Wednesday, February 4, 2015

First Gas Station

If you went to the southeast corner of Cambie and Smythe Streets in Vancouver around 1907, you would have seen the first gas station in Vancouver. Actually, the first gas station in Canada. (It was started in or before 1907. The first car to appear in Vancouver was a Stanley Steamer in 1899 and the first gas powered automobile showed up in 1904.)

James S. Matthews was in his late 20s at the time the gas station opened. He was an employee of Imperial Oil and went on to become a city archivist. In 1955, he remembered the opening of the station.

“There had arrived in Vancouver a queer-looking vehicle called an automobile. We had read about them in magazines. One day, the telephone rang. The call came from the Hastings Sawmill and the speaker asked me if we had any gasoline which could be used in automobiles.

“The office boy replied that we had three kinds: One was ‘74’-brand Baume gasoline and was supplied to drug stores, who sold it to ladies for cleaning their gloves; the second kind was deodorized stove gasoline, used in plumber's firepots for heating soldering irons, and the third kind was benzine, used for dissolving lacquer in the salmon canneries along the Fraser to prevent the salmon cans from rusting. 

“The office boy went to the warehouse and told the foreman to send a four-gallon can of '74' down to John Hendry, manager of the mill.

“That can was the first gasoline ever sold in British Columbia for motorcar use.”

The number of cars on Vancouver streets increased dramatically not long after that and it was decided that the method of fuelling them - using pails dipped into large barrels of gasolline - was not only inefficient but also dangerous. So they got a 13-gallon kitchen hot water tank and attached a garden hose to it.

Now they needed an attendant. The night watchman, J.C. Rollston, was in poor health and Imperial Oil thought maybe fresh air and sunshine would help him recover.

“We got a barroom chair,” Matthews recalled, “and my wife made a cushion.” A corrugated tin shed was built for shelter and Rollston was installed as attendant.

The gas station was now open for business.

“The fresh air and the sunshine soon banished the pallor from Mr. Rollston's cheeks,” Matthews recalled. “and, ofttimes as I passed and waved good morning, he would call out, "I've been busy this morning!”

‘How many?’ I would call, and he would answer back, ‘Three cars this morning!”

There were also two bicycle shops that started selling gasoline. They would buy it for 20 cents a gallon from Imperial then sell it for 40 cents a gallon.

News of this new way to delivering gasoline to cars soon spread. Apparently in Florida the attendants were using garden watering cans. A dealer in that state wrote asking for details.

Now you know how the modern day gas/service station started!

I would like to thank the History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the information above.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. What is it they say "necessity is the mother of invention". Some pretty interesting ways to build a gas station. Love it.