Rudyard Kipling in Vancouver

Comments 11 by Rebecca Bollwitt

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.

Vancouver 1898
Kipling’s Vancouver 1898
Blue: Georgia & Burrard, Green: Where BC Place would be today
Yellow: Main & Hastings, Orange: Where Granville Island would be today

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

1 2 3Vancouver History
4Letters to the Family 1907
5Letters of Travel
6Douglas Kerr, Wiki

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11 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Don ForanThursday, March 5th, 2009 — 11:52pm PST

    Yours is the earth and everything thats in in it,
    And which is more-you’ll host the 2010 GAMES,my son!

  2. Joel TalentoFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 12:26am PST

    Which Kipling book do you have?

    If your interested you can check out Bill Kinsella this weekend at the annual Vancouver Scrabble Club tournament. Bill’s been a tournament scrabble player for years. March 7-8 9-4pm at the
    Masonic Lodge 1495 W. 8th Ave., Vancouver, BC.

    I’m the official photographer at the tournament.

  3. Julie Ovenell-CarterFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 8:02am PST

    Kipling?! You’re a better man than I am Gunga Din! But seriously: after living so many decades in this city, I am suddenly finding myself interested in its history, so I really appreciated this post. I think it would be fun to create a list of good fiction and non-fiction books that give insight into Vancouver’s history. I’d start with Michael Kluckner’s Vancouver Remembered and Edith Wilson’s Swamp Angel…

  4. Colin ClarkeFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 8:25am PST

    Wonderful piece Rebecca! Vancouver’s past is dotted with these visitations by the rich and famous. They are almost always unanimous in their praise of our area. Great of you to bring these fabulous morsels back to life.

  5. Julie Ovenell-CarterFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 8:31am PST

    Uh…I meant ETHEL Wilson (Swamp Angel) of course. Not Edith. Need coffee…

  6. Chris FreimondFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 8:48am PST

    Great piece of little-known history of Kipling’s many adventures. So his investment in North Shore real estate was a bust! Times sure have changed.

  7. Miss604Friday, March 6th, 2009 — 8:52am PST

    @Chris – Yes according to the article the land he purchased was apparently already owned by someone else 😛

  8. airdrieFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 9:48am PST

    @don LOL you made my day.
    @Rebecca I <3 Kipling


  9. David MortonFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 8:57pm PST

    Great blog, Miss604! and what a surprise to have a bit of literary history so early this morning.

    But I was reminded that several years ago, I began some research on Dylan Thomas’ one visit to Vancouver sometime in 1953, I believe. He got waylaid by a group of stevedores and poets at one of the city’s drinking establishments and almost missed his reading engagement. No surprise, of course, and his audience at the Orpheum (?) got exactly what they were expecting: a riotous drunken poet reading his profound, singsong poetry in his characteristic sonorous voice. His “chaperone” in Vancouver was none other than Earle Birney, another poet, although of the lesser-known Canadian variety. Birney drove him to Seattle, which was the last leg of his North American tour. Tragically, he would be dead just a few weeks later in New York of uncertain causes, though the most commonly accepted theory was that it was severe alcoholic poisoning.

  10. Vancouver Police Museum Good Times » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittThursday, June 25th, 2009 — 9:57am PDT

    […] routes’. Due to the community being built on the flats near the shore (before False Creek was filled in) it wouldn’t have made for the most stable ground. We were lead to one of such basements […]

  11. Kashif PastaWednesday, April 21st, 2010 — 5:39pm PDT

    Over 100 years later, people still visit, fall in love, and invest or move here! <3

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