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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1968

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The 900 block of Granville Street in 1968. Item # CVA 780-52.The 900 block of Granville Street in 1968. Item # CVA 780-52.

In 1968, a B.C. skier struck gold at the Olympics, a few local landmarks were opened and a new force in civic politics was born.

By Chuck Davis, The History of Vancouver
Photos courtesy of Vancouver Archives

TEAM work

On March 12, 1968 the inaugural meeting of The Elector’s Action Movement (TEAM) was held at Grandview Community Centre; they will go on to become a real force in Vancouver’s civic politics. Among the prominent people involved at the time: Arthur Phillips, Walter Hardwick, May Brown and Marguerite Ford. Walter Hardwick, whose influence was immense—urbanologist Gordon Price calls him “arguably the most influential alderman in Vancouver’s history”—was the first TEAM member to be elected, and that happened this year. TEAM would gain a majority on council in 1972, and Art Phillips would become mayor. Hardwick topped the polls.

Cap College

On March 7, 1968 voters in the school districts of North and West Vancouver, and Howe Sound, decided overwhelmingly in favor of establishing a community college. Following the referendum, a new college council was formed, and at its inaugural meeting, members voted on a name. From among forty names—including Evergreen, Alpine, Sunset, Muskrat, and Seagull—suggested by North Shore residents, the clear winner was Capilano. On September 10, the first day of classes at Capilano College, some 750 students had enrolled, twice the anticipated number. Classes were held in temporary quarters at West Vancouver Senior Secondary School, and later in several church basements, a warehouse, and even a bowling alley.

Nancy wins Gold!

On February 15 B.C. skier Nancy Greene won gold in the Winter Olympics. Says the Canada’s Walk of Fame website: “Despite an ankle injury just a month before the 1968 Olympics, Nancy Greene took home gold and silver medals in the giant slalom and slalom respectively. Her victory in the giant slalom by a margin of 2.68 seconds is still considered one of the most decisive wins in Olympic history. 1968 also saw her keep the World Cup title as she raced to 10 titles on the tour.” There was a big parade in Vancouver March 7 for Nancy.

Elaine wins Silver!

Swimmer Elaine Tanner won two silver medals at the 1968 Olympics.

Pacific Coliseum

The federal, provincial and municipal governments joined forces to build the Pacific Coliseum. It opened this year. At the opening, Vancouver Civic Chaplain George Turpin offered the prayer: “Please God, bring us the NHL.” And lo, He did! The $6 million, 15,600 seat arena was a state-of-the-art facility that would become best known as the home of the Vancouver Canucks. (Their first game would be on October 9, 1970.)

The Bank of British Columbia, photographed here in 1974. Item # CVA 778-308.The Bank of British Columbia, photographed here in 1974. Item # CVA 778-308.

Bank of BC

July 18, 1968 was opening day for the Bank of British Columbia. A mob of customers descended on the brand-new bank, then at 999 West Pender at the corner of Burrard. In a big newspaper advertisement the new bank wanted everyone to know that all its female employees wore “smartly tailored sea-blue uniforms” featuring mini-skirts. “But don’t let them fool you into thinking they’re without brains,” the ad continued. “They’ve all been hand-picked for their secretarial, executive, teller or other banking duties. They’re smart in the head, too.”

Opening capital of the bank: $12.8 million in shareholders’ equity. To have a B.C.-based bank was a dream of Premier W.A.C. Bennett and, fittingly, it was Mr. Bennett who officiated at the opening.


On October 26, 1968 the Centennial Museum and H. R. MacMillan Planetarium were officially opened. The “centennial” in this case was the 100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation: the project got underway in 1967. Mayor Tom Campbell was there; so was H.R. MacMillan himself. In 1981 the museum was renamed the Vancouver Museum; today, renamed yet again, it’s the Museum of Vancouver. The planetarium, costing $1.5 million, was H.R. MacMillan’s gift to the city. Today it’s the “Pacific Space Centre, home of the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium.” The Space Centre would be launched in 1994. And, yes, that famous roof really was inspired by the shape of coastal-native hats.

Speaking of Mayor Campbell, on December 12 he would be reelected, pummeling TEAM’s Alan Emmott 63,035 to 41,956.

Heavy elegance

Vancouver Sun columnist Allan Fotheringham was prescient in his comment on the opening December 12, 1968 of the 29-storey MacMillan Bloedel Building at Georgia and Thurlow in downtown Vancouver. “No major new building in town,” Fotheringham wrote, “will dare to build out to the property line now that Massey-Erickson have shown the advantages of stepping back to leave some welcome space for the poor pedestrians.”

Architects Arthur Erickson and Geoff Massey accomplished something else with the $14.5 million new building: its deeply recessed windows and the gentle tapering of its two abutting towers give it a handsome, heavy elegance. Eleven of the 29 floors were occupied by MacBlo; the others were to be rented out. Today, with its original owner moved out, the building is known as, simply, 1075 Georgia Street West.

