Her name was Lulu, she was a showgirl

Lulu Island (Richmond)

Lulu Island (Richmond) – Detail, Map 879,  CoV Archives.

Ever wonder how Lulu Island (on which the City of Richmond now sits) got its “fanciful” name? Lulu Island was named after a showgirl, but not just any showgirl. Miss Lulu Sweet was a young stage actress from the US who, along with the theatrical troupe to which she belonged, performed in Colonial British Columbia in the early 1860s. Lulu Sweet appeared locally on stages in New Westminster and Victoria. Much praised in the press, her demeanor, acting, and graceful manners were so admired that even Colonel Richard Moody, Commander of the Royal Engineers stationed in New Westminster, was smitten. As it was he who named the largest island in the estuary of the Fraser River after her.

Miss Lulu Sweet.

Miss Lulu Sweet ca. 1860s.

Not much is known about Miss Lulu Sweet, but I was able to cobble together a little bit about her and the story of the naming of Lulu Island. The exact details sometimes vary or are vague, according to several sources (including Thomas Kidd, Chuck Davis, Chad Evans, Art Downs, Richard Wolfenden and the Daily British Colonist) the basic story is as follows:

Miss Lulu Sweet was a member of the Potter Troupe, an American Music-Hall troupe from San Francisco. The troupe “of fifteen Ladies and Gentlemen of acknowledged talent and respectability” first appeared in Victoria on October 8, 1860, at the Colonial Theatre. Miss Lulu Sweet (about 16 years old) and her mother Mrs. E. Sweet were in the cast that performed that evening. The troupe arrived in Victoria from San Francisco aboard the steamer, Brother Jonathan.

Arrivals in Victoria showing the Potter Troupe and Miss Lulu Sweet, Daily British Colonist October 8, 1861

Miss Lulu Sweet, something of a child star in San Francisco in the late 1850s, was a theatrical triple threat. In the press she was extolled as “the beautiful Juvenile Actress, Songstress and Danseuse”– who became the darling of the Victoria and the New Westminster theatrical scene (such as it was).

Praise for Miss Sweet in the press from the other side of the border:

Miss Lulu Sweet, familiarly known as “Sweet Lulu”, though quite young has already earned a flattering reputation as songstress and danseuse – Oregon Argus, June 16, 1860

 

Miss Lulu Sweet is well known to the people hereabouts; she has improved much since we last saw her, and grown womanly. Instead of seeing her as in days before, la petite Lulu, we see her as a grown and accomplished actress, with all the charms incident to her beauty – Red Bluff Beacon, 13 July 1859

 

I liken her popularity in colonial British Columbia to that of a young Mary Pickford, who was one of the most popular film actresses of the 1910’s and 1920s.

After a three-month theatrical run in Victoria, the Potter Troupe set sail on December 20, 1860, for New Westminster and the Pioneer Theatre. Capt. John T. Walbran, who wrote British Columbia Coast Names, noted that the Potter Troupe was the first Theatrical troupe to ever appear in New Westminster.

It is important to note at this point in the story that Colonial British Columbia was a rough and tumble place and mainly a land of men (and not necessarily gentlemen). With nothing of a society to speak of, I imagine having talented, young gentile ladies (actresses) coming to town would have been quite a big deal to those socially starved residents (like the officers in the Royal Engineers). Her appearance in the area, according to Thomas Kidd, no doubt added to “the gaiety of that part of the British Nation”.

New Westminster ca. 1863.

New Westminster ca. 1863, at least two years after Miss Lulu Sweet first appeared in the Colony of British Columbia.

This first series of appearances of Miss Lulu Sweet and the Potter Troupe in New Westminster ended January 11, 1861. According to Chuck Davis, Lulu Sweet became one of the favourite performers of the Royal Engineers, who were stationed in the Lower Mainland and built much of the infrastructure of the young colony on behalf of the British Empire.

