Friday, August 21, 2015

Years of Blood

World War I had ended and Vancouver rejoiced. 100,000 people resided in the town at that time and the only ones not watching the parade on November 11, 1918, were either marching in it or the motormen and conductors on the street cars. Which, by the way, were stalled for three hours.

A prominent, notoriously tight fisted, financier stood on the curb in a fur-collared overcoat, watching the parade pass. One hand waved his bowler hat while the other held a cheap tin horn, which he was blowing vigorously as he danced  a jig.

"Where'd you get the horn?" someone asked.

"Last one in town," the financier answered. "Had to pay a feller a dollar and a half for it." His face took on a puzzled expression. "... an' you know, it ain't worth two bits." On the street, drums pounded and trumpets blared as another band went by. The tycoon yelled and tooted on his horn before saying to his friend "...but what's a dollar on a day like this?"

As the parade went by and the crowd began to move on, the financier wiped the moisture off the mouthpiece, carefully put the horn in an inside pocket and put the bowler in place on his head, giving it a firm tap on the crown. He solemnly looked at his acquaintance and said,

"You know, George, it's the first time in my life I've ever said anything like that."

The celebration went on for hours but by the evening, it had spent itself. 

On the waterfront, every flag was at half-mast as the Princess Alice glided slowly into her berth at the CPR's Pier D.

At 7 a.m., November 12, her ghastly cargo was unloaded. 157 roughly shrouded bodies that were laid in long rows on trestles in the gloomy, cavernous wharf-shed. At 9 a.m., small groups of men and women filed through the improvised morgue to identify the bodies. 

These were not soldiers killed in war but victims from the wreck of the Princess Sophia in Lynn Canal, the worst marine disaster in the history of the Pacific Coast.  Many of these victims are buried in Mountainview cemetery and I wrote about this disaster in 2011 if you want to check it out.

World War I was over and "at the going down of the sun, and in the morning," the city honoured its dead.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, from Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information. I think I cried through most of this entry from being overjoyed imagining the excitement on November 11 with everyone partying then the heavy hearts the next day as the real world intruded with the delivery of those 157 corpses.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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