Laura’s Coffee Shop – one of the last industrial coffee shops in the city

This is an updated version of my original post on Laura’s Coffee Shop published last December.  Recently, a reader named Peter Lee contacted me via my Mount Pleasant Stories campaign and told me that his parents owned and operated Laura’s from 1977 to 1999. He generously shared his own family story of Laura’s Coffee Shop with me. This information has been incorporated into the revised post below.

Last summer I led a historical walking tour for the Vancouver Heritage Foundation called “Lower Mount Pleasant: industry, immigrants and institutions”. One of the stops on the tour was at Laura’s Coffee Shop – one of the last industrial coffee shops in the city.

Laura’s Coffee Shop is at 1945 Manitoba Street on the corner of W4th and Manitoba. It’s in a building that started as a house in 1905 and was later was converted into a commercial space (ca. 1926).

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Laura’s Cafe exterior & interior (2018). Photos: C.Hagemoen

According to the 1905 City Directories, the first resident at 1943 Manitoba Street was Robert E. Thompson a storeman at Wood, Vallance and Leggatt, Ltd. (they sold heavy and shelf hardware). In 1904, a building permit for a frame building was issued under his name for this property. Since the value of the building was only for $100, it is likely that this permit was for an outbuilding or a shed. Therefore, it is possible that the house was built after or before 1904. (There is a gap in the historic building permits for Vancouver from 1905-1908 – the records have been lost.) Thompson didn’t live there long, because the City Directory for the following year lists Walter Lofting, a butterman, the resident at 1943 Manitoba Street.

In 1926, new owner Thomas D. Knowles opens the Manitoba Confectionery at 1943 Manitoba St.  By 1927, Italian immigrants Domenico & Laura DeFilippo (sometimes spelled as DeFillipo) are now listed in the city directories as living at 1943 Manitoba and son Samuel DeFilippo, a longshoreman, is listed at 1945 Manitoba. It looks like the recently expanded retail space (with living quarters) has now been given its own street address.

Domenico operated the corner grocery store here for almost 10 years before he died suddenly in 1936 (he collapsed while out walking with his wife near 4th and Ontario).

Mrs. Laura DeFillipo took over at the helm at the corner store until her death in 1953. It was then that siblings Samuel (Sam or Sammy), previously working as a taxi driver, and Violet then took over the family store business.  Sammy was also an avid bowler and he competed in many bowling tournaments in the 40s and 50s. He also ran Circle Bowling Alleys on Clark Drive at Kingsway which he opened in 1948 with partner Cyril Battistoni.

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Laura’s Cafe ca. 1978. This would have been when the Lees were running the Coffee Shop. Peter Lee believes that the man in the doorway could possibly be Laura’s Coffee shop regular, Fred. He worked for Nelson’s Laundry (now Alsco) as an engineer and was close friends with Sam DeFilippo before Sam passed away. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 786-23.10

By the start of the 1960s, the area had shifted from a residential neighbourhood to a predominately industrial/light industrial zone. In reaction to this change and motivated by the popularity of the sandwiches that they served to the local workers, in 1964 Sammy and Violet decided to convert the grocery store to a restaurant – named after their beloved mother Laura.

Laura’s Coffee Shop has been serving breakfast and lunch to the workers in the area ever since. It was Peter Lee who told me that Sam’s sister, Violet Clara Scott (1912-1983), also played an important role in the early days of Laura’s Coffee Shop. [I’m currently following a lead to find out more about Violet and the DeFillipos – hopefully, more to come.]

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Classified ad for a waitress at Laura’ Coffee Shop. Source: The Province July 3, 1965.

In 1977, Sam and Violet sold Laura’s Coffee Shop to Walter and Wai Ching Lee. Prior to purchasing Laura’s Cafe, Walter and Wai Ching worked together running George’s Grill at 2204 Broadway for 10 years. They operated Laura’s Coffee Shop for over 20 years until their retirement in 1999.

