Changing Currents

From its earliest days, New Westminster has sent and received products by ship on the Fraser River. On December 17, 1859, a local newspaper reported that the schooner DL Clinch had left for San Francisco with a cargo of 60,000 feet of cabinet wood and 50 barrels of cranberries. As she left, she received a 13-gun salute as the first vessel with a cargo of BC produce to leave New Westminster for a foreign port.

A sailing ship lodging in early New West, NWPL 273
A sailing ship lodging in early New West, NWPL 273

Before that, salt, nails, gunpowder, molasses, kettles, tobacco, rum, guns, mill wheels, and oxen were frequently carried up the Fraser to Fort Langley, while salmon in barrels, shingles, furs, and beaver skins were carried on the return trip downriver.

In 1925, the British Columbian declared: “Not entirely, but to a great extent, the hopes of New Westminster’s development industrially are based on the river and its recognition as a fresh water port. Shipping in the Fraser River is engaged largely in carrying to all parts of the world the product of industrial plants on its banks. There is also, however, a growing activity in the shipping of products from elsewhere, in itself a valuable recognition of the claims of the Fraser to become one of the major outlets on Canada’s Pacific seaboard.

Aside from a freshwater harbour, normally open year round, the city had wharves and warehouses served with trackage and, through the only inter-switching facilities in the far west, access to four trans-continental railway systems and one of the largest electric railway systems on the continent. This unique combination of water and rail shipping facilities was quickly recognized and the number of ocean-going vessels entering the port of New Westminster jumped from 20 ships in 1923 to 150 ships in 1925.

New West docks circa 1955 NWPL 675
New West docks circa 1955 NWPL 675

By the end of the 1920s, there was a great variety of goods coming and going from the port at New Westminster. Tons of corn and canned corned beef from Argentina and coffee from Brazil were transshipped by road to Vancouver, while the same vessel left with bar metal. The same year, 1929, the Roman Star left with 5,000 cases of fresh eggs for the United Kingdom, France, and Germany–the first such export in a refrigerated ship. In 1937, 60 cars, or 50,000 boxes, of apples were sent to the port, destined for three fast “express freighters” going to the UK.

Liners at the New West dock circa 1940, A Sense of History Collection
Liners at the New West dock circa 1940, A Sense of History Collection

As is often the case, war had a major effect on industry and the import/export of goods. During World War II, the principal export was lumber with some metal and assorted cargo, and the prime destination was the UK. Just a few years later in January 1952, a record was set for the shipment of wheat to the UK with just over 1 million bushels leaving on 13 vessels that month alone. Lumber was the export leader with nearly 32 million board feet being shipped. Of this total, roughly 27 million board feet went to the UK, 3.5 million board feet to Australia, followed by the Hawaiian Islands, Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji. The UK also took the bulk of other lumber products of plywood, shingles, and box shooks, as well as lead and zinc. The export of apples to the UK was down but the entire export of whiskey went to Japan and Fiji.

In 1972, a $3-million auto distribution centre was built on Annacis Island in cooperation with Nissan Auto Co. (Datsun) offering full draft berthage for super car carriers, a 32.7 acre site, and space for 7,000 cars. Now, almost 50 years later, this terminal is known as WWL Vehicles Services Canada and handles vehicles from about 15 different auto manufacturers. The cars arrive on “RoRos,” vessels designed for cargo that rolls on and off its decks. A single RoRo handles roughly 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles, and it takes about four hours to unload the cars. The terminal can store up to 25,000 vehicles at one time.

In 1974—two years after the opening of the Annacis distribution centre— New Westminster moved into the “big league” of the shipping world with the opening of a new container-handling dock equal in size and capacity to any other in the world. A pair of huge gantry-type cranes, the largest in Canada, especially for containers were described as the “heart” of the docks: The Columbian of December 10, 1974 described the cranes as “So important are they to the operation of the dock that they were designed first, and the other facilities were then designed to back them up.

