Wednesday, January 20, 2016

From Amusing to Murder

As World War I ended, the citizens of Vancouver watched a political-financial comedy play out. This comedy created one of Vancouver's larger business assets - Granville Island. This 'island' is an artificial mudbank in False Creek, which was first proposed by a city grocery wholesaler and Liberal boss of Vancouver in the pre-war days of the Laurier government, Robert Kelly.

When the Conservatives took office, the project was dropped. However, with a little assistance from H.H. Stevens (A Canadian politician), it was revived.

Originally, the plan was to dredge the creek and fill in the swamp at its head, east of Main Street. Sam McClay, chairman of the Harbor Board, became the leading promoter of the subsidiary fill at the south end of Granville Street Bridge. Under his own initiative, he borrowed $300,000 to build the necessary bulkheads.

The dredging firm took two separate contracts - one, to dredge a channel in the creek 300 feet wide and 21 feet deep. They then disposed of the spoil in deep water. The other contract was to fill in Granville Island. By combining the two contracts, it made a nice profit by disposing of the spoil in the area it was hired to fill.

Once the smoke of the political controversy cleared, the firm had its profits, the city had 50 acres of new industrial sites and the island had an autonomous existence. It only paid city taxes by consent and made a profit of $35,000 a year in rents. It is suspected that there was considerable hanky-panky about the business but nobody was viewed unfavourably in the press and everybody in this easy-going city seemed happy with the results.

Besides, there were more important things to worry about like the evolution of a new species of criminal - the automobile bandit. By January of 1919, gangs of youths roamed the streets at night and they would stage hold-ups. As many as five or six per gang per night! The thefts of automobiles became common and in 1920, about 60 and 70 were being stolen a month.

Crime rose to a climax in 1922. That was when many bank hold-ups occurred. A police court clerk ran off with over $3,000 and bandits held-up the City Paymaster Schooly and Assistant Paymaster Armstrong on the steps of City Hall one September afternoon. They got away with $76,000 meant for the city payroll.

Drug addiction was rampant and during October, a constable and a detective were shot down in a drug squad raid. That winter, Chief Anderson put armed patrols on the main streets to curb the hold-up men. It wasn't until 1925 though that an efficient prowl-car service was finally organized. The helped the police to be on a reasonably even footing in their war with auto thieves.

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

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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