Aida Knapp – A Life in Dance

Aida Knapp was a dance teacher in Richmond who taught many hundreds of students ballet, tap, jazz, modern and ballroom dance for 40 years in her studio on Railway Avenue and in various halls and auditoriums in Brighouse, Steveston, Ladner and Marpole.

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Aida Knapp outside her dance studio 1965. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 19.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1911, she was an only child to parents Frank and Amy Trueman. The family moved to China in 1917 when her father, a textiles engineer, was sent there by his company. Aida was introduced to dancing while attending an American boarding school at Kuling in the Lushan District. Her first ballet lessons were in the Russian method of dance taught by an Australian instructor, Madame Kelly. Aida loved dancing and took as many lessons as she could, determined to be a professional dancer someday.

Aida and her family left China after she completed her high school education, around 1928. They settled first in Vancouver, where she resumed her dance lessons with the Duncan Barbay School of Dance, and then on Lulu Island. She financed her lessons by working in various theatres and clubs in Vancouver where she got her first break into show business when a travelling road company from England played a theatre where she was working. They needed some girls to dance in their production and Aida eagerly accepted the offer to go on the road with the company.

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Aida Trueman, photo taken in Paris in 1934. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 13.

Aida’s job was to travel ahead of the company, training new sets of dancers in each town, thereby reducing the need to travel with a large group of dancers and lessening expenses. The cost cutting measures were ineffective however as the company went bankrupt, stranding Aida in Ottawa.

Undaunted by this, Aida got on a train to Rhode Island where she stayed with her aunts and worked as a dancer in a Chinese Restaurant, making enough money to take more dance classes. She moved to New York where she attended auditions for dance companies and theatre productions, eventually landing a job in Atlanta Georgia at a luxurious hotel and theatre.

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The Twelve Aristocrats in a scene from the movie, “Calling All Stars”, London 1936. Aida Trueman on the far left. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 14.

It was in Georgia that Aida was asked to join an act called “The Twelve Aristocrats”, a very successful dance troupe known for their versatility and the variety of their dance styles. The Twelve Aristocrats played all over the United States and Europe in the years leading up to World War II and took part in the filming of a musical movie called “Calling All Stars” while in England. An excerpt from the movie on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YehBT1MFIxY , shows Aida performing with the Twelve Aristocrats.

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Aida Trueman flies through the air during the Twelve Aristocrats’ dance routine. Photo taken in Indianapolis in 1936. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 15

As World War II grew nearer, the Twelve Aristocrats split up, some settling in London and others in New York. Aida returned to Lulu Island where her parents still lived. She was hired as the choreographer for the Palomar Theatre where she helped several girls get their start, including a young Yvonne de Carlo who went on to become a star in film and television.

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Aida and Al Knapp outside their home on Railway Avenue in 1992. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 20.

It was during this time that Aida met her future husband, Elwood (Al) Knapp, who was working as a horse trainer at Brighouse Racetrack. In late 1939 they were married. Al built a house at 928 Railway Avenue where they lived and raised two sons, Wesley and Frank. Aida decided to start a small dance school to help make ends meet, moving the furniture out of their kitchen every day to make room for a small dance floor. As her school grew the space became too small and she rented space in halls in Brighouse and Steveston to hold her classes.

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Aida Knapp with a student inside her dance studio, 1956. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 18.

In 1950 Al built Aida a dance studio behind the family home. The dance school became a full-time job for Aida with as many as 200 students attending lessons six days a week. During her career Mrs. Knapp continued with her own education, attending dance workshops and conventions where she took additional training as well as giving instruction to other teachers.

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Aida Knapp with a group of young dance students in her studio, 1968. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 22

Every June Aida would put on a dance recital where her students would perform the routines that they learned during the year. Costumes were made by the student’s mothers, and the events were eagerly attended by parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours. Proceeds from the recitals always went to benefit a variety of community activities, such as in 1948 when the funds were given to the Fraser River Flood Relief program in Richmond.

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Dancers from the Aida Knapp School of Dance strike a pose prior to their annual recital. Shown here are, L to R, Margaret Parker, Linda Dixon, Louise McMath, Beverly Bull, Frankie Knapp, Sharon Michaud, Marilyn Gates, Patsy Marshal and Elsie Brad. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 21.

