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Professional Hockey and Urban Development: A Historical Case Study of the Vancouver Arena, 1911–1914

  • John Chi-Kit Wong

Corps de l’article

After the end of the Second World War, the construction of sport facilities for professional sport teams increasingly involved public subsidies. Especially in the late twentieth century, this trend attracted much scholarly attention. Researchers began to investigate public financing of state-of-the-art stadiums and arenas in order to retain or attract professional sport franchises that were mostly privately owned.[1] In particular, many of these investigations concentrated on claims of potential benefits of sport facilities to the local community as justifications for these large-scale projects. Proponents of publicly funded sport facilities had argued that a sport facility contributed to a “major league” image of the city, urban renewal, and growth in the local economy. Indeed, many municipal governments incorporated the construction of professional sport facilities as part of their strategy for urban economic development.[2]

The pattern of building sport facilities involving public subsidies has changed over the latter half of the twentieth century, but it did not emerge until after the 1960s. Prior to the Gestation Era (1961–9) when “the norm was for governments to finance and construct facilities for the franchises,” private capital financed most of the professional sport facilities in North America. With the exceptions of the Los Angeles Coliseum (1923), Chicago’s Soldier Field (1929), and Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium (1931), all other sport facilities housing major professional sports were built by team owners or sport entrepreneurs to provide a venue for the local professional team.[3] In hockey, for example, a group of French-Canadian entrepreneurs in Quebec City, led by J. Etienne Dussault of La Compagnie Générale d’Entreprises Publique, built the new Quebec Arena in 1913 for the Quebec Hockey Club of the National Hockey Association (NHA)—the forerunner of the National Hockey League (NHL).[4] Of course, the famed Montreal Forum was also funded privately in 1924 by a group of investors who hoped to convince the NHL to grant them a franchise.[5] In the United States, George L. “Tex” Rickard invested in a new Madison Square Garden in 1925 to house the New York Americans, the first NHL team in the city.[6] During the Great Depression, Conn Smyth’s initiative to build Maple Leaf Gardens added to the myth and legend of the entrepreneurial martinet.[7]

Certainly, no owners of the Quebec Arena, Montreal Forum, Madison Square Garden, and Maple Leaf Gardens sought financial help from local governments. As with other businessmen of the day, sport entrepreneurs generally subscribed to the principle of free enterprise, which eschewed government interference. Asking for government financial aid would be tantamount to corporate welfare, an idea antithetical to their capitalistic tendencies. These early sport promoters usually raised capital through means other than government largess. Transportation companies often formed a symbiotic relationship with early baseball clubs by locating stadiums along or at the end of a transit route. The Brooklyn Dodgers playing facility was located at the end of the traction company line. The team’s nickname was supposedly derived from fans dodging trolley cars near the terminal when they went to the stadium.[8] On the other hand, prior to the Second World War, municipalities did not consciously include sport facilities in their urban planning.[9] Unlike stadium and arena projects today, promoters did not attempt to link the construction of a sport facility to the economic health of the city. This article investigates one sport facility, the Vancouver Arena—also known as the Denman Street Arena because of its location at the corner of Georgia and Denman streets—and its impact in the immediate six city blocks along Georgia Street between Bidwell and Chilco (see figure 1). An enterprise of the Patrick family of west coast hockey pioneers, the Vancouver Arena was built in 1911 to house the Vancouver Professional Hockey Club in the new Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), also a Patrick family undertaking.

Impact of Sport Facilities

As the trend of using public funds to finance sport facilities increased in earnest in the last quarter of the twentieth century, scholars—especially urban studies researchers and sport economists—began to question the real impact of a sport facility on the community. One early argument by proponents of public subsidies was the potential economic benefits to the neighbourhoods around a sport facility. This economic justification was especially appealing to those whose interests were in the downtown area. Since the end of the Second World War, the downtown and its surrounding neighbourhoods, particularly those in major U.S. metropolises, experienced a decline. Where the downtown core was once a vibrant community of commerce and entertainment, increase in crime, flight of the middle class to the suburbs, infrastructure decay, and relocation of businesses and jobs to the suburbs made the downtown area unattractive to providers and consumers of leisure.[10] Hence, any proposal for building a sport facility in or near the downtown area represented a welcome economic shot in the arm. Locating a sport facility in the downtown area, then, would bring leisure consumers not only to the games but also to the businesses nearby. This injection of entertainment dollars would create jobs as demand for services increased. In turn, the area would further attract more businesses that could lead to more jobs. The upward spiral of economic rejuvenation might even stem if not reverse the tide of out-migration of city residents to the suburbs, restoring the downtown area as a desirable place for businesses and residents. At least that was the argument made by those who wanted public subsidies for a sport facility—the potential benefits warranted public investment. But could a sporting facility deliver these economic benefits and revitalize the urban core?

