John Buchan (b. 1875) was raised in Scotland. He was a writer of many novels — including, most famously, The 39 Steps — biographies, histories, articles, and poems. He was invited by King George V to become his representative in Canada (on the advice of then Canadian Prime Minister, R. B. Bennett) beginning in 1935. Shortly thereafter, JB was granted a peerage and became Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsefield. He served with great distinction as Governor General and travelled the length and breadth of Canada to an extent that none of his predecessors had. He died in office on February 12, 1940 of cerebral thrombosis caused by a head injury sustained during a stroke.
Among the many corners of our nation which JB visited in his capacity as Governor General, he stopped at Vancouver twice. This post consists of some notes highlighting the details of his visits with Lady Tweedsmuir (Susan Buchan) to our city in August 1936 and March 1939.
On his journey in 1936, JB left Edmonton for Vancouver by train through the Rockies and across the B.C. interior. It was a very soggy trip. Indeed, the rain was so heavy that the rail line was washed out by a mudslide east of Lytton, which caused the Governor General’s arrival in Vancouver to be delayed by 8 hours. The delay meant that a scheduled welcome and dinner had to be cancelled and JB and his retinue were driven directly from the CNR train station to the HMCS Skeena, aboard which they sailed to Victoria.(1) So JB’s first real visit to Vancouver was postponed for a few days (from August 15 until he returned from Vancouver Island on August 25, 1936 aboard the British warship, HMS Apollo).One of JB’s first official city visits was to the construction site of the new Vancouver City Hall.(2) He also visited Victory Square, where he laid a wreath. Later in the evening, he was at the Hotel Vancouver (the second one, not the current one at Burrard and Georgia) for a dinner with the “Old Contemptibles“, the veterans’ association of British regular army troops who had fought in the Great War.
Wednesday, August 26, was JB’s 61st birthday, and it was another busy day. He spoke at a luncheon of the Canadian Club (again, held at the second Hotel Vancouver), opened the 1936 Pacific National Exhibition, and visited the Caledonian Games (what today would almost certainly be called Highland or Scottish Games). At the PNE opening, he remarked that “Mr. Kipling, who had travelled in most parts of the globe, once told me that he had found many places that he admired and some that he loved; but that he had discovered only one earthly paradise, and that was in British Columbia. I am a newcomer here who has only had his first glimpse of you, but I can see no reason to differ from that verdict.”(3)
On Thursday, August 27, JB inspected the local boy scouts in his capacity as Chief Canadian Scout, dedicated the Shakespearean garden plot at Stanley Park, received the Vancouver consular corps, and embarked on a tour of the harbour (taking in a tour of a salmon cannery en route).
On Friday, JB made a journey by car to New Westminster for a brief visit. He later visited the Vancouver Art Gallery (an early incarnation of the VAG building which was then located at 1145 W. Georgia), the B.C. Artists’ Exhibition at Spencer’s Department Store(4), and dined at the Vancouver Club.
Saturday consisted in large part of a visit to the North Shore, including a stop at Capilano Canyon and the British Pacific Properties development. In the afternoon, JB opened the new Seaforth Highlanders Armoury at 1650 Burrard (5). The Regimental colours were then trooped and tea was served in the officers’ mess. Following that, JB and SB were taken to Grouse Mountain.
Sunday began with services at St James Church (in their brand new building), where JB said a few words. In the afternoon, they had tea at Minnekhada Ranch (in Coquitlam) with B.C.’s Lt. Governor, Eric Hamber. And by about 7pm, they were back on the train and departing Vancouver, bound for Calgary.
The Tweedsmuirs arrived in Vancouver on their second trek to this city on Thursday, March 16. This trip seems to have been briefer and a little less frenetic. JB’s first major task was to meet with some 800 members of the Canadian Club and the Vancouver Board of Trade for a joint lunch at the Crystal Ballroom of the Hotel Vancouver (the current one, this time; it had opened three months earlier).After that, he “took the salute” at the Jericho Beach Air Base and reviewed the troops there. He then toured the hangars and was taken on a flight over the base. Later that day, JB and SB stopped into the City of Vancouver Archives (then located at City Hall) where they were toured around by Vancouver’s first archivist, Major J. S. Matthews. They then went for tea in the Mayor’s office.
Friday, March 17, consisted in large part of JB receiving of an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree presented by UBC’s Chancellor, R. E. McKechnie.
(1) This wasn’t a great distance from the Vancouver CNR station, I suspect. In a 1934 photograph showing the Skeena at dock, it is tied up at the old CPR Pier ‘C’ — which I believe was close to where Canada Place is today. Skeena was a River class destroyer active in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1931-44.
(2) The cornerstone had been laid by Mayor Gerry McGeer a month before, and on August 20, while JB was on Vancouver Island, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Percy Vincent, had presented a civic mace to the city. The mace is still at City Hall. The new building opened in December 1936.
(3) Buchan, John. Canadian Occasions: Addresses by Lord Tweedsmuir. Toronto: Musson, 1941.
(4) I suspect, but do not know that this may be in reference to the BC murals exhibited at Spencer’s downtown store. See this link for more on the Spencer’s murals.
(5) Prior to this new armoury being built, the Seaforth Highlanders shared the Beatty Street Drill Hall (Beatty and Dunsmuir) with the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles.
I’d highly recommend this well-researched and well-written book on JB’s term as Governor General by J. William Galbraith: John Buchan: Model Governor General. Toronto: Dundurn, 2013.