Thursday 26 March 2015

Vancouver and Victoria in 1914


by Rev. John Pollock

This is now the second time I have crossed the North American Continent. On the first occasion I did it in a little over five days; this time I have spent seven months on the journey. I shall never forget the impression of immensity that first journey made upon me. At Boston I boarded the train in the evening, and in due course climbed into my berth. Next morning I climbed down, and had breakfast. In the afternoon I had lunch. 3Later I had supper, and went to roost in the roof. Down next morning; through the same programme, and sought my perch at night. Day after day, night after night, this went on, the train all the while speeding on its seemingly interminable journey, Practically in a straight line. My favourite off-study is astronomy, which has led me to think somewhat disrespectfully of this "speck-of-dust" planet of ours. The best antidote for that contempt is a non-stop railway run from ocean to ocean, through less than one-eighth of the length of the equator. I for one have come to realise that "our little world" is of quite decent dimensions, and has no reason to be ashamed of itself.


My first visit to Vancouver, seven years ago, was by accident. The journey Eastward took out of me some of my British conceit. From Boston to Moose-Jaw the several trains I travelled by were all up to time; but no sooner did I get under my beloved Union Jack than things went to pieces. When we reached Mission Junction I found that I had lost my connection for Seattle — no self-respecting train could be expected to wait for five hours — and had to go on to Vancouver, where in fifty minutes I started afresh for my final destination. Vancouver has ever since been associated in my mind with one of the noblest actions of my life. I spent most of my short time in a stationer's shop, writing picture postcards home; so that my friends saw a good deal more of Vancouver than I did. It has been suggested that the explanation lies rather in the direction of stupidity, or a desire on my part to impress my friends with the idea that I had seen much; but all such insinuations treat with the room they deserve. In those days a few hours' lateness was nothing thought of. This time I arrived from Calgary on the minute, in a train which had done the entire tarns-Continental journey.

Vancouver I judged to be, for situation, the most beautiful Canadian city I had visited; though I afterwards felt that it must give the palm to Victoria. Vancouver is not old as its name seems to indicate, as it has simply appropriated, to the distrust of Victoria, the name of the contiguous great island on which the older city is situated. This city is new — most of it very new, for about twenty-five years ago it made a fresh start, after a fire that almost annihilated it. Since then, and especially within the last dozen years, it has grown enormously. I was the guest of former members of my first congregation, who left the old Fifeshire village for this new land twenty odd years ago, and three years ago came to this farthest West. Their house is in the suburb of North Vancouver, which when they arrived had no existence. It has actually made great progress since I left home! Tram cars now run along populous streets, where eighteen months ago there was nothing but forest. Charred tree-trunks, the relics of forest fires, stand like black spectres among dainty villas; while in stumps here and there you can see from the side-walk the cuts made by the lumber-men for the insertion of their "spring-boards," on which they stood to work their great two-handed saws.

Here, indeed, East meets West; or, perhaps more correctly, West meets East. The turban is common on the streets of Vancouver. Every fifth man you meet is an Oriental; well, at all events it looks like that. The proportion of the female to the male population is as fourteen to twenty-five, the disparity being partially explained by the fact that, with the exception of a few Japs, the Orientals do not bring their women-folk with them. Consequently they are credited with little intention of settling down. They are looked upon simply as cheap labourers, whose presence has already lowered the wage standard. Their admittance to the province is barred by law, except under such conditions as are practically prohibitory. When I was there the city was moved by a rumour that a ship-load of Hindus was on its way over in a Japanese tramp steamer. The rumour did not receive anything like universal credence, and as the days passed and nothing was heard of the mysterious craft it began to be smilingly referred to as the phantom ship. But the crowd of our dark-skinned fellow-citizens has since turned up all right, and the fat is in the fire. With the exception of a score or so who have already been in Canada, and are simply returning, none of the consignment has been allowed to land. It is believed that they will all be "declined with thanks," and bundled home again.

Passengers from the Komagata Maru. Vancouver Archives# CVA 7-127.
It is possible that this was the ship to which Rev. Pollock refers.
I had the good fortune to synchronise my visit with a banquet of the women's section of the local Canadian Club, and had the honour to receive a hurried invitation as an unexpected guest. The elite of Vancouver feminine society was there, and was addressed at considerable length by Principal MacKay, of Westminster College. The speech was an able one; but it was longer than it was broad. And I could see that the policy of exclusion was popular with this fair audience. The speaker did not definitely advocate any particular policy, and it seemed to me that he was feeling his way with his hearers. I felt, however, that as Boyle Roche might have put it, the cloven hoof of a short-sighted racial prejudice ran through it all. When I was requested, somewhat to my surprise, to address the company. I ventured to say that, while I was by no means as ready to express a dogmatic opinion on Vancouver's burning question as some native Canadians were to dictate to Belfast, I had what was probably a constitutional bias against all artificial and mechanical solutions of racio-political problems. Of course, if "God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth," we have it on the same high authority that He also "hath fixed the bounds of their habitation;" but that clause might well stick in the throat of the greatest colonising nation of all history. For my own part I shrank from any policy that might dull the fervour of a Christian anticipation of the good time ahead, "when man to man the world o'er shall brothers be."