Public funding of sport facilities such as stadiums and arenas in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries was made available under a confluence of social developments. Prosperity after the Second World War spread to a larger portion of the North American population which, after the austerities of the War, craved leisure pursuits. As it had in the decade after the First World War, sport drew a large share of leisure customers, so much so that sport historians referred to the decade after the Second World War as the Second Golden Age of Sport. The development and popularization of television extended sport consumption beyond stadiums and arenas. Jet travel allowed professional leagues to expand and locate franchises from coast to coast. All four major professional sports—baseball, football, basketball, and hockey—began to branch out from their bases in the Northeast and Midwest to population centres in the West and South. Bolstered by a demographic shift, cities in the Sunbelt states pursued franchises in these four leagues. Local politicians, land developers, and business leaders promoted the idea that a major league franchise would boost the city’s image and benefit the local economy. Yet, professional leagues controlled their expansion tightly, thus creating a highly competitive marketplace for franchises among aspiring cities. Hence, cities attempted to convince the leagues that they were serious and deserved the world-class status that came with a franchise. A publicly funded facility with attractive lease terms became a standard strategy.[11]

The context under which the Vancouver Arena was built, however, differed from those built after the Second World War. Professional hockey was in its infancy and the only other professional team sport was baseball. As an industry, professional hockey was in a growth stage where barriers to enter into the industry remained low. The major governing body, the National Hockey Association (NHA), had only had limited control over the marketplace. Monopolizing of the marketplace by a single league was still years away. Cities in Eastern Canada (mainly those in Ontario and Quebec), however, clamoured to be represented in professional hockey. Even before the appearance of professional hockey, some felt that a top-notch amateur team could represent a town’s reputation and interests better than “a live, active board-of-trade.”[12] Indeed, civic boosterism and a desire to be considered a major league city led to the founding of the NHA in Ontario cities when the professional Canadian Hockey Association rejected their applications to join the league. Under such an open marketplace, leagues sprang up as long as entrepreneurs were willing to take the risks to assemble a team or build a facility. For the Patricks, they preferred the untapped markets in the West instead of competing with the established leagues in the East.[13]

Figure 1

Six-block area surrounding the Vancouver Arena.

Map 342-7, 1912, City Archives of Vancouver

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By the turn of the twentieth century in the West Coast, the city of Vancouver had begun expanding from its core to the outlying regions. Downtown, however, remained a vibrant area. When the Patricks decided to build the Vancouver Arena, neither they nor city officials situated the facility as a component of economic and urban growth. There was no media blitz touting the benefits of such construction since, with few interruptions, the Vancouver economy had been red hot for much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many in the city already considered Vancouver’s future as a world metropolis bright. Within this economic climate, the arena would, at best, be considered part of the spectacular growth of the city and not something a city desperately needed to stimulate businesses.

Despite the contextual differences between the early and the late twentieth century, it is useful to examine the case of the Vancouver Arena from the perspective of sport facilities and urban development. Civic boosters had long used sport to promote their cities. Early promoters of sport and sport facilities did not bother to support their cases with sophisticated economic arguments. They simply assumed that a professional sport franchise or a sport facility would draw people to the city because sport fascinated the general public.[14] This assumption did not come under critical scholarly scrutiny until late in the twentieth century. But for Vancouver in the early twentieth century, there was no need for economic justification, as people and capital poured into the city. So without an explicit economic rationale for construction of the arena, did businesses and residents in Vancouver in the 1910s still recognize the arena as another opportunity fuelling the local economy? If a sport facility was viewed as an economic opportunity, it should have the same effect as the boom times—an increase in population and location (or relocation) of businesses that could benefit from the arena—in the immediate vicinity. Did people move into the vicinity of the arena or spend their money there? If people and businesses did move into the area, did the arena contribute to this migration? These questions can best be answered by examining the economics of sport facilities in order to establish a framework to investigate the impact of the arena.

Scholarly studies disputed the positive benefits of a sport facility. Most researchers agreed that sport facilities provided little or no positive economic impact on the host city. Some actually concluded that professional sports and stadium construction had a negative impact on the local economy.[15] Economists Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys did find that a small sector of the economy—those occupational groups that were involved in the sport business—benefited from stadium construction. These benefits, however, came at the expense of other sectors within the local economy. Businesses such as retailers, hotels, and restaurants that were supposed to profit from the presence of a sport facility actually suffered. These findings challenged the assumption that spending public funds to build a sport facility was a good civic investment. And one reason for zero or negative impact was the pattern of consumer spending.[16]

Figure 2

Vancouver Yacht Club (left), Vancouver Arena (right) on Burrard Inlet, 1913.

