ran through Vancouver.

From 1887 until the late 1930s, special trains ran from Vancouver through the Rocky mountains, across the Prairies to Montreal and Buffalo. These trains were filled with precious raw silk from the Orient. The material was perishable, expensively insured and bound for the National Silk Exchange in New York.
The trains carrying this expensive cargo - a full train's shipment would be worth upwards of six million dollars - were given every courtesy. All other trains, no matter who was on board, would let these speedsters pass. And rightly so. The insurance of the cargo was charged by the hour and the clock started ticking the moment the bales of silk were loaded onto the trains and would continue until the cargo reached its eastern destination.

The silk business was quite lucrative for both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. Often freight agents would board a ship carrying bales of silk in Victoria so that they could get the paperwork started and the unloading in Vancouver would not delayed. Once in Vancouver ship Captains would be yelling orders from a megaphone while the silk bales were speeding down conveyor belts to waiting stevedores who would manhandle the ninety-kilogram bales from the dock to the warehouse where waiting customs agents would clear the cargo on the spot. The precious burlap wrapped bales would then be loaded onto the specially designed rail cars and off the silk would go to its destination.

Speed was most important here and the rail cars reflected that. They were made shorter than regular box cars so that they could take corners at higher speeds. These cars were lightweight, solid and fast. By the time the ship docked in Vancouver eight to fifteen of these cars would be coupled to an engine that was ready to go with an engineer's hand at the throttle.

These trains were fast but there weren't a lot of accidents. In fact, only one srious incident is recorded - on September 21, 1927 a car jumped the tracks just east of Hope as the train rounded a bend. Two or three bales followed and bales of silk ended up in the river. Fortunately, there were no deaths and the cargo was salvaged. There were also no robberies, perhaps due to the armed guards that travelled the train.

For a while, Vancouver was known as the 'Silk Port of North America'. The 1920s were our boom years, people were making money and silk was flying across the country. Alas, all things must come to an end. Black Friday hit in October of 1929, business failed, people lost money and the world was thrust into a depression. There was just no money to be spent on frivolous items such as silk. when World War II began, the silk was needed for parachutes for our soldiers. Then with the advent of fabrics such as nylon, silk was truly a luxury item.

Gone forever were the trains that sped along the tracks with cinder and smoke and steam billowing, much to the delight of those who happened to be in the vicinity. Now the silk train is part of our past.

I want to thank Sharon Rowse for filling me informing me of this piece of our history and to the website for the information. There is so much more information available on these trains if you want to find it.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Fun Friday

More fun facts along with photos. I invite you to relax, read and enjoy.

This building at 1102 Commercial Drive was built in 1908.

There was a nurse at the Vancouver Hospital for Crippled Children in 1947 who loved to read stories and poems to the children. A young boy was excited one day to see a bluebird on his windowsill and this inspired Elizabeth Clarke to write the poem Bluebird on the Windowsill.

Ms. Clarke set Bluebird on the Windowsill to music and later the song became a big hit. The Rhythm Pals, Doris Day, Bing Crosby and many others recorded it. This could have made Elizabeth Clarke a wealthy woman but she donated all the proceeds from the song to the hospital.

Speaking of Bing Crosby, Crosby came to Vancouver on September 20, 1948 to record his radio show. Before the show, Bing was made a full-blooded Indian Chief and the Squamish tribe that made him a chief named him 'Chief Thunder Voice'.

Karl Norman was one of the performers in an operetta entitled Naughty Marietta, which was being performed at the Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS) in 1948. While the show was going on, the power went out but in the true spirit of 'the show must go on' the orchestra kept playing and Norman kept singing. Light was supplied when some people from the audience "lined up their cars at the back of Malkin Bowl and lit the performance with their headlights.”

Also in 1948 there were 60,000 daffodil bulbs planted along the Stanley Park Causeway. These bulbs were gifted to our city as a thank  you from a city in the Netherlands that was expressing their gratitude for the help Canadian soldiers had supplied in freeing their city from the Nazis.

Jennie Wong won a 'new disc jockey' contest that was held in 1948 and judged by such people as Frank Sinatra. Her prize was a half-hour Saturday afternoon program called Jennie's Juke Joint. Wong became not only the first female disc jockey but also the first Chinese-Canadian one.

Still talking radio here, on August 15, 1949 Jack Cullen was in the process of switching radio stations and on his final day at CKMO, Cullen did two shows that day at the same time on different stations. He taped his show for CKMO then did his CKNW show live.

Six days later B.C.'s biggest quake in history occurred just off the Queen Charlotte Islands. It was 8.1 on the Richter scale and was felt to the uninhabited west of the Islands though damage was minimal.

November 27, 1949 was the day that West Vancouver was isolated from the rest of us for ten days. A rain-swollen Capilano River swept away part of the Marine Road, the only road link at the time to West Vancouver, as well as part of the Capilano Bridge.

Thanks to The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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