Chronicles: A fire, a plane and more in today’s headline grab-bag

The historic Cassidy Inn Hotel was one of only three surviving structures from the former coal mining town of Granby.

The historic Cassidy Inn Hotel was one of only three surviving structures from the former coal mining town of Granby.

As must be apparent by now, I like to springboard columns from current news events. Problem is, there are so many news stories with historical links or roots or parallels that I can’t keep up. So, today, a grab-bag to clear some of them off my desk…

Let’s begin with the historic Cassidy Inn Hotel which has been given a reprieve from demolition by the Regional District of Nanaimo. You may have noticed the ever more decrepit looking former beer parlour/hotel which is just over the river, north of and on the same side of the highway as the Nanaimo airport. The RDN has given the owners another 30 days to address security and safety issues.

The development company that owns the building has said that it hopes to renovate and reopen the hotel. I hope so as it’s the last man standing of the historic Granby townsite other than the community pumphouse (in continuous operation a century later) and two decrepit concrete loading chutes.

So I began my column on Tuesday. But a phone call from Citizen editor Andrea Rondeau before going to press Wednesday, requires this tragic amendment: The hotel burned down, Monday night.

What a crying shame!

It, the pumphouse and the chutes were all that remained of what was once a model company town — the only one of its kind, in fact, during a time when most industrial workers and their families had to rent company-owned houses that, as often as not, were little better than shacks. From which they could be evicted during times of labour disputes.

Period photos of Granby Road, the Cassidy coal mining community’s main street, show attractive and neat bungalows, nicely painted, and manicured lawned boulevards — nothing like the houses in the photos, say, of non-downtown Cumberland.

But Granby came and went in just 15 years (1917-1932), its model homes and buildings demolished and sold for salvage when the mine was shut down during the Great Depression. The Cassidy Inn, built by the Granby Co. as a recreation hall, survived. At least, until this week. More of our coal mining history gone…

If you were in Victoria three weeks ago you may have looked up to the sound of multi-piston engines passing overhead.

That was the ‘Aluminum Overcast,’ one of the very few airworthy B-17 bombers left from the Second World War, on a one-day visit to Victoria. With a wingspan of 104 feet and powered by four 1,200-hp. 9-cylinder radial Wright Cyclone engines, the famous Boeing heavy bomber could carry a 17,600-pound bombload at a maximum altitude of almost seven miles at up to 300 mph.

Which they did for much of the war as part of the Allied air war against Germany, dropping 640,000 short tons of bombs on Nazi military and industrial targets — almost half of all the bombs dropped on Germany, and more than those delivered by any other type of U.S. aircraft. A total of 12,677 B-17s were built between 1935 and 1945; now just a few, including the Aluminum Overcast, survive in private hands and in air museums. Hence their attraction for younger generations who’ve only read about them or seen them in the movies.

And let’s not forget the Yukon Gold potato which celebrated its 50th birthday in May. Now grown and consumed around the world the yellow-fleshed Yukon, as its name suggests, is a Canadian creation, the work of scientist Gary Johnston. He’s been called an “agricultural hero” for his having cross-bred a bright yellow wild potato from Peru with a domestic variety. It was Johnston who named the potato for the Yukon River because of its link with the Klondike gold rush. As the Yukon Gold it was the first Canadian potato to be promoted, packaged and marketed under its own name. Too bad for Johnston that he received no royalties for his genius. Unlike its lowly antecedents, the Yukon Gold has achieved celebrity status as a gourmet dish.

Finally, for today at least, a reminder that another birthday, Canada’s 150th, is fast approaching. Time to think of ways to celebrate and to honour our nation which has come such a long way from 1867. Time to acknowledge and to express what it means to be a proud Canadian.