Photo: W.J. Moore. City of Vancouver Archives, PAN NXVII

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If economic prosperity is to accompany a sport facility, there must be new consumer spending. In other words, consumers should not merely shift their leisure choices from other local businesses to the sport facility and its surrounding businesses. Scholars label such a phenomenon the substitution effect. If consumers from town decide to go to a hockey game instead of the theatre, there will be no actual economic growth or benefit to the city, since this expenditure is already going into the local economy. Moreover, new jobs created by the sport facility are balanced by the loss of jobs in businesses in other parts of town if consumers merely substitute one form of spending by another. On the other hand, economic growth can occur if the sport facility draws out-of-town patrons who do not normally spend their discretionary income in this locale. Similarly, real economic growth can accrue if local consumers decide to spend their money at the sport facility instead of outside the region. Under either or both of these conditions, money previously not spent in town would constitute new spending and represent real growth.[17]

In examining consumer spending, it is important to define where the impact occurs. If an area of interest is defined narrowly, such as the neighbourhood around the facility, the likelihood of economic growth increases, since purchases by consumers who live in the larger city but not in the immediate area will be considered as new spending. Conversely, using a large area such as the entire metropolitan area (or a province) will most likely reveal little impact in new consumer spending since residents within the metropolitan area (or province) cannot be counted as new consumers if they patronize the facility. When considering the size of the affected area and who can be defined as consumers outside it, researcher John L. Crompton cautions against using the total visitor expenditure as evidence of impact by a sport facility, because not all spending is associated with the facility. Hence, there is an inherent bias in any study on the economic impact of a sport facility, depending on how the study defines the impact area.[18]

Gauging economic growth related to a sport facility would be difficult in the period under discussion here. No reliable surveys on consumer spending, tax revenue increases, or new job creation could be found. Sport was simply not an industry large enough to warrant reports by government agencies. In the absence of hard economic data, the impact of a sport facility can be glimpsed by other means. Borrowing from Kent A. Robertson’s framework to assess the impact of a sport facility downtown, Timothy Chapin suggests that large projects such as a new sport stadium can induce a critical mass of visitors to the downtown area, thus supporting local restaurants and other retail outlets. If the sport facility effects positive urban growth within its immediate vicinity, Chapin maintains, there are changes in the usage of existing buildings or space, in new construction in the area, and in the emergence of a new entertainment or sports district near the new sport facility.[19] The present examination of the Vancouver Arena will investigate if these changes did occur between 1911, when the facility was built, and 1914, when the general Vancouver economy was in decline.

Urban Development and Sport Facilities in Vancouver Prior to 1911

From its beginning as a permanent white settlement in the early 1860s, Vancouver became a boomtown almost overnight with the announcement that the city was to be the western terminus of the trans-Canada railway in the mid 1880s. Indeed, the 1880 census showed only 300 Vancouver inhabitants, but that number increased to 13,709 ten years later. By the turn of the century, this figure had more than doubled to 27,010.[20] With the influx of people, Vancouver grew from a “walking city” into a “radial city,” and a system of intra- and inter-urban transit lines made travel within and beyond the city more convenient. This transit system had expanded from 20 kilometres of track in 1891 to over 160 kilometres by 1914.[21] Importantly also, Vancouver had become ethnically more homogeneous during this population growth spurt. Over 43 per cent of the immigrants to Vancouver came from Eastern Canada, and those from Britain formed the largest foreign-born group in the city at the beginning of the 1890s. In fact, British-born or British stock accounted for 88 per cent of the Vancouver population by the end of the nineteenth century.[22]

While Anglo-Vancouverites could be found in different social classes, many of them constituted the middle and upper strata of the society. Moreover, there were more men than women in the city.[23] With the growth in their numbers, they contributed to the construction of a social and leisure life that had strong attachment to their places of origin. British and Canadian sports, such as cricket, tennis, and lacrosse, became part of the sporting calendar. James Brown Kay, who came to Vancouver from Manchester, England, in 1887, worked for the Vancouver Electric Company. As many English immigrants did, he attended St. James’s Church, whose priest was a devotee of cricket and football (soccer). Kay went on to become a founder of the Britannia Cricket Club and served as its first secretary.[24] When baseball enthusiasts first organized a club in the city, “fourteen crack players, former members of eastern teams” joined with “a number of others who have played the game.”[25] These sports, of course, required playing spaces.

Although social reformists in Eastern Canadian cities had called for parks and playgrounds, the Vancouver city government, initially dominated by a business elite, did not include them in its urban planning scheme. In fact, there was little urban planning at all. According to Thomas Adams, the town planning advisor to the federal Commission of Conservation, Vancouver’s development in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was a result of “haphazard growth and speculation in real estate.”[26] From the beginning, city officials gave little thought to its citizens’ leisure, partly because there was so much unoccupied space in the area. Harold E. Ridley, born in Vancouver in 1875, recalled playing lacrosse “on the old sawdust pile at the Hastings Sawmill.”[27] Much of the initiative to create parks and playing fields originally came from volunteer sport enthusiasts. The Powell Street and Cambie Street grounds were such examples. While they provided venues for sporting opportunities, city council did not purchase these facilities or place them under its jurisdiction until the turn of the twentieth century, when empty lots and access to playing space became scarce as a result of the city’s growth. As an exception, however, Stanley Park did open with much fanfare on 27 September 1888.[28]

Lacking government support, the demand for sporting facilities was filled by private capital. Upper-class sportsmen, for example, organized the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club, Vancouver Lawn Tennis Club, and Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. Besides providing sporting opportunities, these organizations and their venues, of course, distinguished class boundaries. At the same time, the locations of these facilities also promoted and protected the value of their surrounding property. The Brockton Point Athletic Association is one such an example. By the 1890s, the upper class had moved their residences from Main Street near the original townsite to west of Granville Street and spread towards Stanley Park. In order to protect their property value in the new “Blue Blood Alley,” business leaders, supported by city council members, acquired and developed land in Stanley Park as a sporting venue. Under the auspices of the Association, they then leased the grounds to sports clubs in the city.[29]

By no means was the Brockton Point Athletic Association the first or only organization that charged patrons to use its facilities. Enterprising businessmen had operated a commercial roller rink in 1886.[30] Drawing on the growing middle class in the city, promoters built a baseball park at the corner of Homer and Smythe streets downtown, housing the city’s professional baseball team, the Vancouver Beavers, in 1905.[31] At the turn of the twentieth century, however, several related factors exacerbated the demand for athletic facilities. Continuous migration into the city fuelled housing developments, which meant less and less suitable vacant space was available for sports in or near the downtown area. Green spaces gave way to urban growth. Yet, the larger population also increased the demand for recreational space. In 1906, the city council felt such pressure that it passed a bylaw to increase the number of bathhouses in English Bay.[32] Compounding the problem was the skyrocketing real estate prices, a result of the spectacular economic growth of the city and the speculative Vancouver real estate market since the city’s incorporation, making vacant lots expensive. A city block near Stanley Park, not far from the future Vancouver Arena site, fetched for $1,500 in 1905. By 1910, the year before the Patricks built the facility, a small section of the same lot cost $125,000.[33] By the time the Patrick family decided to bring professional hockey to Vancouver, there was limited space in the downtown area that could accommodate the new Vancouver Arena. Indeed, the Patricks had to pay a premium for a plot of land just off the downtown area along Granville Street.[34]

Vancouver Arena and the Six-Block Neighbourhood in 1911

The Vancouver Arena was a result of the Patrick family’s entrepreneurship. Joe Patrick, the family’s patriarch, had moved from Quebec to British Columbia in 1907. Already a successful businessman, Joe Patrick took advantage of the booming timber industry in the Kootenay region in southwestern British Columbia and established his base there. His two eldest sons, Curtis Lester and Frank Alexis, had been playing hockey at the elite level in the East for a number of years but decided to move with the family in order to help Joe with his business. In 1911, Joe sold his business interests and, with the urging of Curtis Lester and Frank Alexis, decided to use the proceeds to fund a professional hockey league, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), in the West Coast. Given Vancouver’s economic and population growth, they selected the city as one of the franchise locations.[35]

By 1911, Vancouver had established itself as the major Canadian city on the West Coast, surpassing Victoria and New Westminster as the economic centre of British Columbia. With the help of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, Vancouver became the link between the Pacific Rim and Canadian markets through the CPR’s trans-Canada rail line and its trans-Pacific fleet. The city had grown from its original site around the Hastings Mill by the southern shore of the Burrard Inlet and spread east, west, and south. The business district that first developed at the Cordova Street corridor near Hastings Mill had also shifted to Granville Street, where the CPR terminal was located. For its part, the CPR had planned to make Granville Street the business centre of the city, ever since it decided to locate the train terminal at the south end of the street. Not far from the city’s new business centre were residential zones, and these too had expanded to accommodate the growth in population. The British Columbia Electric Railway Company, however, made travel between the Granville Street downtown and the surrounding residential areas easy. Its elaborate system of streetcars and trams also moved people between Vancouver and nearby centres such as New Westminster and Steveston. This transit system served its rapidly increasing population well, as Vancouver had grown from slightly more than 27,000 in 1900 to 100,401 in 1911. Indeed, the transit system in the region was carrying around as many as 100,000 passengers a day, more during special occasions such as Exhibition week.[36]

