RODDAN, Andrew




Author Tags: 1900-1950, Alcohol, Downtown Eastside, Essentials 2010, Religion

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Homelessness has been an issue in British Columbia since the Depression. As much as anyone, Andrew Roddan began the ongoing struggle against homelessness in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside during his 19 years at the First United Church, from 1929 until 1948. The Scottish-born clergyman became known as the Apostle to the Poor, locking horns with Mayor Gerry McGeer, lobbying for improved social welfare programs and providing an estimated 50,000 meals to the unemployed during the winter of 1930–1931.

Long before the term “homelessness” became de rigueur to explain poverty and mental illness, Roddan understood the plight of the unemployed. He shared his perspective in the first of his three books, God in the Jungles: The Story of a Man Without a Home (1931), modelled on Nels Anderson’s Chicago-based study of tramps and transients during the early twenties, Roddan’s book about western Canadian hobos in the early thirties was sociological as much as it was religious or political. The jungles he referred to were four makeshift encampments that sprang up within city limits by the summer of 1931, each housing hundreds of men.

Roddan put much of the blame for the situation on technology and noted the dangers of consuming “canned heat,” a cooking fuel made from wax impregnated with alcohol. “It makes them blind, it makes them mad, and finally they take the count,” he wrote.

Realizing transient workers had long been integral to the Canadian economy, Roddan also understood that the wanderlust of boxcar tourists during the Depression had precious little to do with sloth. “The Bohemian instincts find expression in the life of these men,” he wrote, “free to come, free to go, to work or wander, sleep or wake, calling no man their master.”

Like J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, Andrew Roddan was a Bible thumper from the prairies who preached the social gospel. He felt morally obliged to translate his Christian sympathies into practical acts to improve the well-being of others. As managed by his church volunteers—most notably Jeannie MacDuff, “the Pin-Up Girl for the Hungry and the Homeless”—Roddan’s First United soup kitchen at Gore and Hastings served 1,252 patrons in a single sitting in November of 1930. Roddan also became one of the first advocates of low rent housing projects for the Downtown Eastside.

The so-called jungles were destroyed in September of 1931, ostensibly due to a death attributed to typhoid. The death provided an excuse for Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie’s government to relocate more than 1,000 men to labour camps outside the city. Hunger marches in 1932 and 1933 ensued. These culminated with the On-to-Ottawa Trek led by Slim Evans in 1935 and the Post Office Sit-In and riot of 1938. Roddan never abandoned his social gospel principles, clearly expressed towards the end of his first book, “We must learn to take Jesus seriously and apply his teachings of His Gospel to every phase of life.”


FULL ENTRY:

As much as anyone, Andrew Roddan began the ongoing struggle for social improvement in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. During his 19 years at the First United Church, from 1929 until 1948, the Scottish-born clergyman became known as the 'Apostle to the Poor', locking horns with Mayor Gerry McGeer, lobbying for improved social welfare programs and providing an estimated 50,000 meals to the unemployed during the winter of 1930-1931.

Like J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, Andrew Roddan was a Bible thumper from the prairies who preached the Social Gospel. He felt morally obliged to translate his Christian sympathies into practical acts to improve the well-being of others. As managed by his church volunteers--mostly notably Jeannie MacDuff, "the Pin-Up Girl for the Hungry and the Homeless"--Roddan's First United soup kitchen at Gore and Hastings once served 1,252 patrons in a single sitting in November of 1930. While serving as minister at his 'Church of the Open Door' in Vancouver, Roddan became one of the first advocates of low rent housing projects for the Downtown Eastside.

