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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1969

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Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park. Item # CVA 780-287.Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park. Item # CVA 780-287.

It was a busy time for film production in Vancouver, a local writer had a best-selling novel and the Bloedel Conservatory opened in this year that man first walked on the moon.

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

Bloedel Conservatory

The Bloedel Floral Conservatory opened at Queen Elizabeth Park December 6, 1969. They expected about 3,500 people to visit on opening day, but more than 11,000 showed up. It’s still a great place to visit, especially on a wet, chilly winter day. Dozens of species of colorful birds fly freely through the foliage, from tiny, flitting Button Quail and Gold-breasted Waxbills to the big Moluccan Cockatoo, the Blue and Gold Macaw and Rosie the Parrot, who can imitate the sound of a cell phone and does a pretty good cough. More than 300 varieties of tropical plants are on display.

The conservatory was built thanks largely to a $1.25 million donation through the Bloedel Foundation from lumber magnate Prentice Bloedel and his wife Virginia, and smaller amounts from the city and provincial governments. This is Canada’s largest single-structure conservatory. Its domed design is based on the geodesic principle, which utilizes a structural space-frame to support the roof, enabling a large interior volume to be enclosed without the need for internal supporting columns. The Conservatory dome consists of 2,324 pieces of 12.5 cm (5 in.) diameter extruded aluminum tubing and 1,490 triodetic plexiglass “bubbles.” The bubbles were designed by Thorson and Thorson, structural engineers.

See here for recent news on the effort to save the Bloedel Conservatory.

Arms and the City

Vancouver was granted its first official coat of arms on March 31, 1969. The city has had a coat of arms since its beginning, but until they were approved by the College of Heraldry the arms weren’t official. The first design was supplanted in 1903 by a more attractive and appropriate version by James Blomfield, already celebrated locally for his work in stained glass. The new arms were based on the 1903 Blomfield design. Changes included making the central “V” green, instead of red. The caduceus of Mercury was replaced by a Kwakiutl totem pole, one of the most familiar and most dramatic of the art forms of the West Coast First Nations. The upper part of the shield was colored gold and this new area is set with two dogwood flowers. Finally, the word air was added to the motto, acknowledging the increasing role of air transport in the City’s history.

Lights, action . . .

In 1969, film production began here in earnest, with Robert Altman’s That Cold Day in the Park. In director Altman’s first Vancouver feature, a lonely, delusional spinster (Sandy Dennis) picks up a young drifter (Michael Burns) in Kitsilano’s Tatlow Park, Point Grey Road at West 3rd Avenue. Another major production: Robert Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson and Karen Black.

Other movies made locally this year included :
* Great Coups of History, written and directed by Ron Darcus.
* The Mad Room, directed by Bernard Girard.
* The Plastic Mile (aka The Finishing Touch and She’s a Woman), directed by Morrie Ruvinsky.
* Explosion, directed by Jules Bricken.

Toronto-born (1945) writer Michael Walsh, who would become a long-time film critic for The Province, came to B.C. He would write The Canadian Movie Quiz Book in 1979, and contribute the section on Vancouver-made films for The Greater Vancouver Book (1997).

The Peter Principle

Sometime in the late 1960s Dr. Laurence Peter, a UBC professor, and Ray Hull, a Vancouver freelance writer, happened to be standing beside each other in the lobby of the Metro Theatre in Vancouver. Hull casually mentioned that he thought the production was a failure, and during that momentous chat Peter suggested to Hull that people invariably rise to their level of incompetence. That caught Hull’s attention, and one thing led to another: the ‘another’ was a book: The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. It came out in 1969 and rocketed to the top of the best seller list. More than 40 years later we all still know the principle: “In any hierarchy, a person tends to rise to the level of his incompetence.” Thus, every position will eventually be occupied by someone who is not quite capable of the job. With sales of more than seven million copies it is likely BC’s best-selling book.

