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


Taxation and a Railway

The Board met on January 19 in special session to discuss the province’s Assessment Act. “President Lockyer,” the Province reported on Page 5 of its January 20 issue, “in commenting on the unfairness of the act, stated that eastern firms, represented in this province by selling agents or brokers, entirely escaped taxation. They escape through the selling agents or brokers disposing of goods under the billheads of their eastern firms. Some agents of eastern firms have warehouses full of goods here which are untaxed, while their neighbors have goods which do not escape taxation simply because their headquarters are maintained in this province.” (A “billhead” is defined as “a sheet of paper with a business name and address printed at the top, used for billing costs or charges.” We guess that’s what we’d call an invoice today.)

Member Frederick Buscombe reported that he had it from authoritative sources that the government intended to appoint a committee to look into the assessment question.

And a great deal of discussion was devoted to the subject of amendments to the Bills of Sale Act. The passage of a hundred years has not made this subject any more interesting.

A resolution was passed expressing strong support for a proposed railway to open up the Nicola Valley. The railway would run from Spence’s Bridge to Nicole Lake, and tap that country’s rich mineral resources. The government was dragging its feet in extending approval of the project. Mr. Buscombe commented that it was “almost criminal to allow that country to remain fallow and unproductive.”

Hurry Up and Wait

The February 2 meeting showed that some things never change. The Board had received a petition from the city’s customs brokers asking the board to help it in getting a better system of receiving refunds from the Dominion Government. “In many cases it was said it had been months and years before refunds were obtainable, and a number of claims were still outstanding.” Member Charles Tisdall commented that if it were discovered that a merchant had not paid the full amount of duty chargeable, he had to pay it within 24 hours. “The Government ought to be equally prompt.” The petition was endorsed. (At its April 5, 1904 meeting the Board heard a response to this problem. The Hon. William Patterson, Minister of Customs, wrote asking for particulars of representative claims “to enable him to deal promptly with complaints, as no unnecessary delay would be tolerated.”)

Tacoma link

The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce wrote to ask the Board to endorse the establishment of a daily—note, a daily—steamship service between Tacoma and Vancouver. The Board replied that it generally approved of the idea, but would wait until a definite scheme was submitted to it.

Annual Meeting

President Lockyer in his last address in that post, told members at the Board’s March 1 annual meeting that “during the last year Vancouver showed greater progress than at any period since the city was established. The large amount of building which took place during the whole of the year has resulted in very materially altering the appearance of the city, filling up vacant spaces in the business portion, and turning vacant blocks in the residential quarters to densely populated sections . . . Business blocks and warehouses are occupied as soon as completed.” The population of the city, it was confidently predicted, would exceed 40,000 by the end of 1904.

“A satisfactory feature in connection with the progress of the city is marked by the opening up of many new streets and the building of sidewalks, of which, it is pleasing to note, the more permanently constructed ones of cement are taking the place of the plank walks hitherto in use.”

Receipts by Customs, Inland Revenue and the Post Office showed that local trade conditions were generally in a healthy state.

The lumber industry was doing well, and mining was recovering nicely from the post-Klondike lull. There was still concern about mining activity in the Similkameen and Nicola region, where exploitation of the resources needed a railway. “While having every regard for the present financial condition of the province’s finances, it cannot be admitted with other than extreme regret that apparently another year is to go by without anything being done that will assist those who are engaged in exploiting this rich district.”

There was difficulty in the shingles trade, with supply exceeding demand and difficulty in getting railcars to carry the product. The CPR said it was doing the best it could.


“An exceedingly wet summer,” Lockyer said, “resulted in smaller crops being harvested in the Fraser Valley,” but the butter industry was thriving and producing butter the quality of which was “fully equal and in some cases superior to that produced in Ontario and Manitoba . . . Complaints are made by [fruit] farmers as to the difficulty of reaching Vancouver markets, and it is to be hoped the completion of the Fraser River Bridge at New Westminster will result in proper arrangements for a market being made . . .” (That bridge would open July 23, the first bridge to span the Fraser. It joined New Westminster to Brownsville [North Surrey], and was hailed as the engineering feat of the century. Built for $1 million by the provincial government, it carried trains on the lower span and vehicles and pedestrians on the upper, just wide enough for two hay wagons to pass.)

