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