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Spencer's Cedar Chest Vancouver Jubilee Time Capsule

Click here to view photographs from the Time Capsule Unveiling on Nov. 20, 2006 at SFU's Harbor Centre Campus, 515 West Hastings, Room 1500.

Click here to view a list of contents of Spencer's 1936 Cedar Chest Vancouver Jubilee Time Capsule

The Importance of Spencer's Department Store

During the first half of the 20th century Spencer's Department Store was an important retail institution in Vancouver as it not only supported many civic events but also a considerable number of Vancouverites could point to a friend or relative who worked there at one time. It was part of a larger department store chain operated in the province of British Columbia by David Spencer Limited (commonly known as Spencer's) during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century.

A photo in the Vancouver Sun dated Thursday, November 20, 1936 shows Chris Spencer, president of Spencer's, holding a copy of the Sun which was to be deposited into the chest.
View PDF of Sun article here »

Begun in Victoria in 1873, it opened its first Vancouver store in 1907. By December 1926, after purchasing the greater part of a block in the 500 block Hastings Street, it was able to open a nine storey elegant art deco flagship store. The building had five stories below street level and 320,000 square feet of shopping space. As well as having many amenities, it boasted a toyland and its trademark chairs beside the elevators.

In 1936, true to its character, it celebrated Vancouver's Golden Jubilee by creating a time capsule to be opened in 1986.

In 1948, David Spencer Limited sold all its stores in British Columbia, including its Hastings Street location to the T. Eaton Company of Toronto.

The Journey of Spencer's Cedar Chest Vancouver Jubilee Time Capsule, 1936-2006
  • 1936 - David Spencer's Department store decided to celebrate Vancouver's Jubilee by putting together a time capsule in a cedar chest, “four feet square and wide”. Contributions were open to the public and a variety of people contributed letters, photographs and various other items. A sign that went with the Cedar Chest stated:
    This chest of B. C. cedar is to be packed with mementos of Vancouver's Golden Jubilee Year and messages to those who unlock it on the occasion of Vancouver's Centennial Celebrations in 1986 fifty years hence.
    “What will Vancouver citizens of 1986 want to know about us and our lives of today?”
  • May 27, 1939 - The cedar chest was opened and newspapers celebrating the visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth were added.
  • 1948 - Spencer's Stores were purchased by the Toronto-based T. Eaton Company and because of the new owner's efforts to make visible their new corporate presence the exact whereabouts of the capsule became a mystery.
  • April 17, 1951 - The chest was opened by Pearson McAllister who apologized in a note that he is not able to wait for he feared he may be dead by 1986.
  • 1973 - Eaton's sold its Hastings Street store and at the site put all the contents that could not be moved to the new location on the auction block. While on a visit to Vancouver from Ontario and in an attempt to buy a desk for a friend, history buff Jim Breckenridge purchased the contents of the cedar chest, then in boxes. He didn't purchase the desk nor did he see the famed cedar chest, which was likely auctioned separately. Missing from the original cedar chest were samples of 1936 clothing, and a statue of George Vancouver. The boxes were left in Surrey with a friend Carlo Giovanella for whom the desk was to have been purchased. A couple of years later, Mr. Giovanella drove the boxes to Ontario where they sat for the next several decades.
  • 1986 - An article appeared in the Vancouver Sun about the lost Spencer Time Capsule which was nowhere to be found.
    Mr. Breckenridge offered the contents to the Vancouver Museum which expressed interest in it even though it had many of the items already, but distances and logistics prevented a follow up.
  • October 2006 - Mr. Breckenridge offered the contents of the Spencer's Cedar Chest to the Vancouver Historical Society.
  • November 5, 2006 - Mr. & Mrs. Breckenridge on a visit to Vancouver, handed over the contents of the boxes, minus some generic magazines and newspapers of the time (left in Ontario) to the VHS with the understanding that the material will be passed along to an archives.
  • November 20, 2006 - A gathering at the original Spencer's site (now Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre), the VHS Executive, the press, historians, Spencer descendants and Mr. & Mrs. Giovanella, still without their desk, spent several hours going through the contents.
  • November 23, 2006 - The VHS gave the contents of the Spencer's Cedar Chest to the Vancouver Archives where it will be accessible to the public for research purposes.

Click here to view a list of Contents of Spencer's 1936 Cedar Chest Vancouver Jubilee Time Capsule

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