Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 5 – Bicycle Livery

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 5: Vancouver once had bicycle liveries …

At the turn of the last century, before the automobile took over our city streets, bicycles were a common and popular mode of transportation. So popular in fact, there was a bicycle “craze” of sorts. Men, women and citizens of all ages were caught up in “cycling’s first golden moment”. But, what is the owner to do if they should find their “silent steed” in need of repair? Enter the bicycle livery.

What is a bicycle livery? Think of it like a horse livery, but for bikes. It was a place where you could rent a bicycle (perfect for visitors or fair weather riders) and where wheels were repaired and sold. There were several dotted around the city.

The popularity with all things two-wheeled resulted in bicycle races becoming very common in the late 1800s, and in 1890 the Terminal City Bicycle Club was formed in Vancouver.  Stories of some bicycle riders who were not only “reckless as to their own safety, but were indifferent to the safety of pedestrians” started appearing in the local newspapers, so on July 13, 1896, Vancouver City Council passed by-law (No. 258) to regulate the use of bicycles in the city.

Province Newspaper, 1898

Major J.S. Matthews, the first City Archivist, documented Vancouver’s fin-de-siècle bicycle “craze” in his book Early Vancouver. Here are some excerpts:

“The bicycle became so popular that racks were put up in the vestibules of the small office buildings to receive the “machines” of those employed there and who had business there. At the City Hall, there was a long rack which would accommodate perhaps two dozen bicycles. Similar racks existed at the C.P.R. Depot, and also public places such as parks, post office and hotel lobbies.”

“The “machines” were so numerous that the City Council ordered special bicycle paths constructed on those streets which were most frequently used. These paths were invariably cinder surfaced, and rolled flat, and ran along the edge of the street between the gutter and wooden sidewalk. They were about six feet wide, and constantly kept in order, level and smooth, by city workmen.”

“The bicycle paths led to and from some well-frequented area, or beside streets where there was considerable vehicular traffic. One ran from Seymour Street, along the north side, to the entrance of Stanley Park; another on the west side of Seymour from Robson to Pacific Street; a third from Granville Street South (from the Third Avenue Bridge) from the bridge, along the north side of Third Avenue to about Maple Street, where the track turned off in an indeterminate direction through the clearing until it reached Greer’s Beach.”

Terminal City Cycling Club at the reservoir near Prospect Point, Aug. 12, 1892. Photo: COV Archives, P18

By 1910, the automobile was starting to gain popularity and the street car system was well established in the city. So, like their equine counterparts, the bicycle went out of favour and bicycle liveries began to die out.




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