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


The president of the Board for 1905 was A.B. Erskine. He will serve as president in 1912, too.

Commercial Travelers, and a novel idea

On February 25, 1905 the Board held a special meeting at which it decided to request the provincial government not to make the Commercial Travelers’ License Act applicable to travelers from points outside the province. Readers anxious to know more of the details of this now obscure matter should check Page 11 of the February 27, 1905 Province.

But the commercial travelers question was still fresh in the minds of members at its July 4, 1905 meeting, and prompted what the Province of July 5 (Page 11) called a “rather novel idea” intended to make clear the Board’s displeasure over the lack of duties upon the import of American lumber. A motion was passed that “if the Dominion Government requests the provincial Government to consider the withdrawal of the statute imposing a tax upon commercial travelers, the provincial Government refuse the same until the Dominion Government shall have placed a duty upon lumber and shingles, which has so often and justly been asked for, that our chief industry may benefit by interprovincial trade as the Act of Confederation intended; which the present policy of the Dominion Government, in admitting lumber and shingles free, prevents, and is an unjust discrimination against the interests of this province.”

(Incidentally, the capitalization of words in the preceding paragraph exactly reproduces the newspaper’s style of the time.)

Irritation with federal policy regarding lumber tariffs—or, more accurately, the absence of such tariffs—was evident in the Board’s discussion of the topic. Member H.A. Stone said that policy was costing British Columbia three or four million dollars a year.

“Mr. Von Cramer,” the Province’s account continued, “said that a few days ago he was conversing with lumbermen from the other side of the line, and they stated that were a duty imposed on lumber they were all ready to come to British Columbia and start manufacturing here. They had anticipated a duty this year.”

Fire Insurance rates

The regular monthly meeting of the Board on June 6, 1905 began with a discussion of fire insurance rates. Their reduction in Vancouver “to the maximum amount of 25 per cent, which came into effect on May 27, while appreciated by the Board as a step in the right direction, does not leave the rates as low as the board would wish.” (See our June 7, 1904 entry for an earlier and somewhat surprising discussion on this subject.)

The Board felt the rates should be even lower, and struck a committee to pursue the matter. As to why the rates had been lowered, it was felt that was largely because of the recent announcement by the Vancouver branch of the Hudson’s Bay Company that if rates were not lowered it would withdraw all its insurance placed through local agents.

There was more in the June 7, 1905 report on Page 2 of the Province: “In the matter of fire rates an almost outrageous injustice had been inflicted by the Board of [Fire] Underwriters on the insuring public was the expressed opinion of Mr. C.M. Beecher. He said the rates are so high as to be prohibitive as far as the sawmilling industry is concerned. He stated that as a consequence of the high tariff the mill at Barnet had withdrawn its insurance and carried its own risk. Other mills had been forced to reduce the amount of insurance they carried.”

“They charge us extra for the mill on account of the boiler-house,’ said Mr. Beecher, ‘and they charge us extra for the boiler-house because of the drykiln; extra for the drykiln because of the planing-mill, and extra for the planing-mill because of the drykiln, and so on they compound us back and forth.”

Beecher also noted that he and other mill operators had been told that local rates would be the same as those applied on Puget Sound (i.e., Washington State.) “We called attention to the fact that we were competing with mills on Puget Sound, and we were assured that the rates in British Columbia and on the Sound would be equal. As a matter of fact they are not equal, and the mills on the Sound have the same rate now as they had three years ago. I may say that we will stop insuring if this thing is not adjusted satisfactorily and justice done.”

The committee struck to look into this matter would continue its work.

A digression (to illustrate there was life outside the Board for its members): C.M. Beecher’s wife was one of the founders and the first president of the Vancouver Woman’s Musical Club, still active today as the Vancouver Women’s Musical Society. Mr. Beecher himself was first vice-president of the Vancouver Camera Club, organized in 1897.

Something fishy . . . and soapy . . . and floury

Member H.O. Bell-Irving charged that salmon packed at Rivers Inlet had been falsely labeled and “palmed off” on the Australian market as Skeena River fish. He wished the Board to use its influence to put a stop to the practice. “The salmon business in Australia,” Bell-Irving said, “has been mainly built up on the reputation of the Skeena River fish.” Resolution carried.

In discussing how to improve trade between Canada and Japan member F.T. Schooley—a soap manufacturer—said that Japan gave preference to other countries to the disadvantage of Canada. In his own case that preference was harming his attempts to sell soap to that country. He asked that the question be referred to the Board’s standing committee on trade and commerce. He was asked to provide facts and figures for the committee to study. He agreed.

Mr. P. Fewster appeared before the Board to inform them he was making plans for a flouring-mill in Vancouver. That was referred to the trade and commerce committee.

Cheap Power

A letter was read to the July 4 meeting from J. Buntzen, managing director of the British Columbia Electric Railway Company, “asking the board to cooperate in calling the attention of industrial concerns to the fact that cheap power was now available in this city.” Buntzen went on to say that he would be pleased to receive suggestions about which industries might be induced to come to BC. The company was going to advertise in industrial, manufacturing and trade journals. This was referred to the council of the Board, with the thought that everything possible should be done to encourage industries. “The installation of the large plant at Lake Buntzen had cost a considerable sum of money, and the enterprise was such as would meet with the cordial approval of every member of the board.”

Note: that name Buntzen will ring a bell for many. From a brief web history of the BCER: "The first hydro-electric plant on the mainland was the Lake Buntzen plant. It was put into production December 17, 1903. The plant was named for Johannes E. E. Buntzen, a Dane. Buntzen had been appointed as general manager in April of 1898, as managing director in April of 1905. He has been called the grandfather of electricity in British Columbia. You can read more here.

Key meetings loom

The September 5, 1905 meeting of the Board dealt with the upcoming visit to Vancouver of the recently appointed Tariff Commission—appointed, member C.M. Beecher reminded other members, only after many petitions asking for it. Believing that it was an important matter to those engaged in the manufacture of lumber and shingles and allied industries, a committee was formed to meet with the Commission when it arrived in late September.

City alderman E.H. Heaps wrote to the Board in his capacity as chairman of the civic Committee for the Promotion of New Industries. Member F.R. McD. Russell, speaking to a motion to meet with Heaps’ group, said that he had recently been in the States, “and found that in Seattle every man, woman and child tried to advertise his or her city, and he thought Vancouver should do the same.”

A Royal Commission on Transportation was coming to Vancouver, and the Board’s committee on trade and commerce was encouraged to attend its meeting . . . which would be held in the Board’s own rooms.


“An allegation that smuggling is going on across the border from Blaine to Sumas, on a wholesale scale, was the somewhat startling charge made by several prominent merchants at the regular monthly meeting of the Vancouver Board of Trade last evening.” That’s how the November 8, 1905 Province (page 7) led its coverage of Board activities. “A strong resolution was passed," the report continued, "to have the matter brought to the immediate attention of the Dominion Government.”

Member R.P. McLennan (Robert McLennan of McLennan, McFeely & Prior) said that “whole wagonloads of goods are constantly being brought across the line without paying a cent of duty . . . I think the Government should instruct the Customs officials there to enforce the law strictly. I was told of one man who built a house on the Canadian side of the line near Blaine, and who not only purchased the lumber and material for the house in the United States, but all the furnishings. Yet nothing was said of the matter. It has also been stated that at Blaine it is a common practice to have goods which are sent over to the Canadian side billed at half the cost. Such a proceeding, it is unnecessary for me to say, is a very immoral one and punishable by a heavy fine.”

A resolution was passed unanimously to inform the Dominion Government of the situation, and to ask that more inspectors be appointed.

Jonathan Rogers

Among the applications for membership to the Board was one from Jonathan Rogers. It was approved. We’re surprised that Rogers—a prominent businessman and the first man to step down onto the platform from the first train into Vancouver in1887, 18 years earlier—was not already a member. (The Rogers Building, the handsome white terra cotta building at the northeast corner of Granville and Pender, was built by him.)