Also in 1968

On January 12 UBC’s Music Building, part of the Norman Mackenzie Centre for Fine Arts, opened at a cost of $2.5 million. The School of Music was first headed by Dr. G. Welton Marquis. Prior to 1968, the music department had been located in army huts along the West Mall.

The Student Union Building (‘SUB’) went up at UBC. It’s unique on campus: it is student-funded and run by the Alma Mater Society. The AMS is a non-profit student organization whose main objective is to develop, promote and coordinate the activities and particular interests of the UBC student body. The AMS has a membership of more than 40,000 students and is one of the largest student employers in Canada, with 400 part-time student staff and 50 full-time staff on the payroll. AMS runs all food services in SUB except Subway Cafeteria.

UBC’s Metallurgical Engineering Building went up.

The Charles Crane Memorial Library, a unit of the Disability Resource Centre, was formed at UBC as a reading room with the donation of a personal collection of about 6,000 Braille books, belonging to the late Charles Allen Crane—one of the more remarkable people in local history. Crane, known as Charlie among friends, was often referred to as “Canada’s Helen Keller”. Almost completely deaf and blind from birth (Helen Keller had normal sight and hearing until she was 19 months old), Charlie was a bright student at the Halifax and Jericho Hill schools for the deaf and a special student at UBC from 1934 to 1937.

UBC’s Ladner Clock Tower was built near the university’s Main Library. It stands 123 feet high. Named after Dr. Leon J. Ladner, QC (who donated $150,000 of its $160,000 construction cost), it houses a 330-bell carillon meant to be played during special occasions, such as the May Congregation. For the past several years, the bell has not sounded because of corrosion problems. It was “built in honor and memory of the pioneers of B.C. and in particular Thomas Ellis and William Henry Ladner.” The tower is a good orienteering point for new students and lost visitors since it can be seen from most central points on campus.

UBC’s Biological Sciences Building (Botany, Zoology, Oceanography and Microbiology), built in 1950 with a south wing added in 1959, had a west wing added.

The Health Sciences Centre opened on the UBC campus.

On January 18 CP Air took delivery of its first Douglas DC8-60. Its route will be Vancouver-Tokyo-Hong Kong.

Joachim Foikis, armed with a grant from the Canada Council, became Vancouver’s Town Fool on—appropriately—April Fool’s Day. He sported a jester’s cap and bells and strolled around warning of impending nuclear destruction.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada April 20.

Premier W.A.C. Bennett and Vancouver City Archivist Major J.S. Matthews dedicated New Brighton Park on April 26. One eye-witness reported that Major Matthews, who was a very forceful fellow with a stentorian voice, frightened some of the smaller children in the audience to tears.

In May Simon Fraser University was censured by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). The charge: interference by the Board of Governors in academic affairs. The censure would be lifted in November.

Kenneth Hare became president of UBC in June, 1968, succeeding Walter Gage.

On July 2 John Robert Nicholson was sworn in as B.C.’s lieutenant governor, succeeding George Pearkes.

In August of 1968 a large influx of Czechs and Slovaks occurred, after the Soviet army invaded what was then Czechoslovakia and put an end to what has become known as the Prague Spring. About 1,200 professionals, students, writers, artists and service industry workers, among others, arrived in British Columbia. Today there are about 10,500 Czechs and Slovaks in the Lower Mainland—the majority being Czech. (Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two republics in January 1993.)

Jimi Hendrix and the Jimi Hendrix Experience played at the Pacific Coliseum September 7, 1968. He acknowledged his grandmother, who lived in Vancouver and was in the audience.

Vancouver’s $32 million International Airport terminal, designed by Zoltan Kiss on behalf of Thompson, Berwick, and Pratt, opened for use September 10. It would be officially opened October 25.

Japan Air Lines inaugurated its Tokyo to Vancouver flights September 11.

Gastown, circa 1968. Item # CVA 780-689.Gastown, circa 1968. Item # CVA 780-689.

On September 22, 1968 Mrs. Evelyn MacKechnie of Vancouver’s Community Arts Council—which had been showing heritage film and slide shows on the area for years—led a group of about 200 people on a walking tour—in the rain—of Vancouver’s derelict Gastown area. Gastown had been in decline for years, and the CAC thought public awareness of the historical importance of the area could arrest that decline. They were right. Media coverage was good, and the walk (which became the first of many) caught the attention of retailers and developers. The CAC organized more tours, and the prospect of Gastown’s demolition began to fade.

Gastown would get a big boost in 1970 when The Old Spaghetti Factory opened on Water Street. Its funky ambience drew big crowds to the area.