Obstacles, however, stood in the way of the Patricks’ hockey enterprise. While the West Coast of Canada had no professional hockey and therefore presented an untapped market, it also had no quality players who could star in the local league. The Patricks decided to raid the professional league, the National Hockey Association (NHA), in the east. Bringing in NHA stars, of course, gave the new league instant credibility and, it was hoped, would help establish brand equity, since about 14,500 immigrants from Ontario and Quebec—where the NHA franchises were located—had moved to Vancouver by 1911 and many of these eastern Canadians were familiar with NHA hockey.[37] Indeed, the Patricks’ raid of the NHA players was so successful that it became a sore point between the two leagues for a number of years thereafter.

Another hurdle for the Patricks to make the league a reality was the lack of facility. Originally, their plans for the league included franchises in Edmonton and Calgary, besides the coastal cities of Vancouver and Victoria. Potential interests in the two Alberta cities quickly vanished as problems in securing players and facility discouraged promoters there. Thus by the early fall of 1911, the planned league had only two teams, Vancouver and Victoria, both controlled by the Patrick family. Trying to avoid a two-team league, the Patricks placed a third franchise in New Westminster, hoping to capitalize on the established rivalry in lacrosse between Vancouver and New Westminster. But there was no ice rink in any of the three cities. At the time, all ice rinks in Canada relied on the weather to maintain an icy surface, even though there had been artificial ice-making technology since the mid-1850s, and the St. Nicholas Arena in New York employed it when the arena opened in 1896. Relying on cold weather was out of the question for the Patricks because coastal winters were generally mild, so they decided to build their own facilities with refrigeration capability in Victoria and Vancouver, making these two arenas the first two artificial ice rinks in the country.[38]

Like other sport entrepreneurs at the time, the Patricks built the Vancouver Arena close to the downtown area. Since land of appropriate size near Granville Street for such a project was scarce and the price of real estate was high, the family had few choices. They ultimately decided on a vacant space in district lot 185, parcel one of block sixty-four that ran along the waterfront side of Georgia Street between Denman and Chilco streets. Of the thirteen lots in parcel one, the Patricks secured the first five (see figure 1). Although the location was not downtown, the B.C. Electric Railway already had a streetcar line running along Georgia Street, thus making travel to the arena convenient.[39]

Prior to the construction of the Vancouver Arena in 1911, there were ten occupants in parcel one consisting of four residences, four businesses, and two buildings that functioned both as a business and a residence.[40] On the same (north) side of Georgia Street and one block to the east of the arena were mostly businesses. Of the eleven addresses between Bidwell and Denman streets, eight were listed as businesses, one residence, and the remaining two a combination of business and residence. One business/residence address was the Daniel McPhee restaurant at 1789 Georgia. The other housed the Pacific Marine Engineering, with one of its employees, A. L. Mosher, living on the premises.[41] This concentration of businesses was not surprising, since the city blocks in this section of Georgia Street extended north to the edge of Coal Harbour and really was an extension of the new business district after the CPR established its terminal near the waterfront at Granville Street.[42] Hence, a number of businesses connected to the marine trade were located here. Twelve of the sixteen businesses (including the four addresses listed both as business and residence) on the north side of Georgia Street between Bidwell and Chilco streets fell into this category and included the Vancouver Ship Yard Ltd. It is also possible that two others, Pascoe & Woron Grinders and Fred J. Tuohey, a machinist, weree involved in the marine business. McPhee’s and the Fred T. Copp Restaurants made up the rest of the remaining two businesses.

In the three blocks on the south side of Georgia, the configuration was quite the opposite, with residences the dominant pattern of development. Twenty-three addresses appeared in the three blocks running between Bidwell and Chilco treets. Of these, only two were businesses and one a combination of residence and business, with the rest all residences, including a nine-unit apartment building.[43] Not surprisingly, one of the businesses was an engineering and supply firm catering to the marine trade. The other ones were the Horse Show Building, which had hosted events other than the equestrian kind, and a confectionery.[44] Thus, it could be said that this six-block section of town had a combination of manufacturing and residence.