1903 was an off-year for canneries, the catch, particularly on the Fraser River, being much smaller than was anticipated. There was a real need for “scientific salmon propagation.”

One of the odder letters the Board received was one from the Chilliwack Agricultural Association, asking if they could get a grant to help purchase fruit jars for their exhibition! The Board responded, declining: “While the object is a worthy one, the board has no funds it can turn over for the purpose.”

Electric Power

President Lockyer referred to the September, 1903 visit by delegates from the Canadian Manufacturers’ Assn., who were apprised of the cheap electrical power in the offing, “which will be possible when the huge undertaking by the British Columbia Electric Railway Company is completed.” [Speaking of the BCER, the growth of their streetcar system had advanced to the point where they began this year to make their own cars in a New Westminster plant.]

There was still no progress on the question of having a B.C. Supreme Court justice resident in the city.

But there was real progress in the provision of a Dominion Government building, large enough to handle the Post Office and Customs and Excise departments. A site had been purchased, Lockyer said, but the government was cautioned to make the building large enough to accommodate Vancouver’s rapid growth.

A note: the old post office that is now part of Sinclair Centre opened for business in 1910, so we think the building referred to by President Lockyer in this 1904 report was an even earlier one a block away at the southwest corner of Pender and Granville. It seems unlikely that this building was in use as a post office for just six years, but it’s even more unlikely that it would have taken six years to build the structure at Hastings and Granville.

A measure of success had been reached in negotiations with the CPR to lower freight rates for Vancouver shippers, who paid more than those in Winnipeg. The Board paid special tribute to W.J. McMillan, the chair of the committee that had met with the railway, “who has been untiring in his efforts to bring about a more equitable condition.” (Here, incidentally, is a case where the Board’s efforts helped all local business, not just Board members.)


Nineteen new Board members had come aboard during the year, but the membership of 144, said President Lockyer, was “far too small for a commercial city such as Vancouver . . . I respectfully submit that it is the duty of every man engaged in commercial life in this city to become a member of the Vancouver Board of Trade.”

The Board had $140 in the Bank of North America, and $46 in cash on hand. Dues of $1,532 had been collected during the year, and $276 in entrance fees.

Expenses for the year included:

Printing and stationery $136.72

Postages and sundries 144.15

Caretaker, doorplates and elevator


Electric light 20.02

Telegrams 42.56

Telephone 48.95

Rent 240.00

Secretary (William Skene) 720.00

Another notable expense: $680.80 had been spent to have 4,000 copies of the annual report printed, and another $40 to mail them, for a total of $720.80—less a government grant of $250.

The Board’s auditors, Messrs. Tisdall and Godfrey, called attention to the steadily decreasing cash balance of the board. The board, said Tisdall, must either increase its dues, add to its membership or decrease expenses.

The new president by acclamation was H. McDowell. There was general agreement that H.T. Lockyer, the past president, "had proved one of the ablest officers the board had ever had."


The Province for April 6, 1904—incidentally, Vancouver’s 18th birthday—reported that the Board of Trade in its regular meeting the night before had listened to Ward D. Williams, the western representative of the Montreal Star newspaper, who laid out a scheme for advertising British Columbia in eastern Canada, the USA and Great Britain. For $100 a week to be garnered from local business people, the Star would publish a weekly article on the economic growth of the province and city for 26 weeks. This material would also be published in the Minneapolis Journal, a “great farmer’s paper on the other side of the line where it circulates through the heart of the country.” Further, when the series was finished it would be published in pamphlet form and “distributed to the ends of the earth.”

A committee was formed to discuss the proposal and to confer with the Tourist Association.

Deja vu

The perennial problem of increasing the membership rolls, and attracting more members to the meetings, was bandied about again at the April 5 session. And so was the equally venerable question of allowing American ships to carry Canadian goods to other Canadian ports. Neither was resolved.

Member E.H. Heaps was alarmed at the inroads which lumbermen in Washington State were making into the Canadian market. He said that six or seven carloads of lumber consigned to the Northwest were daily entering Canada at Sumas. “If that trade were diverted to Vancouver, the mills here would be greatly benefited.” He advocated the imposition of a stiff duty on rough lumber. And he noted that the Americans were preparing to increase the duty on shingles entering that country. “The result of jumping the duty beyond thirty cents per thousand will be the closing of the US market to British Columbia shingles, and as a consequence mills here in Vancouver will be hit.” See the item below headed “Special Meeting.”

