1929 Big Bend Highway Telegram
In 1928, the federal and provincial governments had come to an agreement to build the Big Bend highway north of Revelstoke to open up the timber and mining lands between Revelstoke and Mica Creek.
In 1929, Nelson S Lougheed was the Conservative MLA for Maple Ridge and he was Minister for Public Works. Getting the Big Bend project underway was part of his portfolio.
This wonderful telegram illustrates a number of conditions of the day. It was a communication between two MLAs with Lougheed in Ottawa and William A McKenzie in Victoria. McKenzie was the representative for Similkameen and Minister of Mines and Labour in the Simon Fraser Tolmie government from 1928 to 1933. Lougheed might have been in Ottawa to negotiate with his federal counterparts.
In those days, it was very difficult to have private conversations other than face to face. Telephones had operators listening in. Telegrams were also not private and so it was common practice for those in commerce, banking and apparently, politics, to use word replacement codes. Fortunately for us, Mr. Lougheed has written in the translation.
The whole piece reads as follows:
“Reference Big Bend Road. Had conference with Cory and Harkin who are anxious set time limit December 1932 or earlier. This too short and embarrassing politically in view of other projects in governing ridings for instance, North Thompson, Hope Princeton, Prince George East. Would subject us to criticism. Suggest time limit not less than five years dependent on finances.”
The identities of Cory and Harkin are unknown but they may have been high ranking civil servants in the respective departments. Lougheed and McKenzie were Conservatives but at the time, the federal government was Liberal so a certain amount of political horse-trading was inevitable.
The code itself is wonderful. Combinations like “emetic pontoon” and “grandiloquent rinsings” would make this telegram a “keeper” even if we didn’t have the translation.
Portrait of Nelson Seymour Lougheed taken when he became Minister of Public Works in 1928 (P3326)