Vancouver Was Awesome: Cycling Early Vancouver

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1950

A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

Cycling was a popular sport and one of the main modes of transportation in early Vancouver. Initially it was not considered a respectable activity for women, but that view quickly faded as all types of people turned to cycling as one of the most practical ways to get around town. Bike racks were installed in office building vestibules, and public parks and large public buildings such as City Hall and the CPR station had large racks that could hold a couple of dozen or more bikes.

The empty lot on the corner of Granville and Pender Streets, where the Rogers Building now stands, was converted into a bike-riding school that did a bustling business. The lot was covered with crushed cinders and a large fence was erected so passing pedestrians couldn’t gawk at the newbie riders. Bicycle shops were numerous and sometimes hired stunt cyclists to perform tricks on the street.

Vancouver’s roads at the time were mostly macadam or wooden planks, neither of which was good for riding on when they got mucky in the winter, so cyclists often rode on the sidewalks. Not surprisingly, pedestrians complained and city council passed a bylaw imposing a steep fine on sidewalk riders. Finally, cinder bicycle lanes were built on several streets. They were paid for with a voluntary tax, were about six feet wide, and were well maintained. The lanes made it an easy ride out to Stanley Park, Greer’s (Kits) Beach, up to Mount Pleasant, and other popular destinations.

Cycling use waned somewhat as the streetcar network became more extensive. Once the automobile took over the streets, the bike lanes fell into disrepair and were eventually removed or paved over. Cycling enjoyed a renaissance during WWII, but only in recent years has it become accepted as a popular mode of transportation worthy of its own infrastructure as it was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Source: Hastings and Cambie Streets, ca. 1898 (cropped), City of Vancouver Archives #Str P18. Most of the info comes from Major JS Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 1, p. 79=81.

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