Information on Land Needed

Member D.G. Williams wanted the provincial government to provide more information on crown land to potential settlers. “At present a home-seeker coming to BC cannot possibly secure any knowledge of lands in the province for the good reason that the Government has no information to give . . . In the Northwest and Manitoba intending settlers are supplied with a wealth of data concerning lands available for settlement, and the same should obtain here.”

Special Meeting

A special meeting of the Board was held May 17 to discuss the notion of a protective tariff on lumber and shingles. It was decided to send a delegate to Ottawa, and so the question of the expense that would incur arose. The British Columbia Lumber & Shingle Manufacturers’ Association was willing to contribute 25 per cent of the cost, with the rest coming from other local businesses. Member W.G. Harvey said that if the lumber industry were shut down “fully 25 per cent of the small retailers in the city, himself included, would be forced to retire from business.”

President McDowell commented that he was in favor of asking the cooperation of the province’s other Boards of Trade. A delegate could not be sent under $250 to $300. [Remember these are 1904 dollars. A decent wage was $10 a week and you could buy a 13-acre lot on the Fraser River for $102.]

This passage in the May 18 Province report on the meeting stands out: “After a little lull in discussion, Mr. J.G. Scott arose and said that he had not intended to speak, but someone sitting behind him had said the meeting was a dull one. Mr. Scott said if it was dull, then let it be dull, and the millmen would shut down the mills and let all the business men suffer with them. He impressed on the meeting the importance of the matter under consideration.”

A resolution was passed endorsing the sending of a delegate, who would likely be joined by others sponsored by other boards across the province. (The boards in Victoria, New Westminster, Kamloops, Revelstoke and Golden had already expressed approval of sending a delegation.) The CPR would also be asked to contribute in kind, since the question was important to them, too. The hat was passed around, and $186 gathered on the spot.

Grand Trunk Pacific

On another matter it was decided to telegraph Ottawa (specifically Member of Parliament R.G. Macpherson) to press them to make it a condition of the contract with the Grand Trunk Pacific railway that work on the Pacific coast section of the GTP’s proposed line be started at the same time as work in the east. (The story of the Grand Trunk’s troubled future—it ran into financial problems and was eventually absorbed by the CNR—is an interesting one, and can be read in some detail here.)

Japan Trade

The May 17 meeting also resulted in an agreement to provide the Board’s rooms to Alexander MacLean, a Canadian Government agent, who was in Vancouver preparing to leave for Japan to begin efforts to promote more trade with that country.

The DeKeyser Process

Something called the DeKeyser Process was exciting the members of the Board, according to the June 1, 1904 Province. This was an ore milling process developed by Mr. DeKeyser, no first name given, “a Vancouver inventor, who is a Belgian by birth, and a chemist and metallurgist by inclination and learning.” A large experimental plant had been established in “the old cement works, False Creek,” and work was going on. An expert in the field, Joseph Holtschneider of Denver, Colorado, said that the reduction of free-milling ores by the DeKeyser process would revolutionize the industry. Alas, an extensive search of the Internet found no references to this revolutionary process.

There’s a reference in the very last paragraph of the story that says DeKeyser has started legal proceedings against a Dr. Hendryx in Washington state “to prevent him from further using the process.” Odd, because there are references to the “Hendryx process” on the net. Hmmm. It gives one to think.

Insurance rates—is someone fibbing?

At the June 7, 1904 regular meeting of the Board the subject of an increase in insurance rates was bandied about. The Board of Fire Underwriters had announced the increase, and the Board of Trade thought it was unjustified. Member Frederick Buscombe, a past president, quoting from a Dominion Government blue book, said that it showed that “instead of the [insurance] companies losing money, as claimed by them, they were in reality reaping handsome profits . . .