A 1979 Fraser Port brochure describes the port as one “of international stature”:

Imports from, and exports to, Japan are the perennial tonnage leaders, with automobiles and steel accounting for almost 90% of total import tonnage in a typical year. In return, Canada ships to Japan its wood chips and lumber, ore concentrates, and pulp. But the deep-sea traffic which plies the Fraser River carries a truly international bill of lading: asbestos, fertilizer, and wheat for Africa in return for coffee and tea, wine, and twine; lead concentrate to the Netherlands in return for creosote oil; paper products, shingles, and shakes to Australia and New Zealand for their fruit, meat, and nickel.”

A present-day industrial shipping organization near our city is Fraser Surrey Docks. FSD specializes in steel, forest products, containerized cargo, and speciality grains in addition to other bulk cargo. FSD opened in 1962 as a multi-purpose marine terminal. The terminal  handles between 300 and 400 deep-sea vessels annually and when a container ship arrives, it takes over 350 people to unload its cargo.

Those present at the official opening of the New Westminster Harbour Commission in 1913 might not be terribly surprised if they returned to New West today. At the time, Col JD Taylor, New Westminster’s then-MP, said they were marking, “the bringing into being of the port capable of accommodating the shipping of the whole world.” And that is exactly what has happened. The Fraser River is at the very heart of our community and connects us all to the whole world.

Is Spring Cleaning Still a Thing?

Spring cleaning is an important part of some cultures and religions. In the Iranian culture the vernal equinox marks the beginning of a 2-week festival celebrating Nowruz or the New Year. Each year before it begins, Iranians thoroughly clean their houses to get rid of the old year’s dirt and to welcome the new year in as good condition as possible. In the Jewish culture, Passover, in March or April, marks the departure of the Jewish people from Egypt. It is important that no leavened product, not even a crumb, be in the home during that celebration, and so houses are rigorously cleaned from top to bottom.

Linex Floor Wax adFor others, spring cleaning has a much more practical history. In the past, houses were kept shut tight throughout the winter to keep in what little heat they had. Coal and wood fires spread soot and dust throughout the house. Curtains and bedding could be beaten or washed and dried outside in the spring sun, while furniture could be taken outside, dusted or disposed of and replaced. Of course, through much of history, the state of the house was considered the responsibility of a woman, and she heard loud and clear that her worth as a woman was judged in large part by the cleanliness of her house. Continue reading “Is Spring Cleaning Still a Thing?”

Connections Through the Years in New West

A friend recently told me an incredible story about an acquaintance of his who is currently living in Britain. He was chatting on Skype with his father in Hong Kong when he realized that his Dad was starting to slur his words and one side of his mouth was drooping – he was having a stroke!

The son immediately called the Emergency Ambulance Service in Hong Kong, sent an email to his father’s next door neighbour to ask him to go next door, then opened the front door to the apartment electronically, all while keeping an eye on his Dad via a couple of the many security cameras he had installed throughout the suite. His father was in hospital within about half an hour of the stroke beginning and recovered completely, all thanks to technology, connections and instantaneous communication across the world.

Now let’s look back to how people connected and got information when New Westminster began. When Richard Blanshard resigned as governor of Vancouver Island in November 1850, it took almost nine months before he received notification that his resignation had been accepted and he was authorized to quit the Island. By 1858 the turn-around time had been reduced by almost half, thanks to improvements in transportation, especially the addition of steam power to ocean transport.

1865 British Columbia Stamp
1865 British Columbia Stamp

While the first post-office in New West opened in 1860/61, delivery of mail was pretty haphazard. The British Columbian complained in June 1861, “…Our mails have been subjected to a week’s delay in Victoria and the interior mail service is said to be even worse.” The first New Westminster mail carrier, a Chinese man who was paid £1 a week, carried letters door to door after the Victoria steamer docked. The letters he carried had very likely been written several months earlier in Europe, eastern “Canada” or Australia. However, a letter addressed with simply a name and the word “City”,
could be delivered within hours.

