Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 12 – Vancouver’s first female newspaper publisher

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 12:  Rena Whitney was the city’s first female newspaper publisher…

Sara Ann McLagan may have been the first female publisher of a daily newspaper (Vancouver Daily World) in Vancouver, however, the title for the first female publisher of a newspaper in the city goes to Rena Whitney. Like McLagan, who took over as publisher after the death of her husband, John McLagan, in 1901, Whitney took the helm at the weekly paper, the Mount Pleasant Advocate, after the death of her husband publisher Mayo Whitney in March of 1900.

Clippings from the Mt. Pleasant Advocate. Available via UBC Open Collections.

The Advocate was established April 8, 1899, by newspaper publisher/editor and lawyer, (Charles) Mayo Whitney. Whitney originally from Massachusetts moved to British Columbia with his first wife Laura and son Charles Francis Whitney sometime in the late 1880s. By 1890, the Whitneys had settled in Courtenay, B.C. where Mayo and his son Charles (Frank) started a newspaper, the Courtenay Weekly News. After the death of Laura Whitney on December 22, 1893 in New Westminster, the Whitney father and son team continue to run the newspaper in Courtenay until at least 1895. They drop off the radar until 1899, when widower Mayo Whitney and his second wife Rena show up living in Mount Pleasant and publishing the Mount Pleasant Advocate.

The Advocate newspaper office was located at 2525 Westminster Avenue (Main Street) in the heart of the Mount Pleasant village. “Devoted to the interests of Mt. Pleasant and South Vancouver”, the paper was not known for its hard-hitting news, but was nonetheless an important part of the growing community of Mount Pleasant.

Sadly, there is not much known about Rena Whitney. The 1901 Canada Census for Vancouver reveals that Rena Whitney was born in the U.S.*, on July 3 1854, was a widow, working as a newspaper publisher, and living with her son, Ralph Cummings (from a previous marriage), a printer, who was born September 24, 1878. Ralph worked at the newspaper with his mother, first as a printer and later as the Advocate manager.

Vancouver Daily World February 28, 1908.

Rena Whitney sold the Advocate in early 1908 due to health reasons. The Vancouver Daily World item (above) explains that she left the city for California. Unfortunately, this is the last information we hear about this intriguing woman who was part of Vancouver’s newspaper history.

*Update: An archivist friend of mine located Rena Whitney’s California 1934 death certificate it appears that she stayed in Los Angeles with her sister for the remainder of her life. The death certificate also revealed that she was born in the US not NS (Nova Scotia) as I previously stated.

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Fun Fact: The first female publisher/editor in Canada was Mary Ann Shadd Cary who ran an anti-slavery newspaper called The Provincial Freeman (1853-1860).

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 9 – Athletic Park

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 9: Athletic Park was Vancouver’s first purpose-built baseball stadium…

Athletic Park was sited atop an escarpment overlooking industrial False Creek at the south end of the Granville Street Bridge. Bob Brown, the owner of the Vancouver Beavers Baseball Team, known locally as Mr. Baseball, built it on land leased from the CPR on the southeast corner of West 5th and Hemlock. Brown purportedly cleared the land for the park himself using dynamite and a pickaxe! Over 6,000 baseball fans were in attendance for the park’s opening day on April 17, 1913.

Exterior of Athletic Park ca. 1920. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 99-870.

Mainly used for baseball, Athletic Park also hosted other sports like football and lacrosse, as well as labour and political rallies. Athletic Park was also notable for the first time a night game was played illuminated by floodlights in Canada.

Bob Brown bought the Capilanos baseball team with the help of Capilano Breweries Ltd in 1939. This team would eventually evolve into the Vancouver Mounties and later the Vancouver Canadians. Brown sold Athletic Park to Capilano Breweries Ltd. owner Emil Sick in 1945, but stayed on as manager until 1954. Athletic Park’s Capilano Stadium was home to the team until 1951 when a new Capilano Stadium (now Nat Bailey Stadium) opened on Little Mountain. It’s said that some of Athletic Park’s turf made it to the new stadium, ensuring that at least a piece of Vancouver baseball history would live on.