After their successful engagement in New Westminster, the Troupe (including Miss Lulu Sweet) then traveled back to Victoria on January 12, 1861,aboard aboard the steamer Otter. It was on this trip that the tale of how Lulu Island got its name took place.

Daily Colonist January 15, 1861. Lulu Sweet arrives back in Victoria aboard the Otter.

Daily British Colonist January 15, 1861. Lulu Sweet arrives back in Victoria aboard the Otter – there is no mention of the Emily Harris*.

While the steamer Otter (some accounts name the steamer Emily Harris*) was en route to Vancouver Island. Colonel Richard Moody of the Royal Engineers (Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works in the Colony of British Columbia), was also on board the steamer. It seems that Col. Moody had been to several of the Potter Troupe’s performances at the Pioneer Theatre (in late December 1860 and early January 1861), where he had become quite enamored of Miss Lulu Sweet, “the lovely ingénue who had captured the heart of New Westminster”.

Col. Richard Moody

Colonel Richard Moody of the Royal Engineers.

The story goes that Col. Moody accompanied Miss Lulu Sweet on deck as the Otter (or Emily Harris) traveled the Fraser River on its way to Victoria. While he was pointing out various landmarks to her, they passed by a large island. Miss Sweet asked him what it was called. The Colonel replied that it had no name, “but in tribute to you we shall call it Lulu Island”. It has also been suggested that Colonel Moody exclaimed: “By Jove! I’ll name it after you”. Whether by Jove or in tribute, several accounts corroborate that Lulu Island was indeed named in honour of Miss Lulu Sweet. By 1862 (1863) Lulu Island was officially on the next British Admiralty chart of the area.

Col. Moody was only one of Lulu’s admirers. “Come back to us” noted the Daily British Colonist Newspaper, August 25, 1862. “Lulu Sweet or ‘Sweet Lulu’ as the Oregonians appropriately call her, arrived on the Oregon and will appear this evening as Pauline… Lulu is a charming little actress, and used to take Victoria by storm a year and half ago.”

Daily Colonist September 8, 1862. Sweet Lulu is back in town.

Daily British Colonist September 8, 1862. “Sweet Lulu” is back in town.

“Her conduct, acting and graceful manners gave great satisfaction” Lieutenant-Colonel R. Wolfenden (of the Royal Engineers under Col. Moody) assured Captain John T. Walbran, “and were appreciated to such an extent by her friends and patrons that the island was named after her”. Capt. John T. Walbran wrote British Columbia Coast Names originally published in 1909, reprinted in 1971.

Lulu Sweet (actress) is listed in the San Francisco city directories (1862-64) as living at 30 John Street.  Sweet stayed with the theatre until 1865 when she married Mr. Smith in San Francisco. She died in 1914 in Burlingame, California.

 

 

Fun Fact: Early residents (farmers mainly) of Lulu Island used to be known as Mudflatters. Much of Richmond was muddy and swampy, and their greatest concern was the building of dikes and obtaining potable water.

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Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

I was a shy child. Consequently, I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a child that I first noticed the purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checker board grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post].

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Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band

The first time I saw this intriguingly odd photo on the City of Vancouver Archives website, I was inspired to know more about the photo and Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band.

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 - Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 – Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

The photo depicts Lesk and life sized effigies representing the leaders of the Axis and the Allies. The photograph, dated February 1942, is from a series of photographs taken for the Vancouver News-Herald newspaper by photographer Jack Lindsay.

I made a trip to the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch to search the historic newspaper microfilm reels to see if I could find the photograph in a February 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald. It wasn’t long before I found the image (or a version thereof) in the Thursday, February 19th edition of the Vancouver News-Herald. Unfortunately, the image that appears in the paper has cropped out Alvin Lesk and only focuses on his effigies.

Photo in the Thursday, February 19th 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald.

Photo in the Thursday, February 19th 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald.

