In June of 1908 the first
gasoline station in Canada and, allegedly in the world, was
opened in Vancouver on the southwest corner of Smythe and Cambie
The creation of Gizeh Shriner Charles M. Rolston, who received his degree's in
Acacia Lodge in 1902, and Major James S. Mathews, a member of Western Gate Lodge.
The idea of a filling station evolved from a 1902 request of another Freemason,
John Hendry of Union Lodge, manager of the Hastings Sawmill. Hendry telephoned
the Imperial Oil Company, which then consisted of two employees, Charles Rolston,
the manager and James Mathews, the clerk, he need some gasoline for his new automobile
and did they have any in stock?
Mathews, who answered the call, stated that they had it; it was in cases of two
five-gallon wine cans per case. The voice on the telephone asked if it was the
type used in automobiles to which Mathews replied he had no knowledge but presumed
it was. Thus was transacted the first gasoline sale for automobiles.
A fill up in those early years was a messy and dangerous business as the gas
was poured from five gallon buckets thru funnels and the slopping of gas was
always a constant worry to Rolston who feared the danger of a fire.
Charles Rolston conceived the idea of the service station six years later in
1908. During the six years between 1902 and 1908 the number of automobiles in
Vancouver was on the rise and a number of garages sprung up. These garages started
to price gouge motorist which dismayed Rolston as it was starting to reflect
on Imperial Oil who had a monopoly on oil products at that time.
Adjacent to the storage yard, facing the street, he built an open side shed of
corrugated iron. It was about five feet deep, twelve feet wide, and eight feet
high in front, with a plank floor. In the center was built a tapered three foot
high concrete pillar that was tapered to twelve inches at the top, and on this
he placed a thirteen gallon kitchen water tank fitted with a glass steam gauge
marked off by white dots in one gallon increments. The tank was gravity feed,
it being connected to the main storage tank. The filling hose was a ten-foot
length of garden hose with no nozzle.
This system was so highly successful that soon all of the cars in Vancouver were
purchasing their gasoline at the Smythe and Cambie street station. As many as
fifty to sixty were lined up on pre-holiday afternoons awaiting their turn to
fill up which prompted Rolston to add a second tank.
The fame of the little gas station soon spread and enquiry's as to how it operated
were received from all parts of North America and, from these simple beginnings,
was born the modern day service station.
Charles Rolston remained with Imperial Oil for forty years during which in 1914
he saw the Ioco refinery built through his efforts. Rolston Island, near the
refinery, was named in his honor.
Shortly after his retirement in 1934 he traveled extensively and in 1939 was
present to fellow Freemason, King George VI, at Buckingham Palace. Charles Rolston
passed away March 1, 1947.
Major James S. Mathews, after distinguished service overseas in WW1, returned
to Vancouver and took over the management of the Western Cordage Co. of New Westminster.
In 1929 Mathews retired from the business world and actively engaged in his hobby
of collecting memorabilia relating to Vancouver. His passion for history and
collecting led to his appointment in 1933 as the first Archivist for the City
of Vancouver, a position he held until his death in 1970. He was 92 years old.
During his tenure as archivist Major Mathews was responsible for the saving of
two of Canada's national treasures; the RCMP vessel The St. Roch and Engine 374,
the CPR steam engine that pulled the first passenger train across Canada in 1886.
The building that houses the City of Vancouver Archives, is named the James S.
Mathews Building, in his memory.