Family of cycling legend and race photographer Lorne “Ace” Atkinson donates hundreds of photos from earliest Gastown Grand Prix races
For years, the 1970s have been a black hole when it comes to photos of the Gastown Grand Prix, and only a few images existed from the meagre newspaper clippings we had. That all changed this weekend with the generous donation of hundreds of race photographs taken by Canadian cycling legend and race photographer Lorne “Ace” Atkinson.
The photos provide a graphic example of how much the race and the neighbourhood have changed over the years. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting these photo flashbacks on our Facebook page. You’ll see the bed races, the Mayor riding a pennyfarthing, corners padded with people instead of hay bales, Davis Phinney taking 3rd as an 18-year-old, Gassy Jack in his previous location and much, much more.
But first, let’s start the look back at “Ace” himself.
Born in 1921, the son of a professional cyclist from Scotland, Lorne became known Ace in the 1930s when the Daily Province newspaper reported on his victory in its Stanley Park race with a photo and headline that read “City ace triumphs in Province Cup.”
He was a BC champion and went on to become one of the nation’s best riders, representing Canada at the 1948 Olympics in London. He was also a national team coach for many years. In 1946, he opened Ace Cycles, (still open at 3155 West Broadway) and imported the province’s first 10-speed bicycles from Italy three years later.
Over the next six decades Lorne touched the lives of thousands of cyclists as a rider, coach, mentor, historian, advocate and friend.
When the Gastown Grand Prix was resurrected in 2002, we asked Ace to be the official starter for the race, but a bad bike crash had left him physically unable to do so. Two years later, his health had improved and we were delighted to have him take part in the official ceremonies. With the 2004 Olympics in Athens just a few weeks away, the festivities started with a lap of honour for the dozen or so local riders who had represented Canada in road, mountain bike, track and paralympic cycling. Leading the lap, at age 83, was Lorne, who then dismounted and fired the starting gun.
He returned to shoot the race a final time in 2005. Five years later, with the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games about to begin, Lorne got to enjoy one last Olympic moment, described here by Tom Hawthorn of The Globe and Mail.
“In recent months, ill health left him too frail to attend Olympic events. On a February evening, he rested in a wheelchair, swaddled in a blanket to offer protection from the February chill, when the Olympic torch relay passed in front of his shop. The runner presented the torch to the old athlete, who gripped it in his right hand. As he did so, the blankets slipped, revealing the blue blazer with red maple leaf crest he had worn as an Olympian 62 years earlier.
Atkinson died on April 23. He leaves Evie, his wife of 57 years, a son, a daughter and three grandchildren.” From everyone at the Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix presented by Allstream, our sincere thanks to Lorne, his daughter Jan and son Dan for their invaluable donation to our race archives.
To learn more about Lorne, we encourage you to read the excellent Vancouver Courier below written by Tom Sandborn in 2005: