What’s in a Name – Lulu Island

The City of Richmond is an island city, built on islands formed over millennia by the action of the Fraser River. The largest of these islands is Lulu Island, home to the great majority of the city’s population, farmland and industry. Even though it has been part of the Corporation of the Township of Richmond since 1879, people who were born and raised on the island will tell you that they are from Lulu Island, not Richmond, the name appearing on birth certificates, in telephone books up into the 1960s, in business names and even as an official mailing address through the 1950s. Where did this likeable if somewhat whimsical name come from?

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This map was sent by Col. Moody to BC Governor James Douglas and was dated June 29, 1860. It shows trails that were existing at the time, trails that were under construction and trails and roads that Moody recommended be built. It also shows the names of Lulu and Sea Islands, added at a later date in different handwriting. (City of Richmond Archives digital files)

The person responsible for naming Lulu Island, and many other features of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, was Colonel Richard Clement Moody, a pivotal figure in the history of British Columbia. Moody was made the Commander of the British Columbia detachment of the Royal Engineers in 1858 and was sworn in as the Chief Commissioner of Land and Works and Lieutenant-Governor of the Crown Colony of British Columbia in 1859. Under his command the Royal Engineers located and surveyed defendable town sites, surveyed country lands, built roads,  examined harbours, and reported on mineral deposits, fisheries and other resources. Although police work was not part of the detachment’s mandate, they also took on the task of ensuring that the rule of law was upheld in the fledgling colony.

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Colonel Richard Clement Moody, Royal Engineers, one of the most influential people in early BC history. (BC Archives photo A-01722)

Moody selected New Westminster as the site of the Colony’s capitol, mostly due to its strategic location on the north bank of the river, defendable from an attack from the United States and able to be resupplied from Burrard Inlet through North Road, which was also built by the Engineers. By 1858 the New Westminster town site had been cleared and the streets were not even finished being laid out before town lots were being sold. No frontier town would be complete if some enterprising individual did not open a saloon, and so Mr. J.T. Scott opened the Pioneer Saloon in New Westminster, to which he soon built an addition “in the shape of an extended wooden shack” and called it the Pioneer Theatre. Into this rough frontier town in 1860 came the Potter Dramatic Troupe, who were dropped off on Burrard Inlet and had to walk to New Westminster along the trail which would become North Road, carrying all their costumes and set materials with them. The company’s leader, John S. Potter, was a well-known figure in early American theatre, having opened theatres and managed dramatic companies in virtually every corner of the United States. From 1855 to 1865 he operated in the Northwest, from California to British Columbia, and from October 1860 to May 1863 he was the most important figure in theatre in Victoria.

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Moody’s capital, New Westminster, ca. 1864. A frontier town on the river. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1977 2 25)

 

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Travelling theatre troupes often had to operate on a shoestring budget. Potter was held in custody in Victoria for an unpaid bill of $250 he left in Sacramento. A benefit performance for the relief of his debt was held, featuring members of the Stark Theatrical Troupe as well as members of his own company, including Lulu Sweet, and her mother and father. (The British Colonist, Feb 11, 1861)

Travelling theatrical troupes in the frontier lived a rigorous and hazardous existence. They performed in some of the most primitive theatres one can imagine, in front of audiences consisting of pioneers who were starved for entertainment, often well lubricated at the saloon to which the theatre was often attached. The troupes lived temporarily in boarding houses and cheap hotels, often had to eat poor food and were subjected to the social prejudice that was associated with theatrical people, especially actresses, during that time period. Travel was usually difficult, time consuming, and all the equipment for the shows had to be carried with them, leading to standardization of sets and costumes. A company would carry several sets, painted on canvas, such as a landscape, a fancy interior, a plain interior or a street scene. Costumes would also be adapted to serve for many roles with little attention to historical accuracy. Even the actors would play stereotypical characters for which they had developed a talent for portraying, regardless of the age or gender of the person.

Potter’s troupe played in the Pacific Coast States and Washington Territory, appearing in Vancouver Washington, Portland Oregon and many small California towns. They also performed in theatres in San Francisco and in 1860 made the sea voyage to Victoria, where the troupe boasted about “Being composed of Fifteen Ladies and Gentlemen of acknowledged talent and respectability, they are enabled to present a better series of legitimate entertainments than ever yet attempted in this city.”

