Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 19 – Yes, Virginia, there is a Brewery Creek

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.

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Contour plan of District Lot 200A (part of Mount Pleasant) showing Brewery Cree, ca. 190?. Source: CoV Archives Map 690

Though it may be hard to believe, Brewery Creek still exists. Yes, it is but a shadow of its former self, however, it is very much still there – flowing deep under layers of asphalt and concrete. The community of Mount Pleasant (Vancouver’s first suburb) developed around the waterway we now know as Brewery Creek.

First Nations people used the creek for thousands of years as a source of fresh water and sustained themselves with the animals and plants that thrived in and around it.  In a video on the Remembering Brewery Creek website, Coll Thrush, professor of History at UBC, says the story of Brewery Creek is a story of “settler colonialism” and “industrial capitalism”.

Brewery Creek facts:

  • It’s one of the many freshwater streams that once flowed downhill to False Creek (including Mount Pleasant’s China Creek).
  • It carved a swath through Mount Pleasant towards False Creek following an indirect route, crossing Main St. 2x – between 14th and 13th and again at about 10th Ave.
  • It’s thought to begin in a boggy area known as Tea Swamp (near 15th and Sophia today) where the park is today, but most likely beginning around/under Mountain View Cemetery – according to the old streams map created by the Vancouver Public Aquarium Association.
  • Named tea swamp because of the Labrador Tea plant that grew in the Bog. First nations people made a tea from it and early settlers took on the habit, as they made the long trek from New Westminster to False Creek and Vancouver beyond.
  • Mount Pleasant was bisected by an ancient animal and indigenous peoples trail, the future Kingsway. When the European settlers came they took advantage of this path that ran all the way from New Westminster to False Creek.
  • At the time European settlement began the flow strength of the stream was high. So much so that in the late 1860s, its waters were being transported more than two miles by flume to supply Edward Stamp’s Sawmill on Burrard Inlet (foot of Dunlevy) – Vancouver’s first (and only) industry.
  • Evidence of its former flow strength can be seen on old maps (see below) in the size of the ravine it flowed within.
  • By the 1880s, the banks of Brewery Creek and the south shores of False Creek were teeming with all manner of businesses – breweries, slaughter-houses, tanneries, and lumber mills.
  • Charles Doering’s Vancouver Brewery opened its doors in 1888, at the corner of 7th and Scotia (making it the second brewery in the city). Soon other breweries began operations along the creek, and it was dubbed “Brewery Creek” by locals.
  • The first time the name “Brewery Creek” appears in print is in the March 7, 1889 edition of the Vancouver Daily World.
  • Doering was among the first to build a dam on Brewery Creek, harnessing its power to drive a 40-foot water wheel to mill his grain. As demands and dams on the creek increased its flow slowed to a trickle.
  • As Mount Pleasant became more populated and commercial in the early 1900s the creek was culverted and built over. Now more a hindrance to “progress” than a help, the creek was disappearing from view.
  • In the early 20thC, the portion of False Creek east of Main Street was filled in, effectively damming (damning) Brewery Creek for eternity.

So, “settler colonialism” and “industrial capitalism” destroyed in only 50 years what had been thriving for millennia.

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1912 Goads Fire Insurance Plan showing the end of the line for Brewery Creek. Source: CoV Archives, Map 342b

But all is not lost. Despite our best efforts, Brewery Creek is still very much alive. You can see it in the landscape of the city. Heaving sidewalks and roadways; wonky, tilted fences; and flooding basements and underground parking garages all indicate the power of the creek’s still flowing water (especially after heavy rain). You can hear it as well. Standing near storm drains or manholes along its path (and along the paths of the other buried streams of Mount Pleasant) you can hear the water flowing.

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The length of Brewery Creek in Mount Pleasant 1897-1901 from 15th Ave to False Creek. Goads Fire Insurance Plans. Source: Library & Archives Canada

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