Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 12

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 5

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.

 

 

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 4

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The mandarins are here! The mandarins are here!

As I broke into the skin and began to remove the peel, a bright citrus scent filled my nostrils. The peel was easily dispatched. I used my thumb to pry open the exposed fruit and removed the first segment.  I bit into the juicy, sweet flesh and I was instantly reminded of how perfectly delicious a moment could be.

I just ate my first Japanese Mandarin orange of the season and I couldn’t be happier… now the festive season can officially begin (none of this day-after-Halloween stuff!). Unlike the global, seemingly season-less, world of fresh food today (fresh raspberries in December?!), what makes these harbingers of the holidays so special is the fact that they only make an appearance once a year and that is something to be celebrated.

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Easy to peel, no seeds, and super sweet… who can resist? Photo: C.Hagemoen

When I was younger my family would get multiple boxes over the winter season – it didn’t take us long to plow through a crate of oranges. I remember one particular rainy Saturday afternoon in the early 1970s when my sister and I almost ate a whole crate of them over the course of an afternoon. We were hanging out in the den (playroom/TV room) and we just kept making trip after trip to the laundry room where the wooden crate of mandarin oranges was stashed. I’m surprised we didn’t get ill, but who can resist those sweet easy-to-peel little gems? Apparently not many Canadians, as hundreds of millions of these seasonal oranges are consumed in this country each year. In fact, Canada is the largest market for Satsumas outside of Japan.

The Satsuma mandarin  or satsuma orange is of Chinese origin, but it was introduced to the West via Japan. Originally mandarin oranges were imported from Japan exclusively, that is why for many decades (especially before WW II) they were referred to as Japanese oranges or, in the days of casual racism, they were also called “Jap oranges”. In a letter to the editor in the December 13, 1965 edition of the Vancouver Sun, (Rev.) Tad Mitsui suprised that he was still hearing this expression (sometimes in the media) explained that using this “abbreviation”, no matter how innocently, was very offensive: “Innocence that lacks sensitivity offends other people. And it is not innocent any longer”.  Later, they became known as Japanese mandarin oranges, mandarin oranges, or just mandarins as imports from other countries, like China and South Korea, came onto the scene. In my family they were called Christmas oranges.

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Typical rainy Vancouver November, 1963. Unloading of the first shipment for 1963. Photo: Province Newspaper, VPL 42222.

For the most part of the 20th Century, the arrival of the first shipment of Japanese Oranges in Vancouver unofficially marked the start of the holiday season. It was a much-heralded occasion. Sometime in the third week of November news would appear in the local media announcing the arrival of the first shipment of Japanese Oranges to the port of Vancouver, signalling that Christmas would soon be here. Customary images (like above and below) of longshoremen unloading ships on the waterfront and of women posing, peeled mandarins in hand, on crates of citrus cargo would appear in newspapers or on local television year after year.  I don’t recall when these news stories stopped, maybe sometime in the late 1980s, but I’m a little sad that this heraldic announcement no longer happens… not even a tweet!

Vancouver Sun images from 1948 and 1965.

Initially, ships delivered the oranges packed in wooden crates. These wooden crates were the second best part about Christmas oranges – they were easily transformed into step stools, tool boxes, doll beds, doll houses, and a myriad of other things. I remember painting a few of them as a child and using them to store my toys and treasures. In a 1933 edition of the Edmonton Journal  a “pioneer” offered thrifty instructions on how to turn a wooden Japanese orange crate into a “good-size footstool”. By the mid-1970s the wooden crates were replaced by the cardboard ones we still see today.

To protect and keep them fresh, each delicate orange was wrapped in coloured paper (the third best part). Predominately pale green tissue paper was (is) used, but I also recall that white and even pink paper was also used in the past. These coloured papers were attractive to me as a child as they could be used to fashion Barbie clothes and also used for crafts. During my newspaper research I found one instance where someone recalled using the mandarin wrapping papers as toilet paper for their outdoor convenience – a very thrifty use indeed!

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The label end from an empty wooden crate of Japanese Mandarins. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Forget the “Polar Express”, in the late 1970s CP Rail launched the “Mandarin Orange Express”. Multiple brightly coloured rail cars traveled east across the country bringing these seasonal treats to the rest of Canada. Mandarin oranges are a mainly western Canadian passion. Mandarin oranges were (and still are) shipped east of Winnipeg, but they aren’t as popular in eastern Canada where the clementine is the traditional Christmas orange of choice.

But just how many oranges are we talking about? In 1929, ships delivered 22 million oranges to the port of Vancouver to be delivered to the rest of Canada over the festive season in 200 full-sized Canadian Pacific boxcars. In 1965, nine ships delivered 3,030,000 crates for distribution across Canada. 12 years later, 155 million mandarins were delivered via 4.7 million cardboard crates!

Two typical Canadians unloading a car of Mandarins from the CP “Mandarin Orange Express” in Ottawa in 1979. Photo: Ottawa Citizen

How did this tradition all start? According to the BC Food History blog, in the 1880s Japanese immigrants in British Columbia “began receiving baskets of Mandarin oranges from their families in Japan to celebrate the arrival of the [lunar] New Year”. It is speculated that they were shared with their neighbours and thus the seasonal obsession with these luscious little fruits began in British Columbia.

The earliest account I could find of Japanese oranges arriving in BC for the Christmas season was from the December 5, 1888 issue of the Nanaimo Daily News, announcing that they had arrived for sale at George Calvasky’s Fruit Store on Victoria Crescent in Nanaimo.

It is believed that the Oppenheimer Bros. and Company (founded 1858) were the first importers of Japanese Oranges to British Columbia for the general market. Still in operation today, as the Oppenhiemer Group, this fresh fruit and vegetable wholesaler was also responsible for introducing many other foreign fruits to BC, including Granny Smith apples and Kiwi fruit. According to their website, it was was in 1891 that the company sold their first Japanese mandarin oranges.  This date does not match up with the one from the Nanaimo Daily News, so perhaps the Oppenheimer Brothers weren’t the first importers, but they were certainly the largest. Nonetheless, we have been enjoying mandarin oranges in this part of the world for over 125 years.

With Canada and Japan on opposite sides during World War II, trade ties between the two countries were severed. There were no mandarins imported into Canada until 1948 when trade with Japan resumed and once again mandarins were found in the toes of Christmas stockings. I also discovered some newspaper accounts of Canadians who started boycotting Japanese Oranges as early as 1931. Some Chinese-Canadians boycotted the oranges from Japan in response to the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria (an area in northeast China) and the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

The hold of a ship full of Japanese mandarin oranges. Photo: VPL 81110A

Is that a mandarin in the toe of your Christmas stocking? Or, are you just happy to see me?

In my family, like most families in who celebrated Christmas, the most important role the mandarin plays is as the anchor in the traditional X-mas stocking. Without fail, there was always a mandarin orange in the toe of our Christmas stockings. But, how did this tradition start? According to the website for the St. Nicholas Center (yes, there is such a thing), European immigrants brought many St. Nicholas holiday traditions to North America. An orange in the toe of a filled Christmas stocking is related to one of the legends of St. Nicholas’ deeds:

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.

The gold of St. Nicholas was often shown as gold balls and often symbolized by oranges, therefore the orange in the toe of Christmas stocking is thought to be a reminder of St. Nicholas’ gift.

1970s advertising graphic for Mandarin oranges.

So, go out and enjoy a mandarin orange today and savour the fact that you now know a little bit more about their history.