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6th Annual
Secrets of The City
by Shawn Blore
illustrations by Tomio Nitto

(First published in Vancouver, November 1998)

Infamous Visitors

Moving Violations

Bad Addresses


Tunnel Visions

Screen Gems

Quiz: Welcome to Genericville

Infamous Visitors
They came, they saw, they took fashion advice from Loverboy. In most cases, the city was the same again.

Way back in the '80s, before Kurt, Hole and superstardom, little Courtney Love had another career - also in the entertainment field - as a stripper in local clubs. That much is well-known. What isn't as widely publicized is the genesis of her nose job. According to Love herself, at age 15 she was up from Portland with some groupie girlfriends when drummer Matt Frenette of the local hair band Loverboy spotted her and called out "Hey, you'd be a fox if you got your nose fixed." Love took the advice to heart and got the surgery done as soon as she could.

The Pelvis set a record for his shortest-ever appearance right here in Vancouver, disappearing just five songs and 15 minutes into his September 3, 1957, Empire Stadium concert. Fans complained that the $2 admission charge was a scam.

"Well, suh, those five songs were some of my best."

Although in political disfavour and semi-exile, the British statesman was asked to speak to the 60th Annual Provincial Exhibition on September 3, 1929. In his address he commented that the decision to hold the fair despite the grounds having burned down six weeks earlier was "the culmination of a courage that does not know defeat." There was no mention of blood, toil, tears and sweat, however.

Winston Churchill rallies the troops fighting valiantly to put on a good fair.

His Highness Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Wadaulah, often described as the world's second wealthiest person, stopped by in 1995 looking to find a waterfront pied--terre in West Van. Sadly, local Nimby opposition to his wild parties and helicopter pad scared the poor Sultan away.

En route to EXPO 67 in Montreal, the emperor of Ethiopia and living Jah to millions of Rastafarians worldwide set down with his pet chihuahua, Lulu. During his brief stopover he was entertained by Vancouver mayor Tom "Terrific" Campbell, who a few months later would try to have all of Vancouver's hippies rounded up and placed in detention in a single central location - with gassing presumably to follow. Selassie would have approved of this, of course, for 'tis a little-known fact that the Lion of Judah hated his dread-locked followers with an abiding passion.

In the 1920s the illusionist and escape artist was hung upside down in a strait- jacket from the Sun Tower on the edge of Victory Square. Thousands of bowler-hatted Vancouverites turned out to watch. The Vancouver Sun even managed to send a photographer. Of course, it did happen on their doorstep.

Storming the vaudeville circuit with buddy Zeppo Marx in 1922, comedian Jack Benny swung by Strathcona's Ferrera Court apartment building (504 E. Hastings St.) to visit one of Marx's friends. There he met a local rabbi's daughter, Sadie Marks, soon to be renamed Mary Livingstone, but later to be known as Mrs. Benny, or just "Oh Mary." The romance didn't exactly bloom right away, however. At the time, she was only 12.

On his way to Alaska in 1947, the animation tycoon stayed at the Hotel Vancouver for a few days, revealing plans to local reporters to ease out Mickey Mouse and replace him with rising-star Donald Duck.

The blonde bombshell and future presidential playmate arrived in Vancouver in 1953 to promote her latest movie. In a single day she posed for 373 photographers and 32 "newspaper men" (though only 11 had actual assignments). Her reception was a bit surprising, since the only really notable thing Monroe had done at that point was pose for some "calendar art," as the Sun judiciously put it. All that was about to change, however. From here, the starlet boarded a train for Jasper to make River of No Return. While there, the movie she arrived in Vancouver to promote, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, became a huge hit, turning her into Hollywood's brightest star.

Hold that pose. More than 300 photographers showed up to shoot Marilyn Monroe.

In May 1914, the creator of Sherlock Holmes had already come and gone from these parts (passing through to lecture on his pet subject, spiritualism) when the Komagata Maru sailed into Vancouver crammed with 376 Indians, mostly Sikhs. Bitterness and scandal - some would say shame - ensued when those aboard were refused admission to Canada and forced to sit in the harbour for two months before finally sailing away. Hearing of the event, Doyle cleverly deduced the Moriarty-like force responsible. "The whole incident seemed to me to be so grotesque - for why should sun-loving Hindoos [sic] force themselves upon Canada - that I was convinced some larger purpose lay behind it. That purpose was, as we can now see, to promote discord among the races under the British flag. There can be no doubt that it was German money that chartered that ship."

Before the knighthood, before LiveAid, even before the Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof held the position of entertainment editor at the Georgia Straight. By all accounts, the expat Brit liked the job, which he held from 1974 through 1975. Indeed, had it not been for Immigration Canada's eventual insistence on a work permit, Geldof might be toiling there still.

That's not to say he wasn't even then thinking of bigger things. In a review of John Denver's Back Home Again, Geldof had the following telltale nuggets to share: "He's charming, has that ultra-bright smile, wholesome features, and the all-important boy-next-door quality, but if that's all it takes, why ain't I a star? I'd love to be a star. I think I'd be an excellent star."

In 1969 the Apollo astronaut was a hero. Untold millions tuned in to watch as he sprang about on the surface of the moon and spoke some immortal words having to do with small steps and giant leaps.

Eight years later, only a handful showed up as Armstrong made another small step - into some wet cement, so that his footprint could be recorded on the occasion of the grand opening of the Harbour Centre observation platform. Fortunately a visual record of the occasion still exists. A photograph hung by the deck's bar shows Armstrong, flanked by a pair of Herb Tarlick characters, pulling his booted foot from the gunk. A shoeshine boy awaits by his side.

The cement impression has also been preserved. It sits alone, unmarked and unloved, in the stairwell by the emergency exit. No one can figure out exactly what to do with it, according to the Harbour Centre spokesman. They had to move it to the stairwell because tourists kept tripping over it.