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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1977

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A view of downtown Vancouver from Cambie Bridge in June 1977. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Archives. Item # CVA 780-1.A view of downtown Vancouver from Cambie Bridge in June 1977. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Archives. Item # CVA 780-1.

It was 1977 that the SeaBus started sailing, Terry Fox’s life was changed forever and two important cultural centres opened.

By Chuck Davis, The History of Vancouver


The British Columbia Ferry Corporation (“BC Ferries”) was established January 1, 1977 as a provincial Crown Corporation, successor to the British Columbia Ferry Authority.

Terry Fox

On March 9 an 18-year-old Port Coquitlam student and star basketball player, Terry Fox, lost his right leg to osteogenic sarcoma. While he was in hospital waiting for the operation to remove his cancerous leg, Terry’s basketball coach Terri Fleming gave him a sports magazine that included a profile on a one-legged runner named Dick Traum who had competed in the New York Marathon. The Traum story inspired Terry, the night before the amputation of his leg, to take on a challenge that would eventually raise tens of millions of dollars for cancer research. His goal was to run across the country and receive one dollar in donations from every Canadian. As every Canadian knows, he accomplished that and much much more.

The Orpheum

Vancouver’s restored Orpheum Theatre opened April 2, 1977 with a special concert as the new home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Reaction to the refurbished theatre was wonderfully positive. The design architect was Vancouver’s Paul Merrick.

Mayor Volrich

Jack Volrich became mayor this year, succeeding Art Phillips. He was born in Anyox, B.C. “Volrich,” wrote Donna Jean McKinnon in The Greater Vancouver Book, “was a founding member of TEAM, but his priorities and outlook seemed more in keeping with the free-enterprise mayors of previous years. He considered running as an independent in his second bid for office, and later still was a member of both the Progressive Conservative and Social Credit parties. Volrich was fiscally conservative and presented a stabilizing force and return to the old values in the midst of social ferment. He re-introduced much of the pomp and ceremony to the mayor’s office, yet could be wooden and humorless.” Volrich died May 31, 2010.

Wasserman dies

On April 6 Jack Wasserman, Sun columnist and broadcaster, died in Vancouver, aged 50. He was born February 17, 1927 in Winnipeg. He came to Vancouver with his family in 1935, aged 8. He dropped out of law school to take a reporter’s job with the Ubyssey. Wasserman graduated from UBC (1949), and joined the Vancouver Sun, becoming a police reporter. Legend has it that he was covering the 1951 royal visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip somewhere in the Interior (before their arrival in Vancouver) and, rushed for time, simply phoned in his notes. The notes were so good, the story goes, the Sun ran them verbatim. Then, starting May 12, 1954, they gave him a man-about-town column, and he hit his stride. His column on “the second front page” of the afternoon paper, often detailing the city’s underbelly, became a hugely popular feature.

Vancouver Centre

Vancouver Centre was officially opened June 8. At 481 feet (146.6 m) it was the tallest building in Vancouver at the time.

There’s a funny story related to its construction. Jeff Veniot, a young tour guide, happened to be going by the construction site one day and saw the building’s lofty mast lying on the ground, waiting to be lifted into place. Jeff whipped out an indelible pen and wrote his name and the date on the top of the mast. Later he watched in pleasure as the mast was lifted atop the building. For a time, his name was the highest in the city.

This is the building housing at its top The Lookout, a big circular room through which visitors stroll to enjoy dramatic panoramic views of the city. It opened August 13 with a special guest. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, ascended to the top in one of the building’s famed outdoor glassed-in elevators, and left a cast of his footprint as an official memento of the opening. It was on display there for many years, then somehow was broken. There is a revolving restaurant one floor below, and, on lower floors, this building houses the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University.

The SeaBus sailing to Vancouver. Photo by camerafiend, Wikipedia.The SeaBus sailing to Vancouver. Photo by camerafiend, Wikipedia.

The SeaBus

The first SeaBus went into service June 17, 1977. As the population of the North Shore grew, so did the demand for a “third crossing” of Burrard Inlet to ease the pressure of traffic on the two bridges. Instead of a third bridge or a tunnel, the SeaBus appeared. It was a high-speed marine passenger service. Built completely in British Columbia, SeaBus was the first marine transit service of its kind in the world. Each of the catamaran-style SeaBus ferries was 34 metres long, with a capacity of 400 passengers. Constructed of lightweight aluminum, the vessels were powered by four diesel engines with a cruising speed of 11.5 knots. (Terminal to terminal: 12 minutes.) Highly maneuverable, the double-ended ferries could move in any direction and turn in their own length.

