The Buzz on the Buzzer

Posted by Daniel on Jun 1, 2010 - 5 comments

Chuck Davis writes:

If you use public transit in the Metropolitan Vancouver area, then you’re familiar with The Buzzer. This little publication has been distributed to local transit users for ninety-four uninterrupted years now, making it easily the oldest publication of its kind in North America, maybe even the world.

The Vancouver Historical Society had a delightful evening Thursday, May 27 when Jhenifer Pabillano, who edits The Buzzer and runs a related blog (here), took the audience on a brisk and interesting stroll of the tiny publication from its first issue June 2, 1916 to the present day. That spelling of Jhenifer, by the way, is correct!

She brought along a stack of bound copies of back issues, a treasure trove for transit buffs. There are some gaps, but even so they provided a really interesting glimpse into one corner of our past. At one point the publication even included movie micro-reviews by Clyde Gilmour, whom long-time CBC Radio listeners will fondly recall.

And there were jokes: MOTHER: I sent my boy for two pounds of plums, and he came home with just a pound-and-a-half! Have you checked your scales? GROCER: My scales are fine. Have you checked your boy?

The first issue of The Buzzer didn’t have a name, and a prize of $30 (in 1916 dollars, remember) was offered for the best one. Of the mountain of entries that came in, eleven suggested the present title. The prize was divided among the eleven: $2.73 each.

Part of the charm of the publication for many years was the cartoon work of Bob Banks (example above). He walked into the offices of the B.C. Electric Railway one day in 1954 and said, “I want to do cartoons for The Buzzer.” And they said, “O.K.” His art enlivened the little paper for twenty-two years. Bob died in May of last year, at 86.

They print 60,000 copies every month. Those ninety-four years of back issues are a genuine treasure trove of transit and other local news. Someone suggested they’d make a great book!