Stirrup pants, shoulder pads and crimped hair were all the rage. Madonna and Culture Club topped the music charts, and Top Gun was number one at the box office. It was 1986 and it seems that Eddie Murphy’s girl wasn’t the only one that wanted to “Party all the time.” Vancouver welcomed the world in May with the World Exposition on Transportation and Communication (Expo ’86), but Vancouverites had an additional reason to celebrate: the City’s 100th birthday on April 6th.
Serious planning went into making this a year chock-full of events. The Vancouver Centennial Commission (VCC) was an independent body established by a Resolution of Council on October 16, 1979, more than six years before the Centennial, to begin the planning process. On July 23, 1982, the VCC was incorporated under provincial “Bill 64 – Vancouver Centennial Celebration Act.”
With a mandate to “provide leadership, guidelines, promotion and coordination of Centennial activities,” the Commission was comprised of members of City Council and the general public. Commissioners and Chairs were appointed by Council. The goal of the Commission was “to make 1986 a year in which all the people of Vancouver share their talent, energy and goodwill to create and enjoy a city-wide celebration that will take us into the next century with heightened optimism and pride.”
The slogan for the Centennial was “Vancouver: City of the Century.” Events took place leading up to the Centennial year, and from New Year’s 1986 onwards; the Commission intended the year to be “a 365 day birthday party planned and produced by the people of Vancouver for the people of Vancouver.” The records of the Vancouver Centennial Commission include photographs, minutes, research files, promotional material, audiovisual material and sound recordings relating to the activities of the VCC and the Centennial events and activities themselves.
With an Executive Director in place, the real work got underway in 1983 with the appointment of additional Commission staff. The official mascot for the Centennial, a sea otter, was announced in 1984, and submissions for an appropriate moniker were solicited from the public through the “Name the Centennial Sea Otter Contest.” The winning entry was ‘Tillicum,’ suggested by a Mr. Painter, who received a grand prize consisting of a book on sea otters signed by Mayor Harcourt, a one year family membership to the aquarium, and a brand new Sony Walkman. Tillicum was a fixture at official events leading up to and during the Centennial Year.
Other Centennial competitions included the “Make Vancouver Sparkle” contest, which encouraged Vancouverites to beautify their surroundings, and the Centennial Song contest, which was won by Megan Metcalfe of West Vancouver for her song “Vancouver (you’ll always look like home to me),” also known as “The Vancouver Song.”
Not unlike the 125th celebrations which took place this past July, a large birthday party was held in Stanley Park on April 6th. It included parades, hot air balloons, music, parachuters, and a gigantic cake baked by Woodward’s. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and tens of thousands of Vancouverites came out to celebrate. Governor General Jeanne Sauvé was on hand to rededicate the Lost Lagoon Fountain and to cut the birthday cake with Mayor Michael Harcourt. In addition to many photographs, the fonds also includes ephemera, newspaper clippings, and some video footage of local media coverage of the event. A second “Vancouver Day” was held at Expo ’86 on June 13, the anniversary of the great fire.
Visiting dignitaries during the Centennial year included:
- Prince Charles and Princess Diana, in Vancouver to open Expo
- British descendents of Captain Vancouver
- the Mayor and Council of Vancouver’s birthplace King’s Lynn and the Mayor, Council and 50 member choir from his ancestral village of Coeverden, Holland
- a contingent of visitors from Vancouver’s sister city Yokohama that put on an entire week of events
- Canadian government officials, including Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Governor General Jeanne Sauvé.
Even Mickey Mouse made a special appearance!
The Vancouver Coeverden Society was responsible for making possible the construction of an 80-per cent scale replica of the castle at Coeverden, the home of the 11th century Van Coeverdens from which Captain Vancouver descended. “Castle Vancouver,” complete with windmill and an antique carousel, was set up at the corner of Georgia and Howe, adjacent to Pacific Centre Mall.
Another aspect that was not ignored by the Commission was merchandising. T-shirts, hats, rain gear, and scarves were available, as well as a large selection of souvenirs, including pins, ashtrays, flags, Tillicum dolls and silver coins. The Centennial even had its own official tartan, sported by Mayor Michael Harcourt and members of the VCC at many events throughout the year.
The Commission administered funding from the City and the Department of the Secretary of State to groups wishing to organize their own Centennial celebrations or activities. Such events and projects were intended “to animate our history and its legacy in our daily lives; heighten awareness and appreciation of Vancouver’s diverse assets and unique character; and highlight individual and collective achievements that are milestones in the City’s development.” Among the projects awarded funding was the Vancouver Centennial Peace Festival, which attracted high-profile speakers from around the world.
The Centennial events and programs that were endorsed by the Commission were meant to include a wide range of community groups from diverse cultural, religious and age groups, from all areas of Vancouver. Examples of these events include:
- Cedar Cottage Inter-tribal Pow-Wow,
- YMCA Junior Mini-triathlon
- Centennial Chamber Music Series
- Korean Folk Arts Festival
- Marpole Pioneer Days
- India Fest-Centennial Celebration
- Women’s Voices: A Vancouver Mosaic.
Various sporting tournaments took place in Vancouver throughout the year, including the 1986 Grey Cup championship game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Edmonton Eskimos.
Celebrations organized by the Commission included the young and the old, illustrating its dedication to celebrating the past while looking towards the future. Mayor Harcourt and Tillicum welcomed the first baby of 1986, Karen Sum, and a party was held for all the babies born on April 6th and their families.
The Commission also recognized local Centenarians; paid respect to long-time Vancouver residents with a “Senior’s Salute”; and honoured 100 “distinguished pioneers,” including Bill Reid, Evelyn Lett, Mary Chan, and W. Kaye Lamb, at a special awards ceremony. In addition, a 50th anniversary event was held to commemorate a ceremony held during the 1936 Jubilee celebrations to recognize 21-year-old Vancouverites.
Leggings and Madonna may still be around, but most would agree that Vancouver has undergone a significant transformation in the last 25 years. Due to the inclusive nature of the Centennial celebrations, these records provide an invaluable insight into what Vancouver was like at the time of its 100th birthday. They also shed light on what interested Vancouverites in 1986, what they valued in their City, and their aspirations for the Vancouver of the future.