“Nine Canadian companies in 1902 received in premiums $2,555,793, and paid out in losses $865,214, which showed gross earnings of $1,190,579. In 1903 the same companies, etc., etc.” Buscombe was quoted as saying that “the insurance companies have run mad because of their recent losses in Toronto and Baltimore, and while he sympathized with them in their period of hardship he thought it unreasonable that the public should suddenly be called upon to pay a large increase in rates. The companies should be in a position to settle their recent large losses out of the enormous profits they have made in the past.”

Then he quoted from remarks of the chairman of the London and Liverpool and Globe fire insurance company to the board of directors of that organization at a recent annual meeting. The chairman announced that the losses the company had sustained in the Baltimore and Toronto fires did not exceed ten per cent of its total income from premiums last year. He further stated that the year 1903 was the most prosperous the company had had in its history, and further had announced that “big companies welcomed large fires in the sense that through such conflagrations weak companies were knocked to the wall, with the inevitable result that the people ultimately insured with the big companies, which had such backing that all losses incurred were promptly met. A big fire weeded out the weak companies and left the field in the possession of the strong.”

The reference to the Toronto fire led us to some side research. A great fire on April 19, 1904 in that city caused $10 million damage (likely equivalent at the very least to 10 times that today) and destroyed great sections of the city. Remarkable film footage of the blaze, made 102 years ago, can be seen here.

Poor Mr. Banfield!

The Province story then went on to say that, during the discussion on insurance rates, Board member J.J. Banfield happened to enter the meeting. Mr. Banfield was an insurance agent.

In response to a question, Mr. Banfield said: “Fire insurance in Canada for the past thirty years has been unprofitable.”

“He got no further,” the paper reported, “because of the storm of laughter this statement raised, coming as it did almost on top of the assertions to the contrary made by Mr. Buscombe.” Not having been present when Mr. Buscombe quoted his figures, Mr. Banfield was at an entire loss to know the cause of the merriment. But after looking nonplussed for half a minute Mr. Banfield, with a look of determination on his face, bravely proceeded to put his case before the meeting. “He had known men to go into a store and pay $25 for a hat and come out thinking they had received good value, but those same men were ready to fight over fire insurance rates.” He cited companies that had lost money, and said the industry was simply trying to make its business profitable. “People criticize the insurance companies who know the least about the business.”

At this point discussion dropped and the motion appointing a committee to meet with the fire underwriters was passed without dissent. Regrettably, no information on actual rates paid was included in the story.

Board fees

The annual subscription for members was increased from $12 annually to $20, to be paid in two instalments. The 1903-1904 annual report was now in the hands of the printers. The Board’s 154 members had been asked for funds to defray the cost of publishing, and 46 had responded.


The June 7 meeting decided that a message of condolence would be sent to the widow of Board member J.M.K. Letson, who had recently died . That name will be familiar to observers of the local business scene: Letson & Burpee (L & B) had been established in 1893 when Letson and F.W. Burpee formed a partnership to design and build canning machines and pressure cookers. [The company later built winches and after World War II, they would start to build sawmill equipment.] The J.M.K., by the way, stood for James Moore Kelly. The Province story said he had been a very well-liked member.

Key meeting

The Hon. Raymond Prefontaine, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, met the Board of Trade at its regular meeting August 15. “The questions discussed affected the salmon fisheries, the proposed installation of a Marconi wireless system on this coast, and an amendment to the shipping laws so that masters of vessels may more easily obtain crews at the port of Vancouver than is possible at the present time.”

The general thrust of the subject of salmon fisheries was that Prefontaine’s department had decided “to permit the use of staked traps and purse seines, which previously had not been allowed.” A petition from the province’s salmon canners—a very well-written one, by the way—explained that the notification of the rules change had come too late for many of the companies in the industry “save by some parties who apparently had received prior assurances, and made arrangements accordingly.” Licences had been awarded to a very restricted list of companies, some of which had no prior experience in the industry. Further, allowing ‘trap’ fishing in the north of the province would have a negative effect on the industry in general and the Indian residents in particular. Fifty-nine out of the 78 members of the Fraser River Canners’ Association had signed the petition, and that number would have been higher if some of the owners had not been away at the time.

Stop fishing!

Board member H.O. Bell-Irving—the largest salmon packer in the province—told Prefontaine that the salmon fishing industry on the coast was in very bad shape. “Conditions are bad now, but four years hence they will be worse, and the canners may be forced to suspend operations. It might be advisable for the Government to stop fishing on the Fraser, in order to allow the fish unhampered passage to the spawning grounds.”

