Centres of Government – Richmond’s Town Halls – Part Two

Part Two – The Tudor Manor

In 1918, with the First World War over and Richmond Town Council meeting in Bridgeport School due to the disastrous fire which destroyed the original hall on River Road, more and more pressure was being exerted to have a new Town Hall built in a more convenient, more central site. Council began looking for a new location that would meet the requirements of the growing Municipality.

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The Steveston Police station, jail and fire hall, shown here in 1915, had been built in the late 1890s. Its location and the fact that Steveston was the area with the highest population in Richmond was used as an argument for construction of a new town hall there. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2006 39 64.

Steveston was mentioned most of the time as the best location for the construction of a new Town Hall, as it had the highest residential population, was already the location of the police station and jail and was at the end of the BC Electric Railway Interurban line.

In January 1919, after due consideration and support from the Brighouse and Garden City Ratepayers Association, the decision was made to build the new hall in Brighouse. A deal was struck with Michael Wilkinson Brighouse, Sam Brighouse’s nephew and heir, to exchange the old Municipal Lands at River Road which had originally been purchased from the elder Brighouse, for about four acres of land at the southwest corner of No.3 Road and Granville Avenue next to the Brighouse Racetrack. The location of the new hall would help the area grow into the main commercial centre of Richmond.

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The new Richmond Town Hall, ca. 1920. Behind the hall is the Minoru/Brighouse Racetrack grandstand. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 97 1.

The Reeve and Council passed a by-law stating that the cost of the new hall would not exceed $15000, the cost to be covered by a public levy over three years. The new building was designed by Architect W. Jones and was much different in appearance from the simple old hall it replaced, looking much like an English Manor House. Mr. D. Gray was given the contract for the construction with his bid of $10519 and a further amount was awarded to the company of Barr and Anderson for plumbing and heating.

Construction problems arose early during the build, first in the foundations, which were found to have been laid six inches short of the required width, and then in the flooding of the coal furnace, which for some unknown reason was constructed below ground level, not the best building practice in Richmond. The new Town hall officially opened on December 13, 1919 and 300 citizens looked on as Reeve John Tilton called the Council meeting to order. When the meeting was over a celebration was held, the first of many to be held in the building which would serve the community nearly four decades.

Plans of City Hall 2

In 1941 the hall was renovated and a new vault was built. This blueprint shows the second floor with the council chambers, Reeve and Clerk’s offices, public service area, etc. City of Richmond Archives image.

The Police Department moved into the new hall in January 1920. By 1922 a resident janitor had been hired who was tasked with janitorial duties, answered the phone when the Police Chief was out of the building, took care of any prisoners in the jail and otherwise made himself useful around the hall.

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The ground floor of the hall was also renovated in 1941. Shown here are the police offices, jail cells and living quarters for the resident janitor. City of Richmond Archives image.

The hall, like its predecessor, was used as a social gathering place as well as for municipal business. Dances and concerts were held in the council chambers as well as meetings for many organizations. The Great War Veterans Association held meetings there, leading to the erection of the cenotaph in front of the building in 1922. The Agricultural Association leased a portion of the property for the construction of a building and tennis courts and lawn bowling greens were set up on the lawns adjacent to the hall.

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The cenotaph was erected outside the Town Hall in 1922. It still stands outside the present City Hall. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 21 8.

Four large light standards were installed on the grounds around the hall in January 1927. It was reported that when they were illuminated it would cause the lights inside the hall to dim, requiring an upgrade to the wiring in the place.

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During the Second World War the Town Hall provided office space for the War Loan Drive. Shown here are members of the Richmond Volunteer Fire Department/ A.R.P.  during a War Bond Drive.. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 7 1.

During the Second World War an office in the hall was provided to the War Loan Drive. A renovation of the hall took place in 1941 during which a new vault was built and changes to the interior spaces were made. After these renovations the hall remained as it was until 1955 when plans were approved for the construction of a new hall to replace the aging structure. The Municipality had out grown its centre of government and it was time for an upgrade to the post war modern era.


This 1848 aerial view of the intersection of No.3 Road and Granville Avenue shows the Richmond Town Hall and its surroundings. On the left is Brighouse Park with its field and lacrosse box. The lower right shows the hall, works yard and outbuildings. On the far right is the grandstand and clubhouse at Brighouse Racetrack. The bottom of the photo shows the commercial buildings along No.3 Road. Granville Avenue and the BC Electric Railway tracks run diagonally from bottom to top. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 16 1.

