I started working for Loomis Armored Car Service during the FLQ crisis back East and we all were warned by a VPD undercover officer that there were two FLQ sympathizers living in the Greater Vancouver area. The undercover officer gave us information about a dark blue Ford window van with Quebec license plates, two snow tires mounted on a roof rack at the rear of the vehicle and tartan curtains on the windows. The second vehicle was a rental 1972 Ford Mustang pale blue convertible with license plate NJJ 172. The most disturbing information was the suspicion that one of these people was known to have access to semiautomatic weapons.
The Loomis armored car garage was situated downtown and was guarded by a security control room situated above the entrance. The operator had gunports to have a field of fire on the parking area, the entrance hallway and the loading area. The windows were armored glass and he guarded the company shotguns. There was a steel shooting trap used for target practice where we practiced our aiming skills with shotguns and pistols. In addition, we could practice out in Delta with RCMP, VPD, Delta Police and any other operatives required to carry a gun in public. We fired on human sized targets and we aimed for the central mass with no attempt to wound. Our shotguns were loaded with rifled slugs or large SSG pellets.
The armored cars had a bullet proof transparent separation between the driver and the Custodian (person in charge of the money) in the back. Every compartment had gunports, including between compartments; there would be a third crew member for high risk locations.
During the police briefing we were warned about a possible robbery at the Army and Navy store on East Hastings involving at least four persons possibly connected to the blue van and the Mustang. Apparently there was the possibility of at least one person with a rifle set up on a building opposite the store who would shoot the guard and the Custodian as soon as they exited the store and the armored car door was opened. Accomplices on the street would enter the vehicle and clean out the cargo area. It would have been a risky robbery, and they likely did not know the driver could discharge SSG shot into the rear compartment. To keep the driver occupied would have required someone on the street banging on his door or letting loose with a gun; either way the scene was likely to have been a blood bath and many pedestrian victims.
Another location was in the basement of a downtown bank; again, the robbery would occur when the car doors were open. This called for three cars and several guards to cover stairwells, fire exit doors and the parking area.
Typically, drivers would replace the Custodian during his vacation, and this is where my story starts.
Me and my partner had spotted the blue van in South Van and I had spotted the Mustang at one of our LCB stops; naturally, this made us very wary and especially vigilant. Where possible we stopped the car right opposite the entrance to a business even if we had to double park but some places this was not possible, especially with a bus stop immediately adjacent.
Nov 22nd, 1972 I was filling in for my Custodian partner and our last stop before lunch was the Royal Bank 10th and Granville. I grabbed the delivery and exited the car and into one of the bank’s two doors which were situated facing diagonally to the opposite corner on 10th and Granville. My driver had to move out of the bus stop and drove around the block to park in an alley exit around the corner from the doors. I walked into the bank constantly aware of people around me and entered the area behind the Tellers’ wickets. Common sense dictated that I check each teller’s wicket to watch out for anything unusual as I proceeded to the main vault. The only things which caught my eye were two blue coated men, one with a business deposit bag and the other apparently engaged in some sort of business. When I reached the vault the head Teller met me, and we started to sign off on the delivery and have a general chit-chat. I was starting to think about which drive-in to visit when a teller came running down and yelled; “I’ve just been robbed at gunpoint!” “There he is leaving the bank, the man in the blue coat”.
I looked over and caught just a glance of a blue coat rushing out the door. My next instinct was to draw my pistol and head for the door. As I started to exit, I could see the crowd of pedestrian waiting to cross Granville, in that grouping were two men with blue coats on of whom was carrying a deposit bag. Realizing that it would be extremely hard to identify which was the robber I shouted, “put your hands up!”
One blue coat turned around; it was an Oriental man with his hands in his pockets. I yelled at him to take his hands out which he did and raised them above his head. Then he started to wave his arms up and down like a seagull as if to reach into his coat pocket and I had to yell again to get compliance and then realized that I needed to get this man away from the pedestrians and up against a wall. Back in those days there was a black marble separation between the two sets of doors, so I told him to move. Once against the marble he started to wave his arms again and I had to yell again. I cannot see my driver and strain to look around the corner, but he is looking up 10th away from me. Once again, I focused on my thief and I also caught sight of Alan Fotheringham peering from behind the marble separation; (the Vancouver Sun office was just down Granville form the bank).
Here I am holding a person at gunpoint and with no immediate help available, my driver cannot see me, and I feel rather lonely. After what seemed an eternity a motor tricycle VPD officer arrived and jumped off his trike with gun drawn With great relief I start to holster my gun and he yells; “have you got him covered?”, several thoughts run through my mind as he starts to put his pistol into its holster, cocked and backwards! At least I am not the only one finding this moment stressful. The officer handcuffs the man and during all the kerfuffle my driver has pulled out of the alley onto 10th, so I get in to continue the route. I sit in the back and start to replay the scene; I laugh, I shake, I cry and finally feel remorse because it is so close to Christmas. I phone Linda to warn her she might hear a news report and not to worry.
What a day!!!!
Pat Hampson, civic volunteer – elected as Mayor of Oliver after retiring from a senior management job in the District of Squamish – as Fire Chief