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.
The members of the Vancouver Board of Trade
would have been basking in the praise of its activities given in
the December 12, 1900 Province.
In a Page 8 story headlined NORTHERN SERVICE the
Province wrote: If a stranger, whether possessed of
business training or not, had have been present at the meeting of
the Vancouver board of trade last night he could not have failed
to grasp one of the strongest factors in the up-building of this
region. In range of ground covered, in energy and directness of
purpose, and high executive ability, the board stands second to
none in the dominion. The extensive nature of the fields of labor
entered by the Vancouver board of trade can be better understood
by a consideration of the various subjects submitted for consideration
The formation of associate boards of trade
throughout the province; the establishment of a mint; the improvement
of the steamship service to the north; suggestions as to needed
reforms in bankruptcy legislation; ways and means touching the construction
of a road connecting the head of Howe Sound with Pemberton Meadows,
and road improvements generally. Such is a brief sketch of the subject
At the beginning of the 20th century the Klondike
Gold Rush was a subject of overriding interest to the Board. Vancouver
was a frequent passing-through spot for gold seekers heading north.
In fact, theres a terrific photograph of the time showing
a team of oxen on Cordova Street in front of Page Ponsford Brothers,
a prominent city haberdasher. On the second floor, above the shop,
the offices of the Vancouver Board of Trade!
North to Alaska!
From the Province for January 10, 1900: While
the members of the board of trade were discussing last evening the
advisability of spending more money on advertising Vancouver abroad
as the best port in the world for the northern trade, Mr. R. P.
McLennan, who has recently returned from Dawson, made a few remarks
on which a momentous resolution was afterwards based. [This
would be Robert Purves McLennan, one of the founders of the well-known
BC firm, McLennan, McFeely & Prior . . . Mc & Mc.]
What was needed, McLennan said, was to secure
a line of fast steamers that would make this their first port of
departure and return. It was a notorious fact that while British
Columbia sold about 80 per cent of the goods shipped into the gold
fields, not 10 per cent of the people coming out touched at Vancouver.
Seattle was beating us, and Vancouver had lost hundreds of
thousands of dollars through this. (On April 11, the Province
reported that the McKenzie Brothers (otherwise unidentified) asked
the Board for support of their proposal to put three fast
steamers on the northern run with Vancouver as the home port.
They claim they can give a five-day service to Skagway and asked
the Board for financial assistance. Referred to committee.)
also had harsh words for the White Pass and Yukon railwaywhich
had started operations in Skagway, Alaska four months earlier, and
which connected Skagway to Whitehorse in the Yukonsaying it
charged too much to carry freight and passengers and, moreover,
charged a fee of anywhere from $3 to $10 on every invoice their
brokers passed, while U.S. government fees were 50 cents.
Hope-Princeton Road, etc.
This same Board meeting also discussed the notion
of having a wagon road built from Hope to Princeton in the Similkameen
country, to tap the mining riches there. One of the members, J.C.
McLagan, publisher of the World newspaper, objected. He thought
the CPR would soon be building a line into that area, so a road
wasnt needed. Still, a meeting later in the month voted to
send a delegation to Victoria to push for the building of such a
road. The delegation met with the Hon. Mr. Dewdney, who thought
the road "desirable and quite feasible," and believed
it would cost $50,000. It was pointed out that virtually every mine
served by a railway in British Columbia had first had a wagon road
built to reach it, and the railways had followed.
On February 14th the Board recorded its opposition
to the eight-hour day for miners, saying that 10 hours made more
economic sense. In some jurisdictions, it was noted, miners worked
a 14-hour day. Also on the agenda that day, a letter from Maple
Ridge municipality asking the Boards support for a trunk road
there. The Dewdney Trunk was already built by 1900, so were
not sure where this one was intended to go. (Construction on the
Lougheed didnt start until 1928.)
Other subjects touched upon at various Board meetings
this year were fire insurance rates (thought too high), preferential
tariffs in trade with the UK, trading stamps (thoroughly disapproved
of), and the status of the city hospital. The board also, for reasons
not given in the August 15th article, recommended the purchase by
the city of English Bay beach.
New President, New Map, Old Problem
Fred Buscombe, 38, a glass merchant, was elected
President of the Board on March 7, succeeding Charles Tisdall. (Buscombe,
a prominent and popular retailer, would become mayor in 1905.) In
the same Province story in which his election was announced,
this funny item appeared: Mr. Allan, an advertising agent
of Seattle, wished to present a scheme for advertising the city
of Vancouver in pamphlet form, and passed sample books around illustrating
the manner in which Seattle had been written up. A member pointed
out the fact that Canadians were referred to in a very scandalous
and unkind way in large print in the book in connection with the
British Columbia mining industry. If Mr. Allan had any chance of
dealing directly with the board of trade regarding his scheme, it
was killed by this discovery, for a resolution was promptly moved
and seconded and unanimously passed that the board of trade take
An April 10 meeting called for a study of the distasteful
10 per cent royalty levied by the government on the gold of
the Yukon. A large amount of gold is smuggled out of the country
because of the royalty, the Board said, thus depriving Canada
of business which would be done here if the gold were purchased
in Dawson and paid for in Dominion currency.
The same meeting called for a new map of the province.
The steamer service to Skagway came up again July
17. It turns out that Puget Sound steamship owners were deliberately
not stopping at Vancouver en route to or from Skagway, and it was
recommended that strenuous efforts be made to establish
a service based in Vancouver. A committee was struck to approach
city council. One speaker commented that boats of satisfactory dimensions
could not be got for less than $150,000. Doubt was expressed that
the citizens of Vancouver would approve that expenditure.
What else was happening
locally in 1900?
For a once-over-lightly look at the history of The
Vancouver Board of Trade, go here.
Next: 1901 »