The Skookum Slide – A Slippery Slope into Childhood Memory

Few communities can lay claim to having a large amusement park attraction in their downtown core, but from 1969 to 1973, Richmond could. The Skookum Slide was only in existence for a few years, but is remembered fondly by those who grew up here in that time, despite tales of the occasional bruise or broken bone.

This image, looking south east toward No.3 Road in 1973, shows the Skookum Slide on the right, the back of the Richmond Savings Credit Union in the centre and Wosk's Furniture on the left. The red roof of the Dairy Queen can be seen above the Credit Union. City of Richmond Archives photo 2008 39 2 34.

This image, looking south east toward No.3 Road in 1973, shows the Skookum Slide on the right, the back of the Richmond Savings Credit Union in the centre and Wosk’s Furniture on the left. The red roof of the Dairy Queen can be seen above the Credit Union. City of Richmond Archives photo 2008 39 2 34.

John B. Stokes, President of Super Slide Limited of Vancouver, met with the Director of Planning for the Township of Richmond in late August 1968 and presented his proposal for this new recreational facility. Slides of this type had been operated for several years in California and across the southern United States, but they had not been adapted for the conditions to be found in more northern climates. The Richmond Slide was to be the first in North America fitted with a permanent roof.

Market research indicated that a population of 100,000 was needed to support the operation of the slide. Richmond’s population was only about 55,000, but the company felt that the township’s easy access from South-west Vancouver by car would provide more than enough business to make it profitable.

Tickets for the Skookum Slide.

Tickets for the Skookum Slide. Image submitted to the Friends of the Richmond Archives Facebook page.

Ride prices would be set at one ride for 10 cents, three rides for 25 cents, eight rides for 50 cents and twenty rides for $1.00. Having general approval from the Planning Department, the company, which had changed its name to Skookum Slide Ltd., proceeded to search for a building location in the No.3 Road and Westminster Highway area.

A letter from Skookum Slide President John B. Stokes. City of Richmond Archives MR SE 92 SS7, file 43.

A letter from Skookum Slide President John B. Stokes. City of Richmond Archives MR SE 92 SS7, file 43.

They were wanting to lease a property for at least ten years, but ended up sub-leasing parts of lots from the Richmond Savings Credit Union and the Dairy Queen, a lease which would run out on August 31, 1973.

A plan showing the proposed location for the slide on property sub-leased from the Credit Union and Dairy Queen. City of Richmond Archives accession 5337 43.

A plan showing the proposed location for the slide on property sub-leased from the Credit Union and Dairy Queen. City of Richmond Archives MR SE 92 SS 7, file 43.

Construction of the slide was underway by January 1969 with an opening planned for March 1st.

A clipping from the Richmond Review, January 8, 1969.

A clipping from the Richmond Review, January 8, 1969.

The operation of the slide was very simple, with no moving parts other than the customers, consisting of “boys and girls from 6 to 16 years of age” according to marketing information. Patrons would climb the stairs and ramps to the top of the slide, buy their tickets, be issued a burlap sack to sit on and ride the slide’s three “loops” to the bottom while music played at high volume over the sound system. Once the slide tickets ran out, the Dairy Queen was only steps away to enjoy a dipped cone or a banana split until Mom and Dad finished shopping at the nearby shopping centres.

Plan of the Skookum Slide. City of Richmond Archives PL 248 COM 5.

The lease ran out in September 1973 and plans for expansion of the Credit Union and Richmond Square Shopping Centre settled any possibility of extending the slide’s lease. The operation was shut down and the slide removed, leaving some extra parking spaces at the Credit Union and a few nostalgic memories in the minds of those who grew up in Richmond in the early 1970s.

Looking north toward the Skookum Slide from Richmond Square. City of Richmond Archives photo 2008 39 2 246.

Looking north toward the Skookum Slide from Richmond Square, 1973. City of Richmond Archives photo 2008 39 2 246.

Japanese Canadians on Sea Island

Cannery workers and their families at Vancouver Cannery, Sea Island, on the occasion of the visit by the Japanese Consul, 1912

Cannery workers and their families at Vancouver Cannery, Sea Island, on the occasion of the visit by the Japanese Consul and his wife, 1912. City of Richmond Archives Photograph RCF 185

Many people are surprised to learn of the significant presence of Japanese Canadians on Sea Island prior to World War II.

Vancouver and Acme (top) Canneries on Sea Island, ca. 1932.  City of Richmond Archives Don Gordon collection

Acme Cannery (top) and Vancouver Cannery (bottom) on Sea Island, ca. 1932. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 166 10

 

Beginning in the early years of the last century, a number of Japanese moved to Richmond to work as fishermen and cannery workers for Vancouver Cannery and Acme Cannery, both located on the southwest corner of Sea Island.