Next – The Modern Office Building



Brighouse Grocery – The Red & White Store

In the days before the big grocery store and market chains completely took over the food sales business, Richmond was served by several family owned and operated stores. The stores were conveniently located in the areas in which most of their customers lived and usually offered phone orders and free delivery. Brighouse Grocery was located, as its name suggests, in Brighouse on the corner of No.3 Road and Granville Avenue.

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The original Brighouse Grocery store was built By Josiah Stirton in 1918 and was located at the intersection of No. 3 Road and General Currie Road. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 83)

The original Brighouse Grocery was built by Josiah Stirton around 1918 and was located at the corner of No.3 Road and General Currie Road. It operated there for several years, but moved to the Granville – No.3 Road building after it was built.

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The Brighouse Grocery Red & White Store, ca. 1955. The location was very convenient for customers arriving by tram, the tracks can be seen on the right.(City of Richmond Archives photograph 1993 29 2)

The new store, near the new Town Hall and the BC Electric Railway’s Brighouse Station was a far better location and the business thrived there for many years.

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Paul Meyer and children Michael and Heather in front of his store. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1993 29 1)

In 1949 the store was purchased and operated by the Meyer family, Paul and Bertha, who became part of the Red & White chain of independent grocery stores.

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As advertised in Life Magazine, the Red & White Grocery “Trainload Sale” offered great bargains on canned food. Bertha and Paul Meyer stand in their store, ca. 1955. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1993 29 3)

The Meyers owned the Brighouse Grocery Red & White Store from 1949 to 1963 offering telephone orders and free delivery.

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A smiling Bertha Meyer stocks the shelves at the Brighouse Grocery Store, ca. 1958. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1993 29 5)

The variety of items offered by the store made one-stop shopping a reality in what would be considered a tiny space by today’s standards.

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Bertha and Paul Meyer stand in the produce section of the Brighouse Grocery, ca. 1955. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1993 29 4)

Everything from cake mixes to produce and meat was available. If  riding the tram or driving to the store was not practical, your order could be phoned in and delivered for free, a service only now being offered by many of the big grocery chains of today.

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Brighouse Grocery in the sixties after the removal of the Interurban Tram tracks. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 82)

The Interurban Tram, which would rattle the stock on the shelves when it went by, was missed by the store when the tram service was discontinued in 1958. Brighouse Station was just around the corner from the store and the reduction in business hurt the store’s bottom line. The store operated until about 1974 as the Brighouse Market. Well known photographer P.C. Lee opened his business there after it closed down.

Today most grocery purchases are made at one of the big supermarket chains or at one of the markets that specialize in produce sales, but many people have fond memories of the small neighborhood grocery stores of yesterday, run by local people who knew their customers by name.

Centres of Government – Richmond’s Town Halls – Part One

Part 1 – The First Town Hall

On November 10, 1879, when Letters Patent were issued to incorporate the Corporation of the Township of Richmond at the request of 25 early settlers, the first order of business was to hold an election and form a council to run the fledgling municipality.  The election was held at the home of Hugh Boyd and Alexander Kilgour and, as required in the Letters Patent, a “Warden” and seven Councillors were elected. Hugh Boyd was the first Warden of Richmond, a title later replaced by Reeve and then Mayor.

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Hugh Boyd, the first Warden of the Corporation of the township of Richmond. The first Council meetings were held in the dining room of his house on Sea Island. City of Richmond Archives,  Oil Painting by T. B. Walker, 1911.

Council meetings were held in the dining room of the Boyd house on Sea Island until a better venue could be provided. In October 1880, Council approved the purchase of a five-acre field from Sam Brighouse. The property was located on the Middle Arm of the Fraser River near the present day intersection of River Road and Cambie Road. Land not occupied by the Municipal buildings was to be rented out to a farmer to produce crops. The contract for building the new hall was awarded to James Turnbull who built it for $434. The building was completed on January 4, 1881 and a few weeks later the outhouse and woodshed were also finished.

The first function to take place at the brand new hall was a party to celebrate its completion. Guests were transported from New Westminster to the party on the steamboat Adelaide, there being too few men and even fewer women in Richmond at the time to make a proper observance.