A closer examination of the residents gives us a hint of the socio-economic background of the occupants listed in the addresses within the six-block neighbourhood. In cross-checking the 1911 name and street directories,[45] thirty-four names appeared in the thirty residential and dual resident/business addresses in this section of Georgia Street, including the nine-unit Stuart Apartments. Three of the thirty-four had no information on their profession. Of the remaining thirty-one residents, Mrs. Elizabeth Matthews, a widow, also had no profession listed. Her late husband, William M. Matthews, however, used to work as a third steward on the SS Empress of Japan in the CPR’s trans-Pacific fleet. Another resident, Maude Snodgress, lived with Edward B. Perry in room five of the nine-unit Stuart Building. While the directory listed Perry’s workplace as Maple Leaf Bakery, Snodgress had no profession listed. In fact, Snodgress was not listed in the following year’s directory at all when Perry moved out of the six-block area. Other than these five who had no employment listed, one could classify the remaining residents somewhere between the lower and upper middle class if professions were to be used to approximate social standings. Their professions ranged from an expressman to an accountant to business owners. So this part of the West End, an area to the west of Granville Street, could be characterized as middle class.

Changes in the Neighbourhood, 1911–1914

When the Vancouver Arena first opened its doors to the public on Wednesday night, 21 December 1911, over a thousand skaters and curious onlookers crowded into the rink for a skating session that included both men and women. While this number seemed small in relation to the 10,500 seating capacity of the arena, one must keep in mind that this event was a skating session and the ice surface measured only 210 by 85 feet. Although it is not clear how many of the patrons were from the immediate neighbourhood, the novelty of the arena no doubt created a buzz in the city as well as traffic into the area.[46] What then happened to this neighbourhood after the initial excitement generated by the opening of the arena waned? Table 1 shows the changes in the number of businesses and residents in this six-block neighbourhood.

At first glance, the number of residents and businesses in the six-block area peaked in 1910 and 1912 respectively.[47] This pattern of development agreed with the economic growth of Vancouver. Between 1912 and 1914, the city experienced a period of economic depression when “there was at least 25 percent more labour in British Columbia than was needed.”[48] Table 2 supports this fact that Vancouver’s economic prosperity had slowed considerably by 1914. While new businesses continued to move into this area, that number had dropped dramatically between 1913 and 1914. Moreover, there began a net loss of businesses in 1914. Further evidence of the deteriorating economy can be found in the businesses that left the six-block area. Seventeen businesses moved out of the neighbourhood between 1913 and 1914. Twelve, or just under 71 per cent, left the city entirely. One business owner, Kenneth Craig, closed his store in 1914 and worked for another company. Another also closed shop in the same year and worked as a contractor. Others tried to hang on. Thomas R. Nickson, for example, had an office at 512–207 Hastings Street with a showroom at the foot of Bidwell Street in 1910. He moved his office to 1901 Georgia in 1911. In the next year, he partnered with several other people to expand his business interests into three other operations. By 1914, his company, T. R. Nickson Co., was no longer listed and two of his other three business interests also closed. The remaining one, A. F. Paddon & Co. Towing did not list Nickson as an owner. Nor did Nickson’s entry under the name directory associate him with the company.

If we were to examine construction activities and changes in the usage of existing buildings in the first year after the Vancouver Arena was built, ten new addresses, including that of the arena, appeared in the six-block area.[49] Of the ten, nine were businesses. Moreover, Edward Marshal had turned the upstairs portion of 1968 Georgia from a residence into a business/residence, housing a confectionery. (Incidentally, the downstairs portion was also a restaurant operated by William McKenzie.) Marshall’s was not the only food service business to come into the area at the same time as the Vancouver Arena. William Orde had also opened a restaurant in a new location two buildings to the west of the arena. Other than these two and McKenzie’s establishments, all other new businesses were still tied to the marine trade. With the injection of two new food service businesses within the six blocks, one could argue that there was an entertainment district developing in the area after the construction of the Vancouver Arena.

Table 1

Number of businesses and residents in the six-block area of the Vancouver Arena

Number of businesses and residents in the six-block area of the Vancouver Arena

* Number of residents for each year exceeds the number in the table, because the directory usually lists only the main occupant of the household. Cross-checking the name and street directories and tracking the residents’ movement sometimes reveals multiple occupants in one address.

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If there was an “entertainment district” developing around the six-block area of the Vancouver Arena, it did not continue in the second year of the arena’s existence. Nine new businesses appeared in the neighbourhood. One, Charles E. Jennings Sporting Goods at 1800 Georgia directly across from the arena, could be another indication of the arena’s influence in drawing a related business into the area. On the other hand, Marshall had closed his restaurant and left the city. Downstairs from Marshall, William McKenzie’s confectionery also closed. In his stead, A. Gigure confectionery took over this location, replacing both Marshall and McKenzie. Yet Donald J. Gunn also converted the ground floor of Stuart Apartments, next to Gigure’s, into a restaurant. Gunn, however, vacated the premises the next year and no other business replaced his restaurant at 1974 Georgia during the remainder of the period under examination. In fact, only two other new restaurants moved into this area after this year and both opened for business in 1914.