Peter told me that his parents kept the exact same menu and look of the cafe as the De Filippo’s. Describing the interior, he told me that Laura’s used to have a long counter with the traditional red button seats that spun around. He said that Violet’s grandaughter “remembered spinning around those seats as a kid as her nonna served her a milkshake”. The new owners, unfortunately, tore out the counter after his parents sold the business in 1999.  Peter also remembers that there used to be “an old fashioned Coca-Cola cooler for pop (in upright bottles back then), an Export ‘A’ Clock hanging at the back, and of course the Pepsi Cola sign outside”. Today only the faded Pepsi sign, the booths, and the wood paneling are all that’s left from the original interior.

Kam Sheung Cheung (Peter’s grandmother), Walter Lee, and Wai Ching Lee (Peter’s parents) in Laura’s Coffee Shop on the day of their retirement in 1999. Photo courtesy of Peter Lee.

I asked Peter if he ever worked or spent time at Laura’s Coffee Shop:

Me and my siblings (older sister Karen and older brother William) would work there over the summers growing up.  We would help by bussing–wiping off tables, doing dishes and serving guests.  My dad ran the front of the house and my grandma stayed in the back.  My mom would float between front and back.  Every Saturday morning the whole family would go to the coffee shop for bacon and eggs in the morning and then go to Chinatown in the afternoon to shop and attend Chinese school (which we all hated!).  They would be closed on Sundays.

I hated working there over the summers as a kid.  It was hard and dirty work.  But, of course, looking back, you can’t help being nostalgic about those days–and you gain an appreciation for how hard your parents worked.  Between 11:30am and 1pm the place would always be packed with the local workers, mainly from the Laundry next door (called Nelson’s Laundry at the time).  Everyone smoked like chimneys back then and there’d be a thick cloud of smoke hanging in the air.  

The food served there was completely foreign to me but I loved it!  Bacon and egg sandwiches, Clubhouse sandwiches, hamburger steaks, beef barley soup–everything home made.  They even had liver and onions back then!  The signature dishes were the Superburger (bacon/cheese/lettuce/tomato with fries), and the Fish and Chips (which was only served on Fridays).

Today, my favourite foods are inspired by what I ate there–bacon and eggs and fish and chips (I’d even order liver and onions if a menu had it there).  As a kid, my mom would only ever cook Chinese dishes at home like rice and steamed fish and pork so eating at the shop was always a treat!  Ironically, she disapproved of me eating at the shop because she felt the food there was unhealthy (with all that lard and gravy) or maybe because I was eating away all the profits!  Speaking of unhealthy–my Mom cooked the best homemade apple pie there!  Any unsold pie they’d bring home for me and my siblings to eat.  It’s now my favourite dessert to have and I’ve learned to make it myself the way she did (minus the lard of course).

The coffee at Laura’s was great too (although I didn’t really know it at the time as a kid).  The ground beans were from Neate’s coffee–a local east van coffee brewery.  I’m not sure about the exact history but I believe Neate’s was sold to a larger company and the son John Neate Jr. would later establish JJ Bean in the 90s.  I think I recall John delivering ground coffee to the shop weekly back in the 80s! – Peter Lee, 2020.

 

Laura’s Coffee Shop along 4th Ave. The side door leads to the kitchen and you can see the suite above the shop. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Since the DeFillipo’s left, there have been tenants living in the suite over the shop and in the attached bungalow. Peter told me that his family “never lived in the neighborhood and only worked there from 5:30am and went home to East Van at 5pm”, he went on to say that “the industrial area became pretty much a ghost town after all the workers went home around 4:30pm”. In recent years, Peter has noticed a change to the rhythm of the area, “nowadays there is a bit of a return to a stable neighborhood like in years past with growing foot traffic day and night with the number of multipurpose buildings going up”.

 

There are very few photos of Laura’s Coffee Shop in its early days (if you have one please contact me!) Even the Lee’s who owned the place for over 20 years only had one photo from their last day in 1999. However, Peter did tell me that many films were shot inside Laura’s.  He referred me to the 1984 made for TV movie, “The Three Wishes of Billy Grier” starring “Karate Kid”, Ralph Macchio.  This slightly odd movie is available on YouTube (curiously with Spanish subtitles)  the short scene that shows how the interior of Laura’s Coffee Shop looked like in the mid-80s starts at 1:13:25.

Screenshot from “The 3 Wishes of Billy Grier” shows the original counter.

