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February 6, 1952

It’s Wednesday, February 6, 1952, exactly 54 years ago today. Princess Elizabeth, 25, and her husband, Philip, 30, are in a tree hut in Kenya's Royal Aberdare Game Reserve, watching big game gather below at a jungle waterhole. Too excited to have slept during the night, Elizabeth has been constantly popping up from her cot to watch nocturnal visitors. (A herd of 30 elephants had lumbered up just before sunset the preceding night.)

She breakfasted on bacon and eggs, tossed bananas to baboons below. Just before noon the couple left the hut in high spirits, and in the reserve lodge Elizabeth told Philip that they must return, next time with her father, the King. “He’d love it,” she said.

Early in the afternoon a local newspaper telephoned. The reporter told Philip that news had been received from England: King George VI, just 56 and ailing from lung cancer, had died in his sleep. Philip had an aide call London for confirmation, then, one report said, “gently led his wife down to the river's edge and told her that her father was dead.”

Elizabeth, “shaken but in full command of herself,” returned to the lodge on her husband’s arm. She had become Queen Elizabeth II.

February 7, 1946

The great American bass Paul Robeson performed at the Orpheum February 7, 1946—59 years ago today—and 3,000 fans in the sold-out theatre kept him coming back for more and more. The Sun's Stanley Bligh, in a warm review, commented: “In addition to his great success in the artistic field, the eminent Negro has won an outstanding place in the world by his firm stand on the question of racial equality, his knowledge of languages, international economics and his wide sympathy for the oppressed peoples of the whole globe.”

That sympathy would get him into trouble.

Robeson's knowledge of languages was impressive. Besides his native English, he spoke Hebrew, Chinese, Norwegian and Spanish. That came from his extensive travels . . . which included trips to Russia.

In an interview, Robeson told the Sun: “I deeply believe Russia is now the world's most positive force for good, if we will help her.” That opinion, and his favorable view of the Communist Party (although he was never a member), resulted in a refusal by the U.S. to allow him to return to Vancouver for another concert in January, 1952. He was stopped at Blaine. A free union-organized outdoor concert at the Peace Arch attracted 25,000 people on the Canadian side, 5,000 on the US side.

He's now back in favor. The US has issued a postage stamp to honor Robeson.

February 12, 1912

When The Vancouver Sun came out February 12, 1912—95 years ago today—the city and its suburbs were bursting with vitality. There was lots to report. Two weeks after the Sun debuted the Pacific Great Eastern Railway was incorporated. It’s BC Rail today. The city of West Vancouver was incorporated a month after our first issue.

The people in Cedar Cottage voted to be annexed by Vancouver, and the city’s police department hired two women, a first. UBC held its first convocation in August. Ninth Avenue was renamed Broadway. Sarah Bernhardt performed at the Opera House—in French.

The Sun reported June 24 that “The roads are getting crowded: the total number of automobiles . . . in Vancouver is 1,769.”

Construction started on the Birks Building at Georgia and Granville, and on the Vancouver Club at 915 West Hastings. The beautiful CPR station, the railway’s third, opened at 601 West Cordova. The Sylvia Hotel was built in the West End.

And construction started on the World Building at 100 West Pender, home to the World newspaper. The World eventually folded, but another newspaper would occupy the building for nearly 30 years . . . and today, more than 40 years after that paper left, it’s still known as “the old Sun tower.”

February 13, 1891

William Lamont Tait arrived in Vancouver February 13, 1891, exactly 115 years ago today. That’s a long time ago, but he left us a couple of prominent physical reminders of his presence here.

Thanks to his success in business—starting in 1902 he ran Rat Portage Lumber, a shingle and sawmill on False Creek—Tait was able in 1910 to build one of Shaughnessy’s most imposing mansions, the 18-room Glen Brae, on Matthews Avenue. He and his wife lived there until his death in 1919. Since November 1995 the big house has been Canuck Place, a hospice for children.

Before Glen Brae Tait built the Orillia Block, a big apartment complex that went up at the northwest corner of Robson and Seymour in 1903. (The Orillia, for whom a lot of Vancouverites had great affection, fell to the wreckers in 1985.)

Then, in 1907, Tait decided to create the best apartment building in Vancouver. It had features shared by none other in the city: light wells, an electric elevator and a rooftop restaurant with full-height windows on all sides, and no tall buildings to block the views. He called it the Manhattan, and it’s there to this day on Thurlow at Robson.

February 14, 1946

ELEVEN 'HUSH-HUSH' TROOPS DOCK HERE was the headline February 14, 1946—59 years ago today—on a story about the arrival from Australia of 11 Canadian soldiers who had served in the Pacific war. The war was over, but these men were still “under orders not to talk about their military activities.”

We know today what four of them had been doing. They were Chinese Canadian soldiers from BC, and had served with a “secret Chinese Guerrilla unit” in the East Indies. The story of the fight Chinese Canadians had to wage to be accepted into our armed forces is too long to tell here. Not one was drafted; they were all volunteers, and served with distinction.

The four men were Sgt. Norman Lowe and Sgt. Louis King of Vancouver, Tpr. Douglas Mar of Port Alberni and Sgt. D. Jung of Victoria. That would be Douglas Jung. He was 22 at the time, went on to become the first Chinese Canadian veteran to receive a university education under the auspices of Veteran's Affairs, and the first Chinese Canadian lawyer to appear before the BC Court of Appeal. In 1957 he became Canada's first Chinese Canadian MP.

