Focus on the Record – Records of Early Land Use Regulation

The City of Richmond Archives holds records created by Council, its committees, and municipal departments involved in guiding land use in Richmond from the very earliest town planning discussions to recent zoning bylaws. Before the post World War II growth of suburban development, the local government role in guiding land use was largely carried out through building and subdivision approval. In Richmond, the first subdivision plans approval bylaw was passed in 1908. The Archives holds a variety of early subdivision plans.

Aerial view of Richmond (population 8,000) in the 1930s, before the establishment of zoning bylaws. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 154 1

Aerial view of Richmond (population 8,000) in the 1930s, before the establishment of zoning bylaws. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 154 1

After World War II the need for formal planning and building control became more pressing; land was being subdivided and buildings were being constructed at an increasing rate. In 1947, Bylaw 1071 was adopted establishing a Town Planning Commission to advise Council in carrying out the powers and provisions of the provincial “Town Planning Act” (1925).

The Archives holds the original minutes and reports of the Town Planning Commission (1948-1957), and its successor body, the Advisory Planning Commission (1958-1991).

Minutes of first meeting of Town Planning Commission

Minutes of first meeting of the Town Planning Commission. City of Richmond Archives MR402, APC1-1

 

As evidenced in the early meeting minutes, the Town Planning Commission was empowered to issue or deny building permits and to make decisions relating to permissible activities on specific properties. The Commission was assisted in its decision making by the Municipal Engineer and the Municipal Clerk.

 

With the help of the provincial government’s Regional Planning Division, a comprehensive planning tool was developed in 1949. This was the first zoning bylaw, Bylaw 1134 (1949), for the regulation of land use and building, in 7 types of districts, known as the Town Plan. The bylaw was officially described as: “A bylaw to divide the Corporation of the Township of Richmond into districts and to make regulations in relation thereto, regulating the location, use and height of buildings, size of yards and other open spaces, and the use of land, pursuant to the ‘Town Planning Act’ and the ‘Municipal Act’”.

1949 Zoning Map as Schedule A to Bylaw 1134. City of Richmond Archives Bylaws

Until 1957, when Richmond’s first Town Planner was hired, Council’s oversight of the planning process was carried out through the Town Planning Commission and outside consultants. This mechanism proved inadequate to manage growth. In 1955 consultants presented a report which became the basis for the next zoning bylaw, to replace the 1949 bylaw.

First page of Zoning Bylaw 1430 (1956), with amendment bylaw number annotations in pencil. City of Richmond  Archives Bylaws

First page of Zoning Bylaw 1430 (1956), with amendment bylaw number annotations in pencil. City of Richmond Archives Bylaws

Zoning Bylaw 1430 (1956) created 11 use classifications. With multiple amendments (over 1000), it served to guide land use control in Richmond until a new Zoning Bylaw was adopted in 1989. The new 1989 bylaw (Bylaw 5300) was established in association with Richmond’s Official Community Plan, first adopted in 1986. Bylaw 5300 was repealed with the adoption of the present Zoning Bylaw 8500 in November, 2009.

The Archives holds extensive municipal government records of planning functions carried out since the creation of the Planning Department, including those relating to community planning and zoning administration.

[Note – this is an updated version of an article first published in the Spring 2012 issue of the Archives News]

Focus on the Record – “Letters Patent”

A number of letters patent have been issued which have defined Richmond as a municipality. These letters patent have demarcated Richmond’s geographic boundaries and have specified the nature, composition, and powers of its governing Council.

“Letters patent”, as a documentary form, date back to medieval England. Initially, they were created by the monarch to be read aloud as a proclamation granting status to an entity. Letters patent were in contrast to “letters close”, which were documents from the king directed privately to particular recipients. By the late middle ages, letters patent were often written to grant petitions from citizens, a use which is still prevalent today.

“The Corporation of Richmond” was incorporated as a municipality by means of letters patent, issued on November 10, 1879, in the name of the Queen under the Public Seal of the Province, in response to a petition of residents submitted to the provincial government. In addition to defining the first geographic boundaries of the municipality, these letters patent mandated the date of the first municipal election (January 5, 1880) and the date of the first Council meeting (January 12, 1880). The contents of the letters patent were subsequently published in the British Columbia Gazette as required by statute.

1879 Letters Patent

1879 letters patent as published in the BC Gazette. City of Richmond Archives MR 300, File LP1

These first letters patent were revoked in 1885 in order to change Richmond’s boundaries. New letters patent gave the municipality all of the islands in the North Arm of the Fraser River and some islands in the South Arm, and ceded the east end of Lulu Island (Queensborough) to New Westminster. They also renamed the municipality “The Corporation of the Township of Richmond” and reduced the size of Council from seven councillors to five, in addition to a reeve.