Laura’s Coffee Shop is one of the few industrial coffee shops left in the city. In the 20th Century, these popular-priced eateries could be found in industrial areas, like lower Mount Pleasant, all over the city.  These coffee shops would be open early (for pre-work breakfast) and all through the working day, Monday to Friday. They were reliable, local establishments where single workers, who may or may not have kitchen facilities at home nor the inclination to cook could go and get two good hot meals a day. I can imagine workers from nearby businesses like Alsco (Nelson’s) Industrial Laundry or the Reliance Foundry, frequenting Laura’s during lunch and coffee breaks.

Grilled cheese, fries, and coffee from Laura’s in 2018.

Peter filled me in on what happened to Laura’s Coffee Shop after his parents retired at the end of the last century and gave some insight into the current situation:

Edwin and Nancy ran it for the longest during this period from about 2007 to 2019.  Currently, Emma and Fei are the new owners of the business.  There were a couple of other owners between my parents and Edwin.  While it was tough running the business during my parents’ time, it’s even tougher now with all the competition and change in demographics.  And with the current pandemic, people are working from home now and Laura’s has always depended on business from the local workers.

Laura’s Coffee shop. You can see the SW corner of the Alsco laundry building across the street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Today, Laura’s Coffee Shop is still a family-run,  friendly place that is busy serving ‘greasy-spoon’ style meals to lower Mount Pleasant workers (now more tech-based and less factory-based) and beyond – they also deliver via Skip the Dishes! Laura’s is also open Saturdays.

I wish I could go back in time to visit Laura’s Cafe in the 80s. I’d sit down at the long counter on one of those spinning red button seat stools and order the Superburger, a cup of Neate’s coffee, and a slice of Peter’s mum’s homemade apple pie.

 

As part of the Vancouver Courier’s Vancouver Special neighbourhood series, Heritage Vancouver’s Anthony Norfolk discusses the residential, commercial and industrial heritage of Lower Mount Pleasant, while sitting down at Laura’s Coffee Shop in this video from 2013.

 

In 2008, Peter wrote a really interesting piece for the Vancouver Sun about the history of how his family immigrated to B.C. starting with his great-grandfather at the turn of the 20th C.

Seeking Mount Pleasant Stories

Did you grow up in Mount Pleasant? Maybe you attended the old Mount Pleasant School? Perhaps you once lived here as a young adult in the 70s, 80s, or 90s? Or, maybe you have family roots in Mount Pleasant? Did you, or someone you know, operate a business or work in Mount Pleasant back in the day? If you answered yes to any of these questions I’d love to hear from you! I’m collecting historical stories of individuals and families who lived and/or worked in Mount Pleasant during the last century.  I am very interested to hear your Mount Pleasant story.

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My grandfather Pete (r) and his brothers outside their Mount Pleasant home ca. 1928.

Bordered by Cambie Street to the west, Clark Drive to the east, 16th Avenue to the south, and False Creek/2nd Avenue to the north, Mount Pleasant is one of Vancouver’s oldest neigbourhoods and earliest suburbs. Early industries like brewing, slaughter-houses, and lumber mills starting appearing along the south shores of False Creek and along creeks like Brewery Creek in the 1860s. But Mount Pleasant really started to develop by the late 1880s, when the first residences appeared, giving birth to the City’s first neighbourhood south of False Creek.

Unlike other older Vancouver neighbourhoods – The West End, Strathcona, Marpole, Gastown – there is surprisingly very little documenting the history of Mount Pleasant, especially it’s historical past beyond the 1920s.  And what little documented history that exists is often out of date, is from a male perspective (his-story, anyone?), and primarily consists of a European settler narrative. I think it is time to change that, so together, let’s update the story of Mount Pleasant!

My grandmother and mother in 1944 in front of the family home at 53 E.6th. They lived here while my grandfather was serving overseas during WW2. Photo: Personal Collection C. Hagemoen

Mount Pleasant has been my home for the last 5 years, but it isn’t the first time I lived in the neighbourhood. The first time was in 1991-92 when I was a student and I shared the main floor of an older house with two friends. Those were heady days, and in hindsight, I wished I had paid more attention to my Mount Pleasant surroundings (especially with my camera). But my Mount Pleasant family roots go even deeper and date back to the 1920s.

From about 1927 to 1946, my Italian immigrant family lived in a house at 53 East 6th Avenue. My maternal great-grandparents, my grandfather and his siblings, in total 8 people, lived in a house that was originally built in 1909. Part of the first Italian diaspora, my great-grandfather Joe (Guiseppe) initially landed in the United States in 1893 at the age of 28. He traveled several times back and forth between North America and Italy before he finally immigrated to Canada in 1908 after marrying my great grandmother, Concetta, in Italy in 1907.  With little education his job prospects were limited. He was a shepherd in Calabria and again in Montana in the 1890s, but when he came to Canada he worked as a miner, trackman, and other labour jobs. In 1927, the time of the move to Mount Pleasant, my great-grandfather worked as a labourer at J. Coughlan’s shipyards on False Creek, he retired shortly thereafter. After the war, in 1946, the family moved to a new build, bottle-dash stucco house in Hastings Sunrise. Mount Pleasant was changing (for the worse) and the appeal of a brand new house in a predominately Italian neighbourhood was too much of a draw.

[Fun fact: my other maternal great-grandparents also lived in Mount Pleasant]

Nellie, Conchetta, Julia and Vic in front of 53 E 6th ca. 1928. Photo: Personal Collection C. Hagemoen

The more genealogical research I do, the more layers of my family history I peel back. For example, a couple of years ago I discovered that my grandmother once lived in the house directly across the street from the heritage Mount Pleasant building I currently call home. She was only there for about a year, just prior to her marriage to my maternal grandfather, but I still find it a fascinating coincidence. Like the coincidence of discovering a few years ago that from 1937 to 1959 my friend Jeffery’s family lived only 3 blocks from where my own family lived in Mount Pleasant – 4 blocks from where I am currently writing this. All of this “coincidence” made me want to learn more about my new (old) neighbourhood.

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My friend Jeffery’s family lived in Mount Pleasant at E. 3rd and Ontario. Photo: Courtesy of the Chong Family Archives.

Last summer (also slated to repeat this past April), I led a VHF walking tour called Lower Mount Pleasant: Industry, immigrants and institutions –

Mount Pleasant is one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods and earliest suburbs. Lower Mount Pleasant is the light industrial, mixed-use area north of Broadway, bounded by Fraser and Cambie Streets and False Creek. More than just home to several craft breweries, creative industries, and nondescript commercial buildings, this distinctive area has long been an integral part of the city’s history and is noted for its unique mix of residential, commercial, industrial, and social heritage. Modern buildings and businesses have long since replaced most of the early houses and industry, but fascinating pockets of the original neighbourhood hang on, including turn-of-the-century houses, brick apartment buildings, and factories. Join Christine on this walk where you will learn about the families, workers, legacy businesses, and social groups who once called this unique part of Mount Pleasant home.

On the tour, I was really excited to be able to highlight the stories of some of the families (like my own) and businesses that made their home in this area of Mount Pleasant. Here are a couple of examples:

At 2121 Columbia there was a home, formerly part of a grouping of 4 houses, I now refer to as the ‘Tailors’ House’. The home’s first occupant was a tailor named Herbert McLean. Later, tailor Isreal Baumgart and family lived at this address. Baumgart operated a tailor shop nearby, at 305 Cambie Street, for 38 years.  Born in Russia,  Baumgart fought in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. He was taken prisoner in Japan and the Red Cross sent him to BC in 1905. Baumgart died in 1956, as did his wife, Bertha. They had two children Joanne and Morey, who died in 1941, at the age of 28. The Baumgart’s are buried in the Schara Tzedeck cemetery in New Westminster.

Inspired by the information I learned in the booklet  Fey-A-Byu: Japanese Canadian History in Fairview and Mount Pleasant published by the Nikkei National Museum, tour participants learned that Mount Pleasant/Fairview was the second-largest Japanese Canadian community outside of Powell Street’s Japantown. In Mount Pleasant, the community was centered around W 6th at Columbia where the Japanese Canadian United Church (aka Columbia United Church or Fairview United Church) was located. Some of the famous Asahi baseball team players, like Naggie Nishihara and Mike Maruno, lived and worked in this part of Mount Pleasant.

Pete and Tony in their baseball uniforms circa 1940. Does anyone recognize these team uniforms? Photo: Personal Collection C. Hagemoen

Which segues nicely into an aspect of my own family history in Mount Pleasant. My grandfather, Pete, and two of his brothers were also part of the Vancouver/Mount Pleasant baseball scene. Pete played on several Commercial League and Terminal League teams, often playing against the Asahi team. Apparently, he was a bit of a hothead, and he was called “pugnacious Pete Mauro” once or twice in the press. He also played softball and, after he was injured in the war, he was also an umpire.

My Grandfather, 6th from the right, on the Grant Gunn Fuel Oils Baseball team in 1934. Photo: COV Archives, 2014-045.1

I have many more stories that I could tell about my family and the other families featured on my walking tours but that isn’t the point of this post – I want to hear your stories. There are so many untold stories and further details known stories to discover.

My goal is to collect personal stories from a wide variety of people so that we can begin to tell the story of Mount Pleasant together. The ultimate goal is to take those stories write a book (or other publication), an updated history (emphasis on story, less on his) of this fascinating, but unrecognized as such, neighbourhood I (once again) call home.

If you are interested in participating, please use the contact form on my About Page here, or leave a comment on this post below. I’d love to hear from you!

Joe drinking wine on the front steps of 53 E. 6th. Maybe this is where I get my love of wine from? Photo: Personal Collection C. Hagemoen

 

Family and friends on East 6th Ave. ca. 1943/44. Photo: Personal Collection C. Hagemoen

The interesting thing that happens when we start sharing our stories is that we often realize how connected we all actually are.

Check out some of the “Mount Pleasant Stories” that I have already begun to tell:

William H.H. Johnson, Mount Pleasant’s first published author.

Rena Whitney and the Mount Pleasant Advocate.

Sarah Coulter and The Woman’s Bakery.

Laura’s Coffee Shop.

The Last Hidden Vestige of Old Mount Pleasant.

The Story of the Building at the Heart of Mount Pleasant.

You Should Know More About the Fascinating History of Lower Mount Pleasant.

The curious case of the 1956 roll of Kodak Super XX – Part 2

Last September, I wrote a post about a roll of unprocessed Kodak Super XX 120 film (which turned out to be 5 rolls) that I developed – 62 years after it was shot. You can read all about what I now refer to as the “miracle of the 5 rolls” here.

The skillfully shot photographs that emerged depict Vancouver’s Chinatown and False Creek in April of 1956. As I mentioned in Part 1,  there was a name included on the wrapper that I thought may have been the name of the shooter, but I needed to investigate all possible leads in order to determine who shot these wonderful images and to figure out why the films weren’t processed back in 1956.

If you aren’t aware of the story thus far, I strongly recommend you take to the time to get up to speed before continuing with this post.

Men’s public convenience at Main and Hastings, 1956 (cropped). Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

After finishing my investigation the mystery the photographer behind these images has been solved! Well, sort of.

From 2006 to 2013, I worked at CBC Vancouver as a Media Librarian in the English Television Archives.  While I was there, I saved an exposed but unprocessed roll of film from being tossed out.  The roll was in a box of odds n’ sods (unexposed film rolls, take-up reels, and other related non-photographic material) kept with CBC staff photographer Alvin Armstrong’s collection of still photographs – negatives, positives, prints, and mounted enlargements. Armstong was the in-house still photographer at CBUT from April 1, 1954, to April 3, 1973. During his 19 year career, he took about 10,000 photographs (negatives & transparencies); all of which were shot on either 4×5 sheet film or 35mm roll film.

 

Paper wrapper found around the roll of film(s). Photo: C. Hagemoen

 

The unprocessed 120 roll film was wrapped in a paper label with “Ron Kelly in Chinatown in April 1956” written on it. Since I was intimately familiar with Alvin Armstrong’s work I immediately recognized his distinctive handwriting on the label. Was this film shot by Armstrong but never developed?

 

It was possible but seemed out of character with what I knew about Armstrong and the way he worked. He kept meticulous records and this film was not recorded in his logbook. It was also 120 medium format film – he didn’t shoot medium format film for CBC. Also, the fact that is was kept separate from his collection was also a red-flag, but I added him to the list of people that were possibly responsible for these images.

