Monday, April 29, 2013

Major J.S. Matthews

In 1878, in the far-off land of Wales, a man who was to become very important to Vancouver and its history was born. James Skitt Matthews spent his youth in New Zealand before arriving in Vancouver in 1899.

In later years, Matthews would recall picking blackberries on wild land near Thurlow and Davie - and area built up today.

Matthews worked as a clerk, salesman and manager for Imperial Oil from 1899 to 1919. It was in 1907 that he came up with a way to provide fuel for the new form of transportation, the auto mobile. James adapted a kitchen water tank and attached a rubber hose to it. Yes, James Matthews created one of the first gas pumps in the country.

Matthews served in World War I - he was on the front lines at Ypres. He returned to Canada as a Major and he used that title from that time on.

In 1924, Matthews retired from a series of business ventures and started exploring another of his interests - Vancouver history. He was director of the Arts, Historical and Scientific Society and had a collection of archival material.

This collection was massive and overflowed from his home to a space in the attic of Market Hall then to the Holden Building, then the new City Hall and finally to its own building which bears Matthews name.

This collection had been collected by Matthews on his own. He wasn't being paid for it at the time. But the City of Vancouver recognized the value of these acquisitions. The city officially recognized Matthews' position with a 1932 bylaw and provided him with a $30 a month stipend. By doing this, the city also claimed ownership of the documents. A fact that did not sit well with Matthews.

Matthews took the valuable collection back to his house. This sparked a debate and Matthews was eventually appointed official archivist in 1933 - a position he held until his death in 1970. The archives were returned to City Hall.

In 1972, the Major J.S. Matthews Archives Building opened in Vanier Park. This was the first separate municipal archive building in Canada. A fitting tribute to a man who was wise enough to foresee the importance of preserving our history.

I am getting this information from the book Namely Vancouver, A Hidden History of Vancouver Place Names by Tom Snyder and Jennifer O'Rourke.

This is a very interesting book full of tidbits of information. Like how the street Adanac got its name. There is so much to that story and I will tell you about it another time. A hint on where the name came from? Spell it backwards and you'll figure it out.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. I love the butterflies and the story of preserving history. I love your little stories and they make my day. Lana Lee

    1. Those photos are taken in yard of the elementary school just up the street from me. I love butterflies too, even have a butterfly tattoo!

      Thanks once again for your support.