Her students performed at many venues in Richmond and around Greater Vancouver, such as the Kitsilano Showboat, the PNE, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, as well as in senior’s centres, for various community service organizations, etc.

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Aida Knapp’s two sons, Frank (L) and Wes (R) pose with Sharon Michaud in this photo from 1958. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2003 28 16.

While some of her students went on to pursue dance in professional and semi-professional ways, most ended their dance instruction as teens, but with a great appreciation for the art of dance and with love and fond memories of the woman who taught them.

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The acknowledgment from the end of program from one of Aida Knapp’s annual dance recitals, “Frolics of ’64”. City of Richmond Archives 2003 28.

Aida taught dance until 1984 when she was in her 70s. The dedication and love that she demonstrated for the art of dance and for her students have made her a Richmond legend, remembered sentimentally by the generations of young dancers that she instructed. She passed away in 1998 at the age of 87 having left a legacy of contribution to her community that lives on long after her passing.

Farming in the Round – The Ewen Cattle Barn

The Ewen Cattle Barn, also known as the Keur Barn, was one of Richmond’s more unusual heritage structures, a type of barn that was unique in British Columbia and rare in Canada. Although it looked round, the barn was in fact polygonal, having 12 sides. It was representative of a time when agricultural practices in Europe and North America were undergoing reform through mechanization, the development of modern farming practices and the redesign of farm structures for increased efficiency.

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This aerial view shows the Ewen Barn’s location in relation to the Lafarge Cement plant at upper right and the Annacis Channel. Lion Island, the location of Alexander Ewen’s Ewen Cannery, is just visible at top right. No. 9 Road runs left to right in the photo. (City of Richmond Archives Accession 1990 13)

One of the aspects of this “High Farming”, as it was called in agricultural journals of the day, was the design of appropriate animal housing, with a focus on efficient use of space to allow animals to be kept warm and well fed over the winter. Round or polygonal barns fit this requirement well, although their more complex structure and higher construction costs compared to conventional barns made them less appealing to the average farmer. As a result, they tended to be built by farm owners who had an interest in the new farming practices and who had the capital to buy and outfit large farms.

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An upper level plan of the barn shows the granary and ramp leading to the second floor space. (City of Richmond Archives 1990 13 6)

This was the case with the Ewen Barn. It was built by pioneer salmon cannery owner Alexander Ewen, who had purchased 640 acres of land in east Richmond in the 1880s. The barn was erected around 1893. It was built of red cedar, logged and cut in the Lower Mainland and used a combination of traditional heavy timber framing and light timber framing systems.

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A drawing showing a cross section view of the barn with its cattle stalls below and second floor space. A cow and a man are added for scale.(City of Richmond Archives 1990 13 5)

Unusually large for a barn of this type, it was 100 feet in diameter and 50 feet high with two floors, the lower floor being the stable floor with the capacity to house and feed 100 cattle and the upper floor used for hay and equipment storage. The stable floor took only one quarter of the building’s height, leaving three quarters of the interior volume available for storage. Cattle stalls were arranged in a circle around the outside of the lower floor and openings in the upper floor allowed feed to be dropped down to the hungry mouths below.

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A team of horses haul a wagon of hay with the Ewen Barn in the background in this image, ca. 1900. The barn’s roof is still fitted with the rooftop ventilator which was removed in the 1940s. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2009 2 19)

A rectangular granary was added to the outside  of the barn shortly after it was built, and a ramp was provided from the ground to the barn’s second floor so that wagons could be driven up to unload hay and feed, circling around the circumference of the structure and down the ramp again. Built before electrical power was available, daylight was the only illumination available. Fitted with few windows, open doors admitted most of the light. An eight foot wide roof ventilator mounted atop the barn’s huge conical roof admitted light to the upper floor, although this was removed during reroofing in the 1940s.

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The Ewen Barn in 1979. The rectangular granary and ramp to the second floor are clearly visible. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1984 4 58)

The farm served by the Ewen Barn became one of the largest beef producers in Richmond, with as many as 4500 cattle a year being fattened and sent to slaughter at its peak. It also grew to be the largest Jersey cow breeding  establishment on Lulu Island. The barn continued to house cattle until the mid 1970s when it fell into disuse and began to deteriorate.

