A Funny Thing Happened . . .
A funny thing happened at a pizza party I held recently for some of my friends (whom I’ve taken to referring to, collectively, as the History Five).
Neil brought with him a gift for the host and hostess that wasn’t a libation, but was instead a piece of Vancouver historical ephemera: a postcard with an apparent connection to First Baptist Church (he knows of my interest in Vancouver church history). It appears (front and verso) below.
The postcard was addressed to G. P. Hicks. From the postage mark, it seems it was sent in July, 1903. And the address shown for Hicks was his business address at the time: that of The Hicks & Lovick Piano Co. The message reads: “Special meeting local union executive. Thursday [evening] at First Baptist Church. Business very important. Come.” Signed A. E. Rigg (or perhaps Riggs), Sec. [Secretary].
The meeting on Thursday evening seems not to have been religious in nature. Why do I say that? First, the only Rigg I could find living in Vancouver around this time was a Prebyterian; and G. P. Hicks was a dyed-in-the-wool Methodist.¹ Second, there was reference in the message to the meeting being one of a “local union executive”. I think it’s safe to conclude that the union in question was a trade union. But which one? My conclusion is that it was the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners. I reached that conclusion because the principal thing in common between Rigg and Hicks – as far as I can tell – is that they were both carpenters, at this time. That is the extent of what I know about Alex Rigg. Fortunately, there was more to be learned about George Hicks.
To my surprise, research into the postcard didn’t lead to insights about a Vancouver church, this time, but instead led me to discover a long-forgotten and yet important Vancouver maestro.
From ‘Builder of Objects’ to ‘Builder of Vocal Skills’
George Peake Hicks (1855-1919) was a carpenter in his early years. He probably retained his membership in the Carpenters and Joiners union even after he went into the business of piano sales with his brother, Gideon. The business was based in Victoria and, shortly after it started (by around the turn of the century), included a Vancouver shop at Hastings near Cambie.
While Gideon would continue in piano sales for several years (until 1922), George, by 1904, at age 49, had hired on with the Vancouver School Board as their first supervisor of music. The VSB job would prove to be critical in the rest of his career.
His task for VSB appears to have been one of teaching teachers the basics of music instruction so that they could be effective in presenting musical subjects to the primary and secondary students in their charge. In one of Hicks’ reports to the School Trustees, he explained that he had been presenting musical theory as conveyed in William H. Cummings’ Rudiments of Music (1877) to the teachers and that most of them had passed an exam on the content of the book. The School Board seemed tangibly to appreciate Hicks’ work. In 1906 he was making $100/month; that was raised to $150 by 1911 and to $175 by 1915.
Within a few years of taking on the task of musical leadership within Vancouver’s public schools, Hicks decided that it would be a good thing to establish a Vancouver Musical Society.² The point of the society, initially, was to provide a place for former secondary students to have somewhere to advance their musical skills after they left school. He was the conductor. By 1919, the membership of the group had swollen to two hundred (plus) choristers and musicians.
On August 4, 1919, the Vancouver Musical Society presented what had become their annual Messiah concert. At the conclusion of the oratorio, Mayor Gale presented Hicks with a baton as a token of the appreciation of the people of Vancouver for all of his musical efforts on their behalf. Hicks’ claimed “My prayer has been answered. I have reached my ambition in my musical career.”³ By August 22, he was dead.
Today, George P. Hicks is a name that, sadly, has been largely forgotten by most of the people of Vancouver. He quietly went about his task of increasing musical appreciation and skill among regular folks. And he trained others who had special musical talent (such as Olga McAlpine, who graduated from Vancouver High School at Dunsmuir and Cambie to earn concert applause in New York City and on the Orpheum Theatre concert circuit).
¹ George’s brother, James was the pastor at Sixth Avenue Methodist (Vancouver) for a number of years; brother John P. Hicks was editor of the Methodist Recorder (based in Esquimalt).
² This group has been known variously as the “Vancouver Festival Choir (and Orchestra)” and as the “Vancouver Choral Society”.
³ Vancouver Daily World. August 23, 1919.