‘All Together Now’: Work life in Newton inspires one woman’s collection of transit memorabilia

Exhibit opens at the Museum of Vancouver on June 23

Angus McIntyre and Lyanne Smith

Angus McIntyre and Lyanne Smith

Lyanne Smith’s passion for collecting transit-related memorabilia began when she worked at the bus hub on 132nd Street in Newton.

“I started as a transit operator in 1975,” explained Smith. “Basically, I worked for 38 years in transit and my husband (Norm) worked 40, so it was that personal side to our collection in the beginning.”

Today, Smith owns a large number of mostly paper artifacts that reveal the history of public transit in Greater Vancouver.

Some of her collectibles will be on view at the Museum of Vancouver as part of “All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds,” a new exhibit that opens on June 23.

It’s a six-month showcase of “rare, unconventional and awe-inspiring objects” from 20 diverse local collectors, including Smith and fellow transit historian Angus McIntyre.

“For me, it’s an exciting exhibit,” said Smith, who retired a few years ago and moved with Norm from Surrey to Parksville.

“I was looking for a home for my collection, because it’s so huge,” she revealed. “It fills six very huge bins full of all of this material.… I don’t have kids who could take it all from me, and I didn’t know what to do to preserve and protect it. Then the idea for an exhibit was brought up, about collectors and what makes them collect, you know.”

The thrill of the hunt kept her going over the past four decades.

“People wonder how it impacts on personal lives, their relationships,” Smith said. “I know my spouse thought I was absolutely out of my mind occasionally,” she added with a laugh. “He was supportive, though, and all of my colleagues who worked at transit would give me stuff, a neat pin, an old ticket. So many of our friends come from transit, which kind of binds us all together. There’s pieces of all of us in that exhibit.”

During her working life, Smith met many motormen – the conductors who ran the region’s old interurban trolley cars.

“I was fascinated listening to their stories about the interurban system, the street cars,” she said. “And it’s funny because when I first started working (in transit), my mother and father had given me a Reddy Kilowatt tie-pin and earrings, and he was one of the mascots for BC Electric (which ran the region’s electric railway, the BCER). That was a start for all of this, too.”

Her collection includes transit tokens, fare cards and a ticket from B.C.’s original transit operator, the National Electric Tramway and Lighting Company, in 1890.

“They can’t find another one of those (tickets) anywhere else, so we assume it’s the only one in existence,” Smith said.

“Another organization collects the bigger things, like buses, signs, fare boxes,” she added. “Mine is more specific to paper memorabilia.”

Smith said she still jumps aboard buses and SkyTrain cars whenever possible.

“Absolutely, when we get over there we do that quite a bit,” she said. “It’s a huge part of our life. And it’s much better to ride the bus than drive through traffic, I tell you that.”

The new MOV exhibit also features collections of action figures, pinball machines, corsets, Chinese-Canadian restaurant menus, vintage artificial limbs, drag-queen costumes, seeds, concert posters and more. More details about the show, which runs until Jan. 8, are posted at Museumofvancouver.ca.