Monday, January 18, 2016

Fantastic Prosperity and Destitution

Man and two bear cubs, Kitsilano, 1911.

Buffalo in Stanley Park, 1939

A Monday in Vancouver, 1940

Traffic at Robson and Hornby 1907

The girls had their skirts shortened, stockings rolled down and the long tresses were cut short. The boys grew sideburns, wore turtle-neck sweaters and pants 22 inches around the cuffs. Returning veterans of a five-year war were now adults and going back to school. People danced the Charleston, drank bathtub gin and read The Sheik.

The citizens of Vancouver subscribed $15 million to the final Victory Loan, ready to "bring the boys home" and some wondered where the world was headed. The world had finished World War I, the war to end all wars and it was now a time of healing. Of change and progress and celebration. It was the start of a spectacular decade - the 1920's in Vancouver.

Second Beach, 1940

Kits Beach, 1946

Harry Houdini hanging upside down from the Vancouver Sun building, 1923
Kits Beach 1920

The soldiers came home. There was a plan by the government to settle the men on farms but the returning heroes had another plans. They were exposed to places like Paris and the farm life wasn't what they wanted. Many settled in Vancouver, which created other problems.

Vancouver didn't get a lot of help from senior governments and were suddenly dealing with an influx of people. In 1920, there were almost 10,000 people without jobs - 3500 more in the Chinese community. The unemployed held mass meetings, retail stores reported a "buying strike" and married civic employees were getting two days' work a week. This was the "starvation amid plenty" that U.S. President Roosevelt dramatized in the 1930's.

Life got a bit better by the winter of 1925. 1800 men were on relief, receiving 25 cents a day for meals and the same for a bed. 

Logging English Bay in 1890.

Autumn in Stanley Park in the 1890's

Waiting for a streetcar in Mount Pleasant, 1908.

Three room stump house where Queen Elizabeth Park is today. 1910

There was also prosperity. Vancouver shared in the Wall Street frenzy and fortunes were made on the stock market. The province's basic industries - mining, fishing, lumbering - were all bringing in large amounts of money and Vancouver shared in the wealth. Politicians worked with large financial interests to create wealth and almost everyone got some of it. Even if the wealth was unequally and sometimes illegitimately shared.

Some of this prosperity came from rum-running to the States via Ensenada, Mexico. Business and crime were allied in those cases and some Vancouverites gained their wealth by cooperating with smugglers.

This illogical discrepancy between the fantastic prosperity and the never-quite-overcome destitution kept gnawing at the city's subconscious. I think it still does today.

In 1890, this man is leaning on a tree in Stanley Park. The cedar tree has a 50 foot circumference. 

Vancouver from the air, 1932

Foggy morning on Granville Street, 1908.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

The old pictures are from my mother's friend, Wes. Thank you.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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