Here is the caption that accompanies the newspaper photo:

Here’s Alvin Lesk’s ideas of how the war should end — Churchill, Uncle Sam and Stalin standing erect over the crumpled beaten forms of a cartoonist’s version of the Axis trio — a frustrated Japanese, a sobbing Hitler and a dour mouthed Mussolini. Lesk has built life-sized effigies to enact the scene and has them on display on Georgia Street, near Granville. He originally planned to put the fascist chieftains in a jail on a trailer, but couldn’t find parking space.

When I discovered that Lesk had originally planned to put the Axis leaders in a jail, the sign that the Churchill effigy holds then makes a little more sense:

This is where We would like the Axis Gang, Help put them there! Buy the new Victory Bonds!

The Canadian Encyclopedia entry on Victory Loans states that “Victory Loans were Canadian government appeals for money to finance the war effort in WWI and WWII” through the purchase of Victory Bonds.

Save to Beat the Devil - Canadian World War II Poster. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-1220

Save to Beat the Devil – Canadian World War II Poster. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-1220

Victory Bond sales were slow in Canada at the beginning of WWII, so after “the slow-moving second war loan of 1940, the Victory Loan returned with the panoply of colourful posters, patriotic pleas and vast sales apparatus which had become familiar in WWI”.  Alvin Lesk and his One Man Victory Band were just one example of a local patriotic plea for citizens to buy the “new” Victory Bonds.

Though I had some success finding the photo in the newspaper, I wasn’t very successful finding out anything about Alvin Lesk himself. The city directories of the time only listed a Vera Lesk, who was a musician. I suppose it is possible that they were related, but it would be hard to say definitively. I also checked the Vital Statistics for BC and could only find evidence of members of a Lesk family that lived primarily in New Westminster. Vera Lesk appears to be related to those Lesks. I found no evidence of Alvin Lesk in the BC Vital Statistics.

So for now, it seems that Alvin Lesk himself remains a bit of mystery. He must have felt very strongly about supporting an Allied victory to put so much energy in creating his effigies and promoting the sale of Victory Bonds. I wonder how many Vancouverites were motivated to buy Victory Bonds by Alvin Lesk’s Victory One Man Band and creative street display?

 

Fun Fact: Author Pierre Berton was the News-Herald’s first city editor.

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Fun with sticks and stumps

1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “clearing for a new city (Vancouver) at Granville.’ . From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

This was Vancouver. 1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

In the mid to late 1800s Vancouver was literally being carved out of the forest. As the city grew, the forested land around the town site of Granville (later Vancouver) was being cleared resulting in great piles of slash – branches and other residue left on a forest floor after the cutting of timber. This waste material was mainly disposed of by being burned in controlled fires (one of which, infamously got out of control in June 1886 and resulted in the Great Fire) but, not all of it.

Where most saw waste, a few saw opportunity. Along with the (sometimes giant) tree stumps left in the ground, this slash gave some creative/resourceful early Vancouverites lots of raw material to work with.

 

The bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel.

Bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel. Photo: CoV Archives - Hot P5.

Bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel, ca. 1898. Photo: CoV Archives – Hot P5.

One such example is the bar at The Poodle Dog Hotel (love the name!). According to the Major J.S. Matthews notes that come along with the photograph, “the unique Poodle Dog Hotel bar was made of almost every kind of bark, cedar bark, vine, and maple twigs, moss and fungus, etc. it was built by George Cary for Bert Burton.”

Though the image above is a little primitive (early artificial light photography), you can still see the amount of intricate work that Cary did. It sort of has the feeling of an old west tiki bar.

George Cary with dog (far left) poses in front of the Stag nad Pheasant Hotel. Photo: CoV Archives - Hot P22.1

George Cary with dog (far left) poses in front of the Stag and Pheasant Hotel, ca. 1888. Photo: CoV Archives – Hot P22.1

The Poodle Dog Hotel first appears in the 1896 city directory at 318 Cordova with C.S. McKinnell listed as the proprietor. Two years later, in the 1898 directory (same date as the photo), the proprietor of the Poodle Dog Hotel is now listed as a H.F. [Bert?] Burton. This must be the Burton that Matthews’ notes refer to and who had George Cary build him the unique and rustic bar. According to Matthews’ notes, Cary even spelt out the owner’s name in big letters made of maple twigs along the front. “The Poodle Dog” was on Cordova Street between Cambie and Homer Street.

