Vancouver Was Awesome: Captain Haswell’s Mammoth Captive Gas Balloon, 1911


A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

The World newspaper was certain that Captain James Haswell, “one of the best known aeronauts in America,” was making local history when it heard about his balloon project. The paper was correct, but only insofar as Haswell’s balloon is now the subject of a history blog post.

According to the World, this was the first time a balloon was constructed, not just in Vancouver, but anywhere north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. The balloon was manufactured at Kaplausky & Herman, a factory at 313 Water Street, and had impressive specifications. It was 100 feet high, could carry ten people, included two miles worth of stitching, and cost the princely sum of $5,000. The World claimed it would have been the largest balloon launched on the Pacific Coast.

The netting and basket for Captain Haswell’s balloon.

Haswell’s plan was to give balloon rides at the foot of Broughton Street at English Bay, but unfortunately the site turned out to be unsuitable ”owing to the close proximity of telegraph and telephone wires and the attendant danger from sudden squalls.” Just before the first ascension attempt, the balloon was punctured by a jagged tree stump. Haswell also needed a lighter gas to lift such a huge balloon.

Haswell then tried negotiating with officials in North Vancouver about a site on that side of the inlet, but nothing came of it, possibly because he insisted that someone provide $1,000 as insurance against the possibility of an accident. The Vancouver Park Board then turned him down when he applied to use the Harris Street Grounds, what’s now McLean Park in Strathcona. The last mention I could find of Haswell was a classified ad looking for someone to invest in his balloon scheme for Winnipeg and Eastern Canada.

A couple of months later, the World reported sightings of an “aerial monster seen in the direction of North Vancouver travelling eastwards at a good clip.” Jack Watson, an employee at a Water Street wholesaler, said it was emblazoned with an ad for the American Boot Store and the paper speculated that it was a dirigible designed specifically for advertising. The article did not mention Captain Haswell or his Mammoth Captive Gas Balloon.

Source: Images from Vancouver Daily World, 29 April and 3 June 1911

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