LITERARY LOCATION: 339 West Pender, site of the Acland Hood Hall, aka Pender Hall, Dominion Hall and Boilermakers Hall.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic reception ever accorded to a visiting writer in British Columbia was given to Rudyard Kipling--the chief literary cheerleader for the British Empire--when he addressed the one-year-old Canadian Club at the Acland Hood Hall, next door to a grocer's shop run by John F. Maythe (later the Battery House) at Pender & Howe, on October 7, 1907, the year he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. “Such land is good for the energetic man," Kipling wrote of British Columbia. "It is also not so bad for the loafer.”

As John Mackie has written for The Vancouver Sun, the building at 339 West Pender was destroyed by a fire in 2003. "The historic structure was officially called the Victory Block, and in later years the Marine Workers hall was known as the Pender Ballroom or Pender Auditorium. In the 1960s, it was the original home of the Afterthought, Vancouver’s first psychedelic club. The Grateful Dead played their first Vancouver show there in 1966."

ENTRY:

"Blessed be the English and all that they profess.
Cursed be the savages that prance in nakedness.
Blessed be the English and everything they own.
Cursed be the Infidels that bow to wood and stone." -- Rudyard Kipling

When Kipling had first arrived in Vancouver in 1892, the City Solicitor named St. George Hamersley, a member of the Inner Bar, London, was asked if he might greet the visiting writer named Kipling. “Kipling! Who the devil is Kipling?” the lawyer reportedly said. “Never heard of the man!” Sam Rob, a reporter sent by J.C. McLagan to meet Kipling's evening train and gain an interview for The World newspaper, was perplexed when Kipling didn't get off the train. He sent a note, pleading for an interview on the grounds that Kipling had granted an interview in Winnipeg. Kipling wrote back: "Dr. Mr. Rob. I am very sorry to disappoint you with your city editor, but the Winnipeg interviews you mention were the product of the fertile imagination of Winnipeg newspapermen, and, as a humble worker in the field of fiction I have no doubt I shall read with interest in The World tomorrow of your interview with me tonight."

Fifteen years later Kipling was met by the Mayor, presidents of the Board of Trade and provincial government members. An overflow audience of over 500 attended his luncheon speech. Women weren’t invited; there was not enough room. But women came anyway, crowding the hall to its doors, filling the spectator gallery. “There is a crafty network of organizations of business men called Canadian Clubs,” Kipling wrote. “They catch people who look interesting, assemble their members during the mid-day lunch hour, and, tying the victim to a steak, bid him discourse on anything that he thinks he knows.”

Born in Bombay, India on December 30, 1865, Kipling had been greatly impressed by British Columbia during his wedding tour of North America in 1892. He admired the efficiency of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Always the marvel to which Canadians seem insensible,” he wrote, “was that on one side of an imaginary line should be Safety, Law, Honour and Obedience, and on the other, frank, brutal decivilization.” Kipling was so pleased with Vancouver that he purchased a town lot in the Mt. Pleasant area (subdivision 264A, Ward Five) prior to embarking for Japan from the CPR dock on the Empress of India on April 4, 1892. “He that sold it to me was a delightful English boy,” Kipling later wrote in American Notes. “All the boy said was, ‘I give you my word it isn’t on a cliff or under water, and before long the town ought to move out that way.’ And I took it as easily as a man buys a piece of tobacco. I became owner of 400 well-developed pines, thousands of tons of granite scattered in blocks at the roots of the pines, and a sprinkling of earth. That’s a town lot in Vancouver. You or your agent hold onto it till property rises, then sell out and buy more land farther out of town and repeat the process. I do not quite see how this sort of thing helps the growth of a town, but the English boy says it is the ‘essence of speculation’ so it must be all right. But I wish there were fewer pines and rather less granite on the ground.”

Kipling was duped. When he returned in 1907, he learned that he'd been paying taxes on property legally owned by someone else. Privately, Kipling wrote, “All the consolation we got from the smiling people of Vancouver was: “You bought that from Steve, did you? Ah-hah, Steve! You hadn’t ought to ha’ bought from Steve. No! Not from Steve!’ And thus did the good Steve cure us of speculating in real estate.” Unfazed, he published glowingly positive newspaper articles praising the enterprising West Coast whalers. Nary a word appeared about his property loss. In 1907, after receiving a standing, cheering ovation and a Moroccan leather case, embossed with his initials, containing his honourary lifetime membership to the Canadian Club, Kipling rose to discourse on Vancouver. He compared the city to the head of an army bravely passing through the mountains “to secure a stable Western civilization facing the Eastern Sea.” Frequently interrupted by applause, he added, “If I had not as great faith as I have in our breed, and in our race, I would tremble at your responsibilities.” When later asked by a reporter for the Vancouver World newspaper about “the all-absorbing topic of Hindoo immigration,” Kipling confided he “had come six thousand miles to study it.” He added, “I have seen all Hindoos in many places and they are the same all over except that here they seem to be more timid and weak than is their wont.” Kipling concluded this was due to the weather.

Kipling was also wildly enthusiastic about Victoria, having first visited in 1889. He wrote, "To realize Victoria you must take all that the eye admires most in Bournemouth, Torquay, the Isle of Wight, the Happy Valley at Hong Kong, the Doon, Sorrento, and Camps Bay; add reminiscences of the Thousand Islands, and arrange the whole round the Bay of Naples, with some Himalays for the background. Real estate agents recommend it as a little piece of England--the island on which it stands is about the size of Great Britain--but no England is set in any such seas or so fully charged with the mystery of the larger ocean beyond. The high, still twilights along the beaches are out of the old East just under the curve of the world, and even in October the sun rises warm from the first Earth, sky and water wait outside every man's door to drag him out to play if he looks up from his work; and, though some other cities in the Dominion do not quite understand this immoral mood of Nature, men who have made their money in them go off to Victoria, and with the zeal of converts preach and preserve its beauties.... I tried honestly to render something of the color, the gaiety, and the graciousness of the town and the island, but only found myself piling up unbelievable adjectives, and so let it go with a hundred other wonders."

Kipling was forever spewing venom about Huns, Yids and Micks. He was equally contemptuous of trade unionists, liberals and suffragettes. Kipling's rhetoric was taken seriously in British Columbia, an outpost of Empire. He ominously advised, "The time is coming when you will have to choose between the desired reinforcements of your own stock and blood, and the undesired races to whom you are strangers, whose speech you do not understand, and from whose instincts and traditions you are separated by thousands of years."

He died in 1936.

Historian John Bosher has written about Kipling on Vancouver Island in "Vancouver Island and the Kiplings," The Kipling Journal (London), vol. 83, no. 332 (June 2009), pp. 8-22.

BOOKS (mentioning British Columbia)

From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel (London, 1900)
Letters of Travel 1892-1897 (Doubleday, 1941).
The Letters of Rudyard Kipling (McMillan), edited by Thomas Pinney

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Famous Visitor"