You’ve heard of Show Biz. This is Biz Biz, the history of business in Vancouver, told through the activities of The Vancouver Board of Trade.

1888 1889 1890 1891 1892 1893
1894 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899
1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905
1906 1907 1908 1909 1910  
1926       1932 1933
1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940


Busy Board

On January 1, 1889 the Daily News-Advertiser carried an editorial about the Board that bears quoting 118 years after it appeared.

"The Vancouver Board of Trade was incorporated under the Dominion Statute and its certificate of Incorporation was issued by the Secretary of State on December 13th, 1887. The present membership of the Board is about 50, and includes representative men from every branch of Vancouver’s industries and commerce. The affairs of the Board are managed by a President, Vice-President and Council of 8 members.

“During its existence the Board of Trade has done much to advance the commercial and other interests of Vancouver, and has originated many matters of importance to the city. Among the objects which have engaged its attention, the following are some of the principal:

  • steam communication between Vancouver and other places on the coast
  • the development of the mines of the province
  • better mail facilities for various interior towns and mining camps
  • reclamation of the Fraser Delta lands by dyking
  • the buoying and lighting of the Narrows at the entrance of the harbor
  • the necessity of fortifications for the defence of Vancouver and the Mainland
  • establishment of a quarantine station and immigration agency
  • a bridge across False Creek to give the farming community on the North Arm direct communication with Vancouver
  • the development of fruit and hop growing in British Columbia
  • the location in Vancouver of a tannery and other industries
  • the appointment of a resident county judge and the erection of a court house
  • additional parks and school houses in the city,

and many other subjects of importance to the city and province. The efforts of the Board in many of these matters have already been successful. Any person desiring information about the industries or commerce of the city should address Mr. A.B. MacGowan, Secretary, Board of Trade, Vancouver, B.C.”

This is an indication of a busy Board. The organization wasn’t much more than a year old, and at the time they met only quarterly!


The March 6, 1889 issue of the Daily News-Advertiser devoted huge swatches of its space to coverage of the Board of Trade banquet the night before. Its opening paragraph is a fine indication of the newspaper writing style of the day:

“It was a brilliant scene that met the gaze of the banqueters last night in the Hotel Vancouver on the occasion of the first annual Vancouver Board of Trade banquet. In matters of trade and commerce, municipal affairs, law, politics and polite society the assembly represented the flower of the Province, while the ladies in full evening dress looked down from the galleries above, where they had assembled in goodly numbers, and intensified the brilliancy, if possible, of the most important banqueting occasion hitherto enjoyed in the Province.”

[Incidentally, the Hotel Vancouver referred to is the first one, which stood at the southwest corner of Georgia and Granville, where Sears is today.]

Epicurus cited

Now the writer warms up: the event was “in exquisite taste, and so perfect that Epicurus, himself, were he present in flesh would be compelled to declare faultless.”

The paper printed the entire menu. We counted 43 separate items, including halibut, salmon, sweetbreads, chicken, beef tenderloin, prime rib, spring lamb, roast partridge, ornamented chocolate sandwiches, Swiss Jumbles, and on and on, with sherry and sauterne and claret and champagne and port and various cheeses.

And this was all on the front page.

{We looked up Swiss Jumbles: they were “thin, rich, ring-shaped sugar cookies, often made with sour cream and scented with rose water.”]

The report told us that Messrs. Painton & Dyke’s orchestra furnished the music, and followed that note with a list of the musical pieces they played.

Every guest

And then the paper prints the name of every single guest at the banquet. Politicians, including BC Premier A.E.B. Davie and most of his cabinet, the mayors and reeves of a dozen towns, senators, CPR biggies William Van Horne, Thomas Shaughnessy, Sir Donald Smith, judges, business leaders, consuls, military men and more, in tiny print covering a third of the front page.

The banquet lasted two-and-a-half hours and many, many speakers were noted. One that stood out was Charles Semlin, the provincial MPP for Yale. [MPP is correct for the era; the title changed to MLA later.] In the words of the News-Advertiser, he “spoke of the manufacturing industries in particular, and remarked that we had all the elements necessary to make an industrial success. Already we manufacture everything from the ponderous steam-engine to the finely tuned piano. The speaker reviewed the mining, agricultural and other resources of the Province, in a speech which for fluency and comprehensiveness was not surpassed by any of the evening.”

[We looked up Semlin on Google, where we learned he was first elected to the Provincial Legislature in 1872, where he served the Yale riding continuously to 1900. In 1882 he had become leader of the opposition and finally served as Premier of B.C. from 1898 to 1900. He died at Cache Creek in 1927 at age 91. There is a street in the east side of Vancouver named for him.]