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A group of school children play baseball outside of the first Richmond Town Hall which also served as an early school. In this photo, ca. 1888, are William Garratt, Leo Carscallen, Peter Carscallen, James Sexsmith, Mr. McKinney, Jack Smith, George Sexsmith, William Mellis, Frances Sexsmith, Anna Sexsmith, Pearl Robinson, Kate Smith, Grace Sweet, Mae Vermilyea and Anna Noble. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 77.

The purchase of  property in that location was made based on an important fact about Richmond in those days. There was no infrastucture, –  no roads, minimal dyking done by private landowners and few trails. The location of the hall on the Middle Arm made arrival by boat convenient for many. In order to attend council meetings Councillor Walter Lee, who lived on the South Arm, would travel to Steveston by boat and then hike to the hall along the Crabapple Ridge. Travel overland was impossible in many areas due to the bog and gum boots were recommended even in the “dry” spots. Most Councillors carried slippers with them so they would have footwear during council meetings.

The new hall and the property it was built on became a centre of cultural activity for the community. Before long members of the Richmond Agricultural Society built an Agricultural Hall on the Municipal land near the Town Hall and many agricultural fairs were held there, starting in 1894. The Steveston Brass Band held concerts at the Town Hall, fraternal organizations booked the space to hold their meetings and it became a polling station for elections. Church services were held there and in 1881 permission was granted to the North Arm School Board to use the Hall as a school. Fourteen boys and twelve girls attended classes there with Miss Sweet as their teacher.

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Richmond residents enter the gates to attend the agricultural fair, ca. 1910. The board at the gate shows the fees, Admittance – 25 cents, Children – 10 cents, Horse and Buggy (with driver) – 50 cents. Lunch was available on the grounds for 25 cents. On the right in this photo is the Agricultural/Community Hall and on the left is the Richmond Methodist Church, now Minoru Chapel. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 78.

In 1891 a new schoolhouse was built by the North Arm School District and the Methodist Church was built nearby, freeing the Town Hall from those duties. In 1905 the hall got its first telephone and in 1911 the heat from the wood stove was supplemented with the addition of an oil stove. By 1912 Council started discussing the need for a new hall in a location more suited to the Municipality, which by now had built many roads and was serviced by the BC Electric Railway’s Interurban Tram.

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Horses and buggies and a crowd of people fill Richmond’s Municipal lands for an agricultural fair, ca. 1907. This image looks toward the present intersection of Cambie Road and River Road and shows the Town Hall (L), Agricultural Hall (M) and Richmond Methodist Church (R). The building in front of the church is the present location of the Richmond Rod and Gun Club. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 9 18.

The need for a new hall became more imperative in January 1913 when two auditors were going over documents in the hall. One of them, Mr. J.H. Lancaster, threw some gasoline into the wood stove thinking it was coal oil. The ensuing explosion caused the Town Hall to go up in flames. Mr. Lancaster was seriously burned and passed away some time later. The other auditor, Mr. J. Glanville  received less serious burns. Quick work by Reverend M. Wright and other bystanders resulted in most of the town’s records being saved.

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The first Council Minutes for the Corporation of Richmond were saved from the disastrous fire that destroyed the Town Hall and appear to be scorched around the edges. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

The loss of Richmond’s Town Hall meant that a new venue needed to be found for council meetings. The Mayor and Council used Bridgeport School as a temporary location until a new hall could be built in a more suitable location. The start of World War One dictated that the school would continue to be Richmond’s centre of government until 1919.

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Bridgeport School hosted Municipal Council meetings after the original Town Hall was burned in 1913. Shown here ca. 1940, the council met there until 1919.

Next – The Move to Brighouse.

Richmond on the Home Front

World War 2 was the greatest armed conflict in history, a truly global war in which Canada played an important part. The entire country was focused on working toward a speedy victory for Canada and her allies through the formation of a strong military force and production and supply of goods and materials in support of the war effort.

Richmond sent many of her young men and women to serve in the military, at home and overseas, many of whom paid the ultimate price for their service. Their sacrifice is remembered every year on Remembrance Day.

On the home front in Richmond, everyday life steered toward supporting the military in its work. Under the National Registration Regulations, enacted in 1940, all persons in Canada, age 16 or over, were required to register with the government, supplying details of their age, family, work history, national and racial origins, etc. This allowed the authorities to direct the service of each person, whether that lay in the military, in war production, or in the maintenance of services allowing life in the nation to continue in a routine manner.


All persons aged 16 and over were required to register for service during the war. Ad from Marpole-Richmond Review July 31, 1940.

