Vancouver versus New Westminster, 1887

The following report appeared in the [Vancouver] Evening Herald of Wednesday, 26 October 1887:

The Chess Match between Vancouver and New Westminster players took place at the rooms of the Chess and Draught Club here, last night. Contrary to expectations only two of the Westminster players put in an appearance, viz.: Senator McInnis and Mr. J.C. Brown. Our players had hoped to meet at least four or five players, and were consequently somewhat disappointed. However a very enjoyable game was had, resulting in favor of the home team by seven to one, and one drawn game. The following were the order of the games: -

VancouverWestminster
Hirschberg2-0Brown
Keith2-0Brown
Keith2.5-0.5 McInnes
Hoffer1-1McInnes

At the conclusion of the match the company adjourned to the Gold House [Hotel], where an elegant repast was spread, and to which full justice was done by both victors and vanquished. After the inner man had been satisfied a pleasant hour was spent in speechmaking, songs, recitations, etc. Our boys expect to go to the Royal City in a short time to play a return match.

So what does this tell us about the history of chess in this province? Not much from a technical point of view, as none of the games have come down to us, although it appears the Vancouver club was considerably stronger than the one in New Westminster, despite the latter city having the greater population until the first decade of the twentieth century. However, from the use of city directories and a small amount of conjuncture it has been possible to identify all the players involved, and this sheds considerable light on the social history of chess at the time. All the individuals named were in the upper echelons of society, and would have been considered among the movers and shakers of their time. The origin of the New Westminster club remains uncertain, but the beginnings of this edition of the Vancouver CC were the result of a catastrophe the previous year. On 13 June 1886 the newly-incorporated city of Vancouver was almost entirely destroyed by fire. The city quickly rebuilt, and by the following September a Vancouver branch of the Bank of British Columbia, managed by J.C. Keith, opened in a building which also housed the C.P.R. offices. Within a year the Daily Herald could announce the formation of a chess club using the bank's premises Keith was one of the founding members. Every indication we have is that the club was still meeting there two months later when the match with New Westminster took place.


First C.P.R. depot with Bank of B.C. offices on the right. City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Can P9

Born in Scotland, James Cooper Keith (1852-1914) came to Victoria in 1876 before settling in Vancouver in 1886. Apart from his career as a banker, Keith later served as President of the Board of Trade and was an important figure in the development of North Vancouver, holding the position of Reeve of the municipality and lending his name to one of its main highways, Keith Road. Another figure with connections to the North Shore was German-born Martin H. Hirschberg (1834?-1896), an accountant connected with the Daily News Advertiser newspaper, who was the first Clerk of the District of North Vancouver in 1891. And the third member of the Vancouver team was the resplendently named Noble Stonestreet Hoffar (1843-1907), although his last name was frequently misspelled as Hoffer. Born in Washington, D.C., Hoffar graduated from Georgetown College before moving to the Western states where for a time he was engaged in mining. In 1872 he settled in Los Angeles and adopted his subsequent profession of builder and architect. He spent time in Oregon, Victoria, Nanaimo, and New Westminster before fortuitously arriving in Vancouver the day before the great fire; his skills were much in demand as the city rebuilt and prospered in the following decades.


J.C. Keith, City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LP 33 (detail);
T.R. McInnes, image G-01362 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives;
J.C. Brown, photograph #577 courtesy of the New Westminster Public Library

On the New Westminster team were two storied gentleman who incidentally both have pages on Wikipedia. Thomas Robert McInnes (1840-1904) was born in Nova Scotia of Scottish parents; he studied at Harvard and elsewhere and was trained as a doctor. A veteran of the American Civil War, McInnis settled in New Westminster in 1874, serving as a physician and surgeon, coroner, and superintendent of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum. He entered politics, becoming mayor of New Westminster (1877-78) and was elected to the commons before being named to the senate by John A. Macdonald in 1881. McInnis subsequently resigned from the senate to become B.C.'s sixth Lieutenant Governor (1897-1900). While in Ottawa McInnis had the opportunity to play in the minor division of the Dominion chess championship in 1884 and also took a board in a blindfold simultaneous display given by Zukertort. John Cunningham Brown (1844-1929) was born in Ireland but came to B.C. in 1862, living first in Victoria but moving to New Westminster the following year. He established what was later named the British Columbian newspaper, but sold his part of the business in 1880 to become postmaster. Brown was mayor of New Westminster 1890-91; he was elected to the provincial legislature and served as Provincial Secretary 1900-01. In 1907 Brown was named warden of the British Columbia Penitentiary.

Thus we see the participants in this match and presumably the members of the clubs in general were all from the upper strata of society. British Columbia may have been thousands of miles from the Victorian home country, but the pioneer immigrants still perpetuated the class divisions ingrained in them since birth. Chess may have been a 'rational recreation,' encouraged in the lower classes of society via Mechanics' Institutes and reading rooms as an alternative to the saloon, but the formal chess club remained the domain of the upper classes, a division which would not break down until the arrival of different social standards following the Great War.