Updated: Apr 7
Joining the short list of Vancouver Island's automobile pioneers.
"1917::Rube McMorran and Hupmobile at His Metropolitan Garage On View Street"
In 1897, young Reuben McMorran arrived in British Columbia seeking adventure and a better life. He had set out from Ontario and journeyed west along with tens of thousands of people from around the world. It was the peak of the Klondike Gold Rush. News of significant strikes in the frozen North had been flooding newspaper headlines for months, creating a frenzy throughout the province. Miners, prospectors, journalists, entrepreneurs, investors and ordinary people without a plan, rushed to the coast hoping to catch a boat north to Alaska, the gateway to the Klondike and its promise of instant fortune. The excitement was contagious and it gave McMorran an idea.
He made his money by working for the steamships that were overwhelmed with gold rush passengers. As the ship's steward, he tended to miners returning from the Klondike with a pouch full of gold dust and a half-drunk bottle of champagne, as well as those who simply managed to make it out of the Yukon alive. He was undoubtedly a people person and when the time was right, he and his young bride settled down to build a life in Victoria on Vancouver Island.
"1912::The Metropolitan Motor Co., Ltd."
Clip: Vancouver Daily World (1912)
McMorran opened his garage on View Street in 1915. He had purchased most of his inventory the previous year when the old Metropolitan Garage across the street sold out after two years. The original owners were connected to a group of well-respected automobile pioneers who had settled in Victoria and Vancouver at the turn of the century. These were the men who acquired and developed the toughest and fastest motorcars in the industry for their booming West Coast cities, and who fought to build better roads and highways along the Pacific Coast for the benefit of the province. McMorran was now one of them. He was a busy man. He managed and sponsored a local baseball team that played in Victoria's new Royal Athletic Park, took time to teach his customers how to care for their automobiles, and every summer treated his staff to a barbeque bash in Deep Cove on the Saanich Peninsula. McMorran soon became a household name.
"1918::Thomas Plimley's old Garage at 727 Johnson Street in Victoria, British Columbia"
Photo: City of Victoria Archives (MOO707)
On New Year's Day, 1919, he expanded his small business on View Street by moving it to a vacated old garage on Johnson Street. Business boomed until 1927 when he gave it all up to open a real estate brokerage on Robson Street in Vancouver. He called Vancouver home for the remainder of his days.
"1901::The Ill-Fated Islander"
Clip: The Province (1901)
Vancouver, British Columbia
It wasn't until McMorran's death that people learned the secret that he had kept all to himself. His obituary revealed that during the Klondike Gold Rush, he had been working as a steward on the Canadian Pacific steamship, the S.S. Islander. In the early evening of August 14, 1901, the Islander left Skagway, Alaska for Vancouver with 185 souls on board. At 2 am, the ship struck an iceberg near Douglas Island and immediately began to take on water. Passengers enjoying their cocktails in the ship's saloon believed that the urgent call to lifeboats was a bit of an exaggerated response. But fifteen minutes later, the boat plunged to the ocean floor. Although the passenger list went down with the ship, it was estimated that 42 people lost their lives. McMorran was one of the survivors. The fate of the S.S. Islander remains one of the West Coast's greatest tragedies.
*McMorran's name was listed as McMarrow on the ship's roll call list at Juneau.