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John Cherrington's Preface and an Excerpt

Sometimes history overwhelms us with its swirl of facts and events apparently unconnected to our own late twentieth-century world. At other times, the connections are so vivid that we feel deja vu - when we look at a 1901 photograph of a cyclist tooling around Stanley Park, or when one's teenaged son exclaims with shock that his great-grandfather in the daguerrotype is wearing trendy wire-rimmed spectacles just like his own.

It so happens that the birth of the twentieth century coincided with a time of great change and upheaval in the western world. Vancouver was no exception, having recently become the western terminus of the national railway. I wanted to capture the sense of time and place in Vancouver, city of my birth, by way of a snapshot view of the era, hoping as well to discover some trends, habits and events which give Vancouver a distinctive character with which we identify today.

During the course of my research I met Lynda Orr, who is an interpreter at the Burnaby Village Museum and a passionate devotee of history. She urged me to consider writing a book on the life of Sara McLagan (nee Maclure), who in 1901 became owner and editor of the Vancouver Daily World. Sara was the first woman publisher of a Canadian daily newspaper, respecting which Lynda had produced a well-written paper. I had become aware of Sara and her intriguing life and career in the course of writing The Fraser Valley: A History, but there was insufficient material for a full biography. Why not then combine the two ideas, and capture Vancouver at century's turn through Sara's eyes?

I was and remain wary of writing history as an imagined memoir. The approach necessarily involves much speculation and educated guess. We know, for instance, that Sara had strong opinions on social issues and wrote many editorials for her newspaper, and that her hands-on approach to management left little room for editorializing that ran contrary to her own beliefs. Yet this memoir must be viewed as a work of historical fiction. As much as Sara's personal diaries and Daily World files have revealed her life and times for me, I take sole responsibility for errors of fact and interpretation.

Pioneers die; memories fade. The Vancouver scene at the dawn of our century was a very special time and place, and interpretations of that scene will differ. But perhaps, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "there is no history, only biography."

Excerpt from Chapter Four: 1901:Winter Sorrow"

Vancouver greeted the dawn of the new century with a glistening white devil-may- care air. A foot of snow bathed city streets, which were deserted in the morning; even the streetcars were idle. By afternoon, though, the pleasant tinkling of sleigh bells was heard, and a motley collection of sleighs of all sizes and shapes appeared downtown, contraptions which would have horrified proper Torontonians. Douglas and not a few of his friends, I am sad to say, hurled their fair share of snowballs at the passersby on Georgia Street.

John was well enough to sit downstairs and receive a dozen or so guests for our New Year's Day at-home, but he remained very pale, withdrawn and weak. I busied myself with World affairs, meeting with staff and assuring them that all would be well; we would press on in spite of their old chief's illness. I appointed Sam Robb as city editor at this time, laid additional duties upon Fred, and shared chief editorship duties with the recently hired Harold Sands. (Donald had finally left, claiming too much interference with his editorial positions.) There was now no question in my mind of John ever returning to manage the business - either he let me have a completely free hand or we would sell the World.

Perhaps it was John's illness or maybe I still smarted over her caustic criticism of the World's costume ball piece, but Julia Henshaw and her cliquish snobbery began to irritate me beyond measure. So, as a spoof in response to all her banal plaudits of high society hostesses and their receiving lines, I published a social register listing some 218 Vancouver hostesses and their weekly receiving days and hours-including my own. I meant it to be facetious, but Lady Tupper and others congratulated me on the World's new "social awareness."

In order to shock the city's smug snob set, I revelled in publishing stories about the underside of life in Vancouver. The Tuppers and Henshaws were aghast at my focus on the "low later": "The old man was sitting in a Granville street car the other evening, and anyone could see that his had been a hard day's work. The very fact that the poor old fellow seemed on the verge of prostration appealed to the pity of fellow passengers, and they made way for him so he could rest his worn-out limbs. As he sat down, his gnarled hands wandered nervously over his forehead, as if his 62 summers burdened his very soul down. At the post office, two ladies got on. . . They had fine clothes, and to judge from their talk, they lived in the West End.

The only vacant seat was next to the old man, and as they gracefully deposited their luxurious persons, the one nearest the old laborer drew her dress in carefully in fear of contamination. One woman then audibly stated, "Deah me, why don't they have special cahs for these working creatuahs? It is getting too horrible that a lady cawnt ride in a cah without getting a dress spoiled. They ought to have special cahs, with the place for these working people in the rear. It is simply disgusting."