Skipping town

There was a problem raised at the November 7, 1905 meeting: the “too-easy sale and transfer of stock-in-trade by tradesmen, particularly small retailers, without in any way safeguarding the interest of their creditors.” Board president Erskine said those in the wholesale trade were aware that a number of transfers of stock [referring here to merchandise, not invested capital] had taken place during the past year without having been brought to the notice of the wholesaler who supplied them . . . “There was nothing in the present Bills of Sales Act to prevent a retail merchant selling his goods, putting the money in his pocket and leaving the city.” A suggestion had been made by the Winnipeg Board of Trade that the Vancouver board act in conjunction with the boards of the other western provinces so that corrective legislation might be passed at the same time in all of the provinces. Referred to the committee on legislation and trade and commerce.

Unsettling news

The question of available land in the province came up again during the November 7 meeting. (It was one of the subjects of the Board’s April 5, 1904 session.) Member Frank Baynes said he knew of almost daily instances of the province losing good settlers who were told that no lands were available. Member D. Von Cramer said he’d spoken to the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, who told him the government was handicapped by a lack of means. As soon as funds were available, “some definite policy would be adopted to have full information of available lands.” In what sounds like a sarcastic aside, member R. McLennan “thought that if there were provincial lands, the sooner the Government found out something about them the better.”

Herring on the Track!

Member McLennan was chairman of the Board’s special freight rates committee, and reported November 7 on a meeting he’d had with the CPR’s B.W. Greer about freight rates. Greer had asked for a 30 day extension for a response. “It is the same old story,” McLennan said, “of pulling a herring across the track. The result has been wholly unsatisfactory.”

The same question dominated a December 12 special meeting of the Board. The December 13 story in the Province (headlined TO CONTINUE FIGHTING CPR) referred to an ongoing boycott of the railway by Vancouver merchants. Alderman E.H. Heaps said that if the boycott was continued “the lumbermen of the coast would be hard hit by reason of the fact that a car shortage would result . . . and the mills would not be able to obtain sufficient for their eastbound shipments.”

Member W.J. McMillan said he had been notified that the railway was willing to treat with the Vancouver merchants “on the question of rates eastbound from Vancouver on oriental merchandise.” The company had announced that if it could be shown that these rates were unfair to Vancouver merchants a readjustment might be made.

The freight rates committee would meet with the CPR and report to the next meeting of the board.

McMillan later commented that it was a fact that “freight can be shipped from Montreal to Vancouver via Liverpool cheaper than the CPR carries it across the continent from Montreal to Vancouver.” Further, oriental goods were hauled by the railway from Vancouver to Winnipeg, and then from Winnipeg back to Fernie at a cheaper rate than Vancouver merchants paid to ship the goods direct from Vancouver to Fernie!

“This reply of the CPR,” McMillan continued, “I consider a most wishy-washy thing to submit to a commission composed of sensible men. It almost appears to me that the CPR takes the Railway Commissioners to be a lot of nincompoops who will believe anything the Railway Company says.” A resolution to place the response of the Board to the railway before the Commission was approved.


Member A.G. Thynne weighed in “in reference to the allegations that the CPR is granting cheaper rates eastward from Vancouver than are given from Seattle by American railways, I can state that I can pick out points on the Great Northern where the rates are a great deal lower than those of the CPR for the same mileage.”

Thynne was just warming up.

“We would be better off today,” he said, “if we had not gone into the Union [Confederation]—if we had built a railway of our own to serve our own country. The CPR simply says that it has got such a pull that it will not allow sailing vessels or tramp steamers to bring freight from England to Vancouver in competition with the liners of the CPR from England to Montreal. This reply of the CPR is the greatest amount of balderdash any company could think any body of reasonably minded men could peruse without laughing at it.

“I was talking today to a lawyer closely connected with the CPR, and he said that there was no argument at all in the CPR reply, and that if it went before the Railway Commission it would be turned down straight, and that is what we want the merchants of Vancouver to do—turn the railway down straight.”

What else was happening locally in 1905?

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

Next: 1906 »




















































































Buntzen Lake Power Plant (photo:
Buntzen Lake Power Plant