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Osborne_Signs1-body.jpgCunningham Model 740 Ambulance, 1909
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A brand-new ambulance on its trial run knocks a man down and kills him
On the first Wednesday of October in 1909, a pedestrian in Vancouver was run over and killed by the new city ambulance, at a downtown intersection halfway between the City Hospital on Cambie Street and Hanna’s Funeral Rooms on Georgia. The ambulance was a gift to the city from a committee of influential wives, one of whom, a Mrs. Bonallie, interrupted herself during an interview in 1931 to say: “Oh I will tell you a queer thing. I helped to beg for the first motor ambulance in Vancouver; it was hard work getting the money. And the first day it was taken out on a trial run, it ran over a man and killed him, in front of old Fader’s grocery store, on Granville Street, Pender and Granville where the Bank of Montreal building is now. There was no IODE or anything; we just begged, individually, for the ambulance; we were a sort of hospital auxiliary.”
A new motor ambulance in 1909 was a rare thing. The price of the Model 740 Ambulance from Jas Cunningham, Son & Co., of Rochester, New York, was $4,000, more than $100,000 in today’s money. The Cunningham 740 was the first mass-produced motor ambulance in North America; it was powered by a 30-horsepower motor and, according to the Carriage Monthly of May 1909, “equipped with a leather-faced cone clutch and a selective type 3-speed and reverse speed change gear, a shaft drive and two sets of brakes on the rear hubs, and a wind shield which, in case of storm, may be thrown about 12 inches forward so one can see between two plates of glass, and in fair weather can be swung up against the front roof.” The Cunningham 740 weighed 3,740 pounds.
Mrs. Bonallie’s committee was assiduous in its begging campaign: they were able to place an order in time for delivery in early October. When their Model 740 rolled off a boxcar in the Great Northern Railyards, it had travelled some three thousand miles: around the Great Lakes on the New York Central from Rochester to Chicago, over the Great Plains and through the Rocky Mountains on the Northern Pacific to Seattle, and finally on the new Great Northern line to Vancouver, which had been running for only a few months. The Cunningham Model 740 appeared at the intersection of Granville and Pender near the end of its first test drive from the hospital on Cambie Street, having most likely swung around to Smithe Street in order to take on fuel at the only filling station in the city, a corrugated iron shed housing a thirteen-gallon kitchen boiler to which ten feet of garden hose had been attached by J.C. Rollston, an inventive night watchman for Imperial Oil. In his youth, Mr. Rollston had been “an artist of some note,” and now he directed filling station operations from a barroom chair positioned on the sidewalk.
The remainder of the test drive can be summed up briefly: a few blocks along Smithe, a right turn onto Pender and the final leg straight back to the City Hospital. As the ambulance advanced into the intersection at Granville Street, the number 9 streetcar southbound crept into its path, and the ambulance lunged forward to avoid a collision. At that moment a man with a suitcase on his shoulder stepped into the street. The driver of the ambulance, “an experienced autoist” named C.C. Cocking, testified at the inquest that he had sounded the horn and applied the brakes, but the ambulance struck the man nevertheless, and knocked him down and drew him under the vehicle. The suitcase flew from the man’s grasp and shattered the lower windshield. Mrs. Bonallie summarized the facts in the simplest of terms: “It killed him outright. So the first passenger for the ambulance went to the morgue.”
An account of the accident printed the next morning on page 3 of the News-Advertiser provides a more detailed statement and at the same time, in a single sentence, invests it with mythical overtones of a rendezvous with destiny—perhaps even a prophecy fulfilled:
Mr. C.F. Keiss, a wealthy American visitor from Bucyrus, Ohio, met death with tragic suddenness under the wheels of the new City auto ambulance at the corner of Pender and Granville Streets yesterday afternoon.
A foreign visitor, possibly high-born, certainly attaining the heroic stature of the successful businessman (heroes in their time) on a journey far from his home in Bucyrus suffers death in a chance mishap: he will never be seen in Bucyrus again. Can this be an example of Fate at work? What signs, what portents might draw a wealthy visitor on a journey to the west and to the north, from Bucyrus, a small city in Ohio, home of the heavy earth-moving machines to which it has given its name (the Bucyrus does its work today in the tar sands of Alberta)?