Annual Report

The March 13, 1889 issue of the News-Advertiser (Page 8) devotes much space to the annual meeting of the Board, and treats at length the report of the outgoing president, David Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer notes in passing the smallpox that had recently been raging through the area, with a note of relief that “our sanitary precautions and the expenditure of a large amount of money were sufficient to prevent the spreading of the fell disease,” but also makes passing reference, with no details, to “steps chosen by the civic authorities in the recent controversy with the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company’s steamers . . . whichever way the pending supreme judicial decision may turn, I do not think there is one citizen in our midst who would not admit that the best intentions have guided those who are responsible for Vancouver’s health, safety and commerce.”

At one point President Oppenheimer notes, with deep regret, “that a kind of apathy seems to have overcome the promoters of a submarine cable from Australia to Canada, and it is to be hoped that the previous efforts will gain reanimation.” [In fact, such a cable would not be completed until 1902.] Against that, trade with China and Japan was steadily on the increase.

He makes note of railway projects, at least one of which—the Gulf Railway—sounds like a pipe dream. “This City will shortly become the connecting link between (1) The Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway; (2) the New Westminster and Southern Railway; (3) the Gulf Railway across Seymour Narrows to Vancouver Island; (4) the Delta Railway, the preliminaries of which lines are being rapidly pushed, so that de facto Vancouver cannot help becoming and remaining the actual terminus of five railway systems on the North Pacific slope for transmission of freight and passengers to and from the Orient and Australasia . . .”

Saccharine Matter

President Oppenheimer spoke at length on every aspect of local industry and resources, and found much to admire. Everything was going well. As an example, all lumber mills in the area were “running at their fullest capacity, and finding new markets for their enormous output, besides a steady and augmenting local demand.”

There was a promising sugar beet industry looming “in our neighboring agricultural districts and municipalities.” He cites several agricultural experts, and says, “According to these reliable sources our experimental beets have, in many instances even without proper attendance or treated by inexperienced hands, yielded a percentage of saccharine matter which is totally unknown in the old world.”

He then compares the cost of growing sugar beets as against that of wheat, and the beets win easily. “I should judge the estimated area of lands from Harrison River to the Pacific Coast to contain capable of beet culture about 400,000 acres, at $100 an acre—$40 million, as returns to the farmers. Besides this return the industry will give steady employment to about 40,000 men, and it will further support many industries incidental thereto.”

Then follow some remarks on the fruit industry of the province, which had been slowed by “stringent land sale conditions” (not elaborated on), but which looked as if it would soon prosper, too.

And then there’s . . .

“In recapitulating,” the News-Advertiser’s report continued, “the President referred to the passing of the Mechanics’ Lien Act, the improved school accommodation, the North Arm bridge being under contract, the establishment of a savings bank, the mail service to the North Arm of the Fraser and the placing of letter boxes in prominent parts of the city.” He looked forward to the appointment of a resident judge and an immigration agent, “the erection of immigration sheds and a post office, the cession of the False Creek foreshore, an interinsular mail subsidy [?], the establishment of a marine hospital, a quarantine and a land registry office and the fortification of Burrard Inlet”" As for the planned street railway, “. . . the next six or eight months would, it was stated, see it in running order.” [His prediction was optimistic: the city's first streetcars would rattle into service June 27, 1890—15 months after this speech—following a rectangular route along Main, Cordova, Granville and Pender streets. Oppenheimer, by the way, was a major partner in the street railway company.]

The completion of the North Arm Road would make it easier for Fraser Valley farmers to bring their produce to the city.

Oppenheimer’s peroration zeroed in on three industries: Fisheries, Fruit Culture and Mining. “Any one of these has been sufficient in the United States to build up a rich and prosperous commonwealth. To what prosperity may not British Columbia then attain if these three industries are all prosecuted with energy! Vancouver, from its situation, is better situated than any other place in the Province, to become the centre of these three industries.”

And thus the term of the Board’s first president came to an end.

President Bodwell

A new executive was elected at the March 13 session. President for the next year would be E.V. Bodwell. [The initials stood for Ebenezer Vining.] Vice-President: R.H. Alexander.

Bodwell’s tenure would prove to be tragically short. The April 23 Board meeting, little more than a month later, was informed he was resigning his post because of ill health. Vice-President Alexander was elected President. [Alexander would finish this term and be elected to serve as President in 1890, too.) H.T. Ceperley was elected Vice-President.

Bodwell died October 18 at age 62. Remarks reported on at the April 23 meeting at which his resignation was announced left no doubt he had been held in high regard by his fellow members.

There was a brief discussion on the question of the removal of the sandbars obstructing False Creek. [It was the removal of those sandbars—or, better perhaps, their rearrangement—that would eventually make Granville Island possible.]

A mildly funny item arose out of that April 23 session. “The question of the establishment of a pulp factory was considered. A Mr. Alpenes, who was present, was called upon to give his views as to such a factory, and as to whether a trade in this article could be established with the Orient. Mr. Alpenes, however, did not, unfortunately, have the necessary papers with him, having lent them to a member of the Board, and was therefore unable to give particulars that evening.”

