Art & Artists in Exhibition: Vancouver 1890 - 1950
     Home     Artists     Exhibitions     Organizations     Clippings     References    

Vancouver City Museum Golden Jubilee 1894 - 1944
History of The Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver

"Vancouver's First Cultural Association"

by Noel Robinson
Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver


      The student of any major war is aware that one of its colloraries (sic) is the psychological change it brings with it in the attitude of the average man towards the sort of books he chooses to read. This has been very noticeable in the present World War.

      There has, for instance, been a great increase in the number of patrons of the Vancouver Public Library, whose taste for non-fiction books in preference to fiction has led to an unprecedented demand for the former. And Vancouver is only one of innumerable cities on this Continent, and in the Old Country, where this has found to be the case.

      Similarly, the war has led to a marked increase in the number of visitors to the Vancouver Museum - an increase altogether out of proportion to the increase of population. In the course of the four years of hostilities our City Musuem has experienced an almost phenomenal increase in the number of its visitors - and this despite the fact that it can only be reached through the ascent of a lengthy marble stairway which, however imposing and picture-lined it may be, is a weariness to the flesh of the more elderly among the visitors.

      For some years past the number of those visitors has exceeded the 100,000 mark annually - exclusive of children, who, either in school groups or individually, have been in excess of that number. Of those visitors men in uniform of many nationalities have constituted a very considerable proportion during the war years. Those of us in the last war who found ourselves on leave in London, Paris or Brussels, or in smaller centres of population, recall the attraction that museums had for us.

      Various reasons have been given for this increased interest in the past at a time when present interests would seem to be paramount. The most cogent of these reasons would appear to be the desire of the average man to forget for the moment the current catastrophic happenings by delving into the literature of the past in our libraries and other mementoes of preceding generations. There has been a great stimulus to thinking.

      By a happy circumstance this very noticeable mental stimulus induced by war coincides, locally, with the Jubilee of the Vancouver Art, Historical and Scientific Association, the organization which in the pioneer period of the city, and for many years thereafter, was the basis of nearly all the cultural life in Vancouver and which is still the governing body of the Museum. For this reason it has been felt that, coincident with the commemoration during the anniversary week - April 24 to 30 - there should appear this little brochure presenting some of the highlights, - and the pioneers connected with them, - in the history of the Association, which was founded in 1894.

      We have, however, to go back a few years earlier than 1894 in order to give credit where credit is due in this matter - i.e. to the inspiration which was the genesis of the movement. This is contained in a letter written in London, England, by a remarkable man named Hyde Clarke, D.C.L., to the Vancouver News Advertiser and published on September 22, 1887, the year after the city's incorporation. This letter begins: "Now that the future of British Columbia and its great destiny is recognized on all hands it would be well if its citizens remember that they have a history." After pointing out that it was then 100 years since Captain Meares, in June, 1788, under the auspices of the East India Company, built a fort in Nootka sound and established trade with China, and stressing subsequent dramatic happenings ("I have seen Cook's ship in which he explored your coast and remember as a boy his sailors still remained in Greenwich Hospital"), Mr. Clarke forecasts the possible erection in Vancouver of statues of Captains Cook and Vancouver and urges the provision of books of reference bearing upon the history of the city and province as well as Indian and other relics in a future museum.

      Immediately following the publication of this letter, the late Mr. F.L. Carter-Cotton (proprietor and editor of the Vancouver News Advertiser) wrote an admirably worded editorial calling attention to it. He concluded this editorial with the following paragraph:

      "Whilst we do not know whether a centennial, as proposed by Mr. Clarke, could be successfully staged and celebrated here, we think it an opportune occasion to suggest that, in connection with, or under the auspices of, the Board of Trade to be established here, it would be both interesting and beneficial to found an Historic Society which should gather and preserve records and information connected with the history of British Columbia. And it is possible that Mr. Clarke and other friends of the Colony in England would willingly assist such a movement by securing for us any materials obtainable there which would aid the object which the Society would have in view."

      Mr. Clarke, who was one of the best known members of the council of Journalists and Newspaper Proprietors, and also editor of The Economist, wrote in French, Spanish, and other languages, established a newspaper in Turkey, compiled the first 'Index to the Times,' and in 'Men of the Time' is referred to as an outstanding European linguist and well-known writer on literacy, historical and economic subjects, and author of a number of scientific discoveries.

      Internal evidence in the old minute books of the Art, Historical and Scientific Association points to the fact that it was this letter and editorial that provided the stimulus that led to the establishment of that body, which was, however, preceded by the founding of an Art Association upon a date, and at a place in the city, to which there is no exact reference.

