25 August 2011

Subversive Bicycle Photos: Vancouver


1966 – Bikes at Blundell Elementary School.

Continuing the series of subversive bicycle photos that show cycling as a normal transport form in cities, we have moved on to Vancouver, Canada. Imagine if these photos made it onto the internet. Imagine if people could see how the bicycle used to be a part of life in Vancouver and not merely some modern, white, middle-class sport/recreation/commuter activity dominated by vocal, avid cyclists.

It would be scandalous. Thank goodness no one took photos of me riding a crappy bike, in regular clothes down from Lynn Valley and North Van, over the Lion's Gate to work downtown in the late 1980's. Or riding around downtown and Kitsalano in the early 1990's. Imagine what that would do to my reputation.

For more modern subversive photos of Vancouver, there's always this website. Just don't tell anyone.

Thanks to our reader Lloyd for the link to the Miss604.com website, who found them at the Vancouver City Archives.

1943 – Canadian Youth Hostel bicycle hike at the grizzly bear cage in the Stanley Park Zoo.

1943 – Bicycle hike at Douglas Park.

1940s – A boy examines his new bicycle license.

1943 – Lumberman’s Arch.

1932 – Acrobats at the Vancouver Exhibition (now, PNE)

1943 – July 1st celebration in Richmond.

1890s – Bicycle racers and friends at Brockton Point.

17 comments:

Velouria said...

I am surprised that the first photo was as late as the 1960s, how interesting!

Rick Risemberg said...

Hey, in the 1960s I was riding my bike to school in LA!

There are still (crappy) bike racks at my old middle school, with no bikes in them for now. No racks that I can see at my old high school (where I lost two Peugeots to thieves).

Yet I do see lots of kids riding fixies to school in LA! So there's hope.

Redmond Citizen Cyclist said...

From a cursory look, it appears the girls parked with the girls and the boys with the boys...cute

It's stunning how quickly bicycling as transport seems to have been lost in North America.

TJ said...

Growing up in elementary and middle school, it was always so "cool" to ride your bike to school. That was in the 1990's! Sadly, I live in North America and it seen that anyone who uses a bicycle is seen as poor or stupid. The mentality of North America has changed drastically over the past 60 years, and I hope it isn't too late to change.

Montrealize said...

Awesome!
I am curious now about the rest of the country...
Not too surprised though. I had family over just recently who were telling about life in the 1970's in their neck of France's countryside being still 100% bicycles or solexes.

Frits B said...

The only thing scandalous I could see was the grizzly bear cage in 1943. Otherwise: nothing spectacular in the photos, just common Dutch and Danish practice. Is this progress, and if so, seen from which perspective?

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Miss 604 said...

Hi there, I believe your reader told you about my original blog post on Twitter before you published this post.

http://www.miss604.com/2011/08/archives-photos-of-the-day-bikes.html

It took me a very long time to search out these images and present them in a blog post. I would appreciate a link back to my site since you obviously used the images that I took hours researching.

Regards,

Rebecca

Velouria said...

"in the 1960s I was riding my bike to school in LA!"

Wow, and was that typical? My parents and grandparents did not live in the US, but from others' accounts I thought the bicycle was already branded as a toy by the 60s. Looks like I need to have another look at the history.

kfg said...

"was that typical?"

In a lot of places that photo could have been taken anytime into the mid 70s. In that period more bicycles than cars were sold in North America. Parents did not drive their kids everywhere. They were largely "free range" on foot, or on the wheel.

For the younger kids I remember at least a dozen women in my immediate neighborhood who habitually rode around on mamacharis. Now there are none. The whole thing collapsed around 1980 and if not for the mountain bike the whole bike industry would have collapsed with it.

"I thought the bicycle was already branded as a toy by the 60s."

The "toy" era started circa 1930 with the onset of the depression. In the prosperity boom of the 50s which started the real car culture, somewhat ironically, the bike industry began digging itself out of that hole as well. The war materials shortages had removed the stigma of poverty in riding a bike for a time. In this period you can find ads in major magazines depicting movie stars riding the "new" lightweight "English" bikes; looking like movie stars while they did it.

Look on CL and see how many of those Raleigh Sports and Schwinn Suburbans date from 1968 to 1976.

Also bear in mind that "toy" doesn't really mean "plaything." It means something more like "for children below driving age." The appellation "toy" is a pejorative term of the "serious" cyclist. This was the era when most families still only had one car, not one for every driver, so "driving age" didn't simply mean licensable age as it does now.

