The Making of an Historian

Posted by Daniel on Mar 4, 2009 - 3 comments

Veteran broadcaster and knowbc contributor Chuck Davis contributes another slice of memoir:

My interest in Vancouver’s history started relatively late in my life. A little over thirty years ago (I would have been in my 40s) I was driving across Burrard Bridge for the 10,000th time and suddenly wondered, who did all this? Who carved those guys’ heads on the little boat prows, and who were those guys anyway? One had a V under his head, the other had a B. Who designed the big lamps at both ends of the bridge, and why are they there? What's the story behind the coat of arms on the bridge? And who designed the bridge itself?

The City Archives happen to be very near the south end of the bridge, so I drove over to do a bit of research. I was writing a daily items column for the Province newspaper at the time, and decided for a change of pace that my next Sunday column would be on the Burrard Bridge. Reaction to the piece was good, and I figured I’d do another historical piece for the next Sunday.

Then I did another. And another. And another. I ended up writing 194 consecutive weekly columns on Vancouver history, and might still be doing them if the Province hadn’t switched from broadsheet to tabloid format and was no longer interested in fusty columns on the past.

But by then I had caught the bug. Eventually I found myself writing virtually nothing but local history. I’m working right now on a big book called The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, which I think of as the capstone of my writing career.

The answers to the questions in that first paragraph, by the way, are that the heads on the boat prows are of Captain George Vancouver and his friend in England, Sir Harry Burrard. (The latter was never here.) The sculptor was Charles Marega, whose work is all over the city. The glowing, flickering lamps were the inspiration of the bridge’s engineer, Major J.R. Grant, who conceived of them as a tribute to Canadian prisoners of war in the First World War who would sometimes warm themselves around open fires on the prison fields. The bridge’s architects were Sharp & Thompson. The coat of arms is a long (and interesting) story, which can be read here

Labels: MEMOIR