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.

 

 

What’s in a Name – Minoru Park

An oasis in Richmond’s City Centre, Minoru Park is home to a wide range of recreational and cultural facilities. Areas set up for a variety of field sports, a walking and running track, ice rinks and swimming pools, as well as museums, a library, archives, spaces for arts and crafts, senior’s facilities, etc. make the park a popular and well used part of life in our city. With the Japanese origin of the name Minoru, one might think that it connects to Richmond’s history of Japanese immigration, but in fact, the name comes to us from across the Atlantic Ocean.

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The Eida Family, clockwise from left, Tassa, Charlie, Claire, Kaiji and Minoru. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2009 23)

Between 1906 and 1910, Colonel William Hall Walker, a wealthy Scotsman, was having a Japanese garden built at his estate, the Tully Stud near Kildare in Ireland. The gardens were laid out and built by Japanese master gardener Tassa Eida, who did such a magnificent job that the gardens remain a popular tourist attraction today. A successful breeder of race horses, Walker named one of his colts Minoru after the son of his gardener. In 1907, Col. Walker leased a half-dozen yearlings to King Edward VII, including Minoru.

The horse Minoru had a profitable career in the King’s colours, winning at Epsom as a two-year-old and, ridden by jockey Bertie Jones, winning the Greenham Stakes and the 2000 Guineas as a three-year-old. His greatest triumph was in winning the 1909 Epsom Derby for the King, the first time a reigning monarch had won the coveted prize. The horse came in fourth at the Doncaster St.Leger Stakes, missing a chance to win the British Triple Crown. Two more wins that year finished his year with five wins in seven starts.

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King Edward VII (R) with Minoru after winning the Epsom Derby in 1909. Bertie Jones is the jockey. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2014 26 1)

In Richmond in 1909 a group of businessmen, Messrs. H. & T. Springer, Suckling, Lewis and Marpole, were building the Township’s first thoroughbred horseracing track on land they had purchased from Samuel Brighouse. In 90 days a mile-long oval, a grandstand, a clubhouse and a mile of barns were built at a cost of $75,000. In choosing a name for the track, they settled on the name of the horse that had just won the Derby for the King and Minoru Park Racetrack was born. Opening day at Minoru Park was attended by 7000 race fans.

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The Minoru Park Racetrack grandstand and clubhouse in 1909. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2001 9 24)

The track was used for many events in addition to horse racing. Minoru Park was used as a landing strip for aircraft, and was the location of the first flight by an airplane in Western Canada on March 25, 1910, the starting point for the first flight across the Rocky Mountains and the venue for air shows hosted by the Aerial League of Canada.

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On March 25, 1910 Mr. Charles K. Hamilton made the first aircraft flight in Western Canada, taking off in front of 3500 spectators at Minoru Racetrack. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 15 18)

Automobile racing exhibitions were also held at the track, hosting well-known drivers like Barney Oldfield, Bob Burman and “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff and cars like the famous “Blitzen Benz” and the “Romano Special”. Polo matches were held in the middle of the track, temporary boxing rings were set up for fans of the pugilistic arts and community events, such as May Day celebrations, were held there as well.

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Racing driver Harry Hooper in the “Vulcan Kewpie” Stutz, accompanied by silent film star Priscilla Dean, raced against an airplane piloted by Lieut. G.K. Trim at Minoru in an event hosted by the Aerial League of Canada on Dominion Day, 1919. The event included lots of aerial stunts and wing walking. A house was erected in the middle of the track so it could be blown up by bombs dropped from aircraft, but exploded on its own, much to the amusement of the crowd. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 69)

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Minoru Park closed until 1920 when it reopened and was renamed Brighouse Park. Brighouse Park Racetrack operated until 1941 when it closed for racing permanently, although it continued to be used as a training and boarding facility. The land was purchased by the British Columbia Turf and Country Club in 1945 and in 1958 the Municipality of Richmond purchased the property. The park reclaimed the name Minoru in 1960 to honour the long history of horse racing at the site. In 1962 the Mayor and Council purchased the Brighouse Estate, allowing the park to expand to its present size and develop into today’s complex of recreational parkland, buildings and services, a complex which is presently being upgraded with the construction of a new aquatic centre, sports facility and seniors facility.

This 1951 aerial view over the intersection of Granville Avenue and No.3 Road shows Brighouse (Minoru) Racetrack while under the ownership of the BC Turf and Country Club. Richmond Municipal Hall is on the corner in the same location as City Hall Today. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 5)

This 1951 aerial view over the intersection of Granville Avenue and No.3 Road shows Brighouse (Minoru) Racetrack while under the ownership of the BC Turf and Country Club. Richmond Municipal Hall is on the corner in the same location as City Hall Today. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 5)

Minoru the racehorse was retired to the Tully Stud in 1910 and in 1913 was sold to a Russian stud farm. The horse’s history after that is lost in the chaos of the Russian Revolution, although stories are told of Minoru being shot by an English officer to prevent him being abused by the Bolsheviks, or of a possible escape across Ukraine and Russia to the Black Sea and by ship to Turkey.

A print of Minoru from Vanity Fair, 1909. (City of Richmond Archives accession 2009 23)

A print of Minoru from Vanity Fair, 1909. (City of Richmond Archives accession 2009 23)

In 2009, in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the opening of Minoru Park, a bronze statue of Minoru was unveiled near the Richmond Cultural Centre. Created by artist Sergei Traschenko and donated to the City of Richmond by the Mila & Maureen Ilich Foundation, the statue was dedicated to the winning spirit of Richmond’s early pioneers of both Eastern and Western cultures and the men and women of the early thoroughbred racing industry in Richmond. The unveiling event was attended by many citizens and dignitaries, including Brian Eida, the son of Minoru (Jack) Eida who gave his name to a horse, which gave its name to a racetrack, which gave its name to a park.

The bronze statue of Minoru in Minoru Park. (City of Richmond Archives photograph)

The bronze statue of Minoru in Minoru Park. (City of Richmond Archives photograph)