Besides the absence of an entertainment district, new construction in the six-block area continued to decline in 1913 and 1914. Even when new addresses appeared, it is not clear if any were new construction. In 1913, for example, five new addresses appeared in the directory. In one, Kenneth Craig established a machinist shop in 1800 Georgia, which became available when Charles Jennings closed his sporting goods store and left town. At the same address, Archibald Walker also relocated his automobile company there from two buildings away at 1840 Georgia. Craig worked for Walker in the previous year, and it is unclear if Craig’s shop was a new building or he simply shared Walker’s store.[50] On the other hand, Camille B. Smith opened a fancy goods store at 1955 Georgia, a previously unoccupied space, and a number of cabins were built near the entrance of Stanley Park. The rest of the two new addresses were residences, although one of them had the same street address as the Stuart Building. It is plausible that this address did not represent a new building, but the tenant, Thomas A. Wakefield, moved into the space previously occupied by Donald Gunn’s confectionery. Like his predecessors, Marshall and McKenzie, Gunn could not make a go of the business and left the city by 1913.

Table 2

Net changes in businesses and residents, between 1911–1914

Net changes in businesses and residents, between 1911–1914

Note: The number of residents does not truly reflect the actual number of people living in the area. These numbers merely represent changes in the names at the same address between the respective years. Each individual address, of course, could have had more than one person living there.

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While the number of new addresses had decreased after 1912 because much of the land in the area had already been developed, the total number of addresses and buildings went up. Two more new addresses appeared in 1914. Burlingame C. Pasco Boat Brokers opened a store at 1795 Georgia, sharing the address with two other businesses: Thompson Boat House and Alex Fulton, engineer. A new confectionery store went up at 1890 Georgia, a location that also had a residence.

Even though new buildings appeared during this period, not all the buildings, newly or previously built, was necessarily occupied after 1913. To take 1728 Georgia as an example, between 1910 and 1913, two separate entries appeared in this address. Walter and Henry Bulwer were listed in one and Ralph H Lowndes the other. While no profession was given for Walter, Henry was a commission merchant at M Des Brisay & Co., and Lowndes worked as a clerk at T. H. Calland & Co. Walter was not listed in the 1912 directory, and both Henry and Ralph moved to 705 Bidwell in 1913. Their residences at 1728 Georgia remained empty until 1914 at least. Thus a few buildings were without tenants when the economy slowed.

Growth, Planning, and Sport Facilities

If sport facilities could be catalysts in urban development in the early twentieth century, the Vancouver Arena’s case lent little credence to this claim. Certainly new businesses did move into the six-block area after the facility was built. Yet analysis of the types of businesses and their numbers over time seems to indicate that the area’s development was more dependent on the general economy of the city and its location at the harbour’s edge. While new businesses and new construction did occur during the prosperous years, the area experienced a net loss in businesses when the economic depression hit the city in 1913. Indeed, the annual bank clearings in Vancouver dropped from a high of $645 million in 1912 to $421 million in 1914. A reflection of dampened investments, the number of building permits declined also, from a high of 3,221 to 1,314 in 1914. Perhaps a better indication of Vancouver’s worsening economy was its activities as a seaport. Both the number of outgoing and incoming vessels and tonnage decreased during this period. In fact, custom revenues from exports and imports fell from just over $9 million in 1913 to about $5 million in 1915.[51]

Besides the gloomy economic climate in the city after 1912, the number and the type of businesses (marine and manufacture-related) in the area over this period provide no evidence that an entertainment district appeared before or after the Vancouver Arena came opened its doors. If the Vancouver Arena had any impact on the neighbourhood at all, it was minimal. The only business that could be linked to the Vancouver Arena was the sporting goods store and it lasted just one year. The restaurants were there before the arena was built, and it would be hard to assert that the new ones were there because of the facility. Even if the appearance of new restaurants such as Marshall’s and Orde’s was attributed to the arena, these enterprises seldom lasted longer than a year or two. All of these restaurants or confectioneries were small businesses and they appeared and disappeared with regularity. William R. Orde’s case is instructive. Orde resided at Fred T. Copp’s Restaurant in 1910 at 1997 Georgia, probably working for Copp. In 1911, he opened his own restaurant just a block away at 1873 Georgia. By the next year, Orde changed the name of the restaurant bearing his name to Horseshoe Restaurant, possibly for luck. Yet luck seems to have eluded Orde because, in 1913, Horseshoe Restaurant became the property of Maude Miles and Orde now shared a room with Charles Cook, a stableman of the Beaver Transportation Company. No profession was given for Orde that year and he left the city in 1914. Hence, whatever consumers the arena was able to attract to its vicinity, there was not enough business to support these restaurants.

