Former Transit Police Constable Graham Walker contacted me regarding a night watchman who lost his life while on duty.
William Riddoch was a night watchman with the British Columbia Electric Railway
and lost his life on duty the evening of Saturday, July 18th, 1914.
Riddoch was 60 years old at the time, and left behind his wife Isabella and his six children - whom were all married and also resided in Vancouver. He was a painter by trade, and began working for the railway as he neared retirement.
The night watchmen of the B.C. Electric Railway were the predecessors to today's transit security and transit police. B.C.E.R. became B.C. Hydro in 1962, from which B.C. Transit and TransLink were born.
William was assisting streetcar operators as they brought a car into the Mount Pleasant car barns at Main Street at East 14th Street in Vancouver. The conductor and driver signalled for him to throw a switch so that they could move the car, in reverse, into the building. It was when William was throwing the switch and in the car's path when he was struck and killed instantly. An extensive inquest was conducted following his death, and many witnesses were interviewed. He was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver.
Graham has started a gofundme page to buy a gravestone.The gravestone is in place (and it includes his wife Isabella as well), and a ceremony is planned for the anniversary of his death on July 18th at 11 am at Mountain View Cemetery. Here is the location:
He writes: "If anyone wants to attend, please feel free to join us!"
He writes: "If anyone wants to attend, please feel free to join us!"
“16mm movie memories”
A picture is worth a thousand words: it’s a well-worn adage. Obviously, a moving picture is worth many thousands of words. In a world before television and video, for movement, the motion picture was king. And it wasn’t only Hollywood that produced movies: many large companies produced and distributed films. The industry-standard 35mm width was too expensive for these “niche” films, that were made to promote a viewpoint or sell a product. They used a 16mm “amateur” width film introduced by Kodak in 1923. Prints were cheap enough that they could be made available for viewing, free, in schools, church basements, meeting halls and other public gatherings.
The BC Electric was no exception in using this medium to get its message across. “Through its public information department” –the credit usually appearing at the beginning of the movie –the Company produced films for promotional use. The Transit Museum has access to some of these movies, as well as some produced on behalf of the Training Department.
We have discovered VHS screening copies of two films, “On the Spot” and “Going to Town”. Though the quality of these transfers is very low, we thought that people would enjoy seeing them. The two titles, produced within a year or so of each other, feature a “newsreel” voice reading a script reflecting the stereotypic language of the time, and accompanied by cheesy music. There are shots of buses -Fageols and Brills- but also there is much footage of 1940s Vancouver. Both are available for viewing on our exhibition bus, #730. At an event it attends, stop by, and ask to view them!
Radio announcer, Cal George, is late leaving his suburban bungalow one morning. He misses his (Fageol) bus. His cousin, Penny, happens to be walking by.
Penny works for the BC Electric. Cal vents about the terrible bus service. Penny tells him not to get upset, another bus will be here shortly. He bets Penny there won’t be a bus for 10 minutes! One turns up almost immediately. Cal is still spitting feathers after boarding the bus. “Call this a bus service!” He is standing, after paying good money. Penny tells him the bus service is the best bargain in town, and she’ll show him a thing or two to prove it. If she didn’t convince him, she’d buy him a new hat.
Now he’s “on the spot” to take Penny up on her offer. They visit the depot at Larwell Park. “Here the transit schedules are worked out for the entire Lower Mainland system.” Studying a map, he realizes “it’s a whale of a big job.” There are scenes of the “signup” at the Prior Street depot. We see a Road Supervisor travelling in his car. He stops an approaching Fageol bus. As it nears, the driver uses his turn signal to alert the supervisor. It is a semaphore arm and using it --as we would flash a turn signal in greeting today-- looks bizarre. The bus is rerouted to Macdonald and Marine Dr, rather than 41st.
Then Penny and Cal take a trolleycoach to 41st Ave. and we see the new transit centre. They visit the administration building, designed to blend in with the residential area. Operators are seen in the “bullpen.” Then its upstairs to the training department, where new recruits are being instructed on how to drive a trolleycoach. Afterwards, they tour the wash rack, fuel island, and maintenance building.
