Former U.S. President Tours Vancouver…in About 30 Minutes

CVA 99-1276 – Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left, lifting hat) with Mayor L.D. Taylor (right, hat in hand) walking west on Cordova Street, outside CPR Depot. (Note: The boy who is right up against the coattails of TR reminds me of the newsboys in this image featured in an earlier VAIW post). July 18, 1915. Stuart Thomson photo.

When former U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt, came to Vancouver on July 18, 1915, he was in town for about half an hour. The Roosevelt party, according to press accounts, consisted of three people: Colonel Teddy Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt (Edith Kermit Roosevelt), and Teddy’s secretary, W. J. McGrath (a Dalhousie University graduate). The group was on the way to Seattle where they would attend the Panama-Pacific Exposition. They had come via Banff, where they spent two days. The Vancouver stop was truly a ‘whistle-stop’; his train had arrived in the city from Banff at 9.25 a.m. and he had to be on his Seattle-bound ship at 10.00.

Although Teddy was in Vancouver scarcely half an hour, he managed to fit into that time an impressive schedule of hat-raising, glad-handing, speech-making, autograph-signing, and motorcading! One could be forgiven for thinking he planned to run for office north of the 49th parallel!

The image above, made by Stuart Thomson, in my judgement is a brilliant piece of camera work. It deserves to be more widely acknowledged as such. The boy approaching Roosevelt and Taylor (from the right foreground) is dressed in a suit which appears to be a match for that worn by TR (how, by the way, were these guys able to tolerate three-piece suits in mid-July — even if they were summer weight?). The boy’s hat is a bit different from TR’s, but it is a junior sized version of an adult hat, not like the soft caps worn by other boys in the image. The boy seems to be captured in the process of raising his hat just as TR is raising his own head gear! And the look of bemusement on TR’s face caught by the camera is classic, brilliant Thomson timing. It would be challenge enough to get this scene right today, much more in 1915. Bravo!

The quote which follows is taken from the Revelstoke Daily News. It is a more succinct recounting of Vancouver happenings than anything that appeared in Vancouver papers regarding TR’s time here (local accounts included far more info — of a picayune sort — than a present-day blog reader would wish to slog through. Trust me).

VANCOUVER, BC, JULY 18 — Ex-President Theodore Roosevelt was welcomed here this morning by about 3,000 citizens. Wearing a summer suit and a big panama hat, the big Bull Moose stepped off the train jauntily when he was greeted with rounds of cheers. He was met at the depot by a large committee of prominent businessmen as well as Mayor Taylor (1) and members of the city council. For a few minutes he was busy handing out autographs and in reply to Col. Worsnop’s (2) greeting said:

“I am proud at the showing that Canada has made in the way of helping Great Britain. Will you see that my regrets are expressed to the soldiers in the city that I could not stay and see them and express my appreciation of Britain’s noble work in the great war [Ahem, umm Teddy, I think you mean Canada’s noble work].”

Passing to the automobile that was in wait for him and which whisked him round the city at 40 miles an hour for 20 minutes — for he had only 25 minutes to stay [some accounts say 35 minutes] — he met a number of Highlanders, whom he saluted….

“Men of this country,” he said, “at the front have fought and died honorably. It is lamentable that they should die but the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church and I say that no national fabric can be built until it is cemented by the blood of those willing to make the sacrifice of their lives for an ideal. Every man will walk with head higher with pride when thinking of the manner in which the Canadian sons have responded to the great call,” a statement which was received with cheers….

Revelstoke Daily News, July 19, 1915 (By Daily News Leased Wire from Vancouver, BC) – Emphasis mine.

This raises a couple of questions in my mind.

First, what was the nature of the 40 mph, 20-minute whiz around Vancouver? Where did Roosevelt’s motorcade go? Well, it seems pretty clear that it didn’t get anywhere near the 100 block of West Hastings, as is implied by information accompanying the final photo below from CVA. A paragraph in the Vancouver Daily World maintains that the motorcade went only to Stanley Park:

A few moments later Colonel Roosevelt was in Alderman Kirk’s car in which, accompanied by Mrs. Roosevelt and the mayor, he took a trip around Stanley Park.

Vancouver Daily World, 19 July 1915

Secondly, why on earth did Roosevelt engage in his loquacious (and to my 21st century mind, insensitive) remarks pertaining to Canada’s contribution to the ongoing Great War? I’m referring to his comment about how “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” (Note: This is a misappropriated quote from early church father, Tertullian. . . a pacifist! This was spotted by my friend, Tim. Thanks, Tim.) Almost as shocking as the fact that he said this is the response of the crowd. . . they cheered?!

This, indeed, was a different time.

Crop of CVA 99-1277 – Teddy Roosevelt speaking to crowd, evidently outside of the CPR Depot. July 18, 1915. Stuart Thomson photo.
CVA 99-1278 – Teddy Roosevelt standing in back seat of car, speaking to crowd in front of CPR Depot. July 18, 1915. Stuart Thomson photo. Classic auto expert, Peter Findlay, has identified the car shown above (with its distinctive windscreen design) as being a 1914 Cadillac. The steering wheel is also distinctive — known as a ‘fat man’ variety.
CVA 1477-652 – “Part of motorcade during Theodore Roosevelt’s visit to Vancouver. August 1914.” This description is the one given by CVA. I don’t think this is accurate for a number of reasons: (1) according to VDW, the 20-minute motorcade of TR went through Stanley Park; (2) early automobile expert, Peter Findlay, in reply to a query from me, maintains that the vehicles shown in this image look more like 1910 than 1915 models; (3) early fashions experts puts the clothing worn by the people in this image at closer to 1910 than 1915. (The autos in this photo are proceeding in a westerly direction down the 100 bock of West Hastings — they are just passing the Ormidale and Fleck Blocks.)


(1) Members of the committee included the following (according to The Province):

Mr. Jonathan Rogers, president of the Vancouver Board of Trade; Mr. George E. Graham; Mr. W. A. Blair, secretary of the Vancouver Board of Trade; Mr. Justice Morrison; Col, C. A. Worsnop; Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper; Mr. F. W. Peters, General Superintendent of the C.P.R.; Mr. I. N. Miller, Jr., president of the American Club; Mr. C. E. Tisdall, M.L.A.; Mr. A. H. B. Macgowan, M.L.A., Mr. H. H. Watson, M.L.A.; Mr. H. H. Morris, president of the Vancouver Bankers’ Association; Mr. J. M. Bowell, collector of customs; Dr. F. F. Wesbrook, president of the University of British Columbia; Mr. F. Carter-Cotton, chancellor of the University of British Columbia.

The Province, 19 July 1915

Mayor L. D. Taylor was not included among the wealthy/influential types who composed the Roosevelt welcome committee. So LDT, ever crafty, met TR’s train at Mission, and rode with TR into the City, thereby beating the committee at their own ‘welcome’ game!

(2) Colonel Worsnop had written to TR inviting him to meet with him and his Vancouver Seaforth Highlanders and deliver a speech. TR, however, sent a reply expressing his regret that his brief time in the city would not allow it.

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