This week in history, 1940: Alan Morley explores Vancouver romance

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Alan Morley produced one of the most popular series in Vancouver Sun history, The Romance of Vancouver.

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Alan Morley had a knack for getting under people’s skin.

But he seemed to revel in it. The first signing I can find for him was on January 16, 1934, when he replaced Vancouver Sun featured columnist Bob Bouchette.

“Nothing gets a columnist fired faster than not producing half a dozen letters to the editor of ‘Indignant Subscriber’ every day,” he wrote.

Then he started ransacking the women of Vancouver.

“Mention originality to a girl in Vancouver and she wouldn’t know what it means,” he wrote. “Every brunette like all the other brunettes. Every blonde like all other blondes. Hats the same. Similar nails. Dresses limited to two or three standard varieties.

Understandably, this prompted a scathing retort from Sun’s Women columnist Mamie Maloney, who gave her a “big raspberry” for her opinions. What Morley undoubtedly liked.

But he wasn’t always so upsetting. In 1940, he produced one of the most popular series in Vancouver Sun history, The Romance of Vancouver.

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It ran daily from April 8 to September 7, 1940 and explored the beginnings of the city’s history, from the opening of Gassy Jack Deighton’s Saloon in Gastown in 1867 to Vancouver’s “proud record” in matters of service during the First World War.

It was a popular story, not an academic one. A good example was the column of June 12, 1940, which dealt with the Canadian Pacific Railway announcing that it would build its terminus at Gastown, not Port Moody, in 1885.

Before the CPR made its announcement, there had been a lot of maneuvering between towns and speculators on the terminus.

1961 photo by Vancouver Sun reporter Alan Morley.
1961 photo by Vancouver Sun reporter Alan Morley. Vancouver Sun

Morley recounts how the Victoria Colonist posted a reporter in Port Moody, “ostensibly to interview newcomers, in fact to assure all comers that there is no place on the creek like ‘Vancouver’ (a technical truth, since it is still officially Granville) and that even if there were, it would not matter, and that naturally and of course beyond the adventure, Port Moody is the terminus of the CPR and will remain so.

“In this,” writes Morley, “we observe the fine Italian hand of Amor De Cosmos.

It would be the former William Smith, who changed his name to Amor De Cosmos in California because he thought it meant “lover of the universe”. (Amor is Latin, de is French, Cosmos is Greek, so why Morley said he had a good Italian hand is a guess.)

De Cosmos had founded the Colonist in Victoria in 1858 before turning to politics and becoming the second premier of British Columbia in 1872. Morley suggests that De Cosmos thought the speculators in Victoria had invested in Port Moody, that’s why he supported him against Vancouver. But the investors were “almost exclusively New Westminster residents, and the howls of anguish are mostly confined to the banks of the Fraser River.”

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Sun artist Fraser Wilson illustrated the column with a depiction of Port Moody speculators experiencing a “frightening shock” on the news of the terminal and drowning their grief in a bar.

Today Wilson is known for an incredible mural of social realism he produced of British Columbia’s resource industries and the Vancouver waterfront in 1947, which is now located in the Maritime Labor Center. But in the 1930s-1940s he made huge illustrations resembling woodblock prints at The Sun, including art from the entire Romance of Vancouver series. They look like something from the great underground cartoonist of 60s comics, R. Crumbs.

Morley packed several stories in each column, which were typically over 1,000 words long. In this case, he spoke of the legendary rescuer Joe Fortes, “libel, libel and outright name calling” among the pioneer press, and how the first “direct train” to arrive at Port Moody on November 7, 1885 was driven by Robert Mee.

Unfortunately for Mee, he suffered “a historic drift” because he drove a freight train – people generally attribute the merit of the first arrival to a passenger train which happened on July 4, 1886, almost eight months later.

Morley had a 40-year career with 22 newspapers across Canada. In 1961 he wrote a popular story, Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis, which told many of the stories from The Romance of Vancouver. He died of cancer at Lion’s Gate Hospital on October 6, 1982.

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1940 Vancouver Sun poster featuring Alan Morley's historical chronicle The Romance of Vancouver.  Fraser Wilson's illustration shows Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvez
1940 Vancouver Sun poster featuring Alan Morley’s historical chronicle The Romance of Vancouver. Fraser Wilson’s illustration shows Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvez “discovering” Vancouver in 1791. It would have been a streetcar poster – it probably survived because someone used it as insulation in the walls or ceiling of a house. Photo by Steve Bosch /Vancouver Sun
An illustration by Fraser Wilson for The Romance of Vancouver, a 1940 historical chronicle by Alan Morley in The Vancouver Sun.  This one dates from May 18, 1940 and shows the Navvy Jack House in West Vancouver, the oldest building still standing on the North Shore.  But it's called Sheba's Breasts, which was one of the first nicknames of the North Shore Lions.
An illustration by Fraser Wilson for The Romance of Vancouver, a 1940 historical chronicle by Alan Morley in The Vancouver Sun. This one dates from May 18, 1940 and shows the Navvy Jack House in West Vancouver, the oldest building still standing on the North Shore. But it’s called Sheba’s Breasts, which was one of the first nicknames of the North Shore Lions.
This Fraser Wilson illustration was the premiere of the Romance of Vancouver series on April 8, 1940 and shows Gassy Jack Deighton opening his bar in Gastown.
This Fraser Wilson illustration was the premiere of the Romance of Vancouver series on April 8, 1940 and shows Gassy Jack Deighton opening his bar in Gastown.
This dates from May 28, 1940 and shows a
This one dates from May 28, 1940 and shows a “tame bear” belonging to the first owner of the Gastown store, George Black, standing out as it was transported aboard the SS Beaver.
This illustration by Fraser Wilson is dated June 12, 1940 and shows William Van Horne of the Canadian Pacific Railway negotiating with BC Premier William Smithe over land grants CP would receive in what has become the city of Vancouver.
This illustration by Fraser Wilson is dated June 12, 1940 and shows William Van Horne of the Canadian Pacific Railway negotiating with BC Premier William Smithe over land grants CP would receive in what has become the city of Vancouver.
This illustration by Fraser Wilson is dated June 14, 1940 and shows early logging in the downtown peninsula.
This illustration by Fraser Wilson is dated June 14, 1940 and shows early logging in the downtown peninsula.
Fraser Wilson's mural at the Maritime Labor Center in Vancouver, BC on February 18, 2015 (Staff photo by Steve Bosch / PNG)
Fraser Wilson’s mural at the Maritime Labor Center in Vancouver, BC on February 18, 2015 (Staff photo by Steve Bosch / PNG) Photo by Steve Bosch /Vancouver Sun
January 22, 1988. Artist Fraser Wilson poses in front of his monumental mural of British Columbia's primary industries when it was installed at the Maritime Labor Center in 1988. The mural was painted in a former union hall in 1947 and then taken down and reinstalled.  Peter Battistoni / Vancouver Sun.
January 22, 1988. Artist Fraser Wilson poses in front of his monumental mural of British Columbia’s primary industries when it was installed at the Maritime Labor Center in 1988. The mural was painted in a former union hall in 1947 and then taken down and reinstalled. Peter Battistoni / Vancouver Sun. PNG
Alan Morley obituary in the Vancouver Sun for October 7, 1982.
Alan Morley obituary in the Vancouver Sun for October 7, 1982.

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