Everyday Life in Wartime

Rationing of materials became commonplace. Items such as gasoline and other fuels, rubber goods, like tires, and metals were either not available or could only be purchased using ration coupons. The same was true for many household items like sugar, meat, coffee, etc. Many guides were published to help people deal with shortages and the reduced quantities of goods that they could get. Programs were put in place and drives were held to collect scrap material like metals, scrap paper, cooking grease and bones, etc., all to go to wartime industry.

How to Solve

Guides to help people deal with rationing were published by many companies and government agencies, such as this one from Canadian General Electric. City of Richmond Archives reference files.


Home Canning Ration Guide

And this one from B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. City of Richmond Archives reference files.

Calls for volunteers for organizations like the Red Cross and the Home Defence Corps were met by local residents who contributed their time away from other jobs to take part. Women and teenagers too young for the military took over many of the jobs which had been vacated by men leaving for military service.

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Women are trained to assemble aircraft at the Sea Island Boeing Plant in this image from 1943. Boeing Beam  October 13,1943.

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This booklet produced by Boeing Canada gave new female employees tips on how to be safe in an industrial setting, which until the war was unavailable to them. City of Richmond Archives reference files.

In March 1942, the National Selective Service was enacted “to effect the orderly and efficient employment of the men and women of Canada for the varied purposes of war.” Administered through the Department of Labour, the act allowed the government to dictate which jobs got preference for manning and gave them the power to move people out of low priority jobs and into higher ones.


The National Selective Service Mobilization Regulations gave the Department of Labour sweeping powers over manpower in Canada.

Manning shortages were a continual problem in Richmond during the war, not in small part to the removal and internment of around 2,500 Japanese-Canadians from the area in early 1942.


Regular ads appeared in newspapers looking for labourers for farms and workers in other areas were encouraged to do extra work as farm workers.

The fishing industry imported workers to fill the void and there were regular ads in local papers looking for farm workers during planting and harvest periods.

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Hundreds of fishboats, confiscated from Japanese-Canadians in 1942, sit at Annieville. Property that was confiscated such as boats, houses, businesses, etc., were never returned to their owners after the war. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1985 4 1753.

The people of Richmond signed up in droves for the many War Bond drives that were held during the war to help finance Canada’s War effort.

Protecting Richmond

The protection of Richmond’s people and infrastructure from potential attack was a priority during the war. At Steveston an army camp and shore battery was built to guard the mouth of the Fraser River. It was equipped with an 18 pounder artillery piece, later replaced by two 25-pounder guns. Four anti-aircraft batteries were installed to protect the airport, flight training school and aircraft plant – three on Sea Island and one on Lulu Island. Local residents were warned to open all the windows in their houses during target practice, a strategy which did not always prevent cracked windows.

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This anti-aircraft battery and camp was located just north of Granville Ave. near the Interurban Tram Line where it curves onto Railway Ave. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #2013 49 2.

More than 90 men signed up to enlist in No.125 (Richmond) Company Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, Richmond’s home guard unit. Given military training, these men would have made the first response to any attack on the area.

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Members of No. 125 (Richmond) Company Pacific Coast Militia Rangers pose in September 1945. These men formed Richmond’s home guard unit during the war. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1988 17 1a.

Richmond’s Volunteer Firefighters formed Canada’s first Air Raid Precaution unit, building much of their own equipment and putting in countless hours fighting fires and enforcing the Blackout imposed on coastal areas to protect against nighttime attacks.

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This ad for the sixth Victory Loan drive from an April 1944 Marpole-Richmond Review featured Richmond’s Volunteer ARP / Firefighters. The Steveston volunteers formed the first ARP unit in Canada, building most of their own equipment, including a fire truck. Marpole-Richmond Review April 26, 1944.

Wartime Industry

The largest employer in Richmond during the War was the Boeing Canada aircraft plant on Sea Island. The plant worked through most of the war building Consolidated PBY-5a amphibian patrol bombers, known as Catalinas in American service and Cansos in Canadian service. Toward the end of the war the plant made parts for the B-29 Superfortress bomber which were shipped south to a plant in Renton, Washington where the planes were completed.

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The hull of a PBY-5a patrol bomber is lifted by a crane in the Boeing Canada aircraft plant on Sea Island. 362 PBYs were built during the war at this plant which employed around 7,000 people at its peak. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1985 199 1.