 

Three room stump house.

Stump House in Mount Pleasant, ca. 1908/9. Photo: CoV Archives - SGN 988

Three room Stump House in Mount Pleasant, ca. 191-?. Photo: CoV Archives – SGN 988

The stump for this stump house (or rather shack) was likely left over from when Mount Pleasant was cleared of its trees to make way for the ever growing need for land and of course,  timber. These two side-by-each stumps were converted into a shack by Swedish immigrant Gustav Burkman, a carpenter/builder who lived at 4230 Prince Edward St. (formerly Seacombe Rd.). The stump house was located on the east side of Seacombe Road, now Prince Edward street, between E. 26th and E. 27th Ave. It was reached by a short trail from Horne Road (now  E. 28th Ave). According to the notes made by Major J.S. Matthews, this photo was taken by photographer W.J. Moore, who lived nearby, and who also provided some of the particulars.

The narrative for this stump house was cobbled together by Major Matthews from the information he gleaned from Moore (the photographer) and a conversation he had with the Burkman’s foster daughter,  Mrs. Robert Williams, in 1963. Apparently the Burkman’s (Gustav and Hannah) came to Vancouver via Seattle during Vancouver’s Real Estate boom (ca. 1905-1912). The large hollow stump near their property, was converted into a shack, or tool house, and was about half a block from the Burkman’s house in Mount Pleasant. One has to remember that at that time city blocks didn’t look the same as they do today, and often houses were few and far between. Mrs. Williams recalls that an old gentleman (then in his 70s), Mr. Cunningham, lived inside the stump. The Lower stump was the kitchen, and the lower part of the higher stump on the left was the living room. The sleeping area was in the top of the higher stump (a loft?) and was reached via a ladder.

The date of the photograph of the stump house is most likely around 1912. This would coincide with the time period that Moore and Burkman were in the Mount Pleasant area. They both first appear in the Vancouver city directory that same year.

 

J. W. Horne real estate office in big tree.

Real estate office in big tree [Georgia Street, near Granville] Photo: CoV Archives - LGN 453.

Real estate office in big tree [Georgia Street, near Granville], May 1886. Photo: CoV Archives – LGN 453.

Though this is a promotional stunt, it still shows excellent use of land-clearing forestry detritus. The photograph shows a group of men posing on and around large tree stump used as the staged office for real estate capitalist, James Welton (J.W.) Horne. He used the photo to promote the sale of lots in the new city of Vancouver. The men in the photograph on the ground are (L-R): Mr. Stiles, A.W. Ross, Dr. Luke Port, J.W. Horne, Mr. Hendrickson, and U.S. Consul Mr. Hemming. The men on the log are (L-R): H.A. Jones, Mr. Perry, and an unidentified man thought to be Mr. Perry’s partner. This identification is based on Major J.S. Matthews’ notes with the print indicating identification provided by the photographer H.T. Devine who took the photo in May 1886.

 

Considering that the large area we call Vancouver today, was clear-cut of its old-growth forests in the second half of the 1800’s it is not surprising then that some inventive citizens would take advantage of all that debris and get creative.

 

Fun Fact:  Tree stump houses were actually quite common in the Pacific Northwest. They were the only thing that remained of a logging industry once enriched by the giant trees of the old-growth forests.

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For the love of old buildings

I no longer live at the corner of 1912 and 1925.  I recently moved into a 103 year old brick apartment building. This was a big change coming from the mid-century (ca. 1960) time-warp apartment I left – wood paneling, pink bathroom suite, Formica countertops – all very Mad Men-esque.