      In this connection it should be mentioned, parenthetically, that Mr. Will Ferris, who became the first curator of the Museum, stated that, as far back as 1889, Captain and Mrs. Mellon, Mrs. W. Webster and himself met in a small store on Hastings Street and started in a very small way an Art Association. Years later the late Mr. R.F. Gosnell, well-known journalist and one to whom the province is much indebted as founder of our Provincial Archives and collector of historical data in connection with B.C., writing to "Diogenes" (the late Bernard McEvoy of the Vancouver Province) commenting upon Mr. Ferris's statement, observed: "It is not a matter of any importance, but somehow or other I got it into my head that the first meeting was held in my house on Howe Street and I have a distinct recollection of Captain Mellon and Mrs. Mellon being present and I think also Mrs. J. McGillivray. I certainly was a charter member and personally solicited subscriptions to purchase some Indian curios from the late Mr. James Deans of Victoria and these formed the nucleus of the present collection in the Carnegie Library building and I remember the late Mr. R.J. Skinner, forestry inspector, subscribed $25 towards the fund."

      On a Sunday in February, 1892, a scheme for the enlargement of the scope of the Art Association was put forward on the motion of Mr. Gosnell, seconded by Mr. A.G. Hamersley, when for the first time the present name, Art, Historical and Scientific Association, was suggested. The members of the committee elected to draw up this scheme were Captain and Mrs. Mellon and Messrs. J.C. Keith, Charles Hill-Tout, J.B. Kerr and R.F. Gosnell. At subsequent meetings - at one of which Mayor Cope presided and the speakers were the Revs. J.W. Pedley and E.D. McLaren, and Messrs. J. Balfour Ker and Mr. Kitto, Japanese consul, with Ald. E. Odlum as secretary - it was pointed out that many old relics identified with the bygone periods of the province were rapidly disappearing and, if a museum were to be established to contain them, immediate action in the matter was necessary as curio seekers from all parts of Canada and the United States were gradually carrying them away.

      Other meetings were held in the Lefevre Block, but it was not until April 17, 1894, when a public meeting was held in the O'Brien Hall, the Rev. Norman Tucker, rector of Christ Church, in the chair, that the Vancouver Art, Historical and Scientific Association came into being. In the meantime, the first Art Exhibition had been held in the Lefevre Block (corner of Seymour and Hastings Streets) in 1890.


Section partially omitted. Includes history of Vancouver; list of first members of the Society; list of local donors; list of survivors in 1944 of original members (see below); and notes regarding the history of the AHSAV - meetings, talks.

      Of these survivors - all more than four-score years of age - one, Mrs. Banfield, has rendered invaluable service as chairman of one of the committees that has organized the present Jubilee commemoration. Another, Mrs. Richards, (Editor's note: formerly Mrs. W. Webster) whose first husband was Captain Webster, first manager of the Union Steamship Company here, played an active part in the earliest deliberations of the Association, and prior to that, herself established a pioneer art school and organized monthly discussions in an unused part of her husband's office in a room on Hastings Street near Cambie. From a letter received from her recently by Major Matthews, city archivist, it is apparent that she is still keenly interested in the progress of the Association and Museum.

Text omitted

      Immediately afterwards H.J. de Forest, who was to play a very important part in the evolution of the Association, appears for the first time actively in the picture. Mr. de Forest, an Englishman, tall, slight, and handsome, with Vandyke beard and moustache, was the most prominent local artist of his day and a number of the pictures that he painted still hang upon the walls of homes in the city and in the Museum, while his contributions to the collection of exhibits in the Museum were numerous as the years passed.


      November 1, 1894, was the first high-light in the then brief history of the Association, when an ambitious exhibition was staged in the Dunn Hall (this hall, built by Thomas Dunn, was upstairs on the right-hand side of the Fairfield Building and next the lane dividing it from the Williams Building on the west side of Granville Street near its junction with Hastings Street) and was formally opened by the then Governor-General of Canada, Lord Aberdeen, who was accompanied by Lady Aberdeen, founder of the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada, of which Order Mrs. Mellon was then the moving spirit in Vancouver.

Text omitted

      In 1904, when the Library building was completed and opened, the accommodation for the Museum was also ready, but another year had to elapse before the A.H. & S.A. was able to move in, as, owing to difficulties with contractors, the last portion of the staircase had not been completed. The occasion of the "moving in" on April 19, 1905, was a gala affair. (continues)


Section omitted. Includes biographical information on Mr. T.P.O. Menzies, Captain Mellon and Mrs. Mellon, Rev. Norman Tucker, Professor Edward Odlum, Mrs. J.C. McLagan, Judge F.W. Howay, Mr. R.P.S. Twizell, A.R.I.B.A., Mr. F.C. Wade, and Mr. Charles Hill-Tout.


Section omitted


Section omitted


Section omitted


Editor's note: Sections were omitted due to length of pamphlet.