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A view of the deteriorating barn, ca. 1996. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2003 17 1)

In an attempt to preserve the barn, work was started by the Richmond Heritage Advisory Committee, spearheaded by Committee member Graham Turnbull, which included detailed reports on the barn’s historical context, architectural details and history. In 1995, at the request of the Committee, the barn was designated a National Historic Site by the Canadian Historic Sites and Monuments Board. In 1998 the Committee contracted Architect and Heritage Advocate Robert Lemon to prepare a report and facilitate a Conservation Workshop aimed at exploring options for the barn’s preservation. It was determined that the building could be stabilized at a cost of $112,000. A non-profit Society, The Friends of the Ewen Barn Society, was formed in order to begin the process of raising the money for the stabilization work and to negotiate with the property’s owner.

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In February 1999 the old barn collapsed in a windstorm. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2006 24 57)

Unfortunately, nature cares nothing for the preservation of old barns and in February 1999 a windstorm caused the collapse of the barn, at the time believed to be the oldest structure in Richmond. The barn was a total loss, although some of it remains as part of another heritage structure in Richmond. Salvaged lumber from the barn was used to repair the wharves at Britannia Heritage Shipyards.

 

Wells Air Harbour

Lulu Island was the location of many of BC’s pioneering aviation milestones but since the opening of the Vancouver Airport and Seaplane base on Sea Island on July 22, 1931 the majority of Richmond’s aviation activity has taken place there.

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A float plane taxis on the Middle Arm of the Fraser River in this photo, ca. 1930. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1989 19 11)

One exception to this was Wells Air Harbour, a seaplane base and repair facility on the Lulu Island side of the middle arm. The facility was built by Air Land Manufacturing and started operations in 1929, becoming an important base for seaplane operations. It became generally known by the name of its operator, Hunter Wells, during the early 1930s.

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This waterworks map from the late 1930s shows the Wells Air Harbour building, labelled “Aeroplane Plant”, on the upper left, just south of the end of Bridgeport Road. (City of Richmond Archives map – Sea Island and No.3 Road Water Linens)

The business was located on River Road near the present end of Bridgeport Road, easily accessible from Vancouver via the Marpole Bridge. Aircraft that landed on the Middle Arm could moor at the terminal’s floats or, if in need of repairs, could be hauled up the ramp into the hangar.

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Bush pilot Ginger Coote operated his airline out of Wells Air Harbour. Shown here is his Waco YKS-6 in a hangar. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 1 21)

The Harbour was the base of operations for many aviation companies. Wells Air Transport, Alaska-Washington Airways of BC, Commercial Airways and Canadian Airways all used the facility. Ginger Coote Airways, run by legendary bush pilot Russell L. “Ginger” Coote also used the base. Coote was a WWI fighter pilot and after the war personified the image of the daring bush pilot.

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Russel L. “Ginger” Coote, in the pilot’s uniform, stands on the float at Wells Air Harbour, ca. 1935. In the right foreground is the ramp to the hangar where Tommy Jones repaired and rebuilt aircraft. (City of Richmond Archives photo 2012 12 1)

Tommy Jones ran a profitable aircraft overhaul and repair business at the Air Harbour as well. Many of the classic seaplanes were serviced there, with work from regular maintenance to complete overhauls taking place. It was not unusual to see groups of women at the repair shop stitching and fitting fabric to the wings and fuselages of various aircraft.

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This aerial view shows the former Wells Air Harbour hangar building at the end of Bridgeport Road in 1953 with the ramp used to haul aircraft into the hangar removed. The building has seen many uses over the years, from an aluminum factory to a restaurant, and survives to this day. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1977 1 99)

Wells Air Harbour and Jones’ repair business closed as better facilities became available around the Lower Mainland with the onset of WWII. The hangar building is still standing, tucked between the two bridges to YVR, and for many years has been home to the Richmond Boathouse Restaurant.

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A Google Street View capture shows the Boathouse – West Marine location on River Road. The large hangar door openings can still be seen, a leftover from the days when this building was one of the busiest seaplane bases in the Lower Mainland. Infill has separated the building from the Middle Arm and provided a parking lot.

 

New at the Archives – The Richmond Review

One of the top news stories for Richmondites in 2015 was the end of the local newspaper, the Richmond Review. 

Last Review

The front page of the last edition of the Richmond Review, July 24, 2015.

The Review began life in 1932, a gesture of optimism in an otherwise depressed period of time. After a few issues published by founder Bill Carruthers, it was sold to Ethel Tibbits, who ran it until 1948.

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The police news was a popular feature of the Marpole-Richmond Review where the latest police activities could be followed and names were named, even for minor infractions. This clip from 1937 relates the fallout from illegal liquor sales in Steveston.

For much of its existence it was known as the Marpole-Richmond Review. By the 1970’s it was BC’s largest circulating biweekly. The last issue came out on July 24th 2015; the publishers citing market forces as the culprit, making competition with another newspaper impossible to carry on.

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The Richmond Review staff, ca. 1990; left to right – Publisher Susan Tweedie, Composing Room Foreman Fred Meyer and Editor Diane Strandberg. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2015 19.

Before the offices of the Richmond Review were completely vacated, the City of Richmond Archives was invited to visit the location to retrieve records which we would consider important to the community.

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The Review was an important source of information for readers during elections, featuring interviews, candidate’s platforms, etc. This clipping shows well-known local politician Harold Steves beginning his successful run for the NDP in the 1972 Provincial election.

The bulk of this accession is more than 50,000 images taken by Review reporters, now housed in the climate-controlled and secure stacks of the Archives. These photographs are both in 35mm and digital formats, and represent the transition to the use of digital cameras.

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The sports section of the Review showed images from many Richmond games, including this one from October 21, 1989. This is just one of the many thousands of photographs form the paper, now housed in the City of Richmond Archives. (City of Richmond Archives – Richmond Review photo 1988 121)

These recent images are in addition to previous accessions of photographs from the Review which date back to 1982, bringing the date range for Review photographs held by the Archives to about 33 years.

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Advertising helps pay for the operation of any newspaper and the Review was no exception. Local advertising allowed Richmondites to choose which sales they would attend at local stores or, in this case from 1957, which local theatre they would attend to see Hollywood’s latest offerings.

The Archives has also newly acquired the collection of the Richmond Review from the Richmond Public Library, both recent hard-copy and historical issues on microfilm. Combined with the hard-copy and historical issues already in our holdings we now have a complete run of the paper to 2015 available to the public.

[Note – this is a version of an article first published in the Spring 2016 issue of the Archives News]

Focus on the Record – Production and Mapping Centre, Planning and Development Photographs

As part of the City of Richmond Archives’ ongoing digitization program, Archives volunteer Graham Turnbull has digitized 3,621 colour slides from the City of Richmond’s Production and Mapping Centre.

Graham with new scanner

Archives volunteer Graham Turnbull is shown here digitizing photographs using a new scanner purchased by the Friends of the Richmond Archives in 2015. The Production and Mapping Centre, Planning and Development photographs were the first photographs to be digitized using the new scanner. Richmond Archives photograph.

The slides date from 1981–1995 and were taken by Production Centre staff. The photographs record natural features of Richmond along with buildings, subdivisions, community events, farming and industrial activities.

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An aerial view looking south-west over the intersection of Westminster Highway and No.3 Road, the Park Towers and Minoru Park. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 39 5 61.

These photographs were used in various Richmond municipal publications and in public presentations of the Planning Department. The slides document a time of changing landscape in Richmond’s history.

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Woodward’s Store at Lansdowne Mall, 1982. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 39 2 70.

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Bridgepoint Market children’s play area, 1990. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 39 2 202.

To view these images, either the original slides or digitized copies, researchers are welcome to make an appointment to visit the Archives. These images will also be described and made available online when the Archives Database and Web Search Upgrade project is launched in 2016.

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Working on a helicopter at the BCIT Aerospace Technology Campus. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 39 1 148.

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Loading seafood for export into an aircaft container. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 39 3 235.

 

[Note – this is a version of an article first published in the Spring 2016 issue of the Archives News]