Vancouver’s first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

A century after his demise, Joe Fortes is being remembered for his commitment to group and kindness as a Black lifeguard in a predominantly white Vancouver.

The Trinidad and Tobago-born seaman, who arrived in Vancouver aboard a industry ship in 1885, is credited with saving a minimum of 29 lives and instructing “innumerable” other folks how you can swim, in keeping with Lisa Anne Smith, co-creator of Our Friend Joe: The Joe Fortes Story.

Fortes died on Feb. 4, 1922. But his legacy lives on, says Smith, as a testament to the impact people may have on others by means of staying precise to who they are and offering assistance anyplace it’s needed.

“If shall we extrapolate only a little little bit of that character of Joe into our personal lives, we’d be all the richer for it,” she stated.

Lisa Anne Smith holds her book, Our Family Member Joe, outdoor the Old Hastings Mill Retailer Museum in Vancouver, B.C. Smith says Fortes’ existence reflects how folks could have an impact on the community by means of being precise to who they’re. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

‘Citizen of the Century’

Seraphim Joseph Fortes was in all probability born in Port of Spain around 1863. He moved to Liverpool, England around the age of 17 and worked as a seaman aboard the trade send, the Robert Kerr.

The ship got here to the cost of Granville, now known as Vancouver, in 1885. consistent with Smith’s ebook, Fortes and his fellow staff were discharged since the send was once broken.

Fortes made up our minds to stick in then-Granville and worked as a bartender and lodge porter. He swam in English Bay seashore in his spare time.

in the 1890s, he began to volunteer as a lifeguard and swimming teacher — a part of his lifestyles that was chronicled in the Vancouver Day By Day World newspaper, which stated Fortes saving a lady from drowning at the seashore in July 1897.

Vancouver's first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

Folks share stories approximately Vancouver’s 1st paid lifeguard

FOUR hours ago

Duration ZERO:59

In a 1964 CBC unique on Joe Fortes’ existence, other people reminisce in regards to the time they spent with him at English Bay beach. ZERO:FIFTY NINE

He was formally put at the city’s payroll in 1900 after citizens petitioned for him to be paid for his carrier, even though a few city councillors felt a cash was out of order for the paintings he was doing, says Smith.

Vancouver's first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

Fortes is pictured here teaching kids find out how to swim at English Bay beach in Vancouver, B.C. in 1912. (Town of Vancouver documents)

At The Same Time As Fortes’ legacy has been known in Vancouver in quite a lot of techniques — a consuming fountain has been put in in his reminiscence and he was named “Citizen of the Century” in 1986 — a few native Black advocates say they suspect of Fortes’ tale in a different way.

Fortes, for example, performed lifeguarding duties for plenty of years without cost earlier than he gained a monthly income from the town.

“What I see here’s, a White Vancouver patting itself at the back for being extraordinarily generous to a Black man, as if, with a few exception, that he used to be a capable Black guy,” mentioned June Francis, chair of Hogan’s Alley Society. 

Francis adds that for her, Fortes’ life is consultant of the ways by which Black people, in spite of the percentages towards them at that point, found how you can contribute to society while carving out a life for themselves. 

Vancouver's first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

Chair of Hogan’s Alley Society June Francis says there are different ways to view Fortes’ existence story. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

However little is known approximately Fortes’ connection to Vancouver’s Black neighborhood, says Francis. 

She says whilst Fortes died in 1922, Vancouver’s Black community, Hogan’s Alley, was once just starting to form. 

The alley ran between Union and Past Streets from Main Street to Jackson Street, and used to be house to many Black people from the early 1900s to the late sixties.

Fortes didn’t get to enjoy the fullness of the neighborhood, which later had a church, eating places and different companies.

Smith’s guide does highlight Fortes’ relationship with no less than one Black circle of relatives, the Scurry’s, whose rooming space Fortes lived in before moving to English Bay. He remained close with them until his dying.

Fortes didn’t keep in close contact along with his family, and not married or had youngsters.

Vancouver's first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

The certificate of appreciation given to Joe Fortes by means of the town of Vancouver in 1910 is pictured here at the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum. Fortes’ oil lamp can also be observed to the proper of the certificates. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In Spite Of being surrounded through masses of people on the beach, Francis says while she sees footage of Fortes, he’s usually pictured through himself or with white other people.

“I see isolation. I see social isolation. I see the techniques through which he is a token of one thing.”

A historical determine

Parts of Fortes’ lifestyles will also be nonetheless be present in Vancouver: his oil lamp, a framed certificate of appreciation from town, and a portrait of Fortes are on display on the Vintage Hastings Mill Store Museum. 

Vancouver's first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

Lisa Anne Smith, co-creator of Our Loved One Joe: The Joe Fortes Tale, is pictured at the Vintage Hastings Mill Store Museum in Vancouver. B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fortes’ porch chair and one of his silk handkerchiefs can also be found in the Museum of Vancouver documents.

Whilst parts of Fortes’ life might always stay a thriller, Smith says he has cemented himself as a historical figure in Vancouver for serving to such a lot of other people in the water.

Vancouver's first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

The gravestone of Seraphim “Joe” Fortes at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. Fortes died in 1922. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Francis says she hopes Canadians take the time to learn about Fortes and other historical figures, and consider Black History Month an opportunity to flesh out the complexity of Canada’s historical past.

“we should always all be angry that issues have been hidden from us, that they have been disguised or erased in order that we do not have the entire tale.”

On Friday, the city of Vancouver declared Feb. NINE Joe Fortes Day, in honour of his birthday.

Vancouver's first lifeguard Joe Fortes died 100 years ago. What can be learned from his legacy?

(CBC)

For extra tales concerning the stories of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to luck stories within the Black neighborhood — take a look at Being Black in Canada, a CBC venture Black Canadians may also be pleased with. you’ll be able to learn extra here.

Leave a comment