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Exploring Delta’s Black history

Black History Month
This 1950s photo depicts Claude Tyson holding up Martha Shiu at the Vancouver Wireless Station. Father Daniel Shiu stands by holding her arm.

Within local history, Delta has known little of its Black community members.

Most prominent is John Deas, a cannery owner who was an early participant in the salmon canning industry during its infancy on the Fraser River. He was here for a relatively short time before competition drove him to sell his business and return to the United States with his family. This is where most people’s knowledge of Delta’s black history ends because little else had been documented. However, there have been other black members of the community who lived intriguing lives here.

Recently, we have come to document the presence of three Black servicemen who served at the Vancouver Wireless Station at today’s Boundary Bay Airport – Claude Tyson, Vince Cadogan, and Harold Grosse. They were among the other servicemen of the Signal Corps that participated in the secret intelligence gathering operation at the base that monitored communications from the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

Claude Tyson married one of the teachers at the base, Donna, and raised their family there. There's was an interracial marriage, something quite uncommon for the time, making them early local trailblazers for the growing acceptance of the practice that can sometimes be taken for granted today. Claude is the only one of the three men who we have a photo of in our collection.

Vince Cadogan was an immigrant from the West Indies and sent his children to Sacred Heart School. It’s unclear why he chose Sacred Heart instead of the school on base. It may have been for religious reasons or simply for what is still a widely held belief held around the world that private school is preferable to public school education. Vince moved on from the community and passed away in 2012 in Montreal. His obituary can be read online complete with photos of the man himself.

Lastly was Harold Grosse. He had come from Truro, Nova Scotia, an area which has been home to a significant historic Black community since the 1850s. Unlike Claude and Vince, Harold’s story did not end well. Harold was killed in a car accident in Delta while serving here. He was only 33 years old. He is now buried at the Boundary Bay Cemetery in Tsawwassen.

Other work has been done by staff to uncover pieces of Delta’s Black history.

If interested in checking it out or if you feel you have records to contribute to our documentation, please get in touch with the Delta Archives. We would like to thank local resident Bill Rogers (a former serviceman at the VWS) for his recollections of Vince and Harold, without whom would not have been remembered here.

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