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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1976

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archives_1976_robsonstreetThe 1000 block of Robson Street in February, 1976. Item # CVA 780-406.

In 1976, ICBC rates skyrocketed, the Museum of Anthropology got a new home and an earthquake rocked the area.

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

Laing Bridge

On May 15, 1976 the Arthur Laing Bridge officially opened, named after a native son of Richmond who became a cabinet minister under Pierre Trudeau, then later a Senator. The $23 million four-lane bridge, which crosses the north arm of the Fraser to Sea Island, vastly speeded up access to the Vancouver International Airport. It reduced the distance from downtown to the airport by more than three kilometres. Traffic had started using the bridge August 27, 1975, but the official opening was May 15, 1976. It’s 1,676 metres (one mile) in total length, and more than 90,000 vehicles use it daily.

London Drugs

We love this story. In 1976 Tong Louie, head of H.Y. Louie Co. Limited, bought London Drugs—which was, at the time, owned by an American company, the Daylin Corporation. Tong’s competition for the purchase was the American firm Payless. They held the option to buy the chain, but were being thwarted by Canadian federal regulations forbidding foreign companies taking over Canadian companies without having a Canadian partner. In 1976 Payless came to Vancouver looking for just such a partner. From a fascinating 2003 book titled Laws of Heaven by Eve Rockett, the story of the H.Y. Louie Company, we learn that the search came down to two contenders: H.Y. Louie and eastern-based Shoppers Drug Mart.

“Tong, Payless and the lawyers gathered in the offices of Bull Housser & Tupper in the Royal Centre downtown,” Rockett writes. “‘I’m not used to having partners,’ said Tong. ‘What do you want for the option?’ The price for the stores was $9 million; for the option they wanted $500,000 US. ‘His accountant and his lawyer warned him in no uncertain terms that there had been no due diligence,’ says Brandt. ‘My father puffed on his pipe and thought about it for 30 seconds, and extended his hand. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘it’s a deal.’ From the moment they all sat down until they shook hands, the meeting took 20 minutes.’

“A Payless representative spoke up. ‘You’re a private company, we don’t know anything about you. We have to look at your financial statements to vouch you’ll go through with the deal.’ Tong phoned the Royal Bank on the 36th floor and told them to come down with a comfort letter and a bank draft for half a million dollars. He handed over the comfort letter and the cheque, the lawyers drafted a document and Tong walked out.

“In about half an hour, Tong Louie had brought London Drugs home to Canada.”


On February 9 Prime Minister Trudeau officially commissioned the TRIUMF (Tri-University Meson Facility) nuclear accelerator at the University of British Columbia. Check A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1972 for more detail on this important facility, in the forefront of, among many other things, medical research.


Writes Lee Bacchus: “A former CBC producer/director named Daryl Duke and his partner, writer/producer Norman Klenman, created CKVU, a small independent station on West Second Avenue in Vancouver. Their flagship program was a five-day-a-week, live talk and entertainment potpourri called The Vancouver Show. CKVU kicked off its broadcast on September 5, 1976 with the two-hour program with hosts Mike Winlaw (a former host of CBUT’s Hourglass) and Pia Shandel (a local actor).” This was Vancouver’s second privately-owned television station. It’s now Citytv.

archives_1976_joefortesJoe Fortes, circa 1905. Item # CVA 677-440.

Joe Fortes Library

On May 20, 1976 the Joe Fortes Branch of the Vancouver Public Library—named for the beloved English Bay life guard—opened at 870 Denman Street in the West End.


Habitat, a United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, convened in Vancouver May 27. Hundreds of delegates attended from all over the world. The event ran to June 11, and produced the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements. Here’s a sample: “Governments and the international community should facilitate the transfer of relevant technology and experience and should encourage and assist the creation of endogenous technology better suited to the sociocultural characteristics and patterns of population by means of bilateral or multilateral agreements having regard to the sovereignty and interest of the participating States. The knowledge and experience accumulated on the subject of human settlements should be available to all countries. Research and academic institutions should contribute more fully to this effort by giving greater attention to human settlements problems.” Words to make the pulse race.

An alternative—and hugely popular—conference, Habitat Forum, run by Alan Clapp, was held at Jericho Beach Park. There was music and entertainment and talk and the world’s longest bar.

The book Two Weeks in Vancouver, by Chuck Davis and John Ewing, appeared. This was a small guidebook to the city intended for use by Habitat delegates. The book also appeared in French and Spanish translation.

Cloverdale Raceway

Cloverdale Raceway opened January 1, and quickly became one of the premier harness racing centres in North America. In 1996, it would undergo about $3 million in renovations and be renamed Fraser Downs.

Auto Insurance Rates

On January 2, 1976 the Social Credit government ordered that auto insurance rates in BC be increased by as much as three times current rates, starting March 1. ICBC chief Pat McGeer told motorists that, if they couldn’t afford the new rates, they should sell their cars. That warm, sympathetic advice prompted the overnight appearance of bumper stickers everywhere reading Stick it in Your Ear, McGeer.


On May 31 UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, around since 1947, moved into a stunning new building designed by Arthur Erickson. MOA was founded to preserve and display existing material, while continuing to collect archaeological and ethnographical artifacts from British Columbia and the rest of the world. (UBC had been collecting ethnographic material since 1927.) For almost 50 years, the collection remained in the basement of the Main Library, tended by a devoted Dr. Harry Hawthorn and Audrey Hawthorn. In 1976, the collection came out of the basement and moved into its 70,000-square-foot home on the bluffs of Point Grey overlooking Howe Sound and the mountains. The first director was Dr. Michael Ames, a Professor in the department of Anthropology and Sociology.

The Museum was a gift from the federal government to the people of B.C., to celebrate the 100th anniversary of B.C. entering Confederation in 1871. The entrance area features a dramatic sculpture, Raven and the First Men, by Haida artist Bill Reid (commissioned by the Museum in 1980). The Museum has the world’s largest collection of works by Reid.

Four Seasons

The 93-metre high, 24-storey Four Seasons Hotel at 791 W. Georgia officially opened April 23 with a benefit to raise funds for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.


On May 16 an earthquake jolted southwestern BC and adjacent Washington State, a 5.3 Richter-scale fracture 70 kilometres below Pender Island. “It knocked people from their beds in White Rock, cut electrical services in Richmond and South Vancouver, and on the Sechelt Peninsula, and sent residents of West End highrises screaming into the halls as the building swayed for 30 seconds.” This is also the year the Pacific Geoscience Centre was created.

archives_1976_hotelmarineThe Marine Building and the Hotel Vancouver, photographed in 1955. Both buildings were designated as Heritage Buildings in 1976. Item # Bu P508.100

In March the following structures were designated Schedule A Heritage Buildings by the City of Vancouver. (Years of construction/modifications in parentheses).

Beatty Street Drill Hall (1899-1901) 620 Beatty
James England House (1907) 2300 Birch
Marine Building (1920-30) 355 Burrard
Hotel Vancouver (1929-39) 900 West Georgia
Sylvia Hotel (1911-12) 1154 Gilford
Vancouver Block (1912) 736 Granville
Winch Building (1909) 757 West Hastings
BC Permanent Loan (1907) 330 West Pender
Canada Permanent (1911) 432 Richards
Hodson Manor (1894 & 1903) 1254 West 7th
Steamboat House (1890) 1151 West 8th
Davis House (1891) 166 West 10th
City Hall (1936) 453 West 12th

In December the following structures were designated Schedule A Heritage Buildings.

Alexandra Park Bandstand (1915) Beach Avenue at Burnaby
St. Paul’s Church (1905) 1138 Jervis
First Baptist Church (1911) 969 Burrard
Strathcona School, Nos. 2, 3, 4, & 5 (1897) 594 East Pender
Roedde House (1893) 1415 Barclay
Vancouver Club (1912-14)
Ukrainian Orthodox Church (1950) 154 East 10th
Hirshfield House (1910) 1963 Comox

The following structures were designated Schedule B Heritage Buildings.

Chalmers Church (1912) 2801 Hemlock
Douglas Lodge (1907) 2799 Granville
St. Luke’s Home (1924) 309 East Cordova
Palms Hotel (1890 & 1913) 869-873 Granville
Bank of Commerce (1929) 819 Granville
Hudson’s Bay Insurance Co. (1911) 900 West Hastings

The West Vancouver Aquatic Centre opened April 3 at 776 22nd Street. It has a pool, weight room, sauna, Jacuzzi, children’s pool, etc.

The Komagata Maru Incident, a play by Sharon Pollock, opened May 18 at the Playhouse Theatre. The Literary Encyclopedia has this to say about the play: “The Komagata Maru Incident, first produced by the Vancouver Playhouse in 1976 under Larry Lillo’s direction, secured Pollock’s position as an important playwright. It draws on an actual event—the government’s refusal in 1914 to allow Sikh immigrants to land on Canadian soil—for its story, but it stages that story in a highly theatrical, presentational style developed through the metaphors of a brothel and a circus with a ringmaster-cum-barker called ‘T.S.’ (short for The System).”

The Canadian Encyclopedia has good detailed coverage of Vancouver’s Community Music School (which became the Vancouver Academy of Music in 1979). A portion of it reads: “Founded in 1969 as the result of a five-year study of Vancouver’s expanding needs by the non-profit Community Arts Council. Situated at first on West 12th Ave, the school moved in May 1976 to the Music Centre in Vanier Park, a former RCAF warehouse, reconstructed at a cost of $1.8 million. The centre comprises classrooms, practice studios, a library, rehearsal rooms for orchestra and choir, 36 teaching studios, and the 284-seat Koerner Recital Hall.”

The first Greek Days Festival was held June 27 on West Broadway, sponsored by the Hellenic Community Association.

Black Top Taxi bowed to the B.C. Human Rights Branch and on July 21 lifted a 9 p.m. ban on woman drivers that had been contested by owner-operator Terry Bellamy, a mother of three who needed to work nights.

Vancouver’s Greg Joy won Olympic silver in the high jump August 1, 1976.

On September 7 B.C. Tel began direct distance dialing overseas. To mark the occasion Vancouver’s mayor Art Phillips phoned the mayor of King’s Lynn in England, the birthplace of Capt. George Vancouver.

The old Central School/City Hall building in North Vancouver opened September 12 as Presentation House, housing the North Shore Museum and Archives, a small theatre, and a photographic gallery.

On September 17 occurred the official opening of the UBC Law Building.

CBUFT/26 (cable 7) signed on at 9:30 a.m. September 27, bringing CBC-TV’s French language service to the west coast.

In the fall of 1976 Douglas College opened a Richmond campus, at 5840 Cedarbridge Way, a converted warehouse.

Six women were ordained as Anglican priests in Canada on November 30, two of them in B.C. Nearly 1,000 people jammed into Vancouver’s 800-seat Christ Church Cathedral to witness the ordination of the Rev. Virginia Briant and the Rev. Elspeth Alley. Anglican Archbishop David Somerville officiated at the ceremony, which also saw the Rev. Michael Deck become a priest. During the ceremony, the rector at St. David’s parish read a protest against the ordination of the two women, saying it was a “sponge [sic] to women’s lib.”

The BC Paraplegic Foundation was incorporated December 6.

Grouse Mountain Resorts’ “Superskyride” was opened December 15 by Premier Bill Bennett, more than doubling the uphill capacity. It was 10 years to the day since his father, Premier W.A.C. Bennett, had opened the first Grouse Mountain skyride.

The Vancouver Book appeared in 1976. This was an “urban almanac,” conceived and edited by Chuck Davis. It was just under 500 pages long, commissioned by the Social Planning Department of the City of Vancouver, and had dozens of articles by local writers and others on the city’s history, neighborhoods, environment, architecture, government, ethnic groups, media, transportation and more. The Greater Vancouver Book (1997), also edited by Davis, was an expansion of the original notion.

The local book-publishing trade began to make an impression. In 1976 The Vancouver Book listed more than 35 local book publishers with an annual total of 100 new titles, including books on poetry, yoga, metric conversion, educational, medical and music textbooks.

The book Gabby, Ernie and Me, by Ted Ashlee, appeared, an anecdotal reminiscence of the author’s early life in Marpole.

The book Woodwards: the story of a distinguished B.C. family appeared. Written by Douglas E. Harker, it’s a history of the famed retailing family.

These publications first appeared in 1976:

Association for Canadian Theatre Research: Newsletter, a semi-annual publication of the Association for Canadian Theatre Research.

B C Journal of Special Education. It was published three times a year by the Special Education Association, Dept. of Educational Psychology and Special Education, UBC. The publication was devoted to reviews of research, case studies, surveys, and reports on the effectiveness of innovative programs

Copper Toadstool, a semi-annual literary magazine.

Multifaith News, published five times a year by the Multifaith Action Society, this was an inter-faith publication aimed at promoting understanding between different faith groups.

Music Research News. This was a semi-annual publication of the Canadian Music Research Council, c/o Simon Fraser University.

Other Press, a free fortnightly student newspaper out of Douglas College in New Westminster.

TV Week, a weekly magazine with listings and television-related features.

The Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. was established. It is a registered non-profit umbrella organization dedicated to promoting outdoor recreation in B.C.

Artist Robert Bateman retired in 1976 after 20 years of teaching high school geography and art to paint full time. He was, he says, inspired by the work of American painter Andrew Wyeth. And what does Salt Spring Island’s most well-known resident, renowned for his wildlife paintings, think of critics who say his work isn’t real art? “My view of all this is that an artist is an artist, be he/she high, low or decorative. Artists are artists because they can’t help it—they just are and they do art for the love of it or because they can’t stop themselves.” He’s raised millions for naturalist and conservation organizations. There’s lots of his work viewable on the Net.

After the Vancouver Stock Exchange’s worst year in more than a decade (1975, with just 190 million shares traded), the VSE got a new president, tough-minded securities lawyer Robert Scott. In their critical 1987 book on the VSE, Fleecing The Lamb, David Cruise and Alison Griffiths wrote that Scott “created new regulations and saw to it that the old ones were enforced.”

The building at Main Street and East 15th in Vancouver, erected in 1914, was originally Postal Station C. Later it became a federal Department of Agriculture office block, then sat empty for three years. Then in 1965 it was occupied by a special investigation branch of the RCMP . . . who moved out in 1976. Today the building is known as Heritage Hall.

The 198-metre-high (650 feet) Mica Dam on the Columbia River added 870,000 kilowatts to the B.C. Hydro power system. The first two dams on the Columbia had been completed in 1967 (Duncan) and 1968 (Hugh Keenlyside).

BC Ferries launched three double-ended “jumbo ferries.”

The Richmond Nature Park opened. It was intended to preserve the last remaining section of Burns Bog. Richmond’s web site says, in part, “The Richmond Nature Park consists of 200 acres of the raised peat bog habitat that once covered large portions of Lulu Island. Four walking trails totalling 7 km in length provide visitors the opportunity to encounter plants and animals in bog, forest and pond habitats.”

Whistler got its own post office.

Architect Arthur Erickson won a Citation from the Canadian Architect Yearbook for the British Columbia Medical Centre.

The 10-storey 35-metre-high B.C. Turf Building was constructed. Its architect was Zoltan Kiss. It’s known today simply as 475 West Georgia.

The owners and management of the Penthouse Cabaret on Seymour were charged with keeping a common bawdy house. The Penthouse Six, as they became known, included Joe Philliponi, a celebrated cabaret figure. It was alleged that 80 to 100 prostitutes a night would pick up clients at the nightspot. “The trial,” wrote Greg Middleton of the Province, “was a sensation. There were undercover tapes, liquor inspectors on the take . . . During the trial, Philliponi pleaded for leniency, claiming it ‘would kill my mother.’ The trial regaled packed courtrooms for months, before all six finally walked free after successfully appealing the conviction.” In 1983 Joe Philliponi would be shot dead during a robbery.

The landfill in Langley City was closed. It was full.

A study showed that 63.9 per cent of B.C.’s native population lived on reserves. Today it’s less than 50 per cent and dropping.

George Athans, Jr., who had won the world crown for water-skiing in 1973 at Bogota, was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

A north wing was added to UBC’s Biological Sciences Building (Botany, Zoology, Oceanography and Microbiology).

An addition including the main lecture hall, faculty offices, a lounge and a library of more than 200,000 volumes, was added to UBC’s George F. Curtis Building (Law).

A censure of SFU by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (for alleged interference in academic affairs by the university’s Board of Governors), in place since 1970, was removed.

The B.C. Children’s Hospital chose its location: 4480 Oak Street.

Jack Short, about 68, BC’s famous racing broadcaster (“Adios, amigos!”), wrapped up his race-calling career nicely: he was named BC’s Broadcast Performer of the Year.

Two major local firms, Benndorf Office Equipment and Verster Business Machines, merged to become Benndorf Verster. Today the company is known as Ikon Office Solutions.

The CBC produced a film, Between the Sky and the Splinters, a look at poet Peter Trower. The title is taken from Trower’s 1974 poetry collection.

The film The Keeper (director Tom Drake) was released. “In this tongue-in-cheek look at institutional bedlam,” writes Michael Walsh, “it’s hard to tell the patients from the administrator (Christopher Lee) of the Underwood Asylum.” The cast included a 12-year-old Ian Tracey.

The film Shadow Of The Hawk (director George McCowan) was released. The Vancouver grandson (Jan-Michael Vincent) of a tribal shaman (Chief Dan George) is summoned to his ancestral home to deal with a demonic entity. The cast includes Pia Shandel.

The film Food Of The Gods (director Bert I. Gordon) was released. When growth hormones from outer space turn Bowen Island rats into monster rodents, writes Michael Walsh, a vacationing B.C. Lion (Marjoe Gortner) calls the plays like a professional exterminator, like the ones at

Choreographer Judith Marcuse, born in Montreal in 1947, moved to Vancouver after dancing in modern and classical companies in Europe, Israel and North America. She would launch her own company in 1980.

The Terminal City Dance company was launched. This was a company, writes Max Wyman, with “long-term significance for movement-making in Vancouver . . . A product of a collaboration between (initially) two former Garland students, Karen Rimmer and Savannah Walling, and (eventually) three other dancers, its focus was experiment and exploration.” The ensemble would break up in 1983.

A 40-foot-tall pole titled Myth of the Bear People, carved by Chief William Jeffrey, was placed at the West Van Aquatic Centre.

Canada Geese in Flight, a fibreglass sculpture by Robert Dow Reid, was installed at 700 West Pender.

Horse, an abstract bronze sculpture by Jack Harman, was placed at 475 West Georgia. “This,” writes Elizabeth Godley, “is one of the few of Harman’s sculptures that he did not cast himself.” It would be removed and replaced in 2000 by Royal Sweet Diamond (a bull) by Joe Fafard.


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.