Lily Laverock

Impresario Lily Laverock died in Duncan, December 2, 1969, aged about 89. She was born in Edinburgh, c. 1880. She came to Vancouver as a child with her parents. She was the first woman (1908) employed as a general reporter by a Vancouver newspaper (The World). On October 4, 1909, when the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club was formed, she was the chief organizer and the first secretary-treasurer. She moved to the News-Advertiser in 1910 and became editor of the women’s page. “Her pen was ever ready in the cause of women’s suffrage.” She never married. Quiet, shy, ethereally attractive, she made her greatest contribution to local fame when she became an impresario. An avid arts supporter, she promoted her first Celebrity Concert in 1921. The world-famous performers she brought to the city in the 1920s and 1930s make for an eye-popping list: Kreisler, Paderewski, John McCormack, Galli-Curci, Rachmaninoff, Rosa Ponselle, Tauber, Flagstad, Lily Pons, Heifetz, Melba, Gigli, Casals, Chaliapin, Maurice Ravel at the piano . . . and on and on. She packed the Denman Arena with acts like the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Belgian Royal Symphonic Band. WWII ended her impresario efforts. Today, despite her immense contribution to the city’s cultural life, she’s almost totally forgotten.

Also in 1969

On January 26 local Anglicans consecrated the Reverend T. David Somerville as Coadjutor Bishop to Archbishop Godfrey Gower. Nearly 5,000 people attended the service in the PNE Agrodome.

Kenneth Hare stepped down in January after seven months as president of UBC and Walter Gage became president again. Gage had been interim president in 1967-68. This term will last to 1975.

Nine O'Clock Gun at Stanley Park. Item # CVA 780-789.Nine O’Clock Gun at Stanley Park. Item # CVA 780-789.

The Nine O’Clock Gun in Stanley Park was “kidnapped” February 1 by UBC Engineering students, who returned the 1,500-pound cannon for a “ransom” which was given to the Children’s Hospital.

The first scheduled hovercraft service in Canada began February 23 between Vancouver and Nanaimo, operated by Pacific Hovercraft. The twice-daily 40-mile service was short-lived, ending in June. By 1971 the company was in receivership.

Montreal-born Peter Speck, 29, who had moved to the north shore with his parents in 1944, launched a small scale, free publication called the North Shore Shopper in February 1969. By the mid-1970s he will rename it the North Shore News and see it grow to a circulation hovering around 65,000.

A new YWCA building on Burrard opened in March, 1979.

On April 27 Joachim Foikis, the “Town Fool,” spent the last of his Canada Council grant on a party in Gastown for Skid Road residents.

Nancy Greene married Al Raine. In the summer of 1968, Nancy’s web site explains, she had served on Prime Minister Trudeau’s “Task force on Sport,” and assisted the Canadian Ski Team with fundraising and promotion. “This work put her in contact with Al Raine, the new Program Director of Canada’s National Ski Team. They were married in April 1969 and their twin sons Charley and Willy were born in Montreal in January 1970.”

Construction began in April on a new $8-million campus to serve about 5,000 students at King Edward Centre of Vancouver Community (City) College.

Also in April, a 4.8-km (3-mile) causeway to the man-made island of Roberts Bank, in Delta, opened to provide access to a deep-sea port being developed to ship Alberta and BC coal to Japan.

In 1968 the National Harbours Board Police had been changed from separate port police forces to be unified into one force. Vancouver was the last port during this re-organization to be brought into the centralized system. In June, 1969 the security guard force that had been in place here was replaced by sworn Police Officers.

On July 29 Arthur Clarke became the first black man to become a Vancouver police officer.

The Vancouver Mounties came to an end August 31. Only 1,101 fans saw their last game. After 11 seasons and two second place finishes, the Mounties would find a new home in 1970 in Salt Lake City.

Early stirrings of what would become Greenpeace International began in Vancouver in August, 1969. The US announced this month that they planned a one-megaton nuclear bomb test in October on Amchitka Island, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Bob Hunter, a columnist with The Vancouver Sun, wrote that such a test might trigger an earthquake and tsunami. A protest against the test, organized by Gwen and Derrick Mallard (who had formed SPEC, the Scientific Pollution and Environmental Control Society, in 1968), was held at the US consulate general in Vancouver. “Attending this protest,” wrote Greenpeace historian Rex Weyler, “were Bob and Zoe Hunter, Irving Stowe, Bob Cummings, Lille d’Easum, Paul Watson, Ben Metcalfe, Rod Marining, Paul and Linda Spong, and others who would eventually form the core of Greenpeace.”

