Powell River Firsts
Did you know? The following are some of the interesting firsts and claims to fame that makes Powell River so unique.
First Dial Phones in British Columbia & Radio-Telephone in Western Canada
Two hundred telephones were installed in the Townsite by the Powell River Company in 1921, the first rotary dial telephones in British Columbia. The Powell River Company's Authority for Expenditure Report for 1921 indicates the installation of the Automatic Telephone System cost $18,977.71, a tidy sum back then.
Powell River again lead the way in communication when in 1930 radio-telephony was given its first practical application in Western Canada, establishing a direct communication link with Vancouver. After several months of experiments the B.C. Telephone Company established an experimental station at the Powell River Company mill. This new connection was established using a combination of radio waves (between Powell River and Campbell River across the Gulf of Georgia) and wire communication, using the island land wires of the B.C. Telephone Co. to Vancouver.
The radio-telephone service allowed for calls to be connected almost instantaneously with clear and distinct voice reproduction. It was also made accessible for public use for residents wishing to communicate with Vancouver or any mainland or island town.
First Sick Benefit Society
The Charter of the Powell River Sick Benefit Society was granted under the Societies Act on August 9, 1920. The concept for the Society grew from the medical fund, which had been established by the Pulp-Sulphite Local 76 and the Papermakers Local 142, to financially aid members and their families when sickness occurred. During the first 16 years of operation, only Company employees were covered by Society benefits, not their dependents. This changed in 1936 thanks to a generous monthly grant from the Powell River Company that allowed dependents to be included in the benefit plan.
Under the original Benefit Plan, an employee would receive coverage for hospital and medical expenses as well as pharmaceutical supplies anywhere in Canada and the USA. The employee would also be entitled to $20 a week when off work due to sickness, whether in the hospital or not. This Benefit Plan at the time was considered among the most comprehensive and generous on the continent. Both the company and employees contributed to this plan.
In order to reduce the enormous bills generated by the inclusion of dependents some of the benefits were altered. Under these changes employees and dependents were covered only for medical treatments obtained in Powell River, and consultation and travelling expenses for specialists in Vancouver. Employees continued to contribute a monthly amount to the fund and the company donated a specified percentage of its monthly payroll.
For the first 24 years of its existence the Society operated a hospital, St. Luke's, as well as employed two doctors. Over the years every effort was made to expand and modernize the medical services offered. In 1942, a new, modern and fully equipped 64-bed hospital was erected at a cost of $160,000 by the Society. The Powell River Company and the British Columbia Government assisted the Society through grants. While a separate controlling organization went on to manage the new hospital, the Society, with assistance from the Powell River Company, constructed a clinic adjacent to the hospital where Society doctors C.R. Marlatt and J.A. Murison began operations in February of 1946.
By 1960 the Sick Benefit Society had approximately 2100 members, with 4,000 dependents and 190 retired pensioners.
First Permanent Forestry Lookout in coastal British Columbia
Mount Pocahontas is the 3rd highest peak on Texada Island at 532 metres (1,745 feet) tall. In 1924 its lower ledge became home to the first permanent forest fire lookout in Canada. The tiny 12 x 12 foot cabin that once topped the lower peak (elevation of 488.6 meters or 1603 feet) provided rangers with a 360 degree views of the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver Island and the coastal mountains. The Pocahontas peak provided unlimited views of the coast from Parkesville to Mount Baker. The use of a “fire finder” (a map mounted on a rotating steel disc with attached brass sighting mechanisms) developed by William B. Osborne, Jr. of Rochester, New York, over the winter of 1910-1911, enabled rangers to ascertain the exact fire location and phone or radio ground fire crews.
As technology used to detect and track forest fires advanced the little lookout was eventually abandoned in the 1970’s. Youth groups continued to hike up Pocahontas for overnight camp-outs, but in 1990 the cabin was finally dismantled, although the original concrete anchor blocks can still be seen by those who hike to the peak to enjoy the view.
First Credit Union in British Columbia
In 1932 Walter Cavanaugh, resident of Powell River, found himself unable to access affordable materials to build his own home, nor did he have the means to pay for them outright. In the 1930s personal loans did not exists, mortgages were hard to come by, and other financing options were far too expensive. This dream of building his own home would serve as the drive Cavanaugh needed to find a solution not only for himself but for others in the community as well.
In 1939, Father Leo Hobson and Walter Cavanaugh registered the Powell River Credit Union as the first chartered credit union in B.C., giving mill workers and local residents access to necessary loans and financial management that was not available to them before.
A wonderful history of the First Credit Union was written in 2014 by Linda Wegner to mark the 75th anniversary of the institution. The book Start Small, Dream Big: The 75 Year History of BC's First Credit Union, chronicles the rise of what has become a recognized financial institution throughout British Columbia.
Powell River home of the oldest operating theater in Western Canada
Contributed by Ann Nelson (owner/operator)
Designed by Henry Holdsby Simmonds, who designed most of Vancouver’s early theatres, including the restored Stanley Theatre on Granville Street (built two years after the Patricia Theatre). The Patricia Theatre was built by Smellie & Gallagher, and was commissioned by Bobby Scanlon (son of one of the founders of the Powell River Company) and Myron McLeod in 1928. It replaced the first Patricia Theatre built in 1913, just down the street. We have the blueprints submitted for approval in March 1928. Two of the Company houses were removed from site to make room for this gorgeous little Spanish Revival/Atmospheric style building on its corner lot, and that construction started in July 1928 with the first film being shown, “What Women Want”, on November 5, 1928. Following a naming contest in 1913, the theatre was named after Princess Patricia, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and daughter of Canada’s then Governor General, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.
There were originally 450 Heywood Wakefield seats installed: 28 balcony, 28 loge, and 394 general; and a Robert Morton organ, which was sold off in the 1970’s. The last organist, Henry Pavid, installed a series of his own organs starting with a Wurlitzer and ending with a Baldwin Cinema II, which the family restored to the theatre upon his death at the age of 94.
In 1982, 260 functioning Heywood Wakefield seats were salvaged from the old Penmar Theatre in Penticton, and after a seat sponsorship plan, 260 seats from the Orpheum Theatre were installed in 2009, replacing the older worn out Penmar seats.
Our family is the fourth owner of the Patricia Entertainment Company since 1913, and relocated our picture framing business into one of the two original storefronts, utilizing the second storefront as our concession area. The professional offices upstairs have been converted into a suite and offices for our businesses. We are still a single screen independent, showing first run movies, art films, with traditional theatre organ music before each show on the Baldwin Cinema II organ, staging live vaudeville/burlesque shows, theatre performances, concerts, dance recitals, weddings and speaking engagements. We are open 364 days a year, with many matinee weekends for kids’ movies, and still employ high school students, who learn how to be employees and how to interact positively with the public whilst working alongside the adult staff.
Our projection equipment has been updated to include some 1940’s cameras and 1960’s Xenon lamp houses on the original 1920’s supports. The carbon arc still projector for the glass preview slides and the carbon arc followspot for the vaudeville acts are gone, but we still use the original re-wind bench and equipment. In May 2012, the Patricia was equipped with digital projectors and Dolby surround sound, and has retained its superb live performance acoustics after installation of acoustic panels to balance the recorded sound.
Powell River home of the first totally wheelchair-accessible lake - Inland Lake
Hiking is an activity that is not always easily accessible to people with a physical disability, making the Inland Lake Provincial Park a rare find. The 13-km (8-mi) Inland Lake Trail is mostly flat with minimal grades offering a variety of terrain ranging from crushed limestone to boardwalks to bridges. There are multiple access points to the lake and three cabins with wheelchair-accessible pit toilets.
Inland Lake was first made universally accessible back in the 1980's by the Model Community Society who raised over $250,000 for the construction of the trail, made to be fully accessible for all mobility types including the need for a wheelchair. Since then the trail has gone through several rounds of maintenance and improvements, ensuring that accessibility remains a prominent feature of the trail.
Prior to being established as a park in 1997, the park was a Forest Service Recreation area.
Powell River former home of the shortest river in the World
Named for Dr. Israel Wood Powell, along with Powell Lake, the Powell River was once believed to be the shortest river in the world. Since 1910 the landscape and geography of the river has been altered drastically with the construction of the Powell River Company dam.
Today the length of the river is often debated, some giving it as 500 metres long, and others arguing for a 1005 metre length. The former would make Powell River the shortest river in Canada, the latter makes it one of the shortest rivers in North America, and the second shortest in British Columbia after the Nautley River.
No matter what side of the debate you fall on Powell River remains one of the most important waterways in the region, not just for power generation, but as a thoroughfare connecting the Townsite to a string of lakes – Powell, Goat, Windsor – that dominate the inland region.
Powell River home of the ZUNGA
The zunga. It is one thing that is uniquely 'Powell River'!
So what is it exactly? A zunga is a rope tied to a tree branch or attached to the roof in some indoor swimming pools. Commonly known as a rope swing, people swing on it and either just jump off into the water or do tricks or flips off it. Zungas are especially popular in Powell River, where the term originated.
As Tom Parkin writes in his book West Coast Words: “How it came to be isn’t known, but for at least 40 years kids in Powell River have used this word to describe a Tarzan swing; a tree rope which hangs over a summer swimming hole. A great word; pity it hasn’t spread more widely”
Powell River's own award-winning Townsite Brewery honors this local contribution to the English language with a summery golden ale of the same name.