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Vancouver then & now: The girl who watched from the tower

Former Miss Vancouver and BC Electric/BC Hydro employee Carole Goldney stands atop the Electra Building in downtown Vancouver, in 1957 and in 2010. 


The beauty queen who saw a city change and helped make it happen

Blaine Kyllo
For bchydro.com


“Where would you like me to stand?” she asked the photographer.

“Over on the north side,” he replied. “We want to show off this spectacular view.”

She edged as close as she dared. This skyscraper was so new there wasn’t even a ledge around the roof. “How’s this?” she said.

“Perfect.”

“We’re so high up here,” she said. “I can see for miles around.”

The photograph taken that day in 1957 shows Carole Goldney looking out over Vancouver from the top of the Electra Building. In the distance, we can see the edge of Stanley Park. Farther away are the North Shore mountains, hazily obscured. We know from the patches of snow that this picture must have been taken in the early fall.

Carole, smiling with ease, reaches out slightly, as if she’s about to pluck a ship out of Coal Harbour. Earlier that year, the 19-year-old was crowned Miss Vancouver at the PNE.

BC Hydro's former headquarters

The Electra, situated at the corner of Burrard and Nelson in downtown Vancouver, was designed by Penticton-born architect Ronald Thom. The lower floors of the building are decorated by a stunning tile mosaic created by the modernist B.C. Binning, who had taught Thom at UBC. It was built for the BC Electric Company and became the headquarters for BC Hydro when it was created in 1961, 50 years ago.

Carole, armed with a typewriter, started working for the BC Electric Company straight out of high school. Along with hundreds of others she was one of BC Hydro’s first employees when the crown corporation was formed in 1961. Except for an eight-year break in the late sixties, Carole worked for BC Hydro right up until her retirement in 1997.

'We didn't even think about conservation'

Vancouver, and B.C., were much different back when the 89-metre Electra was the tallest building in the city. Back then, all the lights in the Electra were left on at night, the building a glowing beacon of prosperity in the heart of Vancouver. Electricity was plentiful, Carole tells me in an interview.

“We didn’t even think about conservation,” she admits. Employees were charged a flat $1 per month for all the power they used in their homes.

Granville Street in the late fifties was aglow with neon signs, bustling with people dressed up for a night on the town. Women wore gloves, men wore hats.

Walking down the Granville strip today, suits and dresses are rare. Jeans and khakis are more popular. The hats you see are baseball caps and toques. At night the street is lit by energy-efficient lamps.

Metro Vancouver population could double by 2021

The population of the city has spiked, too, growing by about 200,000. Projections estimate that there will be twice as many people living in Metro Vancouver in 2021 as there were in 1961. But the electrical infrastructure serving the city hasn’t really changed in that time.

Which is why BC Hydro is committed to planning for what lies ahead. Converting the entire downtown Vancouver transmission system and constructing a new electricity substation will prepare the city for a future that will include plug-in electric vehicles and a smart electrical grid that can automatically adjust to changing demands.

Investing in the future also means being responsible today. And, knowing that there were going to be greater demands for electricity, BC Hydro led the way in promoting efficiency and conservation throughout the province.

274,000 fridges gone since 2002

Carole worked in the conservation department of BC Hydro when it was first established in the late seventies. “We were trying different things to encourage people to conserve,” she said.

One of the first schemes they tried was a refrigerator buy-back campaign. A similar program was resurrected in 2002 and has since taken 274,000 inefficient fridges out of action, saving enough electricity to power more than 19,000 homes.

The photograph taken atop the Electra in 1957 was recreated last year, with Carole again at the apex of downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour can’t be seen because of the buildings that have sprouted up. The Hotel Vancouver is still there to the right of the frame, but it doesn’t stand out as majestically as it once did.

Now 72, Carole spends her time painting and gardening in the house she grew up in. It’s a quaint little place, she tells me, that was built by her father in 1945.

Her typewriter has been replaced with a computer. She has a new flatscreen television and PVR. She says she’s careful to turn out lights and not use too much electricity. “We all have a responsibility,” she says, “to think of the future.”