Tonight I ended up purchasing the book Shoeless Joe for my husband and I since I’ve been looking forward to reading it for quite some time now, and especially since my post about its author. Following Kinsella in alphabetical order on the shelf there was a Rudyard Kipling book and I was reminded that he spent quite a bit of time in Vancouver before the days of Mowgli.
Rudyard Kipling in Vancouver
In June of 1889 the budding young writer at age 23 visited Vancouver for the first time, the following is taken from a passage in From Sea to Sea:
“A great sleepiness lies on Vancouver as compared with an American town: men don’t fly up and down the street telling lies, and the spittoons in the delightfully comfortable hotel are unused; the baths are free and their doors are unlocked. You do not have to dig up the hotel clerk when you want to bathe, which shows the inferiority of Vancouver. An American bade me notice the absence of bustle, and was alarmed when in a loud and audible voice I thanked God for it …
“Except for certain currents which are not much mentioned, but which make the entrance rather unpleasant for sailing-boats, Vancouver possesses an almost perfect harbor. The town is built all round and about the harbor, and young as it is, its streets are better than those of western America. Moreover, the old flag waves over some of the buildings, and this is cheering to the soul. The place is full of Englishmen who speak the English tongue correctly and with clearness, avoiding more blasphemy than is necessary, and taking a respectable length of time to getting outside their drinks.
“These advantages and others that I have heard about, such as the construction of elaborate workshops and the like by the Canadian Pacific in the near future, moved me to invest in real estate.” 1
Kipling’s second visit to our fair city was in April of 1892 and he returned again in October of 1907, when he was the most famous writer in the world. He purchased real estate on Fraser Street (at the time known as Scott Street) and a chunk of acreage on the North Shore, which turned out to be a bum investment. “And I took it as easily as a man buys a piece of tobacco. Me voici, owner of some four hundred well-developed pines, a few thousand tons of granite scattered in blocks at the roots of the pines, and a sprinkling of earth. That’s a town lot in Vancouver.”2
Kipling also had an eye for Victoria, “Amongst all the beautiful places in the world, and I think I have seen the most beautiful of them, Victoria ranks the highest.”3 He mentions traveling to Vancouver Island alongside a whaler, who talks up the hunt and all of its profits, his reaction to the morbid chat is rather amusing and can be found in his Letters of Travel. “To realize Victoria you must take all that the eye admires in Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight and Happy Valley of Hong Kong, the Doon, Sorrento and Camps Bay, and add reminiscences on the Thousand Islands, and arrange the whole around the Bay of Naples, with some Himalayas for the background. Real estate agents recommend it as a little piece of England – the Island on which it stands is about the size of Great Britain – but no England is set in such seas or so fully charged with the mystery of the larger ocean beyond.” 4
He was here while our city was taking shape, he came up by steamer from Puget Sound and also traveled by train. “Time had changed Vancouver literally out of all knowledge. From the station to the suburbs, and back to the wharves, every step was strange, and where I remembered open spaces and still untouched timber, the tramcars were fleeting people out to a lacrosse game. Vancouver is an aged city, for only a few days previous to my arrival the Vancouver Baby — i.e. the first child born in Vancouver — had been married.”5
Although he didn’t have much success with his land ventures and had a certain view of imperialism, it is still interesting to read about the city from a great literary perspective during that era.
“[Kipling] is still an author who can inspire passionate disagreement and his place in literary and cultural history is far from settled. But as the age of the European empires recedes, he is recognized as an incomparable, if controversial, interpreter of how empire was experienced. That, and an increasing recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts, make him a force to be reckoned with.”6