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Kluckner, Michael.

Vancouver, Whitecap Books. cl984. 239pp. cloth, $39.95, ISBN 0-920620-56-6. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Adele Case

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

Michael Kluckner's graphic, well-researched collection of historical vignettes, most factual, all enjoyable, deals with the history of Vancouver, the largest Canadian west coast port city and it will have wide appeal. For a native Vancouverite (and one old enough to recall youthful inter-urban train excursions to Kitsilano beach, and childhood forays near the squatters' shacks east of the Second Narrows bridge) this book is a nostalgic feast. But it will interest others for its own merits. Whitecap Books wisely ordered the coffee-table-sized book printed on quality paper, which shows off the excellent black-and-white photographs. Although untitled and bound in black (why not blue, for this city in a sapphire setting of sea and mountains?), the book jacket in a cedar brown shade seems designed to serve as a permanent part of the work as it shows the library shelving data. The author's watercolours add lively detail and charm to what might otherwise be seen as another too grey collection of archival material. As far as possible, Michael Kluckner has attempted to reproduce the exact colours of original buildings, and historical structures have been copied to give the viewer a feeling of what the city was like in the days before high rises dominated the skyline. It is heartening to read that these watercolours will be retained in the Vancouver City Archives. This delicate medium is perfect for a water-front city that is often misted with light rain.

The prose, too, is sprightly and informative. Kluckner summarizes his findings in brief page-long or two-page essays that are individually complete. Chronology has been maintained throughout the book, so one can read the book from the beginning, or dip into it to check on a particular site or period. The author writes of places, spaces, and faces important in the growth of a coast city. A few of the early buildings and homes are still standing, though the former may now appear less magnificent as they have been dwarfed by concrete and glass towers. The latter have frequently been transformed into private schools, community centres, club houses for golf courses, and the like.

One can trace dozens of park, building, and street names from the anecdotes about pioneers who carried those names: Hamber, McCleery, Reifel, Ferrera, Nanton, Angus, and a host of others. Kluckner briefly expands on the foibles, failures, successes, and interests of these early residents, so many of whom seemed to die too young, after years of frenetic activity. Regrettably, the early personalities in radio are not mentioned. During the 1930s and 1940s, radio was an essential entertainment feature in many local homes, and listeners had favourite programs or stations. As well, more space could have been devoted to the North Vancouver ferries (now supplanted by smaller, faster seabuses). The vehicle-carrying ferries provided a much-needed link with the city during the World War II years, when thousands of shipyard workers commuted daily across Burrard Inlet. The waterfront is not neglected, though, and the section on the Greenhill Park fire is well done. This vessel caught alight and then exploded in Vancouver harbour, but luckily few men were killed, and the burning ship was towed clear of nearby wharves.

More than a showcase for the author's representations of early Vancouver, this excellent book is carefully indexed to allow readers to check names, places, and industries important in the saga of British Columbia's history. Vancouver: The Way It Was is colourful and creative, eclectic without being quirky. It is certainly a must have book for anyone who wishes to check Vancouver's growth from tent town to metropolis.

Adele Case, Britannia S.S., Vancouver, B.C.
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