Man in the Moon Visits Vancouver, 1977

Posted by Daniel on Sep 30, 2009

To honour the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk, here is a reminiscence by retired public relations man, Tom Butler, now living on Prince Edward Island:

The futuristic saucer-shaped revolving restaurant and observation deck that soars halfway to the moon in the night sky over Vancouver was opened by a man who went all the way.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the lunar surface—on Sunday, July 20, 1969—was the perfect choice to christen the Harbour House Restaurant atop what was then the Sears Tower, and is now known as Harbour Centre where SFU has its downtown campus.

Opening ceremonies with then-Mayor Jack Volrich and the project’s German owners were held at 10:01 a.m.—eight years, 22 days, 14 hours and five minutes after Armstrong stepped his left boot onto the moon and electrified a world-wide television audience with a message from space that will live forever in the annals of exploration: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

From concept to fruition, Armstrong’s Vancouver visit took some doing, with phone chases to Houston, Washington, New York and finally, Armstrong’s home in Lebanon, Ohio (he was by then a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati). I’d been cautioned that Armstrong was shy and reticent, not an easy to man to know. On the limo ride in from the airport, he fussed about formal remarks he would make the following day, noting that it was his first visit to Canada, about which he knew little.

En route to his hotel we detoured into Stanley Park where stands a memorial to the first US president to visit Canada while in office, Warren Harding. Harding was also from Ohio. He had spoken on that spot before a crowd estimated at 50,000 on July 26, 1923, a few days before his fatal illness in San Francisco. The gist of the message was the warm and fraternal relationship between Canada and the USA.

Fortified with this reference, Armstrong relaxed and gave a warm and charming speech the next day, quoting the sentiments of his fellow Ohioan. Far from his reputation of being stand-offish, he mixed in at the reception to follow, taking the time to shake a hundred hands, chat cordially and pose for snap-shots. He spent extra moments with elderly ladies, his equally gracious wife, Jan, by his side. Vancouver’s glitterati were dazzled.