Raincity Record Breakers
Over the decades, countless Vancouverites have bid for recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records. By the 1940s, so many record attempts were being made here that its invigilation team opened a full-time Robson Street office.
The craze for West Coast record-breaking had kicked-off in August 1931. That’s when Ronald ‘Rocket’ Richards wowed his Marpole neighbours by continually leaping off the roof of his house onto a discarded back alley mattress. He was soon running across the tops of passing streetcars and careering at breakneck speeds down North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Avenue in old whiskey barrels.
In 1933, he made his first official world record attempt at the Pacific National Exhibition: attempting to jump on roller-skates over 15 old Model T Fords. A crowd of 10,000 gasped as the leotarded daredevil streaked down a steeply inclined ramp, soared through the air and smashed headfirst into the second car.
At least 23 broken bones slowed his recovery but the Rocket returned to the PNE in 1934, attempting to plunge from a 200-metre-high platform into a bathtub of mini donuts. Miscalculating the descent, he instead nosedived into a stand serving deep-fried Baby Ruth candy bars, smashing it to smithereens. The ensuing years brought more failure, from 1936’s human cannonball debacle (he fired himself at a parked SuperDogs truck) to 1939’s biplane wing-walk endurance record (he fell off after 12 minutes when checking his watch).
While Rocket never made it into the Guinness book, his greatest achievement was that he inspired legions of locals to launch their own record bids. Point Grey retiree Emeline Simpson regularly challenged the world’s largest knitted creation record in the 1950s with life-sized woolly facsimiles of Lumberman’s Arch, the Marine Building and, finally, the Burrard Bridge, which was actually deployed as a dangerously bendy replacement for the real span when the original was closed for maintenance one summer.
In contrast, rotund Riley Park resident Gordon ‘Jelly Belly’ Richards successfully entered the record books twice in 1958––on the same day. At a televised doughnut-eating contest in Stanley Park, he scoffed 179 chocolate-dipped treats in the required two minutes. Less than five minutes later, he also smashed the projectile-vomiting distance record by spraying a chunky column of part-digested doughnut residue the entire length of Lost Lagoon.
By the 1960s, publicity-hungry businesses were also getting in on the act. BC Tel snagged a place in the book by constructing the world’s largest telephone directory––press photos show it leaning against the Dominion Building on Hastings Street. And in 1966, the breakaway Dessert Council of BC launched an audacious attempt to wrest the world’s biggest Jell-O bowl record from the much-larger BC Federation of Desserts. The venue was Queen Elizabeth Park.
Promoting new Jell-O flavour Lime ‘n’ Linseed, a bowl measuring over 42 metres wide was filled with hot water and the contents of 180 million Jell-O boxes. Wheeled into a temporary refrigeration pavilion to set, Guinness invigilators arrived the next day and quickly certified the record. After foisting free samples on reluctant passersby, the bowl sat empty in the park for months before being upturned and transformed into what’s now known as the Bloedel Conservatory. A feint smell of lime lingers in the popular flower-filled attraction to this day.
Read more from Vancouverandom: A Miscellany of Untrue History About the Birthplace of the Ear Trumpet here.