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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Year in Five Minutes: Vancouver 1978

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The 100-block of East Pender Street in April 1978. Item # CVA 780-470.The 100-block of East Pender Street in April 1978. Item # CVA 780-470.

This year laid the groundwork for the biggest event in Vancouver at the time. A famous restaurateur also passed away and the Whitecaps had a record-breaking season in 1978.

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


In the fall of 1978 three British Columbians were sipping coffee in the anteroom of the Cavalry Club in London, England. Social Credit cabinet minster Grace McCarthy wanted “something dramatic” for Vancouver’s centennial in 1986, eight years in the future. (“Could we borrow the Mona Lisa?” was one of her first ideas.) Lawrie Wallace, Agent General for British Columbia at the time, knew that the third person in the group—Patrick Reid, then running Canada House—was also president of the Paris-based International Bureau of Expositions. The BIE, to give it its French initials, had awarded the hugely successful Expo 67 to Montreal. “Why couldn’t Vancouver have one?” Eight years and $1.5 billion later—despite some loud nay-sayings and union strikes during construction in 1984 that nearly cancelled the whole event—what began as Transpo 86 would go on to claim success as Expo 86. Some 22 million tickets were sold.

Newspaper strike

On November 1, 1978 The Province and The Vancouver Sun were closed by a labor dispute. They would not resume publication until June 26, 1979, just under eight months. The Province lost 16 persons from its editorial department, the Sun eight, including columnist Doug Collins, who joined The Daily Courier, and sportswriter Jim Taylor, who later joined the Province. The union newspaper The Vancouver Express was launched to fill the gap.

Nat Bailey passes

A White Spot float in 1936. Photo by Stuart Thomson. Item # CVA 99-4469.A White Spot float in 1936. Photo by Stuart Thomson. Item # CVA 99-4469.

Nat Bailey, restaurateur, White Spot founder, died in Vancouver March 27, aged 76. Nathaniel Ryal Bailey was born January 31, 1902 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His itinerant family arrived from Seattle in 1911. “At 18,” writes Constance Brissenden, “Nat moved his peanut stand to Athletic Park, and later served Sunday drivers at Lookout Point from a 1918 Model T truck. A customer’s shout, ‘Why don’t you bring it to us?’ inspired the first White Spot drive-in, which opened in June 1928 at Granville and West 67th Avenue. From 1930 into the 1960s, his second wife, Eva (née Ouelette) co-managed his restaurants. In 1968 13 White Spots and other interests were sold by the Baileys to General Foods for $6.5 million. Nat Bailey Stadium is named for him, as a lifelong promoter of local baseball.” Read Triple-O, The White Spot Story by Constance Brissenden.

On April 2, the Vancouver Parks Board voted to rename Capilano Stadium after Nat Bailey.

First Vietnamese arrive

The first 15 Vietnamese refugees from the Hai Hong arrived in Vancouver in November 1978. The Hai Hong, journalist Kevin Griffin wrote, was a “rusty old  freighter anchored off the coast of  Malaysia, unable to unload its human cargo. Hung over the side of the boat was a sign in English: ‘Please Rescue Us.’ Captured by television news cameras, it was an image that showed up on TV sets in living rooms in Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Images of hungry and homeless refugees stuck on what amounted to a floating casket also tweaked the conscience of thousands of Canadians. Vancouverites were no different . . . Former Saigon resident Tzee Kok Wu told of leaving in such secrecy that he was contacted about the boat’s departure only an hour before it left. Wu and his four brothers and sisters made it in time but their parents were delayed a half hour and were left behind. Wu told of being so crowded aboard the boat, he could only sit because there wasn’t enough space to lie down. Of the 2,500 refugees crammed aboard the Hai Hong, about 600 arrived in Canada; 150 eventually arrived in Vancouver.”

Bryan Adams

After being hounded by a young North Vancouver singer who insisted Bruce Allen become his manager, in 1978 Allen finally acquiesced. Good move. The young man was Bryan Adams, still a major star more than 30 years later.

Billy Bishop

Billy Bishop Goes to War, playwright-composer John Gray’s two-man musical about Canada’s World War One flying legend, opened November 11, 1978 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. It starred Gray and Eric Peterson (who played 21 different parts), and became a huge hit. Says the online Canadian Encyclopedia of Music: “The musical brought Gray the 1981 Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Award, the 1982 Chalmers Canadian Play Award, and the 1983 Governor General’s Award for drama, as well as an Actra award for best television program. Billy Bishop Goes To War remains one of the most popular of Canadian musicals.”

