Looking Back: Bicycles important back in the old days

It was in May 1937 that Maple Ridge’s own Margery Saunders clinched the victory in the Vancouver Daily Province’s annual Bike Race.

Alwyn Lilley

Alwyn Lilley

It was in May 1937 that Maple Ridge’s own Margery Saunders clinched the victory in the Vancouver Daily Province’s annual Bike Race.

The race course looped around Stanley Park, in the year before it was cut in two by the new Lions Gate Bridge and its causeway.

At the time, the Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows Gazette gloated: “So grueling was the last few hundred yards that the runner-up, Ms. Leiper, collapsed right after crossing the finish tape.

“But for our own Margery, the race was but an interlude – for not only had she rode her bike to Vancouver in time to start but immediately after the ceremonies were over, once more mounted her trusty bicycle and rode back home, another 30 miles.”

Bikes were an important modus operandi in the rural town.  As now, they made for brilliant recreation, and the community archives hold a good few photos of bikes and their owners alongside gravel roads, waterways, and old facades.

The bicycle was a machine for work, too, and local businesses like Clappison’s Butchers ran home deliveries with fleets of front-end panniers.  Sometimes the town’s two-wheelers were used in celebration, as in the parade celebrating B.C.’s 1958 centennial, or in protest, as when students hit the road in 1939 – on strike for a new high school.

This summer has been the first in many years that I have taken to Maple Ridge by bicycle.  As a child, I rode around Davidson subdivision on a small Raleigh with fat, studded tires that dragged on the slightest incline and seemed to weigh about as much as I did.  Lacking the constitution of Ms. Saunders, I was discouraged for many years.  But I now find cycling is excellent, fulfilling exercise, and it encourages me to enter areas which are far from my home and the major routes along which I usually drive.  This has been modestly empowering and highly educational.

According to Ed Villiers, Margery took another long bicycle ride in 1937.

It was almost September, and unmarried women, particularly hard up during the Depression, hopped freight trains headed through the Interior in their search for work as apple pickers.  Margery began pedaling east, mailing some of her extra clothes general delivery from Hope to Penticton.  She climbed through the Fraser Canyon along mismatched fragments of the Cariboo Wagon Road – the only Canadian route east at that time – walking up the worst hills, arriving in the valleys with little but her dwindling money and a pup tent.

She returned six weeks later entering the new “auto courts” with her bicycle when it was too cold to sleep outside – paying for the privilege with her hard-earned picker’s wages.

Her November arrival in Haney was noted in a brief on the front page of the Gazette.  “Some jaunt!” it cried, with admiration and bemusement.

I doubt Ms. Saunders was surprised by her own tenacity, even if she was too modest to acknowledge it.

Matthew Shields is a Maple Ridge Museum researcher.