Douglas College’s first principal was appointed in August. His name was George C. Wootton, dean of divisions at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in North York, Ontario. Wootton was a graduate of North Vancouver High School and the University of British Columbia. While earning his doctoral degree in engineering, Wootton served as president of UBC’s graduate student association. After graduating, he worked for five years at the Canadian Atomic Energy Commission. He would serve as principal of Douglas to September 1979.

The Lougheed Mall opened in Burnaby September 24. We also have September 25.

On October 29 Lester Pearson, prime minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968, was named an honorary member of the Vancouver Club.

Gizeh Temple (the Shriners) had moved from Victoria to Vancouver in 1942. On November 23, after much ceremony, Gizeh Temple Shrine moved into its new headquarters at the present location.

Vancouver was awarded an NHL franchise December 1 and history began for the Vancouver Canucks. Their first game would be October 9, 1970.

An old ladder and pumper truck that joined the Essondale fire department in 1929 was retired December 4 after 40 years of service. It was driven into retirement at the Provincial Museum in Victoria by A. P. Lowry, a former chief, accompanied by the chief of the time, Stanley Lowrey. Along the old truck’s route on both sides of the water local fire departments provided escorts. The letters M.H.F.D. on the side of the truck stood for Mental Health Fire Department.

It was announced December 19 that Hugh Llewellyn Keenleyside, diplomat and executive, had become a Companion of the Order of Canada, “for service at the United Nations and in public administration.” He had just stepped down as co-chair of B.C. Hydro, and was now Chancellor, Notre Dame.

December 28, 1969 was the last day for Ivan Ackery as manager of the Orpheum Theatre. Ivan, two months past his 70th birthday, had been forced into retirement by the theatre’s new owners who had a policy of retirement at 65. He had managed the Orpheum for 34 years. “For me,” he reflected eleven years later, “it came as a sorry and sudden end to the career I’d devoted my life to and expected to carry on in until old age and ill health rendered me incapable . . . There’s no justice and little sense in putting a healthy, experienced individual to pasture just because he’s had a birthday . . . Still, the company had been wonderfully good to me, and I was always proud to be associated with it and with the fine men I worked with over the years, who gave me so much encouragement . . .”

Construction began on Pacific Centre, the most ambitious construction project undertaken in Vancouver up to that time.

G.P.V. (Philip) and Helen B. Akrigg, British Columbia historians, produced a marvellously useful book, 1001 British Columbia Place Names, a fascinating trove of information about how our cities, lakes, mountains and more got their names. It was published by Discovery Press, owned and operated by the Akriggs. They would publish a second, expanded version in 1997. See here and here for more information about the authors.

Two major tugboat firms, Straits and River Towing, combined to form RivTow Straits Ltd. Its successor, RivTow Marine, was bought in 2000 by the Dutch firm Smit International.

The two bronze lions in front of the office building at 1155 West Pender have an interesting history. They were commissioned from sculptor E. Schulte Beecham in 1914, but not installed until 1920. Then in 1962 they were sent to New York to be stored. They were brought back and re-installed this year.

Fountain of the Pioneers, in silicone bronze, was installed at 500 Burrard Street. “The sculpture,” writes Elizabeth Godley, “thirteen feet high, was designed by Seattle sculptor George Tsutakawa. In a 1969 Province interview, the artist said that a fountain involves three elements: heaven, earth and water. ‘What really makes a fountain is water, the most elusive and mysterious element of all’.”

A future opera star, a Spanish tenor named Placido Domingo, sang in Manon, a Vancouver Opera production. He had appeared here in 1968 in Tosca.

Judith Forst, born in Fraser Mills, Coquitlam, was awarded a five-year contract with the Metropolitan Opera Association of New York. She would become a world-renowned mezzo-soprano.

Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), which had suspended operations in 1963, was revived as a semi-professional company.

A “pop culture phenomenon” appeared at the Vancouver Playhouse with George Ryga’s Grass and Wild Strawberries, a musical about the hippie culture featuring live music by The Collectors (who later became nationally famous as Chilliwack). Apparently many unsatisfied Playhouse subscribers left the theatre at intermission, their places then being taken by local hippies flocking to the empty seats to watch the second act.

Vancouver Cablevision (later Rogers Cable) initiated the Lower Mainland’s first community cable channel. Radio man Vic Waters, along with partners Dave Liddell and Gerry Rose, operated the service on a shoestring budget—and the attitude was rather casual. Martin Truax, who joined in 1970, recalls Waters getting calls from viewers who said they missed a show: “Vic would say, ‘No problem. I’ll just run it again for you right now!’”

1969 was a fruitful year in periodical publication. These first appeared: B C Naturalist It’s issued six times a year by the Federation of British Columbia Naturalists. The magazine’s motto today: “To know Nature and to keep it worth knowing.” B C Studies A quarterly published by the University of British Columbia. It focuses on all aspects of human history in British Columbia (and is a terrific source for A Year in Five Minutes). B.S.D.A. News, produced six times a year by the Building Supply Dealers Association of British Columbia, New Westminster. Hollandse Krant, a monthly publication in Dutch with news of Dutch speakers in B.C. and The Netherlands. Journal of Business Administration, published semi-annually by the Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration, UBC. The Midden, published five times a year by the Archaeological Society of British Columbia. Where Vancouver, a monthly publication with news for tourists and visitors with articles about where to dine and shop. Found in hotels and tourist information offices.

Drew Burns took over the Commodore Ballroom, which had opened in December 1929 as the Commodore Cabaret.

Swangard Stadium, named for journalist Erwin Swangard, opened in Central Park in Burnaby. He had raised nearly $1 million for its construction. The stadium is the centre for professional soccer in B.C.

Dorothy Lidstone of North Vancouver won the world archery championship at Valley Forge, Pa. She beat a field of 40 women from 27 countries with a record 2,361 points, 110 points more than the previous world record.

Golf Hall of Famer Carol Mann won her fourth straight tour title when she captured the Canadian Open title at the new Shaughnessy, the LPGA’s first official event in Western Canada.

The Stanley Park Seawall had had 1,200 lineal feet added in 1968. The work was financed with an annual $70,000 allotment. This year that money paid for just 350 feet.

Vancouver International Airport announced it could now handle “jumbo jets,” Boeing 747s.

The Dinsmore Bridge opened over the Middle Arm of the Fraser River. This two-lane, $845,000 low-level structure connected the densely populated part of Richmond to Sea Island and the airport. It supplemented, and is south of, the preceding Middle Arm bridge, and has no movable span.

The CNR replaced the old Burrard Inlet and Tunnel Company bridge across the Second Narrows of Burrard Inlet with a larger, heavier bridge built onto the reinforced and modified pillars of the old one. The new bridge had a vertical lift span which is usually partially raised, allowing free movement of most marine traffic. The CNR line passes over the CPR at the south end and continues south through a tunnel to join the CNR main line near Brentwood shopping centre.

The Sisters of Providence, who had been administering St. Paul’s Hospital, appointed a lay administrator and the medical staff to run the hospital.

The Rotary Foundation was established. It sponsors a variety of fundraising methods to enable Rotarians to continue with their admirable record of community service.

The Sapperton Fish and Game Club began, with great success, to restore salmon stock in the Brunette River, flowing out of Burnaby Lake. The river had been badly polluted.

W.J. VanDusen, forestry industry executive, retired from the board of MacMillan Bloedel, aged about 80. He had been with the firm and its predecessors for 50 years.

The value of annual trading on the Vancouver Stock Exchange exceeded $1 billion for the first time.

Muni Evers, a pharmacist, was elected mayor of New Westminster. He would go on to serve seven terms up to and including 1982.

Service Corporation International (Canada) Inc. acquired Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Ocean View Burial Park in Burnaby.

