Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 11 – Dominion Laundry/Alsco

It’s back! I has been 3 years since I published my last Local History Advent Calendar! So much has happened since that last time—including the publication of my first book, Mount Pleasant Stories—that I figured it was about time to dust off the Local History Advent Calendar once again. Similar to a regular advent calendar but instead of chocolate treats, each day you “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder– 24 facts or stories about local history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Photo: JC-Neg-395, Jack Cash, 1950s, MONOVA Archives of North Vancouver

This is the largest surviving industrial building in Mount Pleasant. Dominion Steam Laundry Co. owner T.H. Kirk built the industrial laundry facility on the corner of Lansdowne (4th Avenue) & Ontario in 1910. There has been a laundry business—Dominion Steam Laundry, Family Service Laundry, Empire Cleaners Ltd., Cascade Laundry, Pioneer Laundry, Nelson’s Laundry, and now, Alsco—operating out of this building ever since. 

Side of the original brick laundry building. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Over a century ago the firm was at the centre of the early women’s labour movement in Mount Pleasant when women workers, performing low-paid laundry work, fought a battle for a living wage. At that time laundry work was considered “women’s work” and was therefore undervalued. In the wake of anti-union violence, 300 Vancouver workers at seven steam laundries—most of them female—joined a union (Laundry Workers Union (LWU), Local 37) in early August, 1918.

The Province, July 13, 1918. Notice the name of feminist, suffragist, trade unionist, and Vancouver’s first female City Councillor, Helena Gutteridge.

In September, 1918, they went on strike for four months to improve wages and conditions in an occupation that was hidden, hard, and dangerous.  The strikers were patronizingly referred to as  “girl strikers” in the newspapers, even though most were over eighteen years old and working out of necessity. Ironically, Family Laundry Service, the laundry business that operated out of this building in the 1920’s through the 1930’s promoted their business with the following slogan: “ to free women from the spectre of wash day”. 

Vancouver Daily World, Jan 14, 1922

You can find more Mount Pleasant stories in my walking tour book, Mount Pleasant Stories. Copies are available for purchase in Mount Pleasant at Pulpfiction Books – 2422 Main Street and in Chinatown at Massy Books – 229 E Georgia St. It makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for your favourite local history buff!

3 thoughts on “Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 11 – Dominion Laundry/Alsco

  1. The slogan was certainly ironic. This must the oldest commercial building in Vancouver to house the same type of business since its inception.

      1. Right, I forgot about that massive brick edifice. I googled them and yes, they’ve been refining sugar there since 1890. The original building is dwarfed now by later additions.

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