The Whitecaps

The Vancouver Whitecaps finished the 1978 season with an NASL best 24-6 first place finish—which included winning the season’s last 13 games in a row. The Whitecaps were drawing crowds of close to 30,000 at Empire Stadium.

Gold for Debbie

Debbie Brill won gold this year in the World Cup of track and field at Montreal.

Emily Carr

The Vancouver School of Art, newly independent from Vancouver Community College, was renamed the Emily Carr College of Art. The new name was not a unanimous choice. Painter Gordon Smith, a former student and teacher at the school, was among those who opposed naming it after Emily Carr. Smith was on the school’s board at the time, and says there had been fear that no one would know who Carr was. Many students also opposed the idea, and protested against it. But today the name has become happily accepted. “In retrospect, I think it was a good idea,” says Smith. “Emily Carr was one of the greatest artists in Canada. Her name has become synonymous with the school.”

Also in 1978

On January 1 the 58th annual Polar Bear Swim was the biggest to date, with 1,000 participants and 20,000 spectators.

Also on January 1, Canada’s first Native Indian Citizenship Judge, Marjorie Cantryn, swore in 30 new Canadians in Whalley in Surrey.

To mark the opening of its new cultural centre on Grandview Highway, on February 3 Vancouver’s Italian community staged a Carnevale Italiano. (The Centre opened September 25, 1977).

The number of Greek immigrants to Vancouver doubled through the 1960s, and that eventually led to the construction of the Hellenic Cultural Community Centre. The centre opened  February 12, 1978 next door to  St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church on Arbutus Street.

Also on February 12 Vancouver’s Variety Club Telethon raised $1,152,000, a world record for any telethon sponsored by Variety.

On February 14 Harry Ornest announced his new Pacific Coast League baseball team would be called the Vancouver Canadians.  The Canadians made their home debut April 26. They beat the San Jose Missions 9-4 before a crowd of 7,128 in newly-named Nat Bailey Stadium.

On March 30 Doug Little marked 41 years at city hall, most latterly as Vancouver City Clerk.  He would be succeeded in the latter post by Bob Henry.

Henry Bell-Irving was sworn May 18 in as B.C.’s lieutenant governor, succeeding Walter Owen.

The first Vancouver Children’s Festival began May 29 in big, colorful tents at Vanier Park. Since the festival began, more than 1.5 million children have attended.

In July Brock House, a big handsome mansion built in 1911 at 3875 Point Grey Road, was declared a Heritage Building by the City of Vancouver. In 1952 the owners at that time sold the building to the federal government, and until 1971 it served as the RCMP’s Vancouver Sub-Division Headquarters. On May 1, 1975, the property was turned over by the Federal Government to the City of Vancouver as part of the transfer of the Jericho Waterfront Lands. Since 1977 the house and grounds have been leased to Brock House Society from the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.

The first Vancouver Folk Music Festival opened August 11 in Stanley Park. To quote the Canadian Encyclopedia web site: “The [three-day] festival was founded by Mitch Podolak and Colin Gorrie of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and Ernie Fladell and Fran Fitzgibbon of Vancouver’s social planning department through its Heritage Festival Society, and Gary Cristall, who co-ordinated this first festival . . . It has avoided the promotion of star performers but attendance has averaged about 30,000 annually, making this one of Canada’s most successful folk festivals.” Gary Cristall would be associated with the festival from its beginning to 1995.

An Air West Airlines Twin Otter crash September 3 in Coal Harbour killed 11 people, nine of the 11 passengers and both crew members.

Jack Webster, whose radio talk show (CKNW) was a ratings force for years, started doing the same thing October 2 on television at BCTV.

The new New Westminster library opened in October, 1978.

The Stanley Park Pavilion, circa 1912. Item # SGN 95.The Stanley Park Pavilion, circa 1912. Item # SGN 95.

In October the 1911 Stanley Park Pavilion was designated a Schedule A Heritage Building by the City of Vancouver.

Dr. Patricia Baird became the head of the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia this year. Under her leadership, the department grew from a small group of pioneer scientists and clinicians to an internationally known resource. She was the first woman to chair a clinical medical school department at UBC, and the first woman to be elected to the Board of Governors. Her medical genetics course, regularly voted the best course by UBC medical students, was an outstanding model for teaching genetics to physicians of the future. The American Society of Human Genetics has used this model in the development of medical genetics courses for medical students in North America.

