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Pacific Highway Bicycle Races in the 1920s and 1930s

August 27, 2016

The pavement of the Pacific Highway, completed in 1923, proved an irresistible attraction to cyclists. Brownsville and Whalley became start-finish points of some of the greatest bicycle road races of the last century in British Columbia..

From the south end of the Fraser River Bridge there was now a continuous ribbon of concrete, winding up the “Peterson” hill and traversing the bog before rounding past South Port Mann corner, making a bee-line for Mount Baker through the Green Timbers as far as Clayton before swinging southward, following the railway embankment through Cloverdale and striking without compromise up the big hill and down again, on its run to the frontier.

Pacific Highway - looking west to start point at Fraser River bridgeFirst 25-mile Championship started at Vancouver Exhibition

In 1925 the Vancouver Bicycle Club staged for the first time a 25-mile road race for the Pacific Coast championship and the Vancouver Exhibition Association Cup. The route ran from Vancouver to New Westminster. The first winner was Jim Davies of Vancouver. Chester Mills, a Seattle cyclist, took the prize in 1926.

William Peden First At Brownsville

In 1927 the 25-mile race moved south of the river, with the start/finish line at the end of the Fraser River bridge near Johnny Wise’s old Hotel. It was 12 and 1/2 miles out to Cloverdale and back. The race took place on a rainy Sunday morning. Eleven riders were released from the Brownsville starting point a minute apart.

Bill Peden on bicycle - won Pacific Highway raceYoung Victoria speedster William Peden was the favorite, having recently circled Stanley Park in record time.

“Peden got away at a terrific clip and never slackened down his speed even making fast time on the big hill not far from the start.”

He did not disappoint, speeding over the wet and slippery concrete of the Pacific Highway in 1 hour, 2 minutes and 46 seconds for the 25 miles.

At the time, “Bill” Peden had not yet acquired the nickname “Torchy” with which he became a sensation in America and Europe, winning an unequalled number of races and becoming one of the highest paid professional athletes of his era.

1925 Brownsville to Brownsville 25-mile Championship Race Racers in Order of Finnish

  • W Peden
  • S Jackson
  • JH Davies
  • Tom Wilson
  • Claytus Davies
  • Harry Cowles
  • EC Hibbert
  • Leo Marchiori
  • Dave McCready
  • W Easingwood
  • Tony Ryan

Some Race Officials

  • Fred Deely and LB Haskins, judges and timekeepers.
  • Dave Cooke, starter.
  • Tom Shankie, assistant starter.
  • Cliff McKenny, clerk of the course.
  • A Littlejohn, checker at turning point.

By 1931 the start and finish line for the Pacific Coast Championship course had shifted from Brownsville up Peterson hill to Whalley’s Corner. Twenty riders set out to race 12 1/2 miles to the turning point at the big hill south of Cloverdale. Lew Rush of Victoria was the first to return to the finish line at Whalley’s Corner in a time of 1 hour, 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Sixty-year old Tom Shankie rode in this test, finishing 15 minutes behind the winner.

Whalley's Corner - Pacific Highway - start-finish point for bicycle racesThe Pacific Northwest Championship 100-Mile Bicycle Race –  Finish Line Was at Whalley’s Corner

Whalley’s Corner was for many years the finish line for the 100-mile bicycle race sponsored by the Vancouver Exhibition Association. Waiting for the winner was the Routledge Cup, awarded annually to the Pacific Northwest champion.

In August 1934 the race, previously run from Seattle to Vancouver, was staged for the first time from Central Park in Burnaby to Cottonwood Corners, Chilliwack, where the riders reversed direction and raced to the finish-line at Whalley’s Corner.

In sweltering conditions the race was won by George Roberts with a time of 8 hours , 35 minutes and 59 seconds.

Tom Shankie, 62, the “veteran pedal-pusher,” was obliged to abandon pursuit at Aldergrove.

“Jim Taylor of Victoria, three-times winner of the 100-mile title and the Harry Routledge trophy, was forced to drop out at Fry’s Corner on the journey home, weakened by the terrific heat through Sumas Prairie.”

Other riders dropped out along the route. In fact, winner George Roberts was the only rider to finish the race.


Notes:

The inspirational Tom Shankie was a violin teacher and orchestra conductor who bought his first bicycle at age 46. He became a great advocate of riding for good health and was a regular participant in lower mainland bicycle races. He had charge of bicycle equipment at the 1954 British Empire Games. Shankie was still riding in his 80’s.

The first 100-mile bicycle race in British Columbia took place at Victoria 120 years ago. H. Petticrew and Charles Bush set the first BC record for the distance, travelling over the rough roads of the day in 8 hours, 58 minutes.

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