Odlum back from Japan

Some of the Board’s members met in a special session on April 6 to hear from Edward Odlum, a Vancouver-based scientist and teacher, just back from Japan. The News-Advertiser carried a long article on Page One the next day, but the gist can be conveyed briefly: Odlum had spent some time in the country and believed there was a real opportunity for the export there of Canadian goods. He cited butter, apples, hams, flour, blankets, corn beef and books. Canadian textbooks were cheaper than Americans, which Japanese students were using (presumably for the teaching of English). Our butter had been preferred over that from San Francisco. “Canned butter from Italy, France, Denmark, etc., was used by the wealthier classes and commanded a high price.”

Wheat flour was gaining popularity, but California was supplying most of the demand. “He had imported some flour from the Ottawa valley, which was made from a mixture of Manitoba and Renfrew wheat, which he bought at retail prices (emphasis added), and could lay it down at a less price than the current prices in Japan and still make a small profit.”

Japanese style of dress was changing extremely rapidly to Western style, and there was opportunity there. But Odlum cautioned that the Japanese preferred to manufacture for themselves everything they could. So it was raw materials—leather, fabrics, etc.—that we should export.

“The nation,” reported the News-Advertiser (April 7, 1889, Page 1), “is turning largely to beef-eating. The Jap is conscious of his physical inferiority as compared with the Anglo-Saxon, and is endeavoring to make his race large by eating flesh and lots of it.”

Canada needed a trades agent in Japan, Odlum said.

And he closed by expressing the belief that rice, tea and Japanese oranges could be grown successfully in British Columbia.

Idle Land

E.V. Bodwell’s first session as president was at a special meeting April 22, 1889. The Daily News-Advertiser of the next day said he had drawn the attention of the Board “to the fact that large tracts of agricultural land were being granted by the Government to speculators and non-residents to the exclusion of bona fide settlers and suggested that the Board should move to have the law so amended as that crown lands should be reserved for actual settlers.”

“Mr. Keith,” said the newspaper, referring to James Keith, one of the members and a future Board president, “said that he knew of cases where men were in possession of five and six thousand acres, which they were holding for a rise in prices and while they were capable of supporting a great number of families were lying idle.” A resolution to advise the provincial government of the Board’s feelings on the matter was unanimously adopted.

“There was dissatisfaction with the mail service between Vancouver and New Westminster. A resolution was carried that the board would telegraph Mr. Chisholm [presumably the local postmaster] requesting him to use his influence with the Postmaster-General to have mails between those important points carried by railway instead of by a pony team as at present.” The members also passed a resolution to telegraph Chisholm strongly urging a direct mail service between Nanaimo and Vancouver.

The Street Railway

The April 27, 1889 issue of the News-Advertiser had a brief and perfunctory report on Page 8 of the meeting of the Board the night before, Nothing substantive there, but the story just above it is interesting: it announced that the board of directors of the Vancouver Street Railway Co. had awarded the contract for the construction of the company’s system of railways to H.P. McCraney of Vancouver. “Work will be commenced at once, and the whole is to be completed by August 15th next.” [As noted above, the first streetcars started running June 27, 1890.]

“It is a matter of general satisfaction,” the paper concluded, “that a resident of Vancouver was successful in obtaining the contract in competition with tenders from persons in other Canadian and United States cities.”

Quarterly Meeting

Curiously, the April 27 News-Advertiser report just cited referred to “the usual monthly meeting” of the Board. But the report of the meeting of June 4, 1889 begins: “The quarterly meeting of the Board of Trade was held last evening.” A puzzlement.

One of the newspaper’s June 5 items: “Mr. Wm. Skene [Skene appears to have been a regular member of the Board at this time. He would later become its salaried secretary] spoke on the advisability of making the Board of Trade rooms attractive by having newspapers on file with a view to making it the commercial centre of the City.”

A list of under-reported items concludes with: “It was moved by Mr. McLagan, seconded by Mr. McDowell, that the City Council be requested to make an appropriation towards advertising the advantages Vancouver possesses for making it a manufacturing centre. Carried.”

John McLagan, incidentally, was the founder and editor of the Vancouver Daily World.

Tax, Tax, Tax

The June 15, 1889 issue (Page One) of the News-Advertiser reported on a special general meeting of the Board the night before. It had convened to hear the report of the Board’s legislation committee on the subject of the Trades License By-Law.

The committee didn’t like the by-law at all.

It said that “the enforcement of the licenses provided by such measure would be most detrimental to the trade and commerce of Vancouver.”

They recommended that the licenses “on all ordinary traders and agents, whether wholesale or retail, should be abolished, as such charges most trend to restrict trade; also that the license for commercial travellers should be abolished.