Stanley E. Higgs, Anglican minister, was named the executive head of Vancouver’s Central City Mission in September. (From 1960 to 1968 he had been chaplain of Haney Correctional Institute.) Higgs would retire from the Mission in April 1974 after 47 years of service to the church and the community.

George Norris’ famous Crab fountain sculpture was installed in front of the Planetarium and Centennial Museum in Vanier Park on October 14. The striking stainless-steel sculpture recalled a local native legend that the crab guards the entrance to the harbor. It remains one of the most photographed objects in the city. See a great picture here.

The first kidney transplant in BC was performed at Vancouver General Hospital on October 24, 1968.

Also on October 24 Grant McConachie Way, the road leading to Vancouver International Airport, opened to traffic. The road was named for the famed bush pilot and CP Air founder.

Also October 24: UBC has seen its share of strife over the years. Today its Faculty Club was the site of student unrest: American Jerry Rubin and a number of UBC students invaded the Faculty Club and took it over for 22 hours, after which they left voluntarily. Simon Fraser University had its own problems: on November 25 students protesting against admissions policy ended a three-day occupation of the administration building that resulted in the arrest by a squad of 100 unarmed RCMP officers of 114 people—almost one officer per protester. SFU’s brand-new president Dr. Kenneth Strand, who had called the RCMP in, had used a bull-horn to warn the students to vacate the premises. The Province printed the protesters’ names, ages (most were from 18 to 22) and addresses, and noted that Strand said the university had adopted a “get tough” policy in the wake of the occupation.

In a Page One story October 29, 1968 the Province reported on a prediction that “Vancouver’s rush-hour traffic will clog not only existing bridges over Burrard Inlet by 1985, but the new $100 million First Narrows crossing and parts of a proposed $135 million downtown freeway system as well.” We didn’t get the crossing or the downtown freeway system, and it’s a couple of decades later than 1985, but we’re certainly clogged.

The East Wing of City Hall, a four-storey annex constructed to make room for the growing civic bureaucracy, was officially opened October 29 by H.R.H. Prince Philip. Legend has it it was raining heavily while Philip officiated, and he said something like “I’m very pleased to officially open this building, whatever it is, on behalf of Her Majesty—now let’s get the hell inside out of the rain!” Architects of the building: Townley, Matheson, and Partners. Townley, Matheson designed the original city hall.

If you work in downtown Vancouver, or attend a performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, or take in a Lions game at B.C. Place, or settle down to read at the Vancouver Public Library, chances are good you’re being warmed by the folks at Central Heat Distribution, which began operating November 1, 1968. They heat more than 180 buildings in the downtown through a network, many kilometres long, of subterranean pipes, bringing steam (converted from natural gas) from their building on Beatty Street to big clients like the Shaw Tower all the way down to the tiny bursts of steam that sound the pipes on the Gastown Steam Clock.

BC’s population topped two million this year. It had reached one million in 1951.

A referendum in the two North Vancouvers on the question of amalgamation was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the municipality (90 per cent), but given just a razor-thin Yes vote in the city, (50.5 per cent) which had split away in 1907. The rules said there had to be 60 per cent approval in both places, so they remained separate. Heavily influencing the city’s vote was Mayor Carrie Cates, who was against amalgamation.

Hockey’s Lynn Patrick was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Whistler Mountain Ski School began, and heli-skiing began there.

Coast Plaza at Stanley Park Hotel opened.

Punjab-born Dr. Har Gobind Khorana won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, for the synthesis of a gene in a test tube and original work in DNA research that opened up several new areas of research. In interviews he acknowledged the important influence of his work in 1952 at B.C. Research on the UBC campus.

Park & Tilford Gardens, eight separate theme gardens on the North Shore, were created by a privately-owned distillery. In the Rose Garden there are nearly 300 plants in 24 varieties. There is free admission and parking, and the gardens are open seven days a week.

Marilyn Horne, who liked Vancouver, returned to star in the Vancouver Opera Association staging of Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

Soccer’s Vancouver Royals played this one year in the NASL.

The Silver Ann was the last vessel built at Britannia shipyard.

Relief, a cast bronze work by Eliza Mayhew, was installed in the Bank of Canada building at 900 West Hastings. “Architect W.W. Rennie commissioned this $30,000 work,” writes Elizabeth Godley, “after seeing photographs of the artist’s work in Canadian Art.” The Fathomless Richness of the Seabed, a ceramic mural by Jordi Bonet was installed in the lobby of the Guinness Tower at 1055 West Hastings. Architect Charles Pine commissioned the work. “Inspired by sea life,” writes Elizabeth Godley, “it beautifully complements the facade of the Marine Building, just around the corner.” Relief, a sculpture in precast concrete by Leonhard Epp, was installed at the Gulf & Fraser Fishermen’s Credit Union, 803 East Hastings. The building’s architect was Robert Harrison. Tuning Fork, a distinctive corten steel sculpture by Gerhard Class, was installed on the plaza of UBC’s Music Building. Alfred Blundell donated this work, which cost $5,000. An abstract fountain of bronze alloy at Capilano Road and Ridgeway in the District of North Vancouver was installed. The artist, George Norris, was commissioned by the District.