 

List of families in cannery-owned housing, 1936. City of Richmond Archives MR 6, File 603-3

List of families in cannery-owned housing, 1936. City of Richmond Archives MR 6, File 603-3

 

 

The majority of the workers and their families lived in company-owned housing in close proximity to the canneries themselves.

The houses were built on both sides of the dyke running through the cannery properties.

A school, the Sea Island Japanese School, was established at Vancouver Cannery for the sons and daughters of workers of both canneries.

Sea Island Japanese School, Div. 2, 1929.  City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 39 65

Sea Island Japanese School, Div. 2, 1929. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 39 65

Sea Island Hurricanes, ca. 1938. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2004 2 1

Sea Island Hurricanes, ca. 1938. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2004 2 1

 

A sense of identity and a spirit of cooperation and self-sufficiency developed. Sports teams like the Sea Island Hurricanes (aka North Arm Hurricanes) played against lacrosse teams from Steveston and other communities, while groups like the Sea Island Young People’s Society organized a variety of social activities.

Sea Island Young People's Society on New Year's Day, 1939. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2013 8 1

Sea Island Young People’s Society on New Year’s Day, 1939. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2013 8 1

World War II, however, marked the end of the community on Sea Island, with the evacuation of Japanese Canadians in 1942 to camps in the interior of BC or to farms in Alberta.

The canneries were closed and the cannery-owned housing was destroyed.

The burning of cannery-owned houses at Acme Cannery. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2000 15 2

The burning of Japanese-Canadian houses at Acme Cannery. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2000 15 2

When Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to the BC coast in 1949, a number of former Sea Island residents made their way back to Richmond and settled in the Steveston area, where they resumed work in the fishing industry.

Cover of Program for the 1983 Reunion. City of Richmond Archives Accession 2014 4

Program for the 1983 Reunion. City of Richmond Archives Accession 2014 4

 

In 1983, a reunion was held for former Japanese-Canadian residents of Sea Island, as well as for those who had lived and worked at nearby Terra Nova and Celtic Canneries. The success of the celebration demonstrated how the spirit of community developed in the pre-war years had never been lost.

“Never on Sunday” – the Holiday Shopping Referendum

Never on Sunday front page

Election brochure. City of Richmond Archives, MR 35, File 4569 (1981)

Many people today are surprised to learn that prior to 1981, most stores in Richmond were prohibited from opening on Sundays and holidays.  Provincial legislation, namely the Holiday Shopping Regulation Act, was enacted in 1980, and provided a means by which an individual municipality could ask its citizens whether they wished to remove restrictions on Sunday and holiday shopping.

As a result, Richmond Municipal Council decided to add to the November 21, 1981 municipal election ballot the following referendum question:

“Are you in favour of Richmond By-law No. 4016 which in summary would permit all retail businesses to carry on business on a Sunday and any other holiday as defined by the ‘Holiday Shopping Regulations Act’?”

Two groups emerged in the community to promote each side of the referendum question, a question that was being asked on a number of municipal election ballots throughout the province.

Back page of election brochure. City of Richmond Archives, SE 35, File 4569 (1981)

Back page of brochure. City of Richmond Archives, MR 35, File 4569 (1981)

The “Committee Opposed to Sunday and Holiday Shopping” was formed as an unusual alliance of church groups, labour unions, major retail stores, and women’s groups.  Using the slogans “Never on Sunday” and the “Price of Convenience”, the committee urged that Sunday should be “a day of rest” for church goers and workers, the latter comprised of a large number of women who worked as retail store clerks.  The Committee warned that if shopping was allowed, “Sundays and holidays would soon become another rat race like any other day of the week, with traffic jams, noise, congestion and frustration for everyone.”

On the other side, some larger, newly-established stores along with a wide-range of citizens argued for the right to shop on Sunday, listing various benefits including convenience, emergency needs, rights of consumers, and promotion of local shopping rather than cross-border shopping or shopping in municipalities which had already adopted Sunday and holiday shopping bylaws.

Lumberland Brochure

Election advertising. City of Richmond Archives, MR 35, File 4569 (1981)

By a margin of 14,434 “Yes” votes to 8,265 “No” votes, Bylaw 4016 received the assent of electors and was adopted by Council on November 23, 1981.  Retail shopping on Sundays and holidays was here to stay.

Bylaw 4016 as adopted. City of Richmond Archives Bylaws

Bylaw 4016 as adopted. City of Richmond Archives Bylaws