Next year, he said, the canners expected a very heavy run of salmon, and it was most important that the matter should be properly settled.

The coverage of the fisheries question covered a full broadsheet page of the newspaper, and so what you read here is a maimed account, but you can see the entire story on Page 5 of the Province for August 16, 1904—available for viewing on the 5th floor of the Vancouver Public Library.

There was brief discussion with Prefontaine about the need for a Marconi wireless system on the Pacific coast, to which the minister replied that four such stations had been planned for the St. Lawrence, three were already finished and had proved an excellent resource. “The system has also been put on the ferryboats between Prince Edward Island and the Mainland, so that if they were ever caught in the ice it could immediately be made known.” He would go back to Ottawa and advise the establishment of a Marconi or other wireless system on this coast.

Assessment anger

The Board was upset with the provincial government over the Assessment Act of 1903 because it was “not equitable.” No details were given in the October 5, 1904 Province report of the regular meeting, except that at its January meeting the Board had extracted a promise from the government that a commission would be appointed to examine the provisions of the Act. Nine months later this had still not been done. The minister of finance, R.G. Tatlow, had written to explain that the appointment of a commissioner was impractible at the present, “as the returns of the assessor for the present year have not yet been completed, and also because several important test cases are yet before the Courts of Appeal.” The government, Tatlow continued, intended to appoint the commission before the next sitting of the House.

The Board passed a resolution deploring the fact that the commission had not been set up as promised, and sent it off to Premier McBride, finance minister Tatlow and Charles Wilson, the Attorney-General. Member H.T. Lockyer, in speaking to the resolution, said that Mr. Tatlow had assured the Board that the matter would be adjusted before the assessment was made up. Now, Lockyer said, “in the course of a couple of weeks the merchants of this city would have to file their taxation returns . . . It is all very well for the Hon. Mr. Tatlow to write such letters as that received by the board and then go off on holiday trips, but the first of January, 1905, is approaching and the people wish to know where they stand.”

The resolution passed without a dissenting voice.

A digression: in 1902 Tatlow had been the chairman of the Vancouver Park Board.,

Half Holiday

The members unanimously passed a resolution urging Vancouver’s “mercantile community” to give its employees a half-day off on October 6 to allow them to attend the Westminster Fair in New Westminster. [A note: in August, 1910 Vancouver would open its own annual exhibition. We know it today as the PNE.]

Riding the Rails!

We have often been surprised by items about the Board in the newspaper stories of its early years, but this one takes the cake! We can do no better than to just quote the story, which appears on Page 2 of the Province for October 5, 1904:

“Another matter of considerable importance to Vancouver merchants was brought to the attention of the board by Mr. Lockyer. It was the cancellation by the CPR of the privilege of riding on freight trains in the past accorded to commercial travelers. This privilege was granted until this spring, when the railroad company put into effect its double daily transcontinental express service. Upon the inauguration of that service it had been explained to wholesalers that the company would not allow travelers to ride on freights when two trains were operated daily east and west . . . hereafter the travelers must confine their journeys to passenger trains.

“Mr. Lockyer pointed out that at many small places along the CPR line there is no accommodation for travelers who might be forced to lie over a night by reason of not being allowed to travel on freights. Also, in small places a traveler’s work can often be wound up in a couple of hours, and it is a matter of great expense and loss of time that a traveler should be anchored in such places for twenty-four hours awaiting a passenger train, when he could get out in a few hours if allowed to travel by freight. By reason of loss of time to travelers, wholesalers would have to hire more travelers to cover the necessary ground in a given time or lose their business . . .”

A committee was formed to meet with the railway with a view to changing its new rule.

What else was happening locally in 1904?

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

Next: 1905 »














Vancouver City Hall in 1904
Vancouver City Hall in 1904















Charles Tisdall
Board Member Charles Tisdall.
He went on to become Mayor in 1922

Photo credit:
Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. Photo
























































































































































































































































































R.G. Tatlow, Minister of Finance
R.G. Tatlow, Minister of Finance
















Off on a sales trip?
Off on a sales trip?