Jim Kinnaird, who had been the assistant deputy minister of labor in the NDP government, was elected president of the B.C. Federation of Labor. He was credited with uniting the divided body, would serve three terms as leader of 250,000 unionized workers.

The British Columbia Film Commission was formed in 1978.  The making of movies in BC had accelerated, and the function of the commission would be to promote and market B.C. to the world as a film, television and commercial location, and to use the province’s skilled professionals in their productions, both before and behind the cameras. The Commission operates within the B.C. Trade Development Corporation and maintains extensive photo files of locations, assists producers with budgeting and production scheduling, acts as a liaison for production companies and handles inquiries from the public.

Musicologist Ida Halpern, a potent force on the local music scene and the first person to study the music of West Coast native people, was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

The Vancouver Canucks revamped their uniforms, changing the team colors from the original blue, green and white (with hockey stick logo) to a yellow, orange and black outfit that looked, wrote Mark Leiren-Young, “like a bad set of pajamas.” A San Francisco marketing firm claimed it would strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but, says Mark, “all it induced was giggles and they soon switched to a more subdued uniform— although they did keep the speeding skate logo.”

The Ocean Engineering Centre opened at BC Research on the UBC campus. The centre is consulted frequently by naval architects and ship builders. They use a 67-metre-long towing tank here as an interactive design tool allowing them to optimize hull lines. Tests of models have examined the performance of tugs, barges, planing hulls, sailboats, offshore supply boats, hydrofoils, ferries, catamarans and even submarines. The Centre also gets into the movies: a large wave basin (30.5 metres long) there has proven to be ideal as an aquatic sound stage. It includes a 32-ton wave maker. “Here accurate models of entire harbors and shorelines can be constructed and subjected to scaled-down tempests.” Features filmed on location at OEC include The First Season, Jason Takes Manhattan, and The Sea Wolf. (The basin’s water was warmed in the latter film for star Charles Bronson.)

Edmonton-born (February 14, 1923) I.K. “Ike” Barber, after a quarter century in the forest industry, formed his own company: Slocan Forest Products Ltd. Sales were $23 million, and eventually reached nearly $1 billion. Slocan employed more than 4,000 people, including contractors, and won awards for its sustainable forestry practices. Barber will become a prominent philanthropist, and will make a $20 million donation to UBC to help establish the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre in the university’s old main library. Barber would retire in 2002.

Entrepreneur Brent Davies leased the Teahouse at Ferguson Point in Stanley Park. (On May 5, 2004 he will rename it the Sequoia Grill.)  The Teahouse was built in 1938, just prior to the Second World War, as an officers’ mess for a military defense garrison, staffed by the 15th Coast Artillery Regiment. After the war, the city operated it as a summer teahouse.

The Vancouver Maritime Museum purchased the Thomas F. Bayard, a two-masted schooner  built in New York in 1880 as a pilot ship. The Museum planned a major restoration of the vessel. After its years as a pilot ship in Delaware Bay (Bayard was a Delaware senator, later the U.S. Secretary of State), the Bayard became a Gold Rush freighter, running between Puget Sound and Alaska from 1898 to 1906, then a seal hunter out of Victoria from 1907 to 1911. Its most lasting fame was as the Sandheads #16 lightship at the mouth of the Fraser River from 1913 to 1957 (another source gives 1955), a remarkable service of more than 40 years.

Richard Bonynge’s years as artistic director of Vancouver Opera ended. “The Bonynge years (1974-78),” music critic Ray Chatelin wrote, “began with great promise and ended with the last half of the 1977-78 season being cancelled because of mounting debt. Bonynge, though often mired in controversy about finances and programming, changed the direction of the company. He created his own orchestra and established a resident training program, both which are foundations of the current operation.” He was succeeded by Hamilton McClymont.

John Avison, originator and conductor of the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Punchlines, Western Canada’s first comedy club, opened in the basement of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Founder Rich Elwood would later move the club to Gastown where it lasted to 1995.

Greenpeace bought its own ship, a converted North Sea trawler, Sir Williams Hardy, renamed it the Rainbow Warrior and began to campaign against whaling in Iceland and Spain.

The book The Salish People appeared. It consisted of the field reports of ethnologist Charles Hill-Tout (1858-1944), collected by Ralph Maud. Hill-Tout was a devoted amateur anthropologist, and wrote much on the Salish.