People had access to relatively current news in newspapers from the very beginning of New Westminster, but on April 18, 1865 the first telegraph message was received in the Royal City, carrying news of President Lincoln’s assassination. People were amazed that they were hearing of an event that taken place mere hours earlier. They read the details in the newspaper the following day, but individual and personal news could now travel in hours, not days or weeks.

Reproduction New West Telephone Exchange
Reproduction New West Telephone Exchange

Telephones were generally available to the public in New Westminster by the 1880s. In 1883 a telephone line was built to Port Moody and later to Vancouver. By 1891 there were 128 phone subscribers in the New Westminster Exchange.

Another relatively early way of receiving news was by radio. Families gathered around the radio for the daily news and for sports broadcasts. The first radio broadcast of an ice hockey game took place on 8 February1923, with the broadcast of the third period of a game between Midland and North Toronto. Later that month, the first full-game broadcast took place in Winnipeg and that same season, hockey broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt made his first broadcast.

Baseball was broadcast even earlier. The first baseball game ever broadcast was on the 5th of August, 1921 on KDKA in Pittsburgh. The first World Series that was broadcast in October that same year. The voice was that of Tommy Cowan who was in the WJZ Radio studio in Newark, NJ with a telephone at his ear, standing at a microphone. A newspaperman at the ballpark spoke into the phone and told him what was happening in the game, and Tommy, as best he could, reported it over the air.

Since Cowan relied on someone at the ballgame to feed him information, he was essentially the first man to “re-create” a baseball broadcast. Re-creations were commonplace until World War II and there is a photo of a local one in the New Westminster Museum from the late 1920s or early 1930s. It shows a large number of men standing in the middle of Columbia Street in front of the Windsor Hotel, Kidd Market, McKenzie’s and the interurban station. Above the McKenzie’s building is a large diamond-shaped signboard and all the men on the street are looking at it. At first glance it’s hard to figure out what is happening, but in fact, they were watching a World Series baseball game.

The large signboard was sponsored by the Vancouver Sun and represented a baseball diamond. One person was listening to the game on a radio (still rare in New West at that time), and someone else then changed the various signs and markers on the board to give the play-by-play, showing the score, who was on base, who was at bat etc. So now we have a re-creation of a re-creation of a game. One person is at the game, giving a play-by-play to a second person who is in a radio station filling in with sound effects and extra details to make it more “real” to his listeners. In New West, someone is listening to that radio broadcast and relaying the information (possibly by ‘phone) to another person on the roof, who moves the markers around so the folks on the street can “see” the game.

Indian Head Test Pattern
Indian Head Test Pattern

Of course, once television arrived, people could see the games themselves without any intermediary, and within a relatively short time, the expectation of seeing and hearing details of any event in real time became the norm.

So have we advanced or have we regressed in terms of connecting with other people? Some of each I suspect. Our social networks have changed in less than 50 years from friends and family who live within walking distance, to potentially thousands of people around the globe whom we will never actually meet. The number of “inboxes” many of us possess is staggering: Email (usually more than one), public Twitter, Twitter DM, public Facebook, Facebook messages, Facebook chat, LinkedIn messages, public Google +, Google + messages, blog comments, Skype, text messages, Instagram, phone, voice mail, forums, groups and social networks. Why do we do that? Often because of the belief that interacting with more people is better than interacting with fewer people. But social media gives us a feeling of intimacy and closeness that doesn’t actually exist.

Certainly relationships that began with a Twitter exchange or series of blog comments can flourish into treasured real-world ties. But those situations where we “meet” someone through social media, have the opportunity to interact in real life, and then develop a relationship that creates true friendship are few and far between. And as social media gets bigger and more pervasive, it becomes even less likely. So back to
the question, are we more connected or less connected than our ancestors? The answer is yes.