Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019. So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019. Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.
Last month, The Federal Store (2601 Quebec Street) celebrated its 3rd Anniversary. Owned and operated by Chris Allen and Colette Griffiths, in 3 short years, the Federal Store has become a much-loved community gathering space and a very welcome addition to the neighbourhood. The “Store” has animated this corner of Mount Pleasant – compare the photos above and below – and is a great example of a human scale streetscape: with places to sit outside, garden greenscapes, and the re-use of an older building.
The history of the building that houses the Federal Store is much longer and is an interesting one. The building was built in 1922 by John Coville for his wife Hannah and together they opened the Coville Bake Shop. Coville went from builder to baker. From about 1910 to 1920 Coville worked as a builder, responsible for many structures in and around Mt. Pleasant and the rest of the city. In 1910, He built the Frontenac Apartments (designed by R. A McKenzie) at 11th & Quebec. In fact, Coville along with his partner Dr. Coy developed the entire west side of Quebec between 11th and 10th Ave – building 4 houses in addition to the 3-story Frontenac. Like the current owners of the Federal Store, the Coville’s lived and worked on the same block.
In the 1921 Canada Census, John (54), listed as a contractor, and Hannah Coville (50) and their 3 children: Stuart (25), Cecil (19) and Walter (14) are living at 2605 Quebec Street. The Coville’s operate the bakery together for about 5 years.
After John Coville dies in 1928, George A. Barrowclough (photographer and Mount Pleasant resident – more about him in a future LHAC post) takes over the proprietorship of the Bakery. But this only lasts about a year. Around 1930, the bakery closes and the store is converted into Kenny’s Korner Grocery by Ken I. Lambert. He owns the property through the 1930s. There are a variety of owners and name changes in the 40s and 50s like 1945 -A. Faries Grocery; 1950 -J&M Confectionary; and 1955- Ming’s Grocery.
The name changes to the Federal Grocery in 1964 under the management of Bertha Swartz. Save for the first female owner, Hannah Coville, with Ms. Swartz now at the helm, so begins a long history of predominately female ownership of this corner retail space. The Federal Grocery is named after the Federal Building (125 east 10th) that opened kitty-corner to the store in 1963; possibly in the hopes of attracting civil-servant customers.
In 1971, current property owners, Mark and Fong Kwok take over the Federal Grocery and reside at the same address. By 1978, the Kowks are living at one of the townhouses along 10th Ave. attached to the store building, but the store is being run by someone else. The Federal Grocery closes in 1985 and a year later reopens as the Federal Store with Fong Kwok listed in the City Directories as the proprietor. By this time the Kowks now own the entire retail and residential property. While the final corner store operator, (another woman) was moving out in February 2015, serendipitously Chris and Colette happened to be walking by… the rest is another story.
For almost two years the store is closed while Colette and Chris go through the hoops of renovations and permits (again, another story) until November 2016 when the new Federal Store as a café/bakery cum grocery store à la Le Marché St. George and The Mighty Oak opens. And now, thanks to Federal Store baker Cole Friske, this space has come full-circle moving back to its bakery roots (and then some) in just under 100 years.
I had a chance to chat with Colette earlier this fall about the appeal of using a historic space for their new business:
“It felt just so much more meaningful to be a part of something that had such a long history, serving the neighbourhood and being a space. My Grandpa used to be the fire captain at the fire hall on Quebec [Street]… and he had his memories back in the 50s or 60s, I can’t remember exactly when it was, of coming down to the store and buying a carton of eggs and milk and bringing it back up to the boys [at Firehall No. 3] so they could cook dinner for everyone. And the idea that my Grandpa has been in this space for that long is great.”
Part of the attraction is uniqueness – these smaller independent businesses (often in historic spaces) offer some relief to our increasingly homogenous cityscape. When you enter one of these local corner grocery/café’s you know where you are… when you enter a chain store you don’t. Each space reflects the creative sensibility of its owner/owners, and in turn, they respond to the needs of the neighbourhood and the neighbours they serve.
Modern takes on the corner grocery store, like the Federal Store, have become hyper-local gathering spaces – encouraging an old-fashioned sense of community by bringing neighbours together. Something that citizens (and city planners) need to heartily encourage and foster more of in this city.