Sunday, August 14, 2011

Retracing Victoria's Wheel Tracks

This week was one of great progress in terms of learning more about the history of my van. Steve was researching an old car dealer named Plimley and he found the ad above in the November 18, 1950, edition of the Vancouver Province newspaper. In this month Plimley joined with Oxford Motors to open the British Car Centre at 2211 West 4th Avenue. It was an art deco building that consumed a whole city block. Today it’s condos, a bank and some retail. The two dealerships were kept separate, but together specialized in British vehicles. It was a kind of early auto mall. There’s a plaque there today recognizing Horace Plimley.

Oxford Motors previously occupied a building near Burrard and West Georgia in Vancouver. Today this is the heart of the financial area. Above are several photos of this location, but first look at the one will all the cars outside. That’s from circa 1938. The color one shows the place where this photo was taken.

Of special interest are the two photo that show the dealership in 1942 – one with windows, and another with many of the windows cemented in. The reason: The dealership was the HQ of the Provincial Civilian Protection Committee during the war, and closing in the windows was intended to “bomb proof’ the building in case the Japanese attacked the city.

The ad above is important because I think it points to the origin of my van. My van was assembled in May 1950 or thereabouts. It was then shipped from Birmingham to Canada, and across the continent on rail. The ad explains that models are “On Display Now!”. I know my van was not registered until 1951. So I expect it may have been on hand at the time Oxford opened its new doors at the West 4th address in November 1950. I like the line in the ad where it explains “research of trader throughout the world…” went into the van’s design. That’s why they were selling a van in Canada in winter with no heater!

The ad further explains that Oxford was the distributor for “British Columbia and Alberta” which, to me, means that my van most likely floated through the hands of this dealer (either for sale or enroute to another dealer) at the end of 1950. But who?

I’ll never meet the people that brought my little van to Vancouver, but the another photo above shows the 1954 Automotive Retailers Association dinner at the hotel Vancouver (the old-looking green-roofed building that can also be seen in another photo above). The ARA was and continues to be a very important trade organization in British Columbia. Given the size of the province back then, and the concentration of elites in Vancouver, it is almost certain that the ghostly face of the person who brought “Victoria” to Canada is in there somewhere, looking back.

No comments: