Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 14 – Peter Pantages

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.

Did you know that Peter Pantages of Polar Bear Swim fame, lived with his family and later wife Helen in an 1910-built house at 343 East 13th Avenue in Mount Pleasant from 1923 to the 1970s? That house still stands today.

Peter Pantages, Dec 15, 1927. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 99-1786

Peter (Pete) Basil Pantages was born in Andros, Greece in 1901 and came to Canada as a young man.

A member of the Royal Life Saving Society, Peter founded the Polar Bear Club in 1921. However, the first polar bear swim was a year earlier, after he talked some buddies into plunging into the frigid Vancouver waters on January 1, 1920– essentially inaugurating the Polar Bear Swim. The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club is one of the largest and oldest Polar Bear Clubs in the world  and the Vancouver event is thought to be the first of its kind in Canada.

Peter’s uncle Pericles Pantages (who preferred to call himself Alexander, after Alexander the Great) ran Vancouver’s Pantages theatre, which was located at 152 East Hastings Street. It was in that vaudeville theatre that Peter first started working in the city.

Peter later opened his own business, the Peter Pan Cafe on Granville Street. The cafe was a popular spot for celebrations and with Vancouver’s Greek community.  

The former Pantages house at 343 E13th in 1978 (needs a paint job). Photo: COV Archives, CVA 786-58.16

In addition to keeping busy with the cafe and the Polar Bear Swim Club, Pantages ran the Peter Pan Hall, a meeting place and venue that was located at 1636 West Broadway (at Fir); close the to Greek community located in Kitsilano.

Peter Pantages died in 1971, but his Polar Bear Swim legacy lives on.

You can find this and other 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!


2 thoughts on “Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 14 – Peter Pantages

  1. I remember the Pantages Theater name when I was kid – it’s great to hear the backstory. And what a cozy looking home – is that a Toyota Celica parked out front?

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