He won the Burma Star in the war. You can learn more at this site, and at the Chinese-Canadian War Museum at the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver.

February 20, 1833

On February 20, 1833—173 years ago today—James Murray Yale, 36, who’d been with the Hudson’s Bay Company half his life, took command of the company’s Fort Langley. But it wasn’t the Fort Langley we know today. When Yale took over the fort it was four kilometres downriver. Under his supervision the fort was moved to its present location in 1838.

And burned to the ground April 11, 1840. Here’s an indication of Yale’s independent spirit: When colleagues James Douglas and John Work offered him help after the fire, Yale “had only two requests to make, that they would supply me with six good Axes, and be off out of our way as quick as possible.”

So the present site is the third Fort Langley. Under Yale the fort thrived, shipping salted salmon to Hawaii. A lot of the men who worked at the fort married women from the Kwantlen nation. Yale was one of them: he and his native wife had two daughters.

The town of Yale was named for him as a reward for long and loyal service. So when CPR workers at Yale were sent down to Vancouver to work on the line’s extension into the city they nicknamed their little settlement here . . . Yaletown.

February 21, 1924

A ship that had a long and colorful career in British Columbia, the Lady Alexandra, was launched in Scotland February 21, 1924—81 years ago today—and arrived in Vancouver harbor June 21. She became famous for her “moonlight cruises” to Bowen Island, taking as many as 1,400 passengers to the island for dining and dancing.

“The Lady Alexandra,” writes historian Rob Morris, “was the 'Excursion Queen' of the Union Steamship Company fleet, carrying well over a million vacationers and daytrippers over her lifetime, mainly to resorts and vacation spots at Bowen Island and along the southern BC coast.”

Union Steamship had bought Capt. John Cates' resort complex on Bowen in 1920. But the excursion business began to peter out in the 1950s, and by 1959 the Lady Alexandra had been sold and converted to a floating restaurant, moored at the north foot of Cardero Street, next to the Bayshore Inn. She made lots of money in the summer, lost lots in the winter. In 1972 new California-based owners towed her down to Redondo Beach, where she was turned into a floating gambling hall. A storm damaged her badly in 1980 and she capsized. The Lady was patched up, towed out to sea between San Pedro and Catalina Island, and sunk.

February 26, 1907

When Arthur Sallows joined the Post Office in Vancouver on February 26, 1907 — exactly 100 years ago today — his area as a letter carrier was big, a sizeable chunk of the city’s east end. By the time The Vancouver Sun celebrated him in 1947 as the “longest-service letter carrier” in B.C., and still on the job, his coverage area had shrunk to one building in the downtown. But he delivered mail to that building four times a day. His first trip to the 15-storey Standard Building, said the Sun in its December 20, 1947 magazine section, had him delivering 2,500 letters, magazines and small packages. The three subsequent trips were less burdened.

The Standard Building is still there on West Hastings.

Sallows’ salary in 1907 was $54 a month. By 1947 that had climbed to $137. (Today a carrier’s beginning wage is about $3,500 a month.) Sallows, 61, told Bernard Russell of the Sun he wore out four pairs of shoes a year, at $12.50 a pair, wearing them “until they’re almost ready to fall apart.” He worked six days a week, never had sore feet, and had been off ill precisely once — and that briefly — in those forty years.

February 27, 1912

On February 27, 1912—94 years ago today—The Vancouver Sun carried a major story on a big new office structure in town, the Rogers Building, named for its developer Jonathan Rogers. He had been the first person to step down from the first CPR passenger train to pull into Vancouver in 1887.

The handsome building named for him is still there at the northeast corner of Granville and Pender, clad in white terra cotta. Structural work, the Sun reported, had been completed. The building was unique: it was the first major structure in Vancouver built of reinforced concrete; no steel was used.

That enamelled terra cotta—fifteen carloads of it—had come from Chicago. The ornamental iron was purchased in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Five elevators “with all the latest improvements” had been purchased in Toronto. “In England nearly sixty thousand feet of cork flooring and about sixty thousand feet of linoleum was bought . . .” The building used eight thousand barrels of California cement. The interior was finished in oak and bronze.

“It will be seen,” said the Sun, “that it takes a good bank balance to erect a building of this kind.” In later years Rogers used his good bank balance for a lot of fine philanthropic work here.

February 28, 1910

Before The Vancouver Sun there was The Vancouver World, and on February 28, 1910—95 years ago today—the World was saying hello to a big new post office opening that day at the corner of Granville and Hastings Streets and bidding a farewell to the old one a block to the south at Granville and Pender. “The old building,” wrote an unnamed reporter, “has ceased to be the sorting house for tidings of good and ill, and soon its associations with the curt business letter and the scented billet doux will be forgotten . . .” The World welcomed its replacement, “the palatial building . . . a landmark, a monument of chiseled stone and massive rounded pillars, that caused the visitor to be impressed with Vancouver's power and prosperity.”

Today that chiseled monument is a part of Sinclair Centre. It took five years to build it, five years during which the population of the city had ballooned to more than 100,000. The result was described in 1973 by a retired postal worker named Archibald Selwood, then 92. “It was always overcrowded when letter carriers came in at 7 a.m. for the bags of mail,” he said. “There was never enough room for anything. Right from the beginning it wasn't big enough!”

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