About 7,000 people were employed at the plant during its peak. A shortage of housing for its workers led to the development of Burkeville, named for Boeing Canada president Stanley Burke.

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The front page of the Boeing Beam newsmagazine featured a story about Burkeville, built to house workers at the aircraft plant. Boeing Beam September 1, 1944.

The peat mining industry had one of the highest priorities for manning during the war.  Sphagnum moss was used as a catalyst for the extraction of magnesium, used in the production of incendiary devices and munitions, and it was shipped to the US in large quantities from Richmond. Several large bog fires during the war interrupted production and resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars worth of peat.

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Stacks of peat blocks dry in a Richmond field in this photo. Peat mining was a very important industry during the war. It was used in the processing of magnesium which was vital for the production of munitions. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1978 3 25.

The need for large amounts of food products put Richmond’s fishing and farming industries on full production. Products from our area were shipped out for use by the military as well as to provide much needed supplies for Great Britain and our other allies in war ravaged areas.

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Food production was another industry that was vital to the war effort. “Salmon for Britain” was a slogan used to encourage productivity in local canneries. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1985 4 1759.

Smaller industries, such as lumber production, fabrication and machine shops also contributed to the war effort, all under the control of the Department of Munitions and Supply, a civilian organization led by Minister C.D. Howe, who controlled the supply of all goods deemed necessary for the war.

Once the war was won, life gradually returned to normal. Men demobilized from the armed forces returned to the work force, displacing the women who had replaced them. The Boeing Canada aircraft plant ceased operation almost immediately after VJ Day, displacing more workers. Products which were rationed during the war became more readily available. Military groups charged with local defense were disbanded and Richmond’s ARP force returned to being volunteer firemen with no blackout to enforce. It took several more years before some of the Japanese-Canadian families who had been interned began to return.

For some, life would never be the same. Servicemen who were lost during the war left loved ones behind whose lives were changed forever and each year we remember their sacrifice.

Lest We Forget

From Racetrack to Farmer’s Field – Early Aviation on Lulu Island

Richmond has had an association with flight since the first time an airplane took off under its own power in our province. Purpose-built airports did not exist in the early days. Aviators used existing facilities to operate their machines and farm fields, fair grounds and horse racing tracks served the purpose. The latter two were already equipped with grandstands to hold the crowds which gathered, each person paying to witness the fledgling technology of flight and perhaps the spectacle of a crash.

                                    Minoru Park – Brighouse Park Racetrack                                Exhibition Flying and Barnstorming

The place where most of the early milestones of flight in British Columbia took place was Minoru Park Racetrack. Opened in 1909, the mile-long oval occupied the property on which can now be found Richmond City Hall, the south part of Richmond Centre Mall, the Richmond Public Library and Cultural Centre, Richmond Arenas, Richmond Aquatic Centre and the present Minoru Park. On Friday, March 25, 1910, Charles K. Hamilton became the first person to fly an aeroplane in British Columbia when he lifted off in front of 3500 cheering spectators at Minoru Park.

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Charles K. Hamilton made the first airplane flight in British Columbia at Minoru Park Racetrack on March 25, 1910 in this Curtiss biplane. As can be seen in this photo, the aircraft had a hard landing on the infield of the track, bending one of the landing wheels, but was repaired and carried on with its demonstration. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 15 18)

In those dawning days of aviation when the mere sight of a man flying in a machine was thrilling enough to attract thousands of onlookers, Hamilton’s Easter weekend exhibition did not disappoint the crowds. On Friday, after swooping around the grandstand for about ten minutes, the plane swerved suddenly to the centre of the field and landed hard, causing some damage to the undercarriage. Quickly making some repairs, he got the engine started and continued his display.

On Saturday, Hamilton took off again, this time disappearing from view for about twenty minutes, flying to New Westminster where streetcars stopped to let the passengers watch. On his return to Richmond he landed briefly for a refreshment, then took two more flights, one in which he lost a race with a car.

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Hamilton takes to the air in the Curtiss biplane at Minoru Park Racetrack. City of Richmond Archives photograph RCF 116.

On Monday, the exhibition continued, this time featuring a competition with the racehorse Prince Brutus who was given a 3/8 of a mile handicap. The horse took full advantage of its head start, passing the post before the aircraft.

