Letter: The secret history of Cloverdale’s vintage trucks revealed

The missing chapter in the story of the King collection of vintage trucks – now back in Cloverdale

To the editor;

Read with great interest your recent article on the vintage trucks museum opening and thought you’d want information on what appears to be a missing chapter in the history of that collection. (“Vintage Truck Museum revving up for visitors,” May 9.)

By way of background, during the years 1969-88 I headed the Royal B.C. Museum’s human history division during which Aubrey King’s widow was convinced by local media persons, Alan Clapp and Alyn Edwards, to preserve them. They then persuaded Ernie Hall, Provincial Secretary in Dave Barrett’s NDP government, to take the vehicles as a donation to the Crown. In Clapp’s words, “This is working mens’ history, Ernie; you have to save them!”

A warehouse on the north side of False Creek became the storage and workshop building, and according to Jim Winter, who later joined the mechanical team of Lloyd Barrett and Gil Cornish, both former King employees, that pair immediately began restoring the trucks. As Winter says: “Gil Cornish [had] started to work for Bob King in the early Forties. Prior to that he was driving a truck (from age 12 in 1932) in Vancouver delivering firewood he cut himself from the forests of Marpole. Later [he worked] for Bruce Cartage circa 1938.

“Lloyd Barrett started working for his father at Central Transfer very early and stayed on when {his] father sold the company to King. Lloyd ended up as dispatcher for both Central and other King companies, I believe. Both men joined the WW2 effort, so their trucking careers were interrupted for wartime . . . . I [Jim Winter] went to work with Gil after Lloyd retired circa 1980. Gil retired about 1985 prior to our move to Cloverdale. Tom Wiebe replaced Gil for a short time and assisted me at Expo ‘86 and with the move to Cloverdale.”

In the late ‘70s, the RBCM (then B.C. Provincial Museum) in Victoria was assigned full responsibility for the collection and staff mechanics.

About this time, the collection was moved to a new warehouse on Viking Way in Richmond, BC. Here the public was welcome to drop-in and view the equipment and talk to the mechanics while the latter worked. Our director in Victoria, a wildlife mammologist, had utterly no interest in either the vehicles or the operation. He connected through a temporary employee, Dave Holm, who he hired to work there as his administrative link. During a spate of layoffs, Holm, who had performed well, was let go, and I, Dan Gallacher, picked up the curatorial reins part time by visiting from Victoria a day a week.

In addition to a major effort to supply display vehicles for Expo 86, staff – both as organizers and drivers – provided trucks for movies, television, parades, and other civic events across the Lower Mainland. Their inputs were exceptional and widely appreciated.

The trucks’ next phase began in late 1986 under Bill Reid’s leadership when, as Minister of Tourism and Heritage, he established the Heritage Transportation Centre headed ultimately by the very able Sue Morhun at the Cloverdale Mall. Winter and I collaborated post-Expo with several other transportation history holdings to bring as many vintage vehicles as we could under one roof. Among the most enthusiastic and helpful participants were Rose and Ed Zaleski (aircraft), Hall MacKenzie (automobiles), and members of the BC Hydro history group (buses).

For various reasons, the HTC struggled to find a solid footing, and, ironically, suffered an undeserved ignominious demise under the NDP government of the ‘90s that, for partisan aims, was very eager to shut it down and disperse the holding. By this time I had been seconded to the new national museum in Ottawa and it was left to Jim Winter, Rick Johnston (HTC board member), and my former RBCM colleague, Jim Wardrop, to find new homes for the vehicles from one end of B.C. to another.

As I initially intimated, this can help fill in a highly important part of the vintage vehicles’ story, both for you as a key person in the Cloverdale community, and those folks who presently are preserving and displaying the collection. I truly hope they will give Cornish, Barrett, Winter, and others of years ago their deserved recognition.

 

Dan Gallacher, PhD FCMA

Curator emeritus, Canadian Museum of Civilization

Kelowna