The star of Potter’s troupe was young Lulu Sweet, “The Beautiful Juvenile Actress, Songstress and Danseuse.” Lulu, who was born around 1844, was accompanied in her travels with the troupe by her mother, Mrs. E. Sweet who was also an actress, and her father, Dr. John D. Sweet, a physician. Starting around age 12 Lulu was a child actress in the San Francisco Theatre circuit, performing with a company of 27 “juvenile comedians.” She had joined the Potter troupe by 1860, traveling to the western states with them and then to Victoria, where they performed to good reviews for several weeks before taking the trip to New Westminster for a three week engagement. Music for the production was taken care of by the Royal Engineers Band and performances were attended by all the local dignitaries, including Colonel Moody, who was apparently quite a fan of Miss Sweet’s.

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Lulu Sweet, ca. 1865, actress, singer and dancer who gave her name to Lulu Island. (City of Richmond Archives photo RCF 21)

The Potter Troupe played in Victoria and made three trips to New Westminster during their stay in the colonies. It was on the trip back to Victoria on the steamer Otter in January 1861 that Lulu Sweet asked Colonel Moody the name of the large island they were passing. He told her that it had no name and then exclaimed that he would name it after her, and Lulu Island it has been ever since. It appears that Moody had second thoughts about the name he had chosen. A map he sent to the Colonial Office that same year had the name “Lulu” overwritten with the name “Palmer”, most likely hoping to rename the island after one of his officers, Lieutenant Henry Spencer Palmer but Lulu Island it remained.

 

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This photo of Lulu Sweet was taken in 1863 at a studio beside Maguires Opera House in San Francisco, a theatre in which she performed for many years. She never returned to BC after leaving Victoria, and never set foot on the Island that was named for her. (Image from the City of Richmond Biography Files)

Lulu Sweet and the Potter Dramatic Troupe left the colonies in 1863 and returned to San Francisco where she continued to act, sing and dance in venues such as Maguire’s Opera House. She was a successful actress whose name shows up in many playbills and newspaper ads for theatres in San Francisco through 1865 as well as later newspaper articles about the history of theatre in San Francisco. Around that year it appears that she married a Mr. Smith, had four children, later divorcing. She lived with her daughters in Burlingame, a suburb of San Francisco until her death in 1914.

 

 

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.

Dr. R. W. Large – Medical Missionary in Steveston

The Japanese Methodist Mission was established in Steveston in 1896 to serve the needs of the Japanese fishermen of the area, offering spiritual and moral guidance as well as providing medical assistance when needed. A small building was erected on the property of the Phoenix Cannery to house the mission.

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The Methodist Japanese Mission in Steveston, ca. 1898, with several early missionaries posing on the stairs. Rev. Thomas Crosby is at top right, (with beard), Dr. R.W. Large directly in front of him. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 8)

 

Almost as soon as it was ready, an outbreak of typhoid fever made it necessary to use the building as a hospital. The hospital operated for two years with the help of volunteer Japanese nurses.

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The Methodist Japanese Mission set up as a hospital ward. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 3)

In 1898 the Canadian Methodist Church hired Dr. Richard Whitfield Large ( 1874 – 1920 ) to work at the mission during the fishing season.

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Rev. R.W. Large, MD. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 1)

Dr. Large was the son of a Methodist Minister in Ontario and graduated from Trinity Medical College in Toronto.  The photographs shown in this post were taken during his two seasons in Steveston and offer a view into the primitive conditions encountered by doctors serving the small communities on the coast of British Columbia. They were donated to the Archives by a member of his family.

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Dr. and Mrs. Large in the Doctor’s office in Steveston. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 6)

Dr. Large married Bella Geddes in 1899 and she assisted him during that season in Steveston. The next year he was appointed to take charge of the Mission in Bella Bella and worked there until 1910 when he transferred to the Mission Hospital in Port Simpson. The R.W. Large Memorial Hospital in Bella Bella was named in his memory after his death in 1920.

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Dr. Large performs the first operation in Steveston. Mrs. Large assists as the anaesthetist. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2012 3 7)

In 1900, the Japanese Fisherman’s Hospital took over the medical needs of the Japanese community in Steveston and operated until 1942 when the internment of Japanese-Canadians took place.

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The Steveston Japanese Hospital took over the medical needs of the Japanese community starting in 1900. Image ca. 1920. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 14 10)