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INSTANT REPLAY: Grouse Mountain’s first mayor
North Van City and District election officials certainly missed out on a surefire method to create some much-needed hype and interest surrounding the recent municipal elections.
That is if you look back at the annual election held for the so-called mayor of Grouse Mountain which was first contested on Nov. 28, 1936.
Can you envision defeated City mayoralty candidates Chris “Kit” Nichols, Ron Polly and George Pringle hauling re-elected mayor Darrell Mussatto up Lonsdale on a toboggan? How about Margie Goodman pulling the District’s choice, Richard Walton, along Edgemont Boulevard or Mount Seymour Parkway?
You see, a stunt of that magnitude actually did take place exactly 75 years ago when the Tyee Ski Runners hatched a plan to hype its election for the first mayor of the Grouse Mountain Ski Village in 1936.
Their little scheme garnered some great publicity for the just-formed Tyee club which, of course, was the project’s main objective. The Tyees at that time were in direct competition for members with three long-established North Shore ski clubs: Hollyburn Pacific (founded in 1927), Grouse Mountain (1929) and Vancouver (1930), plus a fledgling club on Mt. Seymour which was forming that very month.
The Tyee club officially began Sept. 27, 1935, apparently shortly after the cash-strapped Grouse Mountain Ski Club rebuffed a suggestion from skiers who had cabins close to the Village Inn – in the original ski village at the base of The Cut – to relocate the club’s headquarters from a cabin higher up the mountain to the village.
It wasn’t long before the Tyee Ski Runners came up with an innovative plan that would not only produce a six-person Grouse village council but also result in valuable – and free – media attention for the club, something priceless at any time but especially during the Great Depression.
The deal was that the losers of the three-way mayoralty race between Roy “Square Deal” Clendening, Gordon “Work and Wages” Harrington and Ralph McKenzie would have to wear skis while dragging the winner on a toboggan mounted on roller skates for three city blocks from the old Hotel Vancouver (then located on Georgia Street between Howe and Granville) north along Granville to Hastings.
Pat Slattery, who penned the Ski-Slants gossip column in The Vancouver Sun, covered the campaigning and results with regular items as did The Vancouver Daily Province’s ski reporter Ivan Nixon along with Don Tyrell in the paper’s Ski Heil! column.
“The Grouse civic election is something new and has created considerable interest,” wrote Slattery, the future dapper-dandy men’s fashion columnist and North Van District alderman from 1966-75, in his Nov. 14, 1936, column. “Any number of candidates are running for the offices of mayor, town constable, fire chief, dog catcher and curfew bell ringer (that’s a laugh).”
Noting that “countless” new cabins had been built, he named the better-known ones: Slalom Inn, Vat 67, Neon, Shuksan Hut, Hoodoos, Montagnals, Ski Tepee, Flint and Feather, Wreck of the 97, Noseeums, Jokers, Lizards, Icicles, All Pals, Cornets and Nomads.
On election day, The Province reported, “There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight. At least in Grouse Mountain Town, according to the predictions of the hill billy skiers who go to the polls this evening to elect a ‘mayor’…
“Other office seekers [beside the mayoral candidates] are Louis Savard and Eddie Christie, who are fighting for the position of town constable and dog catcher. Wally Kendall and Andy Harper are attempting to strongarm their way into the vice and morality squad while Sid de Bues, Cam MacDonald and Bob Neild [actually Nield] intend to lead the firemen to fires. Vi Burton and Gerry Doucette have wound up their strong campaign to have each other elected as sanitary inspectors.”
As you can see, it wasn’t all serious, although the campaigning was fierce.
The club’s summation of the event in the 1937 Canadian Ski Year Book, explained that the campaigning “culminated in one grand jamboree of speeches and impossible promises by the various candidates,” adding that those running for mayor “came dressed in their conceptions of what a well-dressed mayor should wear, which costumes included top hats, dinner jackets and villainous moustaches.”
The Province estimated, “Three hundred skiers crowded into the forty-cabin town” for the voting with Clendening – always incorrectly spelled Clendenning in the papers – winning “by a two-thirds majority.” The Sun ran a photo of Clendening with the other victors: Savard, Kendall, Nield, Burton and money-bags (head of finance) Gibb Nicholls.
But, with the mayor and his entourage now set to parade through downtown Vancouver six days later on Dec. 4, 1936, the fun was far from over.
The Sun described the hijinks in a 270-word story headlined “Skiers Startle Citizenry With Wild Election Parade.”
“Shrieking blood-curdling Indian yells, blowing whistles and clanging a large cow bell, Tyee Ski Runners of Grouse Mountain staged a unique, though short, parade Friday night. The event was the result of a pre-election bet between candidates Roy Clendenning [sic], Gordon Harrington and Ralph McKenzie, who ran for the office of mayor in Grouse Mountain City. The bet called for the losing candidates to pull Roy Clendenning, ‘the People’s Choice,’ on a toboggan along Granville and Hastings street.
“Leading the procession was the town crier, who bore on his back a large sign announcing the show was in honor of ‘The Lord Mayor.’ Between sessions of bell-ringing the crier bellowed ‘Hear ye, hear ye. Make way for his lordship, the Mayor of Grouse Mountain Village.’
Town constable Louie Savard, Tyee shield bearers and a rearguard were also in attendance with everyone but the mayor donning ski clothing and equipment. The parade was escorted by a Vancouver police squad car.
The 1936 event was hardly a one-shot deal. By 1938, the election campaign had expanded to include political leaflets dropped on Grouse from a low-flying plane and CKWX coverage of the election night results from atop the mountain. The downtown Vancouver toboggan run remained the climax to the whole affair.
So would a toboggan ride on Lonsdale for the winning mayors be the catalyst for increased interest in the next North Van municipal elections? Until it’s tried, we’ll never know.
This is episode 442 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.