"Toy" bicycles were intended as real transport; and even work vehicles. What is now called the cruiser used to be called the paperboy.

Jean said...

It's unfortunate Miss 604, the problem resulted but I'm glad your comment is included in this thread.

I grew up in southern Ontario, 100 km west of Toronto. I do remember my middle school's bike racks jammed with bikes. Early 1970's. The population of the town was around 50,000 people or less.

I walked to school which was almost 2 km. one way --parents didn't allow any of us to cycle to school since there was a major 4 lane main street with cars and transit buses. But yes, on the odd occasion I did take transit bus since the bus stop was in front of the school.

For Europeans who have never lived in North America: of course those photos are "radical" from North American perspective.

What I find mind-boggling these days are the young university students who often drive a car back and forth between campus and their home. How can they afford this?? For me it was trudging to university or taking transit.

Come to think of it I saw very few bike racks at the 2 universities that I went to at the time....a few decades ago. Now if there was secured bike parking/bike valet somehow, alot more university/college students would cycle.

Ryan said...

Velouria,
It was quite common in Toronto for people of all ages to ride a bike to get around during the 50's, 60's and to a lesser extent the 70's.

My Dad lived in Etobicoke (now suburban Toronto) during that time and the toy comment was unheard of.

Montrealize said...

@ Jean

"What I find mind-boggling these days are the young university students who often drive a car back and forth between campus and their home. How can they afford this?? For me it was trudging to university or taking transit."

The notion and concept of "the struggling student" is highly variable and very elastic as you can see. And we are talking about Ontario fees, already much higher than Quebec's.

I BMW'ed during my entired studies (bus, metro, walked) in Montreal and could not have spared a dime for a car. And I am as middle class as you can get.

Maybe those university fee increases are going to create new cyclists after all? Sad way to recruit but hey, the more the merrier!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand why these photos are surprising or remarkable. Bicycles used to be a very normal form of transportation throughout North America, and they've always been a young person's path to freedom of movement.

Sometime in the 70s, it seems, the world shifted to a culture where teenagers no longer used bicycles but instead wanted cars. Parents encouraged their kids to get drivers licences and kids and young adults stopped using bicycles for transportation. Kids no longer ride their bicycles to school, they are driven by parents.

The change happened over a 20 or 30 year period, and it will take another 20 or 30 years to reverse it.

Anonymous said...

This is very cool. It wasn't too long ago in university (SFU) and high school (North Vancouver) classmates picked on cyclists because they thought bikes were for people whose parents were poor. Now that I'm in the workforce, I notice that the perception is: bikes are for people with low-paying jobs due to lack of ambition and/or education.

But also as a Vancouver cyclist, I have noticed that while there are a fair number of green types who bike as a lifestyle choice, there is a large segment of the cycling population who spend thousands on their bikes, equipment, clothing, etc. and have the uppity attitude that cycling is very much an elitist, upper-class thing.

Montrealize said...

"I'm not sure I understand why these photos are surprising or remarkable. Bicycles used to be a very normal form of transportation throughout North America"

There are people who are deeply convinced that there is something intrinsic about North America's relationship to the car culture.

Lots of people have a hard time realising that the NA's car addiction was constructed, manufactured, molded and planned.
Streetcars were bought out and bankrupted on purpose. Bikes were demonised. Cars were shoved down people's throats.

I am back from a weekend along a bike trail that used to be a train line that used to stop in every small town along the way. It was discontinued and a highways was built EXACTLY parallel to it all along and all the way! People were forced to either buy a car or get stranded.
Same thing happened in France's countryside where my in-laws live. The train was discontinued even though it stopped in every small village and people relied on it. That's when people started motorising. Only then horses and bicycles got pushed out of the roads as it became dangerous for them.
My husband, who is 32 and grew up in the French countryside, rode his bike to school until 15 before moving to the moped.
Today, you can't even bike to the neighbour's house so dangerous it has become.
This is all a construction, but people have a difficult time seeing it, especially the apolitical folks.

Montrealize said...

"I have noticed [...] there is a large segment of the cycling population who spend thousands on their bikes, equipment, clothing, etc. and have the uppity attitude that cycling is very much an elitist, upper-class thing."

Those are called Freds,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_%28bicycling%29

And they are an absolute pain in the ass, especially when they shout at you for not being fast enough to their taste, overtake you like furies, and ten meters farther, they cannot handle their freaking clipless pedals and clog the bike path by falling WITH their bikes flat on their sides like pathetic pancakes.