This case study is by no means proof of how or if sport facilities before the Second World War positively affected urban development. Rather, the Vancouver Arena case offers one piece of evidence that sports-related facilities had little, if any, impact on the vitality of a city. Using a small area for this study favours a positive outcome, but no tangible evidence of positive economic growth can be attributed to the presence of the arena. Moreover, this examination confirms the assertion that whatever benefits a sport facility generates are not a significant part of the local economy, and a sport facility remains subject to the larger economy of the city.[52] In part, the minimal effect of the Vancouver Arena can be explained by the relatively short winter sport season, which generally lasted between November and April. Although the arena could make artificial ice, its business occurred in the winter months because generally it closed shortly after the hockey season was over. During the hockey season, the Vancouver Arena hosted PCHA as well as amateur games. In fact, Frank Patrick promoted a city amateur league whose games would, of course, be played in the arena. Yet city games in general did not draw large crowds. Given the location of the arena in the West End, it is also interesting to note that all initial city league clubs came from middle- to upper-middle-class organizations.[53] We can surmise that whatever paying customers there were to these games, they would be in similar social classes. To a large measure, the fifty-cent minimum admission to the PCHA games in addition to the ten-cent trolley fare determined the type of patrons as well. The cost of attending a hockey game regularly does not seem to be within the realm of most of the working class. Besides his involvement in the hockey business, Patrick was also instrumental in the formation of the Vancouver Curling Club and the upper-class Connaught skating club, whose executive board consisted of some of Vancouver’s elite. While the lowest price for adult admission to a skating session was only twenty-five cents, this price was available only in the mornings—a time when working-class patrons were less likely to attend. Tickets for evenings and Saturday afternoons, when members of the working class might possibly be able to attend, cost fifty cents,[54] so likely the cost of arena leisure restricted its clientele to those in the middle class and above.

Historian David Nasaw argued that turn-of-the-twentieth-century leisure entertainment providers such as the Patricks had to expand their customer base and present a product “respectable enough to offend no one.”[55] In Vancouver, the elite and the middle class had already participated in an expanded leisure life by the time the arena was established. While private teas still constituted the fare for the elite, they and the middle class were patronizing public commercial entertainment, such as dining in one of the downtown clubs and restaurants, or attending the new Opera House that opened in the same year as the arena, or one of the at least ten theatres that offered everything from American vaudeville companies to Hollywood movies.[56] What the arena had to offer—hockey, skating, and curling— fell, of course, within acceptable recreational practices for these leisure seekers, but much of these commercialized, public options were at the downtown core and it is unlikely that leisure consumers considered the six-block area when they chose their entertainment.

There were, however, other options for Vancouverites near the arena that drew consumers to the area. When the arena was built, the area already had the Horse Show Building. Furthermore, the entrance to Stanley Park was only three blocks away. By this time, the park had become a popular recreation area for the city’s middle and upper classes who could reach the park either by the still-rare private automobile or the city tramline.[57] Hence, the arena was near an area where many in the middle and upper classes came for recreation and leisure. Yet the kinds of entertainment provided by Stanley Park and the Horse Show Building were quite different from professional hockey, which demanded regular audience for scheduled games. Unless games were meaningful, like the Stanley Cup finals between Vancouver and Ottawa in the 1914–15 season, the arena’s power to draw large crowds into this neighbourhood was limited.[58] Granville Street remained the hub of the city, with its concentration of hotels, stores, and offices, and the lack of evidence of growth in the six-block area of the arena seems to indicate that there was little if any substitution effect. Too few Vancouver consumers forewent entertainment in other downtown leisure businesses for what the arena had to offer. Without a coordinated effort by the businesses around the arena and city planners to turn this six-block area into an entertainment destination, the Vancouver Arena, on its own, simply did not have the wherewithal to do so.

When considering the extent to which sport facilities benefit a neighbourhood, one could argue for the importance of integrated economic planning between public and private sectors, on the basis of the Vancouver Arena’s case. But, at the time, Vancouver city council held a laissez-faire attitude towards businesses and believed that a government’s main function was “not to direct or plan city growth, but to see that municipal services were available, that city regulations were met, and that funds were spent in an honest, impartial manner.”[59] Even if the city council had wished to act, it is doubtful that the CPR, the dominant landowner in downtown Vancouver, would have allowed another district to compete with Granville Street, where it located its railroad terminal and hotel. The fact that the Patricks managed to maintain Vancouver Arena until a fire destroyed it in 1936 was a testament to their entrepreneurial spirit. Yet without a coordinated effort between government and private enterprise, a major sport facility’s contribution to the development of its surrounding community was uncertain at best, as shown by the Vancouver Arena example.

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