On the corner of E 49th Avenue and Kerr Street there is an illegally-installed metal "handbill" that, until recently, the City of Vancouver had no knowledge of.
The plaque reads: "Resident's political lobbying and petitions produced the much needed 49th Ave. bus route which began on March 21, 1975."
It might seem to be a bizarre event to commemorate, especially in such a cloak-and-dagger way, but in fact, the bus route spent years in development hell with several clashes between Killarney and Victoria Drive residents, council, and transit activists.
Why were the plaques installed?
The concept of a 49th Avenue bus to UBC was first proposed in June 1973 when it was announced in the Province newspaper that the 49 would be in operation to replace the existing 46 UBC-Marine Drive bus route by September of that year. However, it was postponed several times due to a supposed shortage of buses and drivers, according to an archival document from October 1973.
The subject didn't come up again until July 1974 when residents of the Marpole-Oakridge area, led by Chairman of the Transit Committee, Elgin J. Ruddell, petitioned Vancouver City Council to "live up to their promise."
The new bus route had already been approved by the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and received a letter of support from the Chairman of the Vancouver School Board but there were two challenges to overcome: route and resident dissenters.
In a letter written to City Council in February 1975, 95 homeowners reportedly living along 49th Avenue expressed their opposition to the route which they claimed only 26 per cent of residents were in favour of, "contrary to the results of the survey the Engineering Department conducted which purported a 50-50 split."
The letter alleges that the feasibility study conducted by the city was not technical but "a public opinion poll the accuracy of which is questionable."
"At a time of inflation it is ridiculous to spend $6,800, as quoted in the Engineer's Report, for a bus service which is not going to be used," continues the letter. It suggests that the 49 bus route, or an alternative route altogether, drop down to 41st Avenue or up to 52nd once it hit west of Cambie. The residents also alleged that the City of Vancouver promised them 49th was never meant to be an arterial street and demanded a refund for the money they paid for curbing if the road did become a connecting route.
The following day, February 11, 1975, City Council voted unanimously to approve the 49th Avenue bus from South Burnaby on Imperial to 49th, Cambie, 41st, Marine Drive to UBC with stops at Langara, Dunbar, and UBC.
Who installed the plaques?
It remains a mystery who put up the plaques in remembrance of the veritable municipal wheel spinning. Advocates involved in the process are even at a loss as to who might be responsible.
“These plaques weren’t previously on our radar, but we’re thankful that they were brought to our attention," Director of Streets, Eric Mital, tells V.I.A." They are an interesting piece of Vancouver history and part of what makes our City special. However, we do have a duty to ensure that the plaques were safely installed and don’t create any safety or operational issues. As such, our staff are currently looking into this.”
The City initially took the plaques down - though they don't know how many are out there - but have since reinstalled them while they deliberate the matter. There's no word on if the guerilla plaques will be allowed to stay.