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June 6, 1944

D-Day, on June 6, 1944—61 years ago today—is a date virtually everyone knows: it marked the invasion at Normandy. More than a thousand planes and gliders began dropping paratroopers into Normandy in the dark hours before dawn. The push to recapture the Nazi-occupied continent was under way.

And on the home front that same day? The Orpheum Theatre was showing a movie musical, Broadway Rhythm with Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra. Manager Ivan Ackery had arranged for Dal Richards' 20-piece orchestra from the Hotel Vancouver to appear on the Orpheum's stage to accompany, in person, the singer Adriana Caselotti. Caselotti had been the voice of Snow White in Walt Disney's great 1937 feature-length cartoon. (Disney publicists said she was 17 when she sang in that film; she was actually 21, born May 16, 1916.) Ackery took her, and actors dressed as Pluto, Grumpy and Goofy, to perform for the veterans at Shaughnessy Military Hospital and they loved her.

Here's a bit of arcane trivia: remember the brilliant two-minute cartoon titled Bambi Meets Godzilla that Vancouver animator Marv Newland made in 1969? When Newland made that cartoon he was living in Los Angeles in a room rented from . . . Adriana Caselotti!

June 13, 1886

It was June 13, 1886, a Sunday, 119 years ago today. A small crew of Canadian Pacific Railway men was keeping an eye on clearing fires set the day before. “The fire started between Hamilton and Granville streets,” a volunteer fireman told the city archivist in 1931. “The CPR were clearing the land, and the fire got away from them.”

The reason it got away was a freakish squall, a sudden blast of wind from the west. The wind blew flames and burning debris from the clearing fires right into the sprawling tinder-dry collection of homely wooden buildings that was the City of Vancouver, just two months old.

A city of about 1,000 wooden buildings was destroyed in less than 45 minutes, some say as little as 20. “The city did not burn,” 21-year-old W.H. Gallagher (a future alderman) recalled. “It was consumed by flame. The buildings simply melted before the fiery blast. The fire went down the sidewalk on old Hastings Road, past our office, so rapidly that people flying before it had to leave the burning sidewalk and take to the road; the fire travelled down that wooden sidewalk faster than a man could run.”

The wind was strong enough to take the coal hulk Robert Kerr, anchored off Deadman's Island, and push her, dragging her anchor, down to the Hastings Sawmill at the foot of Dunlevy Street. (There, providentially enough, the Kerr served as a refuge for people jumping into the inlet to escape the fury of the fire.)

The death toll was uncertain; at a minimum, eight died.
And while the embers were still warm, we started to rebuild.

June 20, 1969

You will have read recently that a wave of alarm over the physical condition of today's elementary school students in BC has led to calls for daily sessions in school gymnasiums. Come back now to June 20, 1969—36 years ago today—to read: School Kids To Face Daily Gym.

Writing for the Vancouver Express (with The Vancouver Sun and The Province out on strike) Karenn Krangle reported that AChildren in all BC elementary schools soon will be required to take daily physical education classes. The Express has learned that the provincial education and health ministries and the provincial secretary's office will announce the PE program later this month . . . Although a handful of schools already offer the daily classes, most elementary students get only two or three 20-minute PE sessions a week.”

Krangle quotes Dr. Shirley Rushton of the BC Medical Association, “Who has been actively pushing for daily PE classes,” as saying, “If we start with healthier children, they will grow into healthier adults and we will have less heart disease and high blood pressure and maybe less smoking.”
Hmm, wonder if that campaign worked?

June 27, 1956

Vancouver's first rock 'n roll concert happened—brace yourself—June 27, 1956. That's 49 years ago today. Deejay Red Robinson emceed as Bill Haley and the Comets, who had had three monster hits in a row (Shake, Rattle and Roll; Rip It Up, and Rock Around the Clock) blew 'em away at Kerrisdale Arena. An estimated 6,000 fans screamed for more. “Rock'n roll,” wrote The Vancouver Sun's John Kirkwood, “a jarring, jolting combination of primitive jungle rhythm and hillbilly blues, struck like a discordant cyclone blowing in from across the border . . .”

The Sun's music critic Stanley Bligh wasn't as calm. He described the show as “the ultimate in musical depravity . . . a cacophonous noise that might cause permanent harm to not fully developed adolescent minds.”

And who was it that brought this hugely popular mind-damaging musical depravity to Vancouver? Jack Cullen. “And Murray Goldman, the clothier, put up the money,” Robinson said. But after the show Haley told Red that the Comets' day was just about over. “There's a very handsome young singer down in Memphis . . . He's got the looks, he's got the talent and he's young. We're finished.”

There was one consolation for music lovers. The Sun assured its readers that rock 'n roll was just a fad.

June 28, 1971

The old Georgia Viaduct, which had been dropping chunks of concrete onto the roadway below for much of its 56 years, was finally demolished to be replaced by the present viaduct. The one you drive over today opened June 28, 1971—33 years ago today—in a ceremony presided over by Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell. Its Dunsmuir twin opened the following November. Cost for the two: $11 million.

Curiously, the old viaduct—opened July 1, 1915 to extend Georgia Street over the CPR's Beatty Street yards—was named the Hart McHarg Bridge for a First World War hero, but the name never caught on. During the Depression, the viaduct provided some shelter from the elements for large “hobo jungles” beneath.

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