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Moments in Vancouver, B.C. History: Warren G. Harding became fatally ill here

July 12, 2013

Harding Memorial in Stanley Park

There’s an unusual memorial sculpture in Vancouver’s Stanley Park — Unusually large, and unusually dedicated to a U.S. President — not a great one, but Warren G. Harding, who passed through the City of Vancouver, on his way to San Francisco, where he passed away.

Warren G. Harding

Harding certainly looked presidential.

Warren G. Harding was the first sitting President of the United States to get off his butt and visit both Alaska and Canada. He stopped over in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 26, 1923, on his way back from Alaska — part of a West Coast tour that included Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California.

While in Vancouver, Harding gave a speech in Stanley Park, before an estimated crowd of 50,000. He lunched downtown at the Hotel Vancouver with B.C. Premier John Oliver and Vancouver’s mayor Charles Tisdall, and managed to squeeze in six holes of golf — before he had to pack it in — he felt tired. he later complained of nausea and abdominal pain to his White House Homoeopath. Apparently he came down with pneumonia while in our fair city.

Exactly one week after visiting Vancouver, Harding and his entourage were in San Francisco, when he died, at the Palace Hotel. The Kiwanis Club (Harding was a Kiwanian) raised funds for a memorial to him at site of his speech in Stanley Park. The monument was designed by Vancouver sculptor (and Kiwanian) Charles Marega, and unveiled in 1925.

While everyone agrees Harding died, the cause of death has been in doubt from the beginning: Food poisoning, stroke? There is even a persistent theory that he was deliberately poisoned to death. ►

He’s a little teapot, short and stout …

Warren G. Harding was President for less than three years. A former publisher from Ohio who went to the Presidency from the U.S. Senate, as a compromise candidate chosen by Republican Party bosses for the 1920 election. He won a resounding victory on a platform of restoring normalcy.

Harding had several things going for him: He wasn’t Woodrow Wilson, the Great War (they weren’t numbering them yet) was over, and he looked like a President.

On the other hand, he was less interested in being President than he was in playing poker with his buddies, who numbered quite a few dishonest scoundrels.

His administration will forever be linked to the Teapot Dome Scandal, where private oil companies bribed their way into the U.S. Naval petroleum reserves. and his name has been a virtual synonym for incompetence among Presidential historians, who have raked over his mistakes, and misdeeds, ranking him at the bottom in Presidential effectiveness. Recently his reputation has rebounded a bit, and he’s being seen as a mediocre President who was fiscally prudent.

I think Harding did the U.S. an important service — a person of such low qualifications becoming Head of State, truly tests the strength of a nation, and the United States easily survived Harding and his various misdeeds. At the very least it was good practice for the day that Richard Nixon was elected President. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Teapot Dome scandal cartoon

1924 editorial cartoon showing politicians trying to avoid being caught up in the growing Teapot Dome scandal.

Vancouver Archives: Harding in car leaving Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club
Harding’s tee shot at Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club
A good selection of photos and text about the visit and the monument
Text of Harding’s West Coast tour speeches, including in Vancouver, B.C. ►
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