Sleuthing Miss Laverock

Posted by Daniel on Mar 10, 2009

Veteran broadcaster Chuck Davis reports on one of Vancouver's early impresarios:

If you stopped 100 people on the streets of Vancouver and asked them who Lily Laverock was, you might, if you were lucky, happen on one person who knew. Yet this Edinburgh-born lady is one of the most interesting and important people in the city’s entertainment history. She was an impresario who, in the 1920s and 1930s, brought to Vancouver the cream of the world’s classical performers: Jascha Heifetz, Pablo Casals, Dame Nellie Melba, Maurice Ravel (as a pianist), the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fritz Kreisler, John McCormack and more and more and more.

When I was doing my Province history columns in the ’70s and ’80s I decided, after learning about Miss Laverock (she would not have liked, I’m sure, being addressed as Ms. Laverock), to write a column about her. But the lady was so shy and self-effacing that virtually nothing was in the paper’s files. She had given precisely one interview in her long career, to Jack Richards of the Sun, and that had precious little to add. I learned she was a founding member (1907) of the University Women’s Club, had never married, and was active in the women’s suffragette movement, but I didn’t have enough for a column.

In desperation I went to the city archives and looked through old city directories. I knew that her father had worked for the CPR after the family arrived from Scotland and found him quickly enough. Then a later directory showed me he had opened a grocery store. The Laverock family home was at the same address, so they likely lived behind or above the store. Lily’s name first appeared (at the same address) when in 1910 she began working as a reporter for the Vancouver World when long-time city mayor Louis D. Taylor owned it. She was the first woman to be a general news reporter in Vancouver.

Next her listing changed when she started working for the News-Advertiser as the editor of their women’s pages. Finally, in 1921 she appears in her own right as an impresario, calling her company International Celebrity Concerts. She was active for two busy decades.

At last I had enough for a column, and so I wrote it.

Some months later, in the Vancouver Public Library, I was browsing through the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada . . . and there was an article on Lily Laverock! Damn, I thought, if I’d only known I could have saved myself a lot of digging. I read the piece. It seemed awfully familiar. At the bottom it read: Source, Chuck Davis column, Vancouver Province.

Old city directories can be useful.