And I felt it profoundly. But, at the same time, the complexity of the problem must be acknowledged by any man who comes into contact with it. It is not so simple as it looks to those who view it from a distance. Not much can be said against the contention that the rate of admission of races of lower moral ideal ought to be to some extent determined by the maximum rate of possible assimilation. Experience puts that at 5 per cent. But to my thinking one or two fallacies must go before the problem can be effectively dealt with. If assimilation is desiderated on the one side, adaptation is no less urgently needed on the other. And it is well for us Britishers to remember that the Asiatic menace is approaching us also. Perhaps the time is nearer than we dream when the Oriental will be as much in evidence on the streets of Belfast as he is on those of Vancouver to-day. We must adjust ourselves to the situation. All that that means space would fail me even baldly to indicate. But we must put a new meaning, a worthier meaning, into the phrase, "Our higher standard of living." Undoubtedly the Oriental has much to teach us about the beauty of the "simple life," which is modelled upon a higher standard than the life of luxury which many seem to regard as the chief glory of out Western civilisation. And if we object to the lower moral plane on which the Hindu lives, let us see to it that we are living on a higher, ceasing to
       "Compound for sins we are inclined to
        By damning those we have no mind to.”
Perhaps the soundest moral argument for the partial exclusion of the Asiatic bases itself not on the unctuous assertion that we are too good to have him among us, but on the more obvious fact that we are not good enough to run the risk.

Crowds outside the C.P.R. Station for the embarkation of the first overseas troops. Vancouver Archives# Mil P276.1.
Vancouver is the terminal of the Canadian Pacific Railway proper; but if you want to go further west the C.P.R. can accommodate you. The whole sea-front belongs to the C.P.R. It is told of a man who had travelled as I have done, across the continent by the C.P.R., staying in C.P.R. hotels, literally living and moving, week in and week out, in an all-pervading atmosphere of C.P.R., that when he came to this C.P.R. city of Vancouver, and asked a man on the street for the correct time, he was told that it was "2-47, C.P.R" "Man alive," he exclaimed, "don't tell me that the C.P.R. owns the time!" You need not abandon the C.P.R. when you reach the coast, for you can go by C.P.R. liners to Melbourne or Yokohama if you want to. And so I got on board the sumptuously appointed C.P.R. steamer for Victoria. It was a five hours' run, through scenery which, if it does not surpass in beauty the Firth of Clyde itself, runs it close. The lack of human life is its main defect. We passed only two small items of coasting craft. There was not a single town or village visible between Vancouver and Victoria and very few isolated houses.

The approach to Victoria, the Capital of British Columbia, is very fine; but the city itself is by no means impressive at first sight. Even when experienced passengers gather at the gangway rail, and the Steamer slows down, and the men stand ready to fling the ropes you see nothing but a wealth of foliage, surmounted by the majestic dome of the provincial capital, with a few attendant towers and spires. Then the helm goes down, the ship swings round a point where no point seemed to be, and you find yourself at a busy wharf. I spent only a few days in Victoria, but during that time the natural beauty of the city grew upon me. With exception of Edinburgh and Hamburg, it is the fairest city for situation I have ever seen. As western cities go, it is old; its first European settlers reaching it, of course, by way of Cape Horn, while as yet the great continental interior lay unexplored. It has an old-world atmosphere about it, and some of it looks as ancient as Quebec. Vancouver has its giant pre-historic pines; but Victoria has its magnificent English beeches, with here and there a gnarled oak of patriarchal air. The population is mainly English, there being but a thin sprinkling of Irish and Scotch.

Victoria has a brilliant future before it. At present it has no railway communication with the mainland; but very soon the system of Vancouver Island will be linked up by a bridge which must rank as one of the greatest in the world. The city will undoubtedly share largely in the phenomenal development which British Columbia confidently anticipates from the opening of the Panama Canal, which will reduce the sea distance from Liverpool by nearly 6,000 miles. "There would seem to be no reason, if facilities are provided, why millions of bushels of western grain should not find an outlet through Panama." The beautiful little metropolis, with a population under 60,000, will yet stand high among the cities of the world. Even in her present semi-isolated position she is going ahead by leaps and bounds, albeit she is feeling the present commercial depression more than perhaps any other city in Canada. I have no recent figures beside me; but her bank clearings for 1912, totalling £37,000,000, t showed an increase of 36 per cent, over the previous year, while there was 100 per cent. increase in value of new buildings erected. Victoria is the farthest out-post of our great Dominion, and at this far extremity the blood of the Empire pulses as strong as at the very heart itself. Nowhere is Canadian loyalty to the Motherland more pronounced than here at the gateway of the Orient. It was of Victoria that Kipling wrote, and wrote most truly —
     "From East to West the circling word has passed,
         Till West is East beside our land-locked blue;
      From East to West the tested chain holds fast.
         The well-forged link rings true!"

Reprinted from the The Witness, 10th July 1914, this article was part of a series called 'Cities of the West' by Rev. John Pollock of St. Enoch's Presbyterian Church, Belfast.

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