In the end, Cal admits that his bus-fare is very good value for money. Towards the end of the film, we see Penny trying on her new hat, with instructions to charge it to Mr. Cal George. In case you’re wondering, Cal was a real-life radio announcer. He worked for CKWX. He died in 2017, at the age of 96.
“…he was one of British Columbia’s best known and respected radio voices, and a mentor of mine as I got started in broadcasting. He is remembered for co-hosting the Neighbour Nina homemakers show with Nina Anthony, for hosting the wildly popular Casino giveaway show which offered huge (by the standards of the day) cash prizes, for hosting the Red White and Blue call-out phone quiz every weekday afternoon, and announcing and hosting several prime time entertainment shows from the stage of Vancouver’s Vogue, Capitol and Orpheum Theatres.” 
If “On the Spot” took a close-up view of how the BC Electric provided transit service, “Going to Town” examined the big picture. Harland Bartholomew, an American urban planner created a town plan for Vancouver between 1926 and 1930. He revisited the plan as the Second World War was drawing to a close, with a series of reports on all aspects of the city, including streets, parks, an airport and transit. The Bartholomew report on Mass Transit admitted that it was more concerned with the routing of vehicles than the type of vehicle. Still, though, it did envisage streetcar and even some interurban operation for many years to come. Other consultants hired by the both the city and company weighed in on possible conversion schedules. “Going to Town” presented the company with an opportunity to influence the public debate that these plans generated. The tone of the film sought to re-assure Vancouverites that the BC Electric was fully committed to modernization.
The opening scenes detail the challenges of providing transit for a modern city such as Vancouver. Accidents, fires, bridge openings, funeral processions, all affect public transit: “There are dozens of such similar service delays in downtown Vancouver.” “Rush hour expense is a major factor in public transit operations”: many buses are kept for rush hour operation only. At other times such as early morning, revenue covers only a fraction of operating costs.
Everyone has a part to play in providing efficient transit operation, we are told. The “rails to rubber” campaign is detailed: North Vancouver was one of the first to change to modern transit. Shiny new buses (Fageols in cream and red) took to the road to service a growing population. The establishment of Larwill Park bus terminal is mentioned, with new services in the Fraser Valley introduced by Pacific Stage Lines.
There is a new bus route along Terminal Avenue from Main St. to Nanaimo Rd. 41st bus service between W. Boulevard and Marine Drive. The film shows new Fageols for the south Granville route, and the Main – Marpole conversion. It was (optimistically) forecast that by 1950, most streetcars would be gone. There’d be new routes throughout the entire “lower mainland area.” An accompanying on-screen map shows that this comprised just Vancouver, North Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby and New Westminster.
The first trolleycoach conversion is mentioned: the Fraser streetcar was converted to buses, then to trolleybuses. It was linked with the Cambie route. We are told the Fraser-Cambie with modern equipment, increased schedules was inducing many automobile owners to go to town “the trolleycoach way.” Next Denman and Davie service was converted. Bus operation on Harwood and Gilford streets began while rails were lifted. “New trolley poles and lighting creates a clean modern street, a credit to Canada’s third city.”
August 16th 1948, also saw a new 41st bus route introduced along with the new trolleycoaches on Fraser-Cambie. Later in the year we see new substations and the Oakridge Transit Centre opened. The music reaches a crescendo: “The answer to congestion is an efficient dependable mass transit system… Here, the BC Electric is doing its part to help keep the areas it services healthy and thriving… And is going all out to furnish the finest mass transit system that human endeavour can provide.” Phew! They don’t make commercials like that anymore.
2nd June, 2018
Bad behaviour on transit is nothing new
Every year TransLink’s police force, the Greater Vancouver Transit Police Service, detains and arrests hundreds of people for offences committed while using transit.
These offences can range from fare evasion to robbery to assault. Sadly, we expect that a transportation system open to all would attract unsavory characters. The Greater Vancouver Transit Police Service, or GVTAPS, is a police force: arrests can be also made for offences committed while off transit property. For example, in 2015, almost half of the arrests made by GVTAPS were for non-transit matters. Public transit, open to all, has always attracted those guilty of criminal and anti-social behaviour.
From the start of streetcar service, in 1890, the transit company of the day employed people whose role was the protection of its’ property. These were watchmen engaged to look after its depots, plants and vehicles, usually “after-hours”. Any ‘soft’ on-board infractions and offences were likely handled by the conductor and operator.