The aircraft that Hamilton flew was historic in its own right. Known as the Rheims Racer, it was built by Glenn H. Curtiss, a central figure in the history of aviation, to compete in the Gordon Bennett Race at Rheims, France on August 29, 1909. The aircraft proved to be superior to the other entrants in the race, a timed closed circuit flight of twenty kilometres, beating his nearest rival, Louis Bleriot, by five seconds to win the Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup and a large cash prize. Curtiss took part in several other meets and races in Europe before shipping the aircraft back to North America where it was leased to Hamilton for use in exhibition flying.

Exhibition flying took place regularly at Minoru Park Racetrack after the flights by Hamilton. In April 1911 a disappointing show was put on by Jack DePries and the Manning Brothers. Widely derided by spectators and the local press, the three day exhibition featured several minor crashes and not much actual flying by the trio, who apparently displayed little skill or experience at operating their aircraft.

In May the same year came test flights at Minoru Park of the Templeton – McMullen biplane, the first aircraft to be designed and built in Vancouver. The aircraft managed several short hops, hampered by an under-powered engine.

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Built in Vancouver by William and Winston Templeton and their cousin William McMullen, the Templeton-McMullen aircraft managed to make a few short hops during trials at Minoru Park Racetrack, but was limited by its under-powered engine. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 166 20A.

In April 1912, Billy Stark, BC’s first licensed pilot, flew at Minoru in a Curtiss biplane. During his exhibition program he carried the first aircraft passengers in British Columbia. The first was James T. Hewitt, sports editor of the Daily Province newspaper. Seated on the wing of the aircraft, which was not equipped for passengers, the plane took off from a farmer’s field near the racetrack, long enough to allow the craft to take to the air with the extra load. Hewitt described the experience as “like riding on the cowcatcher of an express locomotive”. Stark’s wife Olive became the first woman to be carried in an airplane in the province the same day.

In August of 1912 aviator and inventor James V. Martin flew his self designed aircraft at Minoru. In July of 1913 a popular aviation show, the Bennett Aviation Company came to Minoru Park. The show featured pilot John Bryant and his wife Alys McKey Bryant who would be the first woman to pilot a plane in British Columbia.

By 1914, aircraft were becoming a more familiar sight in the skies of BC and spectators were less willing to pay to see them. The beginning of World War I in July of that year limited exhibition flying as aviation took on a more serious purpose. The wartime advances in aviation technology and the need to train pilots who would be able to join the Royal Flying Corps led to the formation of flying schools in Canada, the second of which was organized in the summer of 1915 by the newly chartered Aero Club of British Columbia, and began training aviators at Minoru Park. The racetrack soon proved to be too small for flight training purposes and the operation was moved to the Milligan Farm at Terra Nova where a larger field was available. A small hangar building was erected and the flight school operated there until 1916, when it moved to Pitt Meadows.

Horse racing had been discontinued for the duration of the war at Minoru Park but aircraft continued to fly sporadically there. Once the war was over large numbers of modern aircraft and trained airmen came on the scene. The Aerial League of Canada was formed by returned airmen who had developed a love of flying and wanted to promote aviation in Canada. Branches formed around the country, including ones in Vancouver and Victoria. By the summer of 1919 a small hangar had been built and at least five aircraft were based at Minoru Park, mostly war surplus Curtiss JN-4 (Canucks). Commonly known as the Jenny, it was a plane which was the workhorse of the barnstorming era and was used to take the first steps into commercial aviation.

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This aerial view of Minoru Park Racetrack was taken during the Aerial League of Canada’s meet on May 31, 1919. Cars line the track and several planes can be seen on the ground as the BC Electric Railway’s Interurban Tram drops off spectators at the racetrack’s tram stop. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 35.

The league’s promotion of aviation raised flying in the public attention by putting on “barnstorming” demonstrations and accomplishing “firsts”. The first flight across Georgia Strait took place on May 13, 1919 when two members of the League took off from Minoru Park, landed in Victoria, had dinner at the Empress Hotel and then flew home. The Aerial League put on several displays at Minoru in 1919 featuring wing walking, aerial acrobatics and races between planes as well as races between a plane and a race car.

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Races between aircraft and horses or cars were a regular feature of aviation displays at Minoru Park. Here’s an image of driver Harry Hooper in the “Vulcan Kewpie” Stutz, accompanied by silent film star Priscilla Dean. Hooper raced an airplane piloted by Lieut. G.K. Trim at Minoru in an event hosted by the Aerial League of Canada on Dominion Day, 1919. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 69

On August 7, 1919 Ernest C. Hoy, lifted off from Minoru Park and flew into history as the first person to fly across the Rockies. The plane was fitted with an extra 12 gallon fuel tank to allow it to stay in the air for at least four hours. As navigational aids, Hoy used a pocket watch and a railway contour map and he carried 45 officially marked letters as well as a bundle of special edition “Vancouver Daily World” newspapers, making this the first Air Mail flight over the Rockies as well. Hoy landed at Vernon, Grand Forks, Cranbrook and Lethbridge where he could eat, fuel up and have his aircraft adjusted by experienced “air machine men” before making his final landing at Bowness Park in Calgary.

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Ernest C. Hoy stands beside his Curtiss “Jenny” at Minoru Park Racetrack before his historic flight across the Rockies to Calgary, August 4, 1919. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 20 3.

Another first for Minoru Park came at 11:25, October 17, 1920, when a DeHavilland DH9A touched down on the field completing the Canadian Air Board – Canadian Air Force Trans-Canada Flight. This undertaking which involved several different aircraft and pilots, started in Halifax and took 247 hours, almost twice as long as taking the train, but still an important milestone in Canadian aviation history.

Lansdowne Field – The Start of Commercial Aviation

Aviation developed rapidly through the 1920s. Sea planes became more common, not requiring large open fields for landings or takeoffs, but the Lower Mainland still had no purpose built airport for land based aircraft. The crunch came in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh refused to land at Vancouver during his North American tour following his trans-Atlantic flight, saying there was no airport worth landing at.

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This 1928 plan shows the BC Electric Railway line and the cross over to the Vancouver airport on Lulu Island. City of Richmond Archives Airport Plan 1928 ser. 25 file 3411-1.

At the same time the Dominion Airways Company was looking for a suitable place for a small airport from which to run their business. They found a field owned by a farmer named Summerfield along the north side of Lansdowne Park Racetrack. The City of Vancouver, who also wanted an airport, became interested in the property and leased it from Mr. Summerfield for use as an airfield in 1928.

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The Vancouver Airport building at Lansdowne Field, ca. 1929. With the buildings and tram wires at the east end of the runway and the poles and wires running down No.3 Road at the west end, pilots needed to take off and land as quickly as possible. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 4 52.

Lansdowne Field became British Columbia’s second licensed airport, opening officially in May 1929. While it was only intended to be a temporary facility until a permanent site could be designed and built on Sea Island, the airport became the hub of aviation in the Lower Mainland during its operation.

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Harry Smithson, Aviator and member of the  Aero Club of BC, stands next to a Dehavilland Moth at the Vancouver Airport near Lansdowne Park. In the background, the Alexandra Station of the BC Electric Railway can be seen, as well as a house which is still standing on the corner of Alexandra and Garden City Roads. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 4 49.

The field was home to several commercial aviation companies and flight schools run by the Aero Club of BC and Sprott Shaw College. In 1930, gliders were also used to teach elementary flight principles and give students practice at flight control. They were launched using an old Maxwell automobile and a four hundred foot towrope which could let them achieve an altitude of about 200 feet before cutting loose and landing at the airport.

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A primary glider is launched at the Vancouver Airport at Lansdowne. The grandstands of Lansdowne Park Racetrack can be seen in the background. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1989 19 8.

The Vancouver Airport on Lulu Island was not the ideal location for a centre of aviation, however it filled the requirements for the time it took to design and build the airport on Sea Island. None of the businesses which operated from Lansdowne Field survived the early years of the depression. Only the Aero Club of BC, subsidized by the government,  managed to make the move to the new facility.

1985 166 2

The Vancouver Airport on Lulu Island as it looked from the air. On the right, Lansdowne Park Racetrack can bee seen. Airport buildings and hangars can be seen at the east end of the runway. The track for the BC Electric Railway Tram and the intersection of Alexandra Road and North Railway Avenue (now Garden City Road) is visible at the top of the image, City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 166 2.

By 1930 construction was well underway at the new airport on Sea Island and after its opening on July 22, 1931 aviation activity ceased on Lulu Island. Since the 1930s the Vancouver Airport has grown and expanded to the large International facility it is today, owing its existence to those first flimsy craft that struggled into the air across the Middle Arm from where jumbo jets land today.

1985 166 15

An aerial view of the Vancouver Airport on Sea Island during its construction in 1931 shows a small development on a rural landscape. The airport has expanded occupy almost all of the land on the island. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1985 166 15.