 

What about the name on the wrapper? Ron Kelly was a producer/director at CBC Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, he produced and directed a CBC Vancouver film unit program that was set in Chinatown called ‘Summer Afternoon’.  It is a fantastic visual document of mid-century Chinatown. [More about ‘Summer Afternoon’ at the end of this post.] It is very likely these shots were intended to be used as location scouting shots for ‘Summer Afternoon’ and the exposed film was given to Alvin Armstrong for safekeeping. But they were never used as such, or even processed for that matter! Why? So, Ron Kelly was also added to the list of potential photographers.

 

My former colleague and (now retired) Senior Media Librarian at the CBC Archives, Colin Preston, suggested a third possibility – Jack Long, the cinematographer for ‘Summer Afternoon’. It would make sense that he would be the one to take scouting shots for this production. Sadly Jack Long, now deceased, would not be able to provide any insight into this mystery, so we would have to rely on the memories of others.
 
One telling image shows the photographer reflected in the window of a boat that he is taking a photo of.  We can’t see the face of the person, but you can see his hairline and that he is wearing a trench coat (neither very distinctive). It also looks like he is using a Leica-style or folding medium format film camera.

 

The photographer is reflected in this image (detail). Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Since his name was on the wrapper, making him the obvious person responsible, I started my search with Ron Kelly.  It took a little digging, but I was able to obtain his landline phone number as, at 90 years old and living in small-town Ontario, Ron Kelly did not use email or social media.  Colin Preston made the cold call since he was more familiar with Kelly’s work at CBC. He told Ron Kelly the story of the photographs and that we believed that they were associated somehow with the production of ‘Summer Afternoon’. During their conversation, Ron Kelly revealed that he was not the photographer and that he was quite sure Jack Long wasn’t either.

 

Ron Kelly was generous enough to provide his mailing address so that I could send him a hard-copy of my original post and prints of some of the photographs including the image of the photographer above. This way he could review the material in case it might jog a long lost memory and to see if he recognized the person in the reflection.

 

Several weeks passed when out of the blue I got a telephone call from Castleton, Ontario, it was Ron Kelly. We had a nice chat during which he confirmed that he did not take these photographs and neither did Jack Long. He explained that Long was a very short man, only 5’3″, and he didn’t physically match the photographer in refection. He wished me luck on my search.

 

So then we were back to CBC staff photographer, Alvin Armstrong now the primary (only) candidate.  He died in 1989, but I had contact information for his son, Arthur, who I had first met in 2012  at the launch of the  VHF The WALL outdoor installation I curated that featured one of his father’s photographs.
In my email, to Arthur, I gave him the background to the mystery and explained the reasons why I had doubts and didn’t think it was his father who shot these images.  I also asked him to take a look at the reflection image to see if he thought it was Alvin. This is what he wrote back:

 

I had a look at the photo that you sent me along with the photos on your blog. I cannot say with a certainty that the photo you sent me is my father. I am attaching a photo of Dad taken in 1956. As you can see the hairline is similar. I can also tell you he wore a long beige raincoat as did many men of that era. I recall there was a Leica camera around the house, but that was 35mm. Dad did shoot 120 film but used two Rolliflexs that he owned.

If his handwriting was on the film wrapper, he must have been given it or taken the photos. However, two things lead me to believe it was not my father. Firstly, he would never have put 5 rolls of film on one spool. Secondly, he would have cataloged it in some manner. Neither of these actions fit with his personality.

I am sorry to add to the mystery of these photos and hope you get it sorted out. Please keep me posted! Thanks for keeping the memory of old Vancouver alive.

 

I had to agree with Arthur on his perception of the situation. Though he thought there was a possibility that the man reflected could be his father, the other evidence does not fit with Alvin’s photographic practice. For some reason, Armstong was the caretaker for this film, but we both believed he was not the shooter.

Having run out of possible candidates, the mystery of who is responsible for these images is “solved” in that we have come to the end of the investigation. Therefore, unless new evidence appears (highly unlikely due to how much time has passed) all we know is (with some certainty) who isn’t responsible (Armstrong, Kelly, or Long) for these fabulous documentary images.