Italian Cultural Centre

The Italian Cultural Centre opened in the summer of 1977 in east Vancouver on Slocan at the Grandview Highway. The official opening was September 25. The Centre, built mostly by volunteers, included a restaurant, banquet hall, art gallery, daycare centre, television production centre, and even an indoor bocce court. Every summer, the Centre hosts a week-long Italian festival. The Italian-born Anna Terrana of Burnaby, later the MP for Vancouver East, was a strong force behind the construction.

The Steam Clock

The Gastown Steam Clock was dedicated September 24, 1977. It had started as a solution for the problem of steam venting into the Gastown air from the Central Heat Distribution Plant, which supplies steam to hundreds of downtown buildings . . . and which vents excess steam through manholes here and there throughout the downtown. Jon Ellis, the city’s planner for the Gastown area, had the notion to have clockmaker Ray Saunders devise a steam-powered clock. It’s easily the most-photographed object in Vancouver even if (pssst!) it isn’t really steam-powered and, we learned within the last few years, never was.

The ‘Cultch’

The Vancouver East Cultural Centre opened in a building that had been Grandview Methodist (subsequently United) Church. The church had closed its doors in 1967. “It was adapted,” writes Harold Kalman, “to become a theatre, recital hall and community facility for the neighborhood. Founding director Christopher Wootten co-ordinated municipal, provincial, and federal support programs to make the ambitious project happen. The intimate audience chamber, with its good sight-lines and acoustics and a feeling of warmth, and seating for up to 350, has made ‘The Cultch’ a popular performing-arts venue that attracts people from far beyond East Vancouver.”


The Community Information Centre (which had started as the Community Information Service) became an independent United Way agency this year and acquired a new name, the Greater Vancouver Information and Referral Service (GVIRS, pronounced ‘Jeevers’ by its friends). Because Vancouver’s neighborhood centres had shrunk from 35 to just seven municipal/regional centres, GVIRS went back to providing direct service to the public. One of its services was The Red Book. This directory to various social and other services began to be published annually this year because of the rapid change in information about services. (70 per cent of the listings changed each year.) Today, GVIRS is Information Services Vancouver.

Also in 1977

The Wreck Beach Preservation Society began operation January 25, 1977, fighting to keep the clothing-optional beach untouched by development on the lands above the beach. See their web site here.

In January, newspaper executive Erwin Swangard, 69, was appointed president of the Pacific National Exhibition, a post he would hold for 13 consecutive annual terms. He came to be known as “Mr. PNE.”

Mission Institution opened in January, a full-service medium security facility, the first built as part of the B.C. Penitentiary decentralization plan. It is “home” to about 275 male offenders.

Marjorie Cantryn became a judge February 16, the first native Indian woman in BC to be so appointed.

The Heritage Festival began in June. This was an offshoot of Festival Habitat, a city-sponsored music, drama and dance event that ran during the UN Habitat conference, and that had actually generated a surplus of $40,000. Maurice Egan, the Director of Social Planning and his planner-cum-festival producer, Ernie Fladell, were urged by music critic Ian Docherty to replicate its success. Renamed the Heritage Festival and organized in cooperation with the VSO and CBC Radio, the event again succeeded in attracting large audiences for music, drama and dance—and yet another surplus. Vancouver summer entertainment, which had previously revolved around the PNE and Theatre Under The Stars, was never to be the same again.

The last of Vancouver’s little cab companies went August 17, when the 10-car Forum Empress Taxi Co. was purchased by Yellow Cab. Forum Empress, its 10 company and nine privately-owned cars operating from a converted house at 2053 East Hastings St., had formed when the Grandview, Forum, Empress and Hastings services amalgamated in 1964.

The British Columbia Resources Investment Corporation, or BCRIC (pronounced brick) came into being August 23. It was a holding company formed under the government of Premier Bill Bennett. BCRIC took over ownership of various sawmills and mines that had been bought and/or bailed out by the provincial government. It would come to grief in 1979. More details when we get that year up.

Lansdowne Park shopping mall opened September 14 in Richmond.

L’Ecole Bilingue Elementary school was born in September, a renaming of Cecil Rhodes School. This was one of the first French bilingual schools in the province, created because many Vancouver parents wanted a French immersion school.

On October 18 Willy de Roos—a Dutchman living in Belgium—arrived off Point Grey in his 13-metre steel ketch Williwaw. He had come (east to west) through the Northwest Passage, in the smallest boat ever to make the journey. It was also the first time a sailing vessel had made that voyage since Amundsen in 1906. From a review of his 1980 book North-West Passage comes this: “Countless seamen have risked—and many lost—their lives in the polar seas in their search for the North-West Passage. In 1977, when Willy de Roos set out from Falmouth in his 13-metre steel ketch Williwaw, he had the advantage of all the accrued information gathered by previous explorers, but the challenge of the North-West Passage was scarcely less awesome: the compass useless in Arctic waters, the charted depths not wholly reliable, the destructive cold and sleeplessness (for most of the passage was conducted single-handed) which sapped his strength, and above all, the unpredictable movement of the pack-ice, which constantly risked trapping him without means of escape before the brief arctic summer ended.”

Harry Ornest won a PCL franchise in the fall of 1977. He will put the Triple-A Vancouver Canadians on the field in 1978. See more when that year is up.

CKO-FM 96.1 signed on November 21 as part of the CKO national news network. The network, which grew to eight stations in major Canadian cities, including Vancouver, would last until 1989.

The first World’s Worst Art auction occurred November 25, 1977. This became a strange and funny annual event. It’s nicely described by Elizabeth Macleod (in a lively article in the Winter 2001 edition of Life Writing from Brock House. “Dr. Norman Watt, a UBC professor . . . while visiting an antique store in New York City in 1969 came upon an oil painting which he immediately labelled ‘The World’s Worst Oil Painting.’ The owner sold it to him for $5.00. When Dr. Watt returned to Vancouver he showed it to his friend William Goodacre. Together they decided to visit flea markets, garage sales and second-hand stores and build up a collection, agreeing that they would pay no more than $5.00 for any one purchase. In time they persuaded Doug Mowat, then the Executive Director of the British Columbia Paraplegic Foundation, to sponsor an exhibition. The 24th Annual Exhibition and Auction of the World’s Worst Oil Paintings was held in November, 2000 at the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre. To date this project has raised $600,000 for the Paraplegic Foundation.”

Memorial to Frank Rivers, a 20-foot totem pole carved by Stan Joseph, was placed at the Mosquito Creek Marina. Rivers, the marina’s first manager, died in 1976.

The Civil-Mechanical Building opened at UBC.

Capilano College established a regional campus in Sechelt.

UBC’s W.H. New succeeded George Woodcock as editor of Canadian Literature. He will serve as editor to 1995.

The book The Langley story illustrated: an early history of the municipality of Langley by Donald E. Waite appeared.

The book The enterprising Mr. Moody, the bumptious Captain Stamp: the lives and colourful times of Vancouver’s lumber pioneers by James Morton appeared.

The book Vancouver’s First Century appeared. It was prepared by Anne Kloppenborg, with assistance from her Urban Reader colleagues, Alice Niwinski and Eve Johnson. More than 300 photos and advertisements from the city’s past were complemented with excerpts from newspapers and memoirs, with an introductory essay by the late David Brock. It was a terrific book, still one of the best in the field. Supplementary and updated versions would appear in 1985 and 1991, retitled Vancouver: A City Album.

The book Kids! Kids! Kids! And Vancouver! appeared. Authors of this very successful guide book featuring activities and attractions for kids in Greater Vancouver were Daniel Wood and Chuck Davis. Wood did virtually all of the writing, and authored later editions and offshoots of the original title.

Whitecap Books of North Vancouver was incorporated. They are publishers of scenic and natural history books, regional guides, gardening, history and children’s non-fiction.