Vancouver was still small enough that all of the social and personal items that one normally associates with rural weekly newspapers could be dished up to our readers. For years, we ran a "Daily City Gossip" column. Some samples:

"J. Anderson was yesterday fined $50 for smuggling and $10 for using abusive language to the landing waiter at the CPR wharf Anderson was caught bringing a choice piece of silk, in the form of a lady's wrapper, off the Empress."

"It is said that there were two whales in the Inlet yesterday. They came in on Saturday and the monsters could not again find the narrows."

"Joe Fisher, well-known Calgary rancher, arrived in the city Thursday with a shipment of horses. Half the carload were shipped today to Nanaimo to work in the mines. The others are now on sale at the stable in the rear of the Granville Hotel."

"A man in the West End has his dog trained to steal the papers off his neighbour's porch."

"Another round-the-world tramp struck the city yesterday. It is time these pestiferous nuisances were stopped."

"Rev. R. G. MacBeth entertained an appreciative audience at Eburne last evening with his reminiscent talk on the Northwest Rebellion."

"Thomas Shirley states he will hold the city liable for his typhoid fever illness, alleging that the officers of the health department were negligent. . ."

My daily life began to follow a predictable pattern. After seeing the children off to school, checking on John in his bed and instructing Louie and Tring on the day's chores, I headed down to the World ,/I> office on Homer, usually walking along Georgia to Granville, and then taking the tram along Hastings Street past the post office. As soon as I entered the office, I smelled the musty, inky scent of the presses, heard the click clacking of machinery and the familiar old tapping of the telegraph keys.

John's office was a trifle large for my needs, but I admit to a thrill at sitting down at the big mahogany desk and commencing the checklist of our daily stories. One of the reasons that we went through so many chief editors at the World was because John and I had always insisted on a proprietary approach to each editorial and story. I scanned everything for content, accuracy, grammar and spelling-in fact, my proofing of each edition later got me in trouble with the Proof-Reader's Union. My eyes and ears were Sam Robb; for the city editor is the field commander, running to and fro to meet and direct the reporters, demanding the story on a suicide on Carrall Street or a drowning in the harbour. Sam knew that I wanted human interest stories and he got them, regularly.

The staffers were always deferential toward me. My warm but businesslike relationship with them did not change after gaining the presidency and sole ownership later on. In any case, I never stood on formality: they all knew that I just wanted the job done well. We had some mighty good times down at the World, when I think of it. Sam kept us all in stitches with his humorous stories. Known for his ability to entertain and graced with tousled hair and ragged moustache, he was dubbed Vancouver's Mark Twain by World staff. Copy men and reporters alike often crowded into my office to hear Sarn's latest scoop on the waterfront - for even after becoming city editor, Sam insisted upon rooting out many stories by himself.

The most unusual character associated with the World was Francis Bursill, whose pen name was Felix Penne. Bursill lived in a shack in the South Vancouver woods. But he spent his days downtown. Sporting a scraggly grey beard and carrying his customary bundle of newspapers under arm, he strutted about town and for a time kept a salon on Pender Street, near Cambie - a huge, barnlike room cluttered with furniture, books and pictures. Here he entertained friends over a glass of whiskey. I am told that it was a decidedly Bohemian atmosphere, though Bursill loved all art and literature. And he was a good writer. I persuaded him to con-tribute a regular column in the World on literary matters.

Bursill founded both the Vagabond's Club and the Shakespeare Society. The Vagabonds met monthly at his salon. God knows what they accomplished. But one night the organizing committee planned a gala evening of fun and sport involving a make-believe trial of Bursill on a charge of murdering some city resident. Bursill turned up as usual, wearing a special velvet coat he reserved for formal occasions and smoking a Havana cigar. Not being aware of the planned events, he became apoplectic when the frock-coated Vagabond clerk formally read the charges to him of having committed a gruesome axe murder. As poor Bursill rose trembling to protest his innocence, he unconsciously threw his burning cigar into his coat pocket. Smoke rose, then flame. The velvet coat was shed and soon lay ruined on the floor. Bursill angrily ejected everyone out of the salon; the Vagabond Club was no more.