Choreographer Anna Wyman, who had come to Vancouver from Austria in 1967, began to present student performances.

The arrival of Imperial Records, Western Canada’s first modern vinyl mastering and pressing plant, helped spur a generation of new labels. Many were custom imprints created by musicians to release their own music.

A building that began life in 1906 as the Grandview Methodist Church, at 1895 Venables, became home this year to Inner City Services which included the Vancouver Free University and storefront legal offices for such tenants as future premier Mike Harcourt. Today, it’s the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

1968 was a fruitful year for local publication. All of these began that year:
* British Columbia Historical News A quarterly, published by the British Columbia Historical Federation. It is now titled British Columbia History, editor John Atkin.
* Capilano Courier A weekly published by Capilano College, Courier Publishing Society. A student publication with student news, opinion and letters.
* In Pharmation A monthly publication for membership of the British Columbia Pharmacists’ Society.
* Logging & Sawmilling Journal A monthly trade publication.
* Nursing BC Published five times a year by the Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia.
* Pacific Yachting A monthly publication for the yachting fraternity.
* Soleil de Colombie A weekly publication, in French, with news about francophones in B.C.
* UBC Library News A free quarterly published by the University of British Columbia Main Library
* World Market Perspective A monthly business investment magazine.

Ethlyn Trapp, radiologist, was awarded the Order of Canada. For her extraordinarily distinguished career, see here.

Nat Bailey and wife Eva sold 13 White Spot Restaurants and other related interests to General Foods for $6.5 million.

Author E.G. Perrault produced a thinly disguised biographical novel about the early days of rogue B.C. timber baron Gordon Gibson Sr., The Kingdom Carver. See his interesting entry here.

Calgary-born restaurateur Hy Aisenstat, who with his wife Barbara had started with Hy’s Steak House in Calgary in 1955, was now at the head of 12 companies, with restaurants across Canada, and in Chicago, Honolulu, Palm Springs and Beverly Hills. He called his restaurants “saloons.”

Frank Baker, restaurateur, promoter, trumpet player, etc., etc., opened the 1,200-seat The Attic in West Vancouver. Guests were entertained by Lance Harrison and His Dixieland Band. A real showman, Frank played the trumpet (learned at the Four Square Gospel Church) and always wore a trademark white suit. Outside The Attic, he showcased the Aston Martin driven in the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Walter H. Gage, UBC mathematics professor, was given the Master Teacher award.

Harry Jerome, world-class sprinter, 27, competed in the Olympic Games in Mexico City, his final attempt for an Olympic medal, in the final of the 100 meters. He raced home-two tenths of a second slower than the winner, who set a new world record time of 9.9 seconds. Jerome finished seventh.

Stratford, Ontario-born Frank Stalley became the director of radio for CBC in Vancouver. He will hold that post until 1972, then be posted to London, England.

The Great Northern Cannery, built in 1891 in West Vancouver, is sold by its owners, the Millerd family (who had bought it in 1923). The complex is now the site of Environment Canada’s Pacific Research Laboratories.

Gordon Shrum, 72, stepped down as Chancellor at SFU.

The M.V. Scenic, which since 1932 had been the only floating post office in the British Empire, known as the Burrard Inlet T.P.O. (Travelling Post Office), came to the end of its long and faithful service.

The Oak movie theatre, which opened August 4, 1937 with great fanfare at Kingsway and Marlborough, and hailed as a masterpiece of “art moderne,” closed its doors in 1968.

The radio station that had started back in the 1920s as CFQC, then became CKMO, then C-FUN, changed owners and got its fourth name, CKVN, emphasizing news.

John R. Fisk became Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department, succeeding R.M. Booth. Fisk would serve to 1974.

The Richmond Arts Centre and Brighouse Centre Library opened.

The federal and provincial governments agreed to begin a $40 million program for bank and dike protection on the Lower Fraser, and other Lower Mainland rivers subject to flooding. The city of Richmond reached an agreement with the provincial government to share the cost of building and maintaining the dikes, taking the care of the dikes away from individual land owners.

Harold Steves was elected to Richmond council. He will be actively involved in preserving Steveston’s heritage. (He is the great-grandson of Manoah Steves, after whom Steveston was named.)

The Coast Plaza at Stanley Park Hotel was built at 1733 Comox.

David Zirnhelt, 21, was elected as president of the Alma Mater Society at the University of British Columbia. In the future (June, 1996) he will become the provincial minister of forests.


Chuck Davis is a Vancouver writer who has written, co-written, or edited 15 books. Most of them are on local history, and he describes his next book, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, as the capstone of his career.