On October 15th, 1914 a passenger was convicted of assault and fined $10. The accused was drunk and being a nuisance. When the conductor reprimanded him on his behaviour, the accused assaulted the conductor.
Security personnel did not normally ride the transit system - except in West Vancouver. The municipality appointed its’ first police constable in May 1912 — the same year as the transit service began operating. This was fortuitous, for the three Police Constables had to share the use of one rented horse for transport. If they had to travelled to the west, they used the Municipal buses.
No doubt, the presence of a police officer helped keep order on-board West Vancouver transit!
Facetiousness aside, the need for a more stringent approach to security became clear as the First World War loomed large. During the conflict, some watchmen were given Special Constable status: policemen with limited powers of arrest. They were, however, armed. Their function was protection of the transit system against saboteurs.
After the Second World War, the watchmen and Special Constables were formed into a BC Electric Security department. They also had added instruction to protect the Company’s livelihood - the prevention of vandalism and loss. The department transitioned through the various reincarnations of the transit company. Today, it’s the Transit Security department of Coast Mountain Bus Company. But unlike earlier times, transit operators are not expected to enforce bylaws and deal with anti-social behaviour. The Security personnel have assumed this function.
When SkyTrain began operating in December 1985, fifteen Special Provincial Constables (SPC) were appointed to patrol to BC Transit’s Vancouver Regional Transit System. The Special Constables did not carry firearms but had powers of arrest and were able to serve violation tickets. But one problem became evident: people do not become or cease to be criminals depending on if they are on transit property. TransLink campaigned to have the SPC’s become a ‘Designated Police Unit’. In December 2005, GVTAPS came into existence. Today, the two organizations, Transit Security and GVTAPS, try to keep the transit system safe for both employees and customers.
Transit in the Wild, Wild West
Unsavory characters abounded in the past, too.
Many consider unlawful and anti-social behaviour on transit a modern-day problem. Humans have a habit of looking back fondly “on the good old days.” But is this an accurate reflection or are people viewing the past through Rose-coloured glasses?
As mentioned earlier, security has been a concern of the various transit companies throughout the years. Even as service began in 1890, men, stationed on company property, watched over its’ depots. In January 1914 there occurred a typical theft. Two thieves stole coils of copper from the North Vancouver depot. General Manager R.H. Sperling noted that such pilfering happened from time to time — in this case the metal had been discarded as scrap. Perhaps that is why the two men guilty of the theft were given suspended sentences by the Court, but the manager’s memo gave the impression the Company was irked at the lack of more severe punishment.
A later incident involving metal theft, though, resulted in a much different outcome. It happened in the early morning hours of March 19, 1915. Special Constable Charles Painter was on duty in the area of the railway tracks at 6th Avenue and Willow Street in Vancouver. During the First World War, the Company’s Special Constables were armed. Painter spotted a man carrying a bundle of wire and believed it to be stolen. He arrested the suspect and attempted to handcuff him. A struggle took place during which the suspect grabbed Special Constable Painter’s revolver and shot him in the abdomen. The suspect ran from the area leaving the officer gravely wounded. Special Constable Painter died several days later.
It wasn’t only the Company’s property that was targeted: just as today, passengers were victims. What was different, was the brazenness of the crime: a streetcar was held up and all aboard forced to hand over valuables to two bandits.
Car #330 was operating along the Main Street South line. This line had been constructed from the Main St. Terminus of the City streetcar at 25th Avenue. It was opened in stages, beginning in 1912, traveling to River Avenue (now known as SW Marine Drive). Later, the line was extended through undeveloped waterfront property to make a connection with the Marpole-New Westminster interurban. It may be that the streetcars then travelled to North Arm Station (now Fraser St.)
Shortly before 10pm on the evening of June 11th, 1913, two bandits held up the streetcar at gun-point near the present-day Argyle St (then McRae Rd.) station. There were 13 passengers on-board, and the gunmen stole $50 and an gold watch. General Manager R.H. Sperling was authorized to offer a reward of $250 (probably around $7000 today) for the arrest and conviction of the two men. He noted that both men wore dirty Grey suits with Slouch wide-brimmed hats, one reported to “be Italian, and the other a Swede.”
Confusingly, there is another memo from the Company solicitor, dated June 17th, 1913. A. E. Beck refers to the trial of two men, identified only as Kelly and Medlan, on a charge of robbery of a Main St South car. The incident occurred June 4th. Whether he is mistaken over the date, or there were two robberies is unclear.
It is not inconceivable that two robberies did occur within such a short space of time. Harold Till, Traffic Superintendent, in his company history remarks upon similar events in 1934.
During the winter of 1933-34 we were troubled a great deal with hold-ups ups at car terminals, and on Main South line during the dark evenings cars turned at River Road, only going to interurban tracks when connections could be made in an effort to avoid these armed robberies. 
Later, in 1935, a “prominent Vancouver citizen” attempted to shoot a cab driver. The driver was employed by Terminal City Cabs. At that time the cab company was owned by B.C. Motor Transportation, parent company of Pacific Stage Lines. The passenger engaged the cab at the Hotel Vancouver, gave directions to Stanley Park, and paid the $2 fare in advance. In the park the passenger threatened the cab driver with a gun and fired one shot towards the front of the cab. The bullet lodged in the driver’s seat. The driver abandoned the vehicle, and the passenger fired a second shot at him through a window. It, too, missed.
It appears the “prominent citizen” had left a suicide note for his wife. He was remanded to Essondale Asylum.
General Manager T. C. Bosley wrote to BCER President W.G. Murrin asking for permission to offer the driver a few more days paid leave to recover from his ordeal than the three offered. Bosley was especially appreciative of the fact the driver had had the presence of mind to take the ignition key with him when escaping the vehicle: this “saved our equipment from further damage.” It appears the Company filed a claim against the passenger for a new window and repairs to the seat.
Chuck Davis, on his website, vancouverhistory.ca mentioned a newspaper story about a submachine-gun being used in a Vancouver robbery. (The Province, August 7th, 1950):
“Masked bandits held four B.C. Electric employees at bay with a sub-machine gun early today in a ticket office raid which netted only $59. It was the first time such a weapon had been used in a city holdup . . . Police said the raid on the B.C. Electric car-barns ‘bullpen’ at Thirteenth and Main was staged by two men at 3:30 a.m., when most streetcars were in for the night and about 15 minutes before the morning shift was due to arrive.”
Of course, criminal behaviour is not limited to members of the public - sometimes employees of the transit company itself are involved. One of the most serious cases involved the murder of a railwayman in the Fraser Valley, with the possibility a second could have also died.
The perpetrator was a section-hand named Rocco (Tony) Ferrante. He was charged with the murder of Nick Forcace (aka Nick Cocael), also a section-hand. The two men worked from a shack at Coghlan, near Aldergrove. On a Wednesday morning in December 1915, neither turned up for work. The foreman forced entry into the shack. There he discovered the headless body of Forcace. Ferrante was apprehended in Ferndale, Washington. When arrested, he was in possession of a loaded revolver with blood stains on it. Police looked for the missing head. It was only because Ferrante offered information about it that they located it in a well.
What made the episode particularly gruesome, was the suspicion that Ferrante was also guilty of another murder earlier in June of 1915.
Vedder sub-section engineer-in-charge, Jesse Magoon, was discovered wounded in his bedroom. He had a bullet wound in his forehead. Fellow BCER employees used a handcar to transport him to hospital in Huntingdon. He died en route.
Upon investigation, it was discovered that the last person in contact with him was probably Ferrante. Ferrante was charged, tried, but acquitted due to lack of direct evidence. Ferrante returned to work at Vedder Mountain. He was transferred to Coghlan about a week before the second murder occurred.
Ferrante was found guilty of the murder of Nick Forcace, and hanged at New Westminster prison in August 1916. He is said to have resisted the execution and had to be strapped to a chair.
One wonders what future generations, studying newspaper and video archives, will think about the safety of our transit system. Certainly the instances of drug-induced violence and sexual assault will stand out, mirroring our Vancouver society as a whole. Crime aboard transit, whether real or imagined, probably will remain a challenge for security professionals.
Much of the background information for the first part of this blog has been obtained from the GVTAPS website: www.transitpolice.ca↑