Vancouver Saved by Hippies in 1967

I was too young to remember it, but in the fall of 1967, the character of my adopted home underwent a significant change. At the time, I was actually visiting Canada for the first time with my parents, attending Expo ’67 in Montreal. Meanwhile, back here in Vancouver, a large population of hippies (or at least, that’s what they were called back then) descended on the town, much to the dismay of the mayor, Thomas J. Campbell. An ‘Evening Magazine’ clip has recently surfaced on YouTube, and I’ve included it below.

The best part of it for me is Campbell’s fear and hysteria regarding the hippies. Campbell hates them passionately, almost like a character in National Lampoon’s Animal House: “If these young people get their way, they will destroy Canada. From what I hear across the world, they will destroy the world!”

Campbell was a big proponent of tearing down older buildings to make room for redevelopment (he’s shown posing gleefully atop a wrecking ball) and spearheaded the move to bring an expressway into the city. He had those hippies he hated so much arrested for loitering.

Fortunately for us (or unfortunately, if you like freeways), the hippies, by allying themselves with the more straight-laced people who wanted to preserve their neighborhoods won in the end. No superhighway was built through Vancouver. One historian in the piece says that this was the time when Vancouver ‘found its voice’, and hence owes a lot to the spirit of that era. Like Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, I see echoes of that era in Kitsilano, which was apparently Hippie Central in ’67. Both the Haight and Kits are now largely yuppified, but still retain some of that charm. We certainly saw some of it in the farmer’s market we went to a couple of weeks ago. I even got some granola from the Granola King.

Now, with freeways all over North America clogged with commuters fleeing cities at 5PM and heading for suburbs, burning $4 a gallon gas and burning hydrocarbons (while Vancouver contemplates further ecodensity as a way of dealing with the Climate Crisis and Peak Oil), Campbell’s vision seems all the more wrong-headed. Maybe (perhaps through dumb luck) the hippies had it right all along. On the other hand, they were right about Vietnam, too…and Iraq. OK, maybe it wasn’t dumb luck.

12 Replies to “Vancouver Saved by Hippies in 1967”

  1. that is a great article, david; what a wonderful piece of history!

    i’ve seen vestiges of it, too. in the commune on 2nd and maple which exists to this day, and in the russian hall, the location for “just dance”, which in itself feels like an old hippie event.

    your hippie friend,

  2. Thanks, Isabella. I wish I had been around here at the time. In fact, I often wish that I had grown up in Vancouver, as it seems a particularly good place to stretch one’s wings as a young adult (now and perhaps in the recent past — since 1967, anyway).

    BTW, we missed you at the dry run for the meetup venue, the Blackwater Café the other day. Looking forward to seeing you at the ‘official’ meetup some time soon.

  3. EXCELLENT post and video, David!

    A great bit of Vancouver history – ‘Ya gotta love those hippies, don’t ‘ya?

    Think I’m going to put the video up on our blog, too. Thanks for the great post . . . .

  4. Thanks, Bob. I tend to like the places where the hippies have had some impact (Cambridge, Vermont, San Francisco and Vancouver…)

    I should mention that this is in a way, a ‘prequel’ post to a good article in the most recent issue of Granville Magazine by friend and fellow blogger Jonathan Narvey. He notes that Vancouver is in the enviable position of having pushed mass-transit before it was fashionable to do so and is now enjoying increasing use of the Skytrain and other transit lines due to the rising cost of gasoline.

    Despite an enormous toll taken on businesses along Cambie (and I’ve heard some folks say this is because of the way the CanadaLine project was run, rather than if it was built or not), in the end, Vancouver will eventually have one of the better mass-transit systems in North America. I note this in stark contrast to the multi-billion dollar debacle I lived through in Boston of ‘The Big Dig’, a misguided and immediately outdated idea of building an enormous freeway under the city, with no improvements to the mass transit system (save a small fleet of buses called ‘The Silver Line’, which are more of a joke than a transit line.) In the end, I like to think that it may just be the triumph of far-sighted city management versus short-sighted ‘pork’.

  5. In the early 1970s there was a local cartoonist who used to publish a comic strip in the Georgia Straight called Harold the Head. It was absolutely hilarious because it captured the clash between Tom Campbell and the hippies so perfectly. I believe the cartoonist’s first name is Randy and I know he published a large format comic book about Harold’s adventures. Perhaps special collections at VPL has a copy? If you can find a copy it’s well worth a read. The other cartoonist worth looking at if you want to get a sense of Vancouver (and West Vancouver’s) history is Norris. He published in the Vancouver Sun during the 1960s and captured some of the pomposity and stupidity that was all too common at the time, especially in the British Properties. If my memory is correct, I think he did some cartoons about Tom Terrific and the hippies, too. Again, his books of cartoons would be available at VPL.

  6. Thanks, Cara – I’ll have a look at that. I note that the creator of those strips was Rand Holmes. He died fairly recently, in 2002 after creating quite a few striking comics, many that are collector’s items. There’s a nice page with examples of his work:

    One of the illustrations (for MEAN OLD MAN) bears a striking resemblance to the character that Michael Douglas played in ‘Falling Down’, and also with more humor and far less dark, the character ‘Milton’ from the shorts that Mike Judge created for Saturday Night Live (and later reappeared in the movie ‘Office Space’). It’s the unbearably straight, unbelievably uptight, wound-tight-as-a-spring white guy in a starched shirt with a pocket protector. I wonder if you could draw lines from those characters to Rand Holmes, ultimately to not only Campbell, but even to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (“Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets, And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes, Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?”)and ultimately to Thoreau’s ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. Echos of that today include those ads with ‘I’m a Mac’ vs. ‘I’m a PC’…

    There’s a sociology/literature paper or two in there, for sure.

  7. There’s an opportunity to do this All Over Again.
    My ‘hood could become another area of glass towers (with the occasional retained facade) very, very fast.
    or it could become something that blows the imagination.
    We need the time/space to at least provide the opportunity.
    Anyone can help by in large or small ways insisting that a year is provided for imagination and vivid thinking about the gastown/dtes area before being developed to death.

  8. no Drucker, the hippies ie drugged up morons, got little right!

    And wtf is this language you speak:
    hydrocarbons, econdensity, Climate Crisis and Peak Oil….

    cleverly contrived words will not hide your bs

  9. Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall said it best:

    “where’d you learn to talk like that, some Panama City sailor wanna hump hump bar? Well you just take what your selling some where else, cause nobody’s buying here!”

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