Nelson and Hamilton Street, looking northwest

This image was taken around 1912, inside Recreation Park, a sports facility that occupied a full city block between Homer and Hamilton, Smithe and Nelson. Because the 1912 insurance map shows the ‘Grand Stand’ was at Smithe and Homer, the photographer, (W.J. Cairns, Ltd), must have been on the touchline on the opposite corner, looking northwest towards Homer.

The picture shows a field lacrosse game between rivals Vancouver and the New Westminster Salmonbellies. The Vancouver club was run by Con Jones, and their home pitch was in Con Jones Park (later Callister Park – where the PNE Grounds are today). The picture was taken around 1912, so there’s a chance Vancouver are winning. The Salmonbellies had a fabulous run in the early 1900s, becoming Provincial Champions every year up to 1908 before travelling to Montreal that year to take The Minto Cup, defeating the more established eastern teams for the first time. They had a lull for a few years, before winning The Mann Cup for the first time in 1915, and in 23 other years since. The club still exists, and still play in Queen’s Park, but no longer attract the home crowds of 11,000, many travelling on adapted open freight wagons through the forest from Vancouver to watch the games.

Vancouver’s Recreation Park was operated by a private company, and was home to other activities besides sports. Built in 1905 by Layfield and Williams, it was also the home of Vancouver’s Northwestern League baseball teams. The grandstand seated 6,500 and the grounds were built on a former cow pasture owned by the CPR. The opening baseball game saw Vancouver Veterans beat Victoria Legislators 4-2, with 3,500 paying the 25c admission.

For several years the park became the temporary home to the Greater Norris and Rowe Circus. The circus travelled using the railways, growing from 3 cars in 1901 to 20 in 1909. The touring schedule was brutal. They spent the winter in Santa Cruz, in California and then worked a different city six days on, Sunday off, from March to early December. They visited pretty much every medium and large city in western Canada and the western and central United States, and Mexico. They visited Vancouver for a day in June 1906 (having previously been in Seattle, Sedro Wooley and then New Westminster) and were in Kamloops the next day. They would pack up the show after the evening performance, travel overnight, stage a grand parade of the animals and performers next morning, and then perform an afternoon and evening show, and repeat that all over again.

In 1907 they went to Bellingham from Seattle, then Blaine, and on to Vancouver before heading to Saskatchewan. In 1908 there was the luxury of playing Sedro Wooley, them New Westminster on a Saturday, a day off on Sunday, then two nights in Vancouver, before heading back into the US to Bellingham and Everett. In 1909 they played 2 nights again, in May. They didn’t visit in 1910 – early on in the tour, in Kentucky, “Bad weather, poor business, salaries and debts unpaid” saw the closure of the circus.  We don’t know when this picture of the elephants was taken, but it was during one of the later visits because the circus only had three elephants in 1906.

There were a few other events in the park; a ceremony following the death of the King in 1910 and a celebration on the coronation of King George the following year.

The area immediately to the south had been released for development in 1909, and rapidly built out into the warehouse district of Yaletown. In 1912 CPR decided not to renew the stadium lease, and it was rebuilt at Athletic Park at 5th and Hemlock in 1913, on another piece of CPR property. Timing to sell off the newly available land was terrible. The economy collapsed, then the war started. Much of the site remained undeveloped until 1937. Storage warehouses were eventually built, but most had no heritage value and in the early 2000s most of the site was redeveloped as Yaletown Park, a three tower condo project. Some of the density was allowed to build taller (more valuable) towers, leaving a part of the site as a public park. Because there’s underground parking, the landscaping consists of trees within raised bubbles of granite pavers, leaving a hard undulating design with limited use. Rumours of a redesign to a more user-friendly space have yet to come true.

Image sources City of Vancouver Archives CVA 371-608 and CVA 677-1019

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Posted 30 August 2021 by ChangingCity in Uncategorized

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