I love old buildings; they often have special architectural details that you just don’t find in newer construction – high ceilings, claw footed tubs, odd little closets, built in furniture etc. This is the third time in my life that I have been fortunate to reside in a heritage building.

The first was an apartment building at 15th and Granville. Originally built in 1912, Shaughnessy Mansions (as it was then known) was designed by the architectural firm of Townsend & Townsend. They were known (infamously perhaps) for a “zig-zag” pattern in the brick work of many of their buildings. A fine example of one of their buildings (still standing) is Quebec Manor at East 7th Ave and Quebec Street.

Photograph shows Shaughnessy Mansions under construction at 15th and Granville, 1912. Photo: Cov Archives - Trans P89.

Photograph shows Shaughnessy Mansions under construction at 15th and Granville, 1912. Photo: Cov Archives – Trans P89.

Despite the noticeably sloping floors and other ‘wabi-sabi’ details that came with age, it was a sturdy old gal. Proving as such when a van smashed into the ground floor early one Sunday AM (at first I thought it was an earthquake).

When the building was sold several years ago it was torn down (save for the front façade) in yet another example of architectural taxidermy that has become popular in Vancouver lately. For those who don’t know, architectural taxidermy is the situation where developers literally “skin” the exterior of an old building and re-apply it to a new structure (stuffed inside). In my opinion, this practice of architectural taxidermy is a pathetic attempt by developers to fulfill their heritage preservation requirements. What is supposed to be seen as a nod to the history of the building is really only lip-service. It should not be confused with actual preservation.

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The Pro-Rec Program (1934-1953)

Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley PArk

Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley Park, 1940.   Photo City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 1184-2355

Pro-Rec dance demonstration. CVA 586-237

Pro-Rec dance demonstration in Stanley Park, 1940. Photo: City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 586-237

These intriguing photos are from a series of images that depict a ‘Pro-Rec’ mass demonstration held at Brockton Oval in Stanley Park in 1940. “Pro Rec”, short for Provincial Recreation, was a community sport and recreation initiative offered through the Physical Education Branch of the BC Department of Education. It was developed by Jan Eisenhardt (program administrator) with the support of BC Minister of Education, George Weir.

Pro Rec [demonstrations in] Stanley Park, ca. 1940. Photo: CoV Archives - CVA 586-226

Pro Rec [demonstrations in] Stanley Park, ca. 1940. Photo: CoV Archives – CVA 586-226

The community-oriented scheme (initially set up in 1934) offered volunteer-run games and recreation classes for those unemployed aged 15 and over. The program proved so popular, that the Pro-Rec program was eventually made available to all in 1936. Summer displays (like these from 1940) were used to promote a changing schedule of activities.

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“Please wait a minute Mr. Postman”

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of her move to this Province, a friend of mine recently mailed out postcards from her extensive personal collection to all her friends. Each of the thoughtfully selected postcards contained a brief narrative about one of her many experiences over the past 25 years. It was a delight to receive such a personal memento in the mail.

Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Analogue experiences like this are far and few between these days thanks to the internet. There is no doubt that everyone loves to receive a handwritten card, however very few people actually take the time to write one these days. Since the advent of email, texting, twitter, Facebook and other digital technology there really isn’t a need, nor desire, to write and send letters (or cards) via snail mail. Even etiquette traditionalists, bowing to the new technology, agree that email is an acceptable way to deliver an invitation, thank-you note or business letter.

What does this all mean? It means the end of the conventional post office and mail delivery as we know it. I’m afraid that door-to-door mail delivery is going the way of the rotary dial landline telephone (remember those?) and I think that is a real shame.

Illuminated letter drop at the main Vancouver Postal station. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Illuminated letter drop at the main Vancouver Postal station. Photo: C. Hagemoen

It’s a shame because it’s not just about the lost art of letter writing and receiving hand written items in the mail. It’s a shame because it’s also about losing the tradition of having your mail delivered personally to your door by another human being.

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