Monday, December 1, 2014

Prairie versus Coast

Today, we are travelling back to 1939. In an editorial in The Vancouver Sun newspaper, prairie drivers were blamed for the large number of traffic accidents on the Big Bend Highway near Revelstoke.

“Travelling to Vancouver they have the outside of the road, theoretically,” wrote the Sun. “But in practice most of them take the middle or hug the inside. It’s the mental hazard that gets them after years of travel on the broad prairie.”

Naturally, this ruffled some feathers on those from the prairie provinces. The Winnipeg Tribune answered Manitoba drivers on BC highways “are being pushed into the ditch by erratic coast drivers.”

Winnipeg also had 288 days without a fatality due to traffic accidents despite being “over-run with goofy pedestrians who ignore all safety rules about crossing the street.”

This was perceived as a challenge to BC drivers so the Sun, in conjunction with the Traffic Safety Council, launched "100 Deathless Days". This campaign, which began on July 1, 1939, was to have drivers extra cautious so the city could go 100 days without a traffic related fatality.

On July 3, the campaign seemed to be working. The motorists of Vancouver had managed to go through a holiday weekend with only minor injuries. The organizers congratulated themselves. Perhaps this wouldn't be as difficult as first thought. Mayor Telford was ready to dedicate a sign installed at Granville and Georgia to countdown the number of deathless days.

The rejoicing was short lived. Later that same day, July 3, 55-year-old Thomas Hatley was fatally hit by a car at Main and Station Streets. The Sun stated “orgy of lawbreaking” on the city’s streets were committed by a small percentage of motorists - roughly 2% - and those licences ought to be revoked. In other words, it is a law enforcement problem.

The campaign started again but in a week, on July 10, Mildred Graham lay on her deathbed after a traffic accident. The paper's optimism for this campaign was diminishing. “We might just as well have started out on a mass rocket flight to the moon,” mused the Sun, (This was 30 years before humans sent rockets to the moon.)

Even though it wasn't the fault of the police, Chief Constable Foster said he would instruct the entire police force to enforce traffic laws, not just the Traffic squad.

It wasn't the fault of the pedestrians either. At least not according to the Sun. Yeah, pedestrians do stupid things yet “so long as motorists go on assuming that the pedestrian has no rights, we might as well pack our Deathless Days Campaign away in mothballs with the New Year’s Resolutions and admit we don’t want to save lives.” Unless Vancouver drivers adjusted their attitudes, we might as well “admit that we haven’t got what it takes to stop killing people” and should just accept that Vancouverites are simply of “weaker moral fibre” than Winnipeggers.

So did Vancouver make the '100 Deathless Days'? I'll tell you more on Wednesday.

Thanks to Past Tense Vancouver for the information on this entry.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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