By Maurice Guibord, Guest Blogger
Years ago, I came across this postcard (above) and then a pamphlet (below) touting “Ladybug Tours” offered in Stanley Park.
I got the two pieces years apart, so it was nice to put them together. I showed the postcard at a display of Stanley Park items held at Vancouver Public Library several years ago. Nobody had heard of these tours nor seen the postcard before.
The image from the postcard tells most of the story: a tour wagon was pulled by a vehicle (a tractor?) disguised to resemble a large ladybug and described on the pamphlet as “something different”. Cute! We weren’t always afraid of monster insect infestations in this town.
Albert Edward “Ab” Portman (1913 Calgary – 2002 Surrey) owned Tally Ho Tours and founded (and presumably owned) Ladybug Tours starting in 1949. Portman ran Ladybug Tours until sometime in 1951 .
Verne Christian was the original driver/commentator on Ladybug Tours. Christian (who lived in the Clover Block at 2237 Commercial Dr., just north of Broadway) was a professional driver .
The second Ladybug operator was Fred Rexstrew (1952-53). Fred and his wife, Anna, were involved with the Stanley Park Saddle Club in the early 1950s.
There was a slightly mysterious pair with the surnames Crowe and Salisbury who were listed in the 1954-55 city directories as being associated with Ladybug Tours .
I love how the pamphlet suggests “Why not enjoy refreshments at the Hamberque while you wait for the return of the Lady Bug.” The Hamberque! What was that? Perhaps the concession at Prospect Point? (I couldn’t find mention in local newspapers for hamberque, hamburque, hambercue, or hamburcue) .
The original initial boarding place for the Ladybug was beside the Georgia Auditorium on Georgia Street; the boarding point was later moved to the main entry of the Park. The Ladybug seems to have operated on the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ principal, which is a selling point on some of today’s city tours.
You paid at the end of the tour “if satisfied”, “so you can’t lose”.
Before and After Bug-Driven Tours in Stanley
The coleopterological mode wasn’t the first way humans were transported around the park. The tally-ho, a horse-drawn carriage, was the main mode of tourist transport from late 1800s until recently.
The Hotel Vancouver ran a tally-ho tour around Stanley Park in the 1890s, at one time driven by dog breeder, Norman D. McConnell (Sun, 28 June 1950), and at another time by Joe Reynolds (Sun, 11 Aug 1845). The Vancouver Transfer Company also ran a large Tally-Ho in the 1890s which included a tour of the Park (Sun, 6 June 1965).
In 1905, Steve White, a Victoria liveryman, launched a Vancouver-based tally-ho. His vehicles seated between 25 and 30 people (Sun, 30 Aug 1945). According to the Vancouver Sun, there was a horse-drawn tally-ho company touring visitors around the City and the Park, which was discontinued in the 1930s.
Given the popularity of the Victoria tally-ho, however, the tour company was started anew in July 1947 by Len P. Mason, an ex-Royal Canadian Artillery sergeant who bought the Stanley Park Riding Academy after returning to the city from 3.5 years of service overseas . I am fairly certain that the ‘wagon’ used with Ladybug Tours is the same one originally used with this 1940s incarnation of tally-ho tours.
Ladybug Tours was on the scene from 1949 to 1955.
In 1969, the tally-ho returned to Stanley Park. It was driven by Art Shannon. The tour had been shrunk to 20 minutes with a set fee. It was based at Prospect Point. It tooted in its ad copy: “Just horse and trees. No cars or concrete” (Sun, 23 May 1969).
It isn’t clear what happened to the ’69 tally-ho tours. But since Victoria was eliminating their tally-hos, a Sun correspondent suggested in 1974 that Stanley Park acquire them (Sun, 14 May 1974). This sentiment was repeated in another letter fours years later (Sun, 17 April 1978) and again four years after that.
AAA Horse and Carriage transported visitors around the Park from 1985. Many of AAA’s horses were Shire horses imported from England. It isn’t clear to me whether AAA was the final horse-drawn tour company in the Park, but it seems so.
Horse-drawn tours in Stanley were discontinued in 2019, I believe, due to concerns over the welfare of the horses.
- Ab Portman had his moment of fame when he was buried alive for three hours in December 1955 under tons of gypsum while working as superintendent of Columbia Gypsum Mines in Invermere. Having sunk into the quicksand-like pile of ore, he was able to attract the attention that saved his life by moving the one foot that was free of the ore (Sun, 1 Dec 1955).
- Verne Christian had been at the wheel of a Pacific Stages bus at Broadway and Cambie in November 1945 when he ran into a fire engine; he hadn’t heard the siren. His bus was empty, so no passengers were hurt and neither was he, but three firemen were injured in the accident (Sun, 26 Nov 1945). Someone with Christian’s name was selling boats and yachts at Vancouver Marina Centre in West Vancouver in the 1960s.
- It is difficult to be certain when Ladybug Tours ceased operating. Online city directories are available only through 1955.
- Please comment if you have evidence as to what was the Hamberque!
- However, a Province article states that RCAF Sergeant M. Brown applied for permission to establish a tally-ho for park tours. Competition or misprint?