“Your committee also thinks that the imposition of a license fee on boarding houses and theatres is impolitic, while it sees no objection to the levying of a license fee on auctioneers, pawnbrokers, secondhand and junk dealers, peddlers, hawkers, etc.” And it approved of license fees for “scavengers, bill posters, drays, hacks, omnibuses, etc.”

They were of the opinion “that the imposition of any tax on real estate agents is injudicious, as this class of business men has done more than any other for the advertising and development of the City.

“Your committee is further impressed with the fact that the amount to be deducted by the eliminations recommended herein would not be in any way sufficient to compensate for the greater injury done to our business interests.”

Prominent People

The report was signed by Francis Carter-Cotton and H.T. Ceperley. These were two of the most prominent figures in early Vancouver.

In 1889 Yorkshire-born Carter-Cotton, who’d arrived in Vancouver after the Great Fire of 1886, was the publisher of the News-Advertiser—from which we’ve been distilling these reports of the Board’s activities. He had formed the paper in 1887 with the merger of the News and the Advertiser. The N-A was the first paper to classify advertising in Vancouver, first on the continent with an electric-powered press and first with machine-set type. Carter-Cotton was also Vancouver's PC MLA.

Henry Ceperley had arrived in Vancouver in 1886 from New York and founded a real estate and insurance firm that would grow to become the largest in B.C. The home he and his wife Grace would build in 1911, Fairacres, by Deer Lake in Burnaby, has been the home since 1967 of the Burnaby Art Gallery. The family also bequeathed funds to establish the Ceperley Park Playground in Stanley Park.


The Cotton-Ceperley report cited in the previous paragraph resulted in a hot and heavy session of the Board. Member John McLagan’s newspaper, The Vancouver World, had, apparently, made remarks in print about the two authors of the report that they, and other members, took exception to. (In essence, the paper claimed that the Council of the Board had sent the report to the City Council without clearing it with the full Board, which might not have approved it, and that there hadn’t been a quorum of the Council, anyway. There were eight members of the Council, and a quorum was five. Another point of contention: the World believed some of the proposed license fees were acceptable.)

Precisely what was printed in the World wasn’t described, but the Board secretary, William Skene, was moved to say: “In all such assemblies as this a rule of gentlemanly conduct prevails. A certain license can be taken by the public press in ordinary matters, but when a man presumes on his position as a member of a body and takes advantage of his opportunity as editor of a paper to vilify his fellow members, it should not be allowed to pass. I think that in such a case that gentleman should make an apology for the grossly untrue and scurrilous statements which he is responsible for.”

Not Easily Frightened

Cotton and Ceperley were both willing to drop the matter, but McLagan, far from apologizing, came out swinging. “I am not a novice in public life,” he said, “and not easily frightened or brow-beaten. Whether I wrote the article or not is not to the question. But I have yet to learn that there was anything wrong in it or not in accordance with facts. I was informed on good authority that the meeting was irregular.” He was told that there had been, in fact, a quorum of the Council, and that the Board’s constitution gave the Council the authority to do what it had done.

The whole article takes up the better part of a broadsheet page in tiny print, and we mention it here mostly to illustrate that the early newspapers covered the dealings of the Board in more detail and with more color than they do these days.

The fact that the story appeared in the News-Advertiser, whose publisher was one of the two men whose names were attached to the report, likely played a part!

And see the June 16 editorial cited below.


On Page 8 of the same June 15 News-Advertiser that carried the dustup described above, is a notice placed by D. Oppenheimer, Mayor. It reads: DOMINION DAY CELEBRATION If sufficient support can be found to hold a Ball on the night of the Second of July (Tuesday), it has been decided to have one. The price of Tickets for Gentlemen will be $10. All who desire to participate are requested to put their names down on the list to be seen at the Mayor’s Office, City Hall.


“It is to be supposed,” the Daily News editorialized in its June 16 issue, Page 4, “that in the face of the unanimous condemnation by the Board of Trade of the Trades License By-Law the City Council will not attempt to put the measure in force . . . those most competent to judge say that the revenue to be derived from the measure is ridiculously insignificant when the annoyances and difficulties which will arise from the Operation of the By-Law are considered.”


Again, a caveat: many of the early newspapers are difficult—sometimes impossible—to read on microfilm, so there is material missing from 1889.

What else was happening locally in 1889?

For a once-over-lightly look at the history of The Vancouver Board of Trade, go here.

Next: 1900 »









































 The first Hotel Vancouver, Georgia and Granville (photo: VPL #1)
The first Hotel Vancouver,
Georgia and Granville

[Photo: VPL #1]



















Thomas Shaughnessy (photo:
Thomas Shaughnessy


Charles Semlin (photo:
Charles Semlin































A field of sugar beet (photo:
A field of sugar beet