Athletic Park was demolished in the early 1950s to make way for the elevated Hemlock street on-ramp for the new Granville Street Bridge, which opened in 1954.

Baseball opening day, 1915. Photo: COV Archives, PAN N14B

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 7 – Vancouver’s first aquarium

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 7: Vancouver’s first aquarium was located at the old English Bay bathhouse…

Before the current Vancouver Aquarium was established in Stanley Park, there once was an aquarium located on English Bay across from Morton Park. The aquarium was located in a bathhouse built in 1906 (the building was torn down in 1964) and was in operation from October 1939 to June 1956. The former English Bay men’s bathhouse was leased by Seattle’s Ivar Haglund – yes, “Ivar’s Acres of Clams”, Ivar Haglund – in 1939.  Haglund was already the owner of an aquarium on Seattle’s waterfront when he entered into a share-the-receipts agreement with the Park Board to run the Vancouver aquarium. The aquarium opened with over 100 varieties of fish, plant and animal sea life on display, all obtained from the waters of English Bay and the Gulf of Georgia. The most popular exhibits were that of “Oscar and Oliver” the octopi and “Mike and Billy” the harbour seals.  A new wing that featured non-live exhibits like a ship’s wheelhouse, microscopic enlargements, and the story of the salmon canning industry was opened in 1941 to much fanfare.

Ad from the Vancouver Sun in 1940.

However, the war years must have taken a toll, because by 1945 unfavourable stories about the aquarium started to appear in the press. Like the one by Vancouver Sun reporter Ray Gardner, where he called the aquarium “dingy”, “damp”, and “unsightly”, saying it would be “a lovely place for Frankenstein to hole up for the winter”. In 1951, Park Board Commissioner called the aquarium “a farce, a dead horse, not a credit to this board”, and another commissioner called it a “monstrocity” – yikes! the bloom was definitely off that rose. It seems that the first aquarium may have been run more like an attraction, than as an educational facility.

These cartoons accompanied the 1945 Vancouver Sun article slamming the aquarium.

The bathhouse aquarium closed in 1956, replaced by a new purpose-built Vancouver Aquarium located in Stanley Park run by the Vancouver Aquarium Association.

In 1986 a Vancouver Centennial plaque was unveiled placed on a water fountain where the bathhouse aquarium once stood:

Vancouver’s First Aquarium – The second English Bay bathhouse, which was located on this site, was the home of the first Vancouver Aquarium. Owned and operated by Mr. Ivar Haglund of Seattle. The Aquarium educated generations of Vancouverites on the abundance of marine life native to our Pacific Coast. The Aquarium was in service from October 1939 to June 1956.  This plaque is donated on the occasion of Vancouver’s Centennial by the Ivar’s Corporation of Seattle in honour of its founder Ivar Haglund, and his special role in Vancouver’s history.

 

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 6 – Canada’s first movie house

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 6: The first movie house in Canada was located in Vancouver…

Back in 1898 in an old store/warehouse on Cordova Street, John A. Schuberg introduced the movies to Vancouver. Four years later in 1902, Schuberg, known professionally as Johnny Nash, opened the Edison Electric Theatre on the same street. It was Canada’s first movie theatre.

Portion of Insurance plan of the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, July 1897, revised June 1903 (Sheet 6). Library & Archives Canada

Schuberg (1874-1953), who was the son of Swedish immigrants in Minnesota, married a woman named Nettie Burrows from Winnipeg in 1898. They traveled to Vancouver for their honeymoon. They were still in Vancouver when Edison’s Kinetograph, the first movie machine, came on the market. Schuberg went to Seattle and bought a machine for $250 and some short subject films of the Spanish-American War. He set up a temporary shop on Cordova Street. Attendance for his silent films was low until he decided to add “sound” to his films:

“I got behind the screen with some tin to make thunder and a couple of guns to add some realism.” he recalled. “After that we had trouble emptying the place for the next show.” – Vancouver Sun, December 15, 1953

After a sold out two-week run, he decided to take his picture show on the road. Schuberg fashioned a black-painted tent as a portable movie house and toured Canada’s fairs and carnivals with his film show. They toured Canada and the US for the next few years until the fall of 1902, when they returned to Vancouver and opened a permanent theatre on Cordova Street called the Edison Electric Theatre. This was the first movie theatre in Canada and the second in North America. The first film shown? A 500-foot film, The Eruption of Mt. Pelee, directed by Georges Méliès.

 

I recently updated and expanded this story for Scout Magazine, “You Should Know That Gastown was Home to Canada’s First Movie Theatre

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 4 – Woodward’s Peanut Butter factory

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 4: Woodward’s once had a peanut butter factory in the sky…

1956 ad for Woodward’s peanut butter.

The base of the tower that supported the revolving ‘W’ on top of the Woodward’s Store on Hastings once housed the Woodward’s brand peanut butter factory. The one person plant, located in the 4-storey extension from the roof, processed thousand’s of tons of peanuts using a cast iron machine that was first installed at the Hastings Street store in 1910. A sentimental favourite for fans of Woodward’s Food Floor, Woodward’s brand peanut butter was produced in the factory until the 1980s.

Photo: HBC Heritage – Woodward’s

 

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 3 – First large-screen TV

Day 3 : In 1975, Morris Wosk installed the city’s first large-screen TV in the Sunset Inn Pub at the Blue Horizon Hotel….

We can thank Morris Wosk and the team at Blue Horizon Hotel for introducing large-screen TVs to the city, thus putting in motion the beginning of the end of the art of conversation in pubs and bars. In January 1975, the Sunset Inn Pub at the Blue Horizon Hotel installed the city’s first large-screen TV at a cost of $30,000. At the time, it was only the third such system in North America, and the first large-screen TV in Canada.

Province newspaper, January 22, 1975.

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.

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 2 – salt in beer

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 2: Vancouverites used to put salt in their draught beer….

Though this may seem inconceivable to us today, in the current era of craft-beer, but in the 1920s to 1970s it was very common to see a shaker of salt on each table inside Vancouver beer parlours (and in fact all over Canada). Why salt?

“The practice of putting salt in beer to reduce the acidity and to ‘put a head on it’ is common in Montreal.” – Montreal Gazette, June 29, 1927

It was thought that flat beer could be “woken up” by adding salt, as sprinkling a bit of salt into a nearly flat beer helps pull the remaining carbonation out to give it a head again. I also found a contrary reference in the book Canada’s War Grooms and the Girls who Stole their Hearts by Judy Kozar that said that salt was used to “flatten the fizz of the weak, over-aerated beer”.  So, whether it was used to combat flat beer, overly gassy beer, or bitter taste, adding salt to beer parlour draught was once used to compensate for poor quality beer. We’ve come a long way, baby!

This short video featuring Irving Layton was shot inside a Vancouver beer parlour in 1966 and clearly shows a shaker of salt on the table.

For a more in-depth and fascinating history of BC Beer Parlours check out Robert Campbell’s book: Regulating Vancouver’s Beer Parlours, 1925-1954.

 

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 1 – Vancouver gigolos

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 1: Vancouver once had gigolos for hire….

“In these dreary days when the ‘debbies’ want to don party frocks and go-out-and-forget-about-it-all and the ‘Co-eddies’ are willing but washed-up (financially) – well, what is a poor girl to do?”

This headline from the front page of the March 13, 1933 edition of the Vancouver Sun caught my eye!

“a gigolo must be well groomed, passable looking, properly dressed, versed in the social graces, a good dancer, hold his liquor well, and be depended upon to know his place and keep it. Individual assets are, of course, additional, such as: Barrymore profile, Adonis build, fiery eyes, foreign accent.” – Vancouver Sun, March 15, 1933