Harold Merilees, most well-known as head of the Vancouver Tourist Association (precursor to Tourism Vancouver) and founder of the Sea Festival, was elected as the Social Credit MLA for Vancouver-Burrard.

Freelance art director Frank Palmer and Simmons Advertising’s Rich Simmons formed a new company called Trend Advertising. It will eventually become Palmer Jarvis Communications.

The Pacific Ballet Theatre was established by Maria Lewis, after a career as a dancer in Montreal and Toronto. The company grew slowly to semi-professional regional status, with a repertoire of small works in classical style. Lewis would be succeeded in 1980 by Kamloops-born Renald Rabu. In 1985 the company would be renamed Ballet British Columbia.

Terry Jacks and The Poppy Family had a smash hit (it reached #2 in the US) with Which Way You Goin’ Billy.

The Vancouver Early Music Society was formed by Jon Washburn, Ray Nurse, David Skulsky, Hans-Karl Piltz and Cuyler Page. Its purpose was and is “to foster interest in medieval, renaissance, and baroque music.”

After 11 years the Vancouver International Festival, debt-ridden, came to an end.

There were significant changes to the Criminal Code of Canada. Public gaming by the provinces as well as the federal government was now permitted. Pari-mutuel wagering on horse races, small lottery schemes for charitable purposes, and limited gaming at agricultural fairs continued to be allowed.

Another Criminal Code change: homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada.

The Anglo-British Columbia Packing (ABC), a major player in the coastal canning industry from 1891, was sold.

John M. Buchanan, who had been elected UBC chancellor in 1966, retired.

The Ross Street Gurdwara (Sikh temple) was built. Writes architectural historian Dr. Harold Kalman, “This deceptively simple landmark is the central house of worship for Vancouver’s large Sikh community. A simple white block is capped by a series of stepped, diagonally interlocked square sections, and crowned by an open steel onion-shaped dome. The design was influenced by the formal geometry of Indian religious symbols. The Khalsa Diwan Society occupies the lower floor.” This architectural gem originally stood unpainted and in isolation, but by 1995 was brightly painted and crowded by look-alike additions to the east.

A multi-storey extension to the Vancouver Vocational Institute’s downtown building was built.

The book Portraits of the Premiers by Sydney W. Jackman appeared. It briefly describes each premier from John McCreight to W.A.C. Bennett.

The Great Northern Cannery, circa 1920. Photo by C. Bradbury. Item # SGN 1547.The Great Northern Cannery, circa 1920. Photo by C. Bradbury. Item # SGN 1547.

The Great Northern Cannery, which had been active since 1891 near Sandy Cove in West Vancouver, closed. The site was purchased by the federal government for the Pacific Coast fisheries research station.

Vancouver’s Elaine “Mighty Mouse” Tanner retired from competitive swimming at age 18, having set five world records and won three Olympic medals. She is the best woman swimmer in Canadian history.

A garden shop owner named Bill Vander Zalm became mayor of Surrey.

Delta’s second Municipal Hall, built in 1913, became the Delta Museum and Archives.

The Province in its May 15, 1970 edition (Page 34) reported that there were 4,896 babies born to unwed mothers in BC in 1969. That was a rate of 13.6 per thousand births. In 1967 the number of babies born to unwed mothers in BC was 3,897.

Jimmy Christmas, mayor of Coquitlam, first elected in 1945, died in office after almost 25 years as mayor.


The phenomenon that would become the Internet was activated. “The vital first step in getting a computer to talk to another computer was taken September 2, 1969, when Leonard Kleinrock and his team succeeded in hooking up their computer to a refrigerator-sized switch, or router, known as an Interphase Message Processor. ‘So at that time you had a computer talking to a switch for the very first time, and without that you could not have computer talking to computer,’ Kleinrock said. Although the UCLA conference honors Sept. 2 as the birthday of the Internet, some people think the date should be Oct. 20, the first time one computer actually talked to another.” See this site.

On July 20, 1969 US astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The Vancouver Sun and the Province both issued special supplements the next day commemorating man’s first moonwalk.


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.