The book Heritage Fights Back by Marc Denhez appeared. Much of the book was dedicated to the fight to save the Gastown area—at a time when the civic, provincial and federal levels of government were in favor of demolishing it for massive redevelopment.

A decision was made to switch to the use of natural gas only at the Burrard Thermal plant—the  six tall stacks emitting steam just west of the Ioco refinery on the north shore of Burrard Inlet. The plant, completed in 1963, was designed to burn either crude oil or natural gas. High pressure steam is passed through turbines to generate electricity—almost 7,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough for 700,000 homes, if needed.

The provincial government asked Vancouver financial consultants Brown Farris & Jefferson Ltd. to study how investors fared on the Vancouver Stock Exchange. “The odds of losing, overall, are 84%—about five times out of six,” the study concluded. “The chances of investors doubling their money each year for more than four years by buying and holding an issue appear to be nil.”

Erecting the Throne of Nezahualcoyotl in July, 1978. Item # CVA 1502-545.Erecting the Throne of Nezahualcoyotl in July, 1978. Item # CVA 1502-545.

The Mexican government presented the sculpture Throne of Nezahualcoyotl, by Ted Sebastian, to the International Stone Sculpture Symposium. Placed (appropriately) in VanDusen Botanical Garden, it depicts the Aztec prince Nezahualcoyotl who found inspiration in flowers.

The book Pioneers, Pedlars, and Prayer Shawls: The Jewish Communities in British Columbia and the Yukon by Cyril Leonoff appeared, published by Sono Nis Press.

The Douglas College council approved a downtown New Westminster site for the college’s first permanent campus. The campus at Royal Avenue and Eighth Street would be completed in the fall of 1982 and officially opened the following spring.

A permanent residence (replacing temporary quarters) was built on the BCIT campus. It consisted of five low-rise houses and accommodated up to 250 students.

The Surrey Story, by G. Fern Treleaven, which had originally appeared in smaller separate parts, was published as a book by the Surrey Museum and Historical Society. It told the story of Surrey up to that point, frequently in the words of the city’s pioneers.

Vancouver, a history of the city by Eric Nicol, appeared, published by Doubleday. On my travels around Canada and the US, I often pop into public libraries and check to see what books on Vancouver they stock. This is the title most often seen.

Poet Peter Trower’s Ragged Horizons was a retrospective collection of his earlier works.

Geoff Meggs became editor of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union’s The Fisherman, the oldest and largest circulation west coast fishing industry publication.

SFU English professor John Mills published Skevington’s Daughter.

The movie The Other Side Of The Mountain, Part 2 (Director Larry Peerce) was released.  Overcoming her fear of commitment, paraplegic Jill Kinmont (Marilyn Hassett) marries a sensitive truck driver (Timothy Bottoms) and passes through Vancouver on her way to a Vancouver Island honeymoon.

Quintessence Records—an outgrowth of Ted Thomas’ Kitsilano record store of the same name—became a focal point for the emerging punk and new wave scene, and introduced bands such as The Pointed Sticks and Young Canadians.

Charitable casinos were first permitted in BC.

A number of new periodicals appeared in 1978. They included: B C Runner, a quarterly published by the Seawall Running Society. Canadian Holistic Healing Association Newsletter, a quarterly. Consulting Engineers of British Columbia: Commentary, a quarterly for the membership of the Consulting Engineers of British Columbia. It offered industry profiles, selection procedures, awards for engineering excellence, export activity, sector articles, etc. Indo Canadian Times, a weekly with text in Punjabi, a free suburban publication. The Link, the first Indo-Canadian English paper to be published in Vancouver, appeared as a biweekly. Online – Onward, an irregular (approx. eight times a year) publication of the Vancouver Online Users Group. It covered events and information of interest to local librarians and others who worked with computerized information retrieval and database management systems. Pacific Report Newsletter, a semi-annual free publication of the Canadian Cancer Society, B.C. and Yukon Division. Transmitter, published six times a year by the Telecommunications Workers Union, a free telephone union newsletter. West Coast Libertarian, a bi-monthly publication of the Greater Vancouver Libertarian Association, first appeared.

Ben Wosk, furniture and appliance merchant, and community activist (Schara Tzedeck synagogue, B.C. Heart Foundation, Vancouver Epilepsy Centre, Boy Scouts and others), was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Tsutae Sato, educator, was awarded the Order of Canada. He and his wife Hanako ran the Vancouver Japanese Language School from 1906 to 1942.


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.