A number of local publications debuted in 1977. They included:

British Columbia Curling News, a bi-monthly out of Langley. Chamber Comment and the Chamber Newsbulletin, a free monthly publication from the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce. Good Friends, a monthly publication of the Vancouver Canada-China Friendship Association, featuring suggestions for trips and features about the People’s Republic of China. Outdoor Report, a quarterly from the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. It contained informative accounts of developments in outdoor recreation of interest to the Council’s members as well as elected officials, recreation managers, media and public libraries. Seniors Choice, a monthly publication in Langley. WCEL News, a biweekly newsletter from the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation. Working Teacher, a quarterly from the Working Teacher Educational Society.

Michael Walsh describes two locally-made 1977 movies:

In the film Greenpeace—Voyages To Save The Whales (directed by Michael Chechik, Fred Easton and Ron Precious) Don Francks narrated the story of the good ship Phyllis Cormack and its crew of Vancouver environmentalists as they faced down Soviet whalers on the high seas, an encounter captured by Simon Fraser Film Workshop alumni.

La Menace [aka Flashback. Directed by Alain Corneau) A co-production with France, this mystery-thriller ends with Vancouver truckers chasing a suspected killer (Yves Montand), a man on the run from his violent past in Europe.

Jack Harman created the bronze Bust of Charles Bentall, at 595 Burrard (Bentall Building). Bentall founded Dominion Construction Co.

Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki was awarded the Order of Canada. His citation reads: “Retired osteopath who, over a period of 35 years, has given unselfish service to the residents of Lillooet, British Columbia, particularly those of Japanese and Indian backgrounds and who continues to serve his community in spite of ill health.” His connection to Vancouver goes back to his arrival from Japan on June 29, 1913 at the age of 13. As a UBC student, he took part in the Great Trek (Oct. 22, 1922). Miyazaki practised medicine in Vancouver until 1942 internment in Bridge River-Lillooet area. He served as doctor for 1,000 internees. In 1945, Lillooet petitioned for his release to replace its deceased doctor. See his My Sixty Years in Canada (1973).

Burnaby Hospital opened a $29.4 million acute care facility with 422 beds.

Health Minister Robert McClelland broke ground at 28th Avenue and Oak Street for the new Childrens Hospital.

The British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, at 4490 Oak Street, celebrated its 100,000th birth.

Dr. David Boyes, a Vancouver obstetrician and gynecologist turned cancer researcher, was appointed executive director of the BC Cancer Agency. He will serve for 10 years. He became a widely-honored world authority and advisor to nations on cytology screening programs and chairman of advisory groups including the Medical Ethics Committee to the B.C. government and the False Creek Toxic Waste Cleanup Committee.

Norm Jewison, who was born in England in 1943 and grew up in Montreal, moved to Vancouver to become public relations director for the Vancouver Canucks.

A mountain in the Rivers Inlet area was named for Jack Manzo Nagano, a pioneer Japanese immigrant, in honor of the Japanese Canadian centennial. Nagano worked as a cabin boy from Nagasaki to New Westminster on a British ship, arriving in 1877 as the first Japanese immigrant in B.C. and possibly in Canada.

North Vancouver’s historic Church of St. John the Evangelist was converted to a recital hall named for arts advocate Anne Macdonald.

White Rock bought its famous pier from the federal government for $1. They put in new pilings to strengthen the pier. The feds still own the end of the wharf, and are responsible for maintenance of the breakwater installed in 1953.

A Vancouver-based CBC-TV series called Leo and Me premiered. The young star of the show was Edmonton-born (June 9, 1961) Michael J. Fox, a student at Burnaby Central Senior High School, who was 15 and looked 12. Another star of the series: Brent Carver, 25, who was Leo.

The Vancouver Pound sold and recorded a record number of dog-licence tags: almost 25,000.

The main building at Rainbow Lodge at Whistler burned down after 63 years of operation.

Samuel McCleery’s 1891 farmhouse at 2510 South West Marine was demolished.

Granville Island in 1980. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Archives. Item # CVA 780-784.Granville Island in 1980. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Archives. Item # CVA 780-784.

The federal government, which had bought (through Central Mortgage and Housing Corp.) all of Granville Island in 1973, bought out all the island’s leases and now owned the land and everything on it. The redevelopment of Granville Island was launched.


On May 25, 1977 the movie Star Wars premiered in the US. TIME lists this as one of 80 days since the mag began (1923) that changed the world.

On August 16 Elvis Presley died.


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.