Delta Drive In Grand Opening
Automobile Roll Call
By Ken Gerberick & Janis Corrado
21 Austin A40
2 Chev Pick Up
8 Dodge Canadian
5 Dodge American
1 Dodge or Plymouth
6 Ford or Meteor
1 Ford Pick Up
2 Henry J Kaiser
5 Hillman Minx
2 Hudson or Terraplane
2 International Pick Up
3 LaFayette or Nash
1 Canadian Mercury
3 American Mercury
5 Morris Minor
21 Plymouth or Canadian Dodge 46-48
3 Plymouth or Canadian Dodge other
11 Pontiac Canadian
4 Pontiac American
1 Rover 75
6 Standard Vanguard
1 Studebaker Pick Up
2 Vauxhall Velox
1 Willys Overland
Leon "Lee" Holt
Leon Holt was born in Portland, Oregon, September 10, 1914, and arrived in Vancouver at about age four with his parents who started a furrier business, The Holt Fur Company, at Robson and Granville Streets. Leon grew up in the idyllic splendour of south Vancouver during the 1920's- a time when that part of the city was a fabulous mix of gardened bungalows and magnificent rain forrest, instilling in him a love of nature and a passion for the great outdoors.
Once he was old enough to work in the family business he took on junior duties as an accountant and sales manager, but never took to business– instead he sought a career that could get him out into nature.
In university he pursued studies in geology, but with the onset of the Great Depression, he returned to the family business. With the outbreak of war he was conscripted into the army where he served as a radar instructor.
After the war he returned to the family business until its closing at the end of the 1940's. In 1947 he met Simma Milner, who had just arrived in Vancouver to work at the Vancouver Sun Newspaper. Lee, as Simma called him, and she were married May 29, 1949. In order to support them, and his aging parents he bought a Speed-Graphic camera and began making a living as a photographer, soon working with Simma on her newspaper stories.
For a period of about five years he combined commercial photography with photo journalism but in the end newspaper work's invasive nature into people's lives was not for him. He returned to university at age forty and got his teaching degree.
Leon worked for the next twenty-five years as a high school math teacher at Gladstone Secondary on the east side of Vancouver. He loved sports and was physically active, playing tennis, racquetball, golf and skiing in the winter. Even when he began to have heart trouble and then a heart attack he pursued sports. He died on the tennis court playing doubles with three doctors, November 26, 1985.
Time-lapse movie of Delta Drive In set up.
Simma Milner was born in Vegreville, Alberta, in 1922, the sixth of eight children, she grew up working in the family hotel, the Prince Edward, but was drawn inexorably to the office of the local newspaper by its amphora of printer’s ink from which the world’s stories sprang. “I’ve got printers ink in my veins,” she’s proud to tell you.
Leaving home at 19, she attended the University of Manitoba and found herself acting as managing editor of The Manitoban, the university paper. After leaving university she worked briefly for the Canadian Press wire service out of Calgary but quickly migrated to west coast, taking a war-time job as the first woman city desk reporter for the Vancouver Sun Newspaper– a position she held for nearly three decades.
In 1949, Simma married Leon Holt, who for about five years worked the photography side of her stories before going on to become a high school math instructor. Besides her newspaper work, Simma authored several topical books and in 1975 was elected as Vancouver-Kingsway Member of Parliament for the Trudeau Liberals.
Simma's life, always involved with public issues, led her to frequent appearances on Jack Webster radio show and even if you didn't agree with her sentiments on a particular topic, she and Jack could keep the radio waves humming with irate listener responses, providing some entertaining social commentary.
In 1996, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada for her "lifetime commitment to assisting those suffering from injustice, persecution and poverty." In the same year she was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame.
For anyone interested in the colourful details of Simma Holt's life, I would highly recommend her autobiography, Memoirs of a Loose Cannon.
Richmond News Flashback
After the death of Leon Holt in 1985, Simma Holt donated his one hundred or so 4x5 inch black and white negatives to the Vancouver Public Library where they are now part of the library's Special Collections on the 7th floor of the Central Library. The majority of the Holt photographs are typical 1950's newspaper fodder– politicians, royal visits, polio victims, crime victims, baby-boom triplets, sports, fashion and entertainers. There are also images from his commercial work of buildings, weddings and the opening night of the Delta Drive In. As a group, these one hundred photographs capture Leon's view through the window of life in Vancouver from 1949 to 1954 and we have Simma to thank for saving them for us.
In 2009 I was moving my office into a new studio and in the process also began archiving my earliest work. That's when I came across a bundle of lab samples I had used to illustrate talks and workshops I'd given on photographic preservation and conservation. Among the toned prints, Daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, wet plate negatives and so on, was a panoramic print I had made for the Vancouver Public Library from negatives taken by Lee Holt in 1953 of the opening night at the Delta Drive In. Grabbing a loupe, I examined the rich detail of row upon row of 1950's cars and people wandering around before the start of the show. It struck me that with modern technology I could make an enlarged print of Holt's photograph, big enough to see all this wonderful detail without the aid of a loupe.
Coincidentally I was also moving a pile of recycled, circa 1900, first-growth fir flooring given to me by my friends Carol Harmon and Gary Sill when I got the idea of using this precious wood to build a bridgework display support reminiscent of the billboard scaffoldings seen around Vancouver in the first half of the 20th century. This seemed a good match as the scaffolding mimicked the steel structure of the Delta Drive In's outdoor screen.
I scanned the original image and then worked on it in PhotoShop, bringing up detail and retouching damaged areas. The final digital file was output onto inkjet canvas by artist Michael Lawlor– a 3x12 foot picture with every detail clearly visible.
Engineering of the scaffolding took a substantial effort as it all had to be done from drawings, then models, then prototypes. The design concept for this structure was that the whole thing could be set up and taken down again for transport or storage. I was greatly aided in this work by carpenter Dick Fahlman who also helped with planing the fir flooring into uniform truss members.
Once the piece was finished and assembled, I previewed it at our 2009-2010 New Year's eve party, which is when Artcar artists Ken Gerberick and Janis Corrado first saw it. They were so taken by Lee Holt's photograph that they spent weeks researching and identifying all 320 vehicles in the Automobile Roll Call.
Emily Carr 2010 Faculty Show
©2019 Henri Robideau