Every time I look at the images I am glad that my curiosity didn’t allow this collection to be lost forever. If you ever find an old roll of exposed film I urge you to take the time and expense to get it developed, you never know what exposing the latent image could reveal.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy some more of these images:

Men reading newspaper. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

 

Girl in by entrance to Ho Sun Hing Co. Printing on E. Pender Street. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

 

Double exposure False Creek. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
House boats/shacks on False Creek. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

 

I love all the black in this image. Chinatown alley 1956. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
More of the same theme – narrow view from an alley. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

[More images can be seen in Part 1 of this post]

If you haven’t seen ‘Summer Afternoon’ yet, I strongly recommend you take half an hour to do so. When you compare the visuals in the TV film with those found in the still photos found on the 5 rolls of Kodak Super XX 120 film you can clearly see that they are connected.

Columnist John Kirkwood had this to say about “Summer Afternoon’ in the August 22, 1956 edition of the Vancouver Sun: “The program skillfully produced to capture the desired mood and with a light touch of humour was, of course, a work of art, and, except for a rather too insistent musical score, was an outstanding show”.

The Province Newpaper’s TV critic, Les Wedman, was more critical about the program.  Here is his review from August 21, 1956:

I think the passage of time has improved the overall impression of “Summer Afternoon” as we view it with a nostalgic lens.  I’ll let you be the judge…

Pacific 13  – Summer Afternoon,  air date: 1956-08-20, length: 28:25
“Presented without commentary, this exploration of Vancouver’s Chinatown follows the wanderings of two young boys at play in and around the shops, streets, and False Creek waterfront.”
Credits:
PD/DIR- Ron Kelly
PH- Jack Long
ED- Stanley Fox
MUSIC- Ed Baravalle [John Avison, conductor]
CAST- Andrew Mar, Chipper Mah

Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

[This post has been updated since it was first published in 2016]

I was a shy child. Consequently, I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a Vancouver kid of the 1970s that I first noticed the glassy purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checkerboard grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen
Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post].

Continue reading “Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver”

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 24 – Mount Pleasant Heritage Group

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.

This past May my three colleagues in the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group and I were collectively awarded a City of Vancouver Heritage Award of Merit for our “efforts in raising and promoting public appreciation of both the neighbourhood’s history and the resources within the community, as it contributes to education and awareness”.

The Mount Pleasant Heritage Group (MPHG) is a grassroots collection of Mount Pleasant residents, local historians and other interested people working to identify, preserve and celebrate the built, natural, cultural & industrial heritage of Mount Pleasant. The MPHG grew out of community connections formed during the City’s community planning workshops (resulting in the 2010 Mount Pleasant Community Plan) and the subsequent Implementation Committee (resulting in the 2013 Implementation Package). Since MPHG’s formation in 2013, we have compiled an information base and embarked on projects aimed at presenting Mount Pleasant’s rich heritage to the public.

Mount Pleasant has been known in the past and is currently known for its vibrant mix of locally owned small businesses, some of which have been in the neighbourhood for decades. Many of these businesses reside in heritage buildings like The Federal Store, Laura’s Coffee Shop, The Whip Restaurant & Gallery, and Pulp Fiction Books.

Mount Pleasant is a vibrant urban community. It has always evolved with the changing world…. it adapted and yet was able to maintain its “village” feel. But that is threatened with development. Recent zoning changes in Lower Mount Pleasant and the new Broadway Plan which includes a subway transit station at E. Broadway and Main are threatening to destroy what makes Mount Pleasant so pleasant and appealing in the first place. Imagine getting  off of the subway in Mount Pleasant and exiting the station, and not knowing where you are because all you see are the same ubiquitous chain stores and homogenous architecture. You should be able to exit the station and know that you are in  Mount Pleasant… not Anywhere, North America.

Kerry Gold wrote a great piece in the Globe and Mail August 2018 titled ‘Mount Pleasant Transforms as SkyTrain Grows’ … in it she outlines how increasing development is threatening the neighbourhood’s “village atmosphere…affordable rental apartments, historic architecture and independent businesses.”

Other good reads on the subject of the threat to Mount Pleasant’s heritage are:

With SkyTrain on track, Mount Pleasant businesses worry about train lines and bottom lines– Liam Britten, CBC Vancouver – November 23, 2018. Mount Pleasant is getting better transit. But will ‘character’ be a casualty?

“We really want to see the vibrancy and street life and all those wonderful little small businesses continue