Category Archives: Vancouver history

May 1, 1938: Vancouverites march for a better world

Shot by amateur filmmaker Oscar C. Burritt, this fascinating footage shows Vancouver citizens and organizations marching in a mass May Day parade through downtown Vancouver and the West End on May 1, 1938. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 people participated in the parade, which marked International Workers’ Day.

The parade began at the Cambie Street Grounds (at Cambie and Dunsmuir) and followed the route Cambie – Hastings – Burrard – Georgia. Burritt seems to have shot his footage along West Georgia where it nears Coal Harbour and Stanley Park.

A variety of BC labour unions, political associations, ethnic and fraternal organizations, and other groups are represented, and can be identified by their signs and banners. Agitprop floats, displays, and signs reference current social conditions (including poverty, substandard housing, and high mortality in the forest industry). Some also reflect the current world situation, including the Spanish Civil War and the spread of Fascism in Europe. Of particular interest is a banner for the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (Canadians fighting for the Republican cause in Spain), a float for the Communist Party of Canada, and a briefly-glimpsed depiction of Nazi repression.  


The parade ended at Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park, where an estimated 20,000 people gathered to hear speeches and songs. The marchers sang “Hold the Fort,” “The Red Flag,” and “The Internationale.”

Despite the marchers’ hopes for international solidarity and peace, the world situation continued to darken. Sixteen months later, Canada would be at war.

* * *

Additional information about the parade can be found in “Peaceable May Day Throngs Vaunt Solidarity of Workers,” Vancouver Daily Province, May 2, 1938, p. 6, and “Thousands in May Day March to Stanley Park,” Vancouver Sun, May 2, 1938, p. 20.

NOTE: The video clip presented here combines related footage from two different sources at the BC Archives/Royal BC Museum. [May Day parade, Vancouver] (V1990:06/001.01 item #3), Oscar Burritt’s edited version of the event, was loaned to the archives for copying by Douglas Wilson of Toronto in 1990. [Burritt miscellany, reel 2] (F1986:38/006.02), found in a collection donated by the Burritt family in 1986, includes what appear to out-takes of the event.

Snapshot 3 (02-05-2020 11-25 AM)


Romaine Fielding seeks “a second Mary Pickford” (Vancouver, 1916)


Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 2, 1916, p. 14

In September 1916, Hollywood actor-writer-director Romaine Fielding (1867-1927) appeared in a short play at Vancouver’s Pantages Theatre (at 136 East Hastings). During his visit, he was also searching for a new actress—“a second Mary Pickford”—who would supposedly become his leading lady in a new film company. (He invoked Pickford’s name because she was a major movie star who was born in Canada.) With assistance from the theatre and the Vancouver Daily World, Fielding sponsored a contest to find the right woman. His criteria were very specific.

The young lady that I shall choose must be 21 years of age, five feet four or five inches, with large, expressive eyes, small mouth, perfect teeth, well shaped and her hair plentiful, natural wavy preferred. Small hands and feet are essential.”

The World noted that “Any girl who has the necessary equipment, whether she is experienced or not, has a chance to win this opportunity.”


Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 13, 1916, p. 5

Advertisements ran in the World for a week, and more than twenty young local women submitted their photos. Fielding reviewed the photos, interviewed the selected contestants, and chose seven finalists. He had Vancouver cinematographer A. D. “Cowboy” Kean come to the Pantages and film them onstage. On September 15, Kean gave Fielding a private preview of the movie.

“In it are many of the young ladies in the contest, and the camera caught them in various poses which were designed to show off their beauty. The reel shows Mr. Fielding giving his talk to the young ladies, and putting them through the various tests by which it is determined whether they will be likely subjects to work before the camera. A few of this bevy of western beauties show up exceptionally well, to the great satisfaction of Mr. Fielding and, no doubt, themselves.”

“After the film had been shown, Mr. Fielding took several of the young ladies over to the corner of Cordova and Main streets where, with the Bank of Montreal as a background, they were again caught by the camera in various poses. Groups were taken and then some of the more promising ones individually. They are seen laughing, winking and “making eyes” at the camera men, and altogether the picture should prove an attractive one. At any rate, the girls attracted a crowd which blocked traffic for many feet, for it is not often that so many real beauties are seen together.”

Kean’s film was screened the following week as part of the vaudeville program at the Pantages. According to E. C. Thomas, Vancouver reporter for the trade journal Moving Picture World:

“The candidates were shown singly or in pairs, laughing and then looking haughty (I think).”

I had originally thought that this contest was unique to Vancouver. Recently I learned that Fielding conducted the same contest at Pantages Theatres in Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. Sadly, there is no record of the winning contestant’s name or image from Vancouver, or from any of the other cities. [1]



Vancouver Sun, Sept. 22, 1916, p. 3


Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 16, 1916, p. 3






















[1]       “Here, Girls, is Chance to be a ‘Movie Star’,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 2, 1916, p. 14; “Local Girls May Become Movie Stars,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 5, 1916, p. 12; “Number of Girls Enter Contest,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 11, 1916, p. 2; “Film of Local Beauties to Be Shown at Pantages Next Week,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 16, p. 3; “Pantages: Unequalled Vaudeville” [theatre ad], Vancouver Sun, Sept. 22, 1916, p. 3; [E. C. Thomas], “Laughing and Then Looking Haughty,” Moving Picture World, October 14, 1916, p. 283.