Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Vancouver Review: The Archeology of Metrotown

The Age Of Flags
. . .Then everything started to fall apart. The militia was sent to Steveston to put down a fishermen’s insurrection. There were cavalry charges against the strikers at Fraser Mills. From the villages of Jubilee, McKay and the rest, 1,200 men set off to fight for Empire, and while they were in Europe poverty moved like a night fog through the streets. There was a general strike in Vancouver, a general strike in Winnipeg, and an uprising of railroad crews that made the countryside from Hope to Kamloops a workers’ republic.

Out of the smoke and ash arose the young Socialist Party orator William Pritchard. He’d been jailed for seditious conspiracy in 1919, but you could still find him signing up members at the old Federated Labour Party Hall, at Jubilee, in 1927. The hall burned down in 1935, so a new one was built that year, and that new hall was the mysterious building at the top of my street when I was a kid. It’s still there, right by Synergy Computers. It’s the Elks Lodge at 6884 Jubilee Avenue, for the Burnaby Elks Royal Purple # 260 and South Burnaby Elks # 497. The Burnaby Floral Arts Society meets there the second Monday of every month.

Another of the buildings from that lost city, the warehouse on Telford with the CG Co-op sign, has also survived. It’s now the Burnaby Store-All. The sign above the loading dock is gone, and the letters, CG, occur only in the cartography of memory and archival records. They stand for the Army of the Common Good, which set out to build a new economy from the ashes of capitalism, which collapsed, thoroughly and utterly, in 1929.

The Army’s soldiers toiled in their common fields, raised hundreds of tons of produce, and logged Burnaby Mountain and built furniture. They arose from the overflowing ranks of the destitute of Burnaby’s Ward 6, which is now Metrotown. They even printed their own money. Their notes were called labour units, but most people called them lulus.

Times got harder. Window-smashings were attributed to “red elements,” almost a third of Burnaby’s residents were on the dole, and close to half the landowners were unable to pay their taxes. The people started marching on Burnaby’s municipal hall on Kingsway, down by Edmonds, and they all sang The Red Flag. Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, they sang, we’ll keep the red flag flying here.

By then, Pritchard was the mayor. He put the jobless to work. He paid them well, from municipal funds and credit and loans, and they built the great north-south thoroughfares of Willingdon and Sperling and Cariboo Road. On it went like this, then the money ran out. Years later, after everything that had happened, after the provincial government took Burnaby’s municipal charter away and imposed direct rule, Pritchard accounted for himself by saying:

I would do the same thing again. I had neighbours, and I could see their children’s faces becoming more drawn.

But the world moved on. The Digney family built the Oak Theatre in 1937, and in 1938, the Ford Assembly Plant arose from the land the settlers lost because they couldn’t pay their taxes. Then there was another war in Europe, and the vines engulfed the tumuli once again.
That's from my cover essay in the current issue of Vancouver Review, now on newstands, and not on-line, so go out and look for one and if your bookstore doesn't sell the magazine tell them they should. Here's some places where you can pick it up.
This issue look especially great, with a new look, all jazzy like. My pal Grant Buday has a hilarious take on short-dictator syndrome, featuring Kim "Well Madame Choi What Do You Think Of My Physique?" Jong-Il. Mette "Not That Kind Of Girl" Bach has a tremendous piece on the weird landscape of memory and sunken bulldozers and peat forest in Burns Bog. George Bowering, famous poet and literary bigshot, has a peculiar work of fiction in it titled A Night Downtown. Plus there's Lyle Neff and Paul Delaney and Tim Carlson and Gudrun Will and John Moore and others.
Better yet, buy a sub.


Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

Hey, that intro is pretty damned good. I'll grab a copy.

You don't hear much about local left-wing history, or I don't. Where did you pick this stuff up? Interviews? Archives?

4:05 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

Actually it's not the intro. It's from the third "chapter."

One indeed does not hear much about local working class history, or any local history for that matter (all real history is local, no?).

In blogland, try Keefer's Vantopia index at

There are a couple of good general interest local histories of Burnaby, but my piece was all patched together from archival material, old newspaper articles, zoning and preemption maps, some interviews, archeological site reports, my own memory of stories from the auld fellas of the neighbourhood, and Bettina Bradbury's work (SFU master's thesis etc), all guided by the able and generous hand of the wonderful Jim Wolf (a writer himself) from Burnaby's planning department.

4:48 PM  

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