Ohio, the state that claims to have birthed more presidents than any other, calls itself the Mother of Presidents; President Taft, elected in March 1909, is the seventh Ohioan president. In Seattle, Washington, ninety miles south of Vancouver, the Alaska-Pacific-Yukon Exposition, a world’s fair that has been running since June, has drawn three million visitors. September 30 has been named President Taft Day; October 5 is Ohio Day: an auspicious time for wealthy visitors from Ohio to visit Seattle. In photographs taken on the grounds of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, President Taft can be seen examining horses in the company of plainclothes detectives in bowler hats, military men in uniform, governors and several unidentified wealthy businessmen in top hats and bowlers—might one of them be Mr. C.F. Keiss? In other photographs, the president examines large machines in the company of businessmen in three-piece suits; more men surround him at the Tethered Balloon—but the Tethered Balloon is not for presidents: wealthy businessmen, however, can take their chances for a view, from a great height, of the city, the ocean and the northwest passage to Vancouver.
The city of Bucyrus lies three hundred miles west of Rochester, New York, and the factory belonging to Jas Cunningham, Son & Co. Bucyrians wishing to attend the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle would take the Baltimore and Ohio line first to Chicago, where the transfer to the Northern Pacific could be made. The first class observation car on the Northern Pacific was equipped with rattan lounging chairs, chandeliers, long tables covered in velvet—a good vantage point from which to observe the Great Plains of North Dakota, Nebraska and Montana along the Yellowstone River. This was the legendary landscape of the Sioux, the Oglala and the Brulé, and Custer’s vanquished army, recalled as living history of the time when C.F. Keiss had been a young man rising in his career; from the first class observation car all of history is sublimated into the endlessly flowing scenery passing by on the other side of the plate glass.
Mr. Keiss was not alone on his journey: the account of his death at the intersection of Pender and Granville published in the News-Advertiser includes the further information that he had arrived in the city with two companions, who had crossed Pender Street before him; only when they turned around did they see that their friend had been hit by the ambulance, “and dragged under the machine,” in the words of the anonymous reporter, “the rear wheels going over his head.” The three men “had resolved to leave today on a hunting trip to Powell River. They were returning from the Game Warden’s office, where they had secured their licences, when the accident occurred.” We imagine the two companions rushing back to their friend; the ambulance driver leaps to the sidewalk from his open seat; pedestrians crowd round the scene. “The unfortunate man was raised as soon as possible, but expired in a few minutes.”
The Game Warden’s office was a few doors away from the scene of the accident, next door to the Free Information Bureau at 439 Granville, a service operated by the Vancouver Tourist Association, “a voluntary organization of businessmen for the purpose of making the attractions of Vancouver known to those in search of health and pleasure.” The Free Information Bureau is advertised in the pages of Vancouver: Sunset to the Dominion, an elegant volume wrapped in an art nouveau cover, published by the Vancouver Tourist Association in an edition of 70,000 copies and distributed in major cities across the USA and Canada. Its purpose was to attract visitors attending the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition north to Vancouver with descriptions of an exotic and wild land. Wealthy tourists, as they browsed its pages, might feel the promise of adventure in the autumn, in a land “where the paths are sere-leaved, and the goldenrod faded, but there is an exhilarating freshness in the air. The whirring grouse flies on thundering wing, the surprised duck hurriedly departs for safer sloughs, and the timid deer crackles the brush.” Here too were to be found “bears, black, cinnamon and grizzly; pheasants, geese and silvery salmon, monster sturgeon and gamey trout.” A visitor’s hunting licence allowed the catch to “no more than five caribou, ten deer, two bull moose, two bull wapiti, five mountain goats or three mountain sheep (rams), and not more than 250 ducks.”
Interior of passenger train, Northern Pacific line, early 1900s.
The journey from Seattle to Vancouver by Princess steamer was only a few hours; the party of three had arrived that morning or perhaps the night before and gone to the Free Information Bureau to arrange for their hunting expedition and then to the Game Warden’s office, where they would have paid fifty dollars each for hunting licences. At some point before stepping into the intersection at Pender and Granville, Mr. Keiss paused to hoist a suitcase onto his shoulder.
