Vancouver History: City Reflections, the Streetcar Ride of 1907

Comments 7 by Rebecca Bollwitt

It has been over a year since John and I received a preview copy of the 1907 trolley car footage of Vancouver on DVD. The film is the earliest footage of Vancouver and was shot with a hand-crank camera mounted on the front of a B.C. Electric Railway streetcar by William Harbeck of Seattle.

City Reflections DVD 1907 onlyCity Reflections DVD 1907 only

City Reflections DVD 1907 only

Included in the DVD liner was a Google map outlining the route the trolley took through Gastown and over to the West End.

Over the last few years the Vancouver Historical Society has recreated the route shown in the film and now 101 years later it will be screened for the public and available for sale on DVD.

What: City Reflections – Vancouver 1907 / 2007 movie screening
When: Thursday May 22nd 2008 @ 8:00pm
Where: Vancouver Museum, 1100 Chestnut Street
More Info: There are no tickets to the screening, it’s first come first serve. The DVD of 1907 – 2007 footage will be on sale for $20. View photos from the launch May 7th, 2008.

Old School BusIn the original film you can only spot one car and the city is bustling with people, bicycles, and some horse-drawn carriages trotting along the dirt-covered Cordova Street.

Here are some other events of historical significance that took place in 1907, courtesy of and soon available in the book, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver.

…The Montreal-based jeweler, Henry Birks & Sons, came to Vancouver in February of [1907] and bought the well-established shop of George Trorey, at the northeast corner of Granville and Hastings. They kept Trorey on as manager—and they kept his famous sidewalk clock, too. The Birks clock and the store can just be glimpsed as our movie-streetcar swings east onto Hastings from Granville.

…The most famous writer in the world at the time, Rudyard Kipling, visited Vancouver again. Kipling really liked this city; this was his third visit, and he even bought land here (at the southeast corner of East 11th Avenue and Fraser Street.)

…David Spencer, who had earlier (1873) started a store in Victoria, put his son Chris, 38, in charge of a big new Spencer’s on Hastings Street in Vancouver. Chris had started working for the Victoria store in 1882 at age 13. The new store was so successful that it eventually took up almost an entire city block. Today, the building is SFU’s downtown campus.

…A fellow named Richard Cormon Purdy opened a shop on Robson Street and began selling chocolates.

Photo credit: DaveO on Flickr

The electric trolley in Vancouver has had a sordid history, from the Interurban to the recent retirement of the old electric Flyer buses. Although this city has had a love/hate relationship with transit over the years, more than anything this film proves that it can provide valuable glimpse into Vancouver’s past.

(Hat Tip to Karen for the heads up about the event on Thursday)

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7 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. RaulTuesday, May 20th, 2008 — 7:41am PDT

    Thanks for this entry, Rebecca! The first field trip I ever went to when I did my MBA was precisely to Purdy’s Chocolate Factory. It didn’t even occur to me to ask what the history behind it was.

    One interesting tidbit (not surprising given my research interests) is that Purdy’s factory still continues to exist in a very, very urban area of Vancouver, and I have never seen any problems of Not-In-My-BackYard-ism (when the local community complains about the existence of an industrial factory in the vicinity of their land). Maybe it is because we all are addicted to such fine chocolate! 🙂

  2. Stephen ReesTuesday, May 20th, 2008 — 8:44am PDT

    Vancouver is one of a handful of cities that held on to trolleybuses – most got rid of them in the great wave of automobility of the fifties and sixties in the name of “greater flexibility”. The decision to retain electric vehicles is now seen to be far sighted as diesel costs can only rise. Edmonton is the only other Canadian city with electric trolley buses, Toronto the last hold out of the streetcar. But both are making a comeback around the world as peak oil hits.

  3. Derek K. MillerWednesday, May 21st, 2008 — 4:52pm PDT

    Seattle also has trolleys, it’s worth noting. People from cities that lack them find them very cool when they visit.

    But I am officially rather old now. The electric Flyer buses, introduced in the ’80s, still feel like the “new” trolleys to me. I grew up with, and went to high school on, the original losengey white Brill trolley buses as in DaveO’s photo above. Those of you who rode them will remember the manual-roll route signs and round interior lights that would dim or flash off and on when the trolley arms bumped across joints in the wires.

  4. GaryFriday, August 29th, 2008 — 9:35am PDT

    I also grew up riding the Brill buses. I have the front destination sign that was rescued from a scrapyard that is still awaiting mounting in a suitable place. I recall there were some Brills with a completely green interior and as a kid they difference made them my favourite buses. The Brill buses were pretty rickety by the late 70’s, going down the hill on Dunbar from 27th or so all the way to 41st was a clattering experience. Remember the gate to open the back doors? Or the seats that had some form of tool kit built underneath?

  5. Vancouver History: City Reflections Screening » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittMonday, December 1st, 2008 — 4:24pm PST

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