In 1892, the second letters patent were suspended due to irregularities occurring during the conduct of the municipal election for the Council of 1892. New letters patent re-established the municipality and mandated a new election date, but were written in a manner that caused some confusion as to the municipal boundaries. An amendment was made to these letters patent in 1896 to redefine the boundaries to correspond exactly with those of the letters patent of 1885.

Top of first page of new letters patent of 1892, with 1896 annotations. City of Richmond Archives MR 300, File LP3

Supplementary letters patent were issued in 1910 which reduced the municipal limits of Richmond by extending the boundaries of the municipality of South Vancouver. In 1957, supplementary letters patent increased the number of councillors from five to six. Similarly in 1966, supplementary letters patent increased the number of councillors from six to eight.

First page of 1990 letters patent. City of Richmond Archives MR 300, File LP8

1990 marked the issuing of new letters patent reincorporating the “Corporation of the Township of Richmond” as the “City of Richmond”, an action that was celebrated as a coming of age for the municipality. In 1996, supplementary letters patent extended municipal boundaries to include Sturgeon Bank.

The holdings of the City of Richmond Archives include some of the original, sealed letters patent, along with copies of the contents of the other letters patent as published in the BC Gazette.

[Note – this is an updated version of an article first published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Archives News]

Focus on the Record – Election Records

With municipal election day nearing (Saturday, November 15, 2014), we thought it timely to provide an overview of the records in the holdings of the City of Richmond Archives relating to past elections. These records not only provide evidence of election procedures, nominations and final results, but also document the evolution of voting rights and voting systems in the municipality.

Official election results, dating back to the first municipal election in 1880, can be found in the reports of the Returning Officer/Chief Election Officer. These reports form part of the minutes of Council, and are accessible to researchers at the Archives on microfilm. The original minutes are housed in the Archives’ vault. The reports document the precise vote count for all candidates and for all referenda or plebiscites put to the electorate. It is interesting to note that although the first election for Council was carried out in January, 1880, the first actual balloting occurred with the election for Council of 1889. Prior to this date, all candidates had been elected by acclamation.

Council minutes, and various bylaws, also document the establishment of a ward system for Council representation. Initially, the municipality was divided into three wards but for the municipal election of 1891, five wards were established. All voters in the municipality could vote for Reeve (the term used before the adoption of the title “Mayor”) but those registered on the voters’ list for a specific ward or district could only vote for a councillor nominated to represent that ward. Ward 1 constituted Sea Island, Ward 2 the northwest part of Lulu Island, Ward 3 Steveston and area, Ward 4 most of the South Arm and parts of eastern Richmond, and Ward 5 eastern Richmond. The ward system was discontinued after the municipal election of 1946, when an “at-large” system was adopted for the election of councillors.

Another important group of election records at the Archives are the official voters’ lists. They provide not only detailed listings of property owners and residents in Richmond but also illustrate the evolution of the voting system and the municipal franchise. The first complete voters list at the Archives dates to 1915. It is assumed that earlier lists were lost in the fire of 1913 which destroyed the original Town Hall.

Voters List 1915 Front Cover

Front page of voter’s list, 1915. City of Richmond Archives, MR35, File VL-1915.

The 1915 list shows voters registered by ward and also contains the names of women who owned property in the municipality, demonstrating how women were given the right to vote in municipal elections prior to being granted the right to vote in federal and provincial elections.

Election Ballot - 1931 - Reeve

Election Ballot for Reeve, 1931. City of Richmond Archives, MR35, File 4501 – Election Procedure.

Election Ballot - 1931 - Councillor Ward 3

Election Ballot for Councillor, Ward 3, 1931. City of Richmond Archives, MR35, File 4501 – Election Procedure.

The voters’ lists also show how provincial legislation discriminated against the rights of First Nations people and people of South Asian, Japanese and Chinese ethnicity. The names of property owners of South Asian descent first appear on the voters list of 1948, following changes to provincial statute in 1947 giving them the right to vote in municipal elections. The names of First Nations, Japanese-Canadian, and Chinese-Canadian property owners do not appear on the voters list until 1949, again following changes in provincial legislation in 1948 granting them the municipal franchise.

Voters’ lists for municipal elections of 1915 through 1985 are available to researchers at the Archives. Other election records available include extensive election files, including the records of the Court of Revision, all of which document the procedures carried out by municipal officers to ensure the validity of the election process.

Ted Youngberg and Election Staff 1965

Municipal Clerk Ted Youngberg with election staff, Elaine Smith, Bill Lane and Bev Harper, 1965. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1986 16 4.

[Note – this is an updated version of an article first published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Archives News]