We can imagine three well-dressed men in three-piece suits and expensive fedoras, indistinguishable from each other at a distance; although we who look back at them apply our attention more closely to Mr. Keiss, whose fate is known to us as a death foretold. The two others are less distinct; their names are Gallinger and Ziegler; they remain “companions.” Looking out over the harbour from Granville Street, they would have been able to confirm the appearance of “snow-capped mountains whose shaggy sides, varying in hue with every hour, slope towards the blue waters of the inlet, broad and placid,” as described in the pages of Sunset Doorway, where also were given the directions to China Town a few blocks along Pender from Granville Street, where tourists might observe “another and a strange people,” identifiable by plain robes worn in public with “picturesque shoes and stockings,” and who, despite their strangeness, remain amenable to “observation and study at close range.” Later in the day they may have planned to take in the spectacle of the eponymous sunset, as recommended by Sunset Doorway, from the shore at English Bay, “where it is good to see the far-glinting waters, to feel the free sweep of the wind, and to hear the noise of the breakers, as they ride gallantly in, like foam-flecked steeds, and fling themselves, spent, upon the shore.” In the event, this is mere speculation; narrative determinism leaves no alternative to what we know is about to happen. Mr. Keiss and his two companions had completed a journey of some 2,500 miles, much of the way along the same tracks that carried the Cunningham Model 740 that by now was rolling along Pender Street at a speed that Mr. C.C. Cocking estimated at the inquest to be no more than six miles per hour: a hunting adventure and eventual homecoming lay still before them.
Included among the triumphal displays listed on the itinerary for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition are the new Baby Incubator, the Dance-hall Girls of the Alaska Theater of Sensations, a Tokio Cafe, a Cairo Street, an Oriental Village, Prince Albert the Talking Horse, the new Model T Ford weighing 1,200 pounds with a 20-horsepower engine, Machinery Hall filled with the great motors and turbines of industry, the Historic Battle of Gettysburg, and an authentic Nez Perce family preparing a meal in a realistic camp setting.
It was now the sad duty of Mr. C.C. Cocking and his driving assistant, and perhaps Mr. Ziegler and Mr. Gallinger, to lift the body of Mr. C.F. Keiss into the brand-new ambulance and place it on the suspended cot listed in the specifications published five months earlier in Carriage Monthly, along with the two attendants’ seats, on which Mr. Ziegler and Mr. Gallinger may have positioned themselves for the drive to Hanna’s Funeral Rooms. How the decision was made to drive straight to the funeral parlour and not to the hospital is not recorded; neither is there a record of the route taken by Mr. C.C. Cocking: did he make a U-turn on Pender and head back to Burrard?—or did he go around the block?
The coronor’s jury convened in Hanna’s Funeral Rooms, having “deemed fit to extend their deepest sympathy to the relatives of the deceased,” and delivered a finding of “death by misadventure.” Editorials in the News-Advertiser complained of “the danger to pedestrians resulting from reckless driving of vehicles of the automobile order,” and called for police officers to be stationed at busy intersections. “Vancouver drivers of vehicles follow the British practise of keeping to the left side of the street, a practise apt to prove confusing if not dangerous to visitors from the other side of the Boundary line.” (Mr. Keiss, having put his suitcase on his right shoulder, had unwittingly blocked his view of the oncoming traffic.) No further report is given of Mr. Ziegler and Mr. Gallinger; of Mr. Keiss, one mention in the press notes that the “remains are at Hanna’s Rooms and will be shipped East for interment,” presumably on boxcars belonging to the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific and the Baltimore and Ohio lines.
A couple of months ago I walked over to Pender Street and along to Granville. A siren sounded in the distance; an ambulance was approaching along Pender. I paused to wait for it to pass before crossing the street. Pender was partly blocked by machinery, wire fencing and construction workers in fluorescent vests; as the ambulance approached, a small car crossed into the right of way and stalled. The ambulance pulled out to the left and entered the intersection in the wrong lane; a flagwoman jumped out of its path and the ambulance shot past. For a moment no one moved. Then I remembered Keiss at this intersection, and the ambulance that had killed him, driving on the left.