Long before the term homelessness became de rigeur to explain away poverty and mental illness, Roddan understood the plight of the unemployed and he shared his perspective in God in the Jungles (1931), newly reprinted by George Fetherling as Vancouver's Hoboes (Subway Books, 2005). Modeled on Nels Anderson's Chicago-based study of tramps and transients during early Twenties, Andrew Roddan's book about Western Canadian hobos in the early Thirties was sociological as much as it was religious or political. The jungles he referred to were four makeshift encampments that sprang up within city limits by the summer of 1931, each housing hundreds of men. These shanty towns were located near Prior Street, under the Georgia Viaduct, along the False Creek Flats and along the shore of Burrard Inlet. Roddan's 'First Church' was located just north of the Empress Theatre, as recalled by his son Sam Roddan in Skookum Wawa: "To the Devil with their plays and tomfoolery," he would mutter, raising his fist at the Empress. "There's more tragedy right here on this street and down these lanes than those actors will ever get on their stage. And here we don't need any makeup."

Rather than condemn the downtrodden as degenerates, in Vancouver's Hoboes Roddan appreciates their pluck. "It requires lots of nerve and stamina to stand the racket on a freight train," he writes. "Some of these men have no food when they start. They trust to luck and plan to live by begging at each divisional point on the way across. Those who are old hands and know the ropes get by, some of them in great style; but the other poor beggars have a rough time and often they are hungry." Roddan puts much of the blame for the situation on technology and notes the dangers of consuming "canned heat," a cooking fuel made from wax impregnated with alcohol. "It makes them blind, it makes them mad, and finally they take the count." Realizing transient workers had long been integral to the Canadian economy, Roddan also understood the wanderlust of 'boxcar tourists' during the Depression had precious little to do with sloth. "The Bohemian instincts find expression in the life of these men," he writes, "free to come, free to go, to work or wander, sleep or wake, calling no man their master."

The so-called jungles were destroyed in September of 1931, ostensibly due to a death attributed to typhoid. This death enabled the provincial government of Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie to relocate more than 1,000 men to labour camps outside the city. Hunger marches in 1932 and 1933 ensued, followed by the On-to-Ottawa Trek led by Slim Evans in 1935 and the Post Office Sit-In and riot of 1938. Roddan never abandoned his Social Gospel principles, clearly expressed towards the end of Vancouver's Hoboes. "We must learn to take Jesus seriously and apply his teachings of His Gospel to every phase of life."

As he ministered to the unemployed, Roddan encountered opposition from Communists who felt he was delaying an inevitable uprising, and he was resented by government officials, some of whom argued his charity was attracting more drifters to Vancouver. To counteract leftist attempts to organize the unemployed, Roddan would point to their propagandist literature and declare, "Look fellows, you can't eat that," then hold out a loaf of bread. But Rodden didn't eschew politics completely, nor did he entirely dismiss Communism. "I only wish the Christian Church could catch something of the missionary zeal which is burning so strong in the heart of the Communist," he wrote. Rodden provided help to the families of picketing longshoremen during the labour unrest of 1935, he endorsed the CCF candidate who ran against Gerald Grattan McGeer in the federal riding of Vancouver-Burrard and he publicly supported the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion volunteers who fought for the leftist Republican cause in Spain against Franco.

Born in Hawick, Scotland on July 6, 1882, Andrew Roddan first served as a lay minister for the Royal Navy at Gibraltar. After his arrival in Canada in 1910, he trained at the University of Manitoba and briefly served in Saskatchewan, at Winnipeg's Home Street Presbyterian Church for nine years, and at St. Paul's United in Port Arthur. Delivered in a heavy Scottish accent, Andrew Roddan's Sunday radio talks were published as Christ of the Wireless Way (1932). He also wrote Canada's Untouchables (1932). A charter member of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Roddan exhibited is own works as a painter in 1942. He died on April 25, 1948, still employed as the minister for First United Church.

BOOKS:

Roddan, Andrew. God in the Jungles: The Story of a Man Without a Home (Vancouver: First United Church, 1931)
Roddan, Andrew. Christ of the Wireless Way (Clarke & Stewart, 1932).
Roddan, Andrew. Canada's Untouchables (1932).
Roddan, Andrew. Vancouver's Hoboes (Vancouver: Subway Books, 2005). Introduced by Todd McCallum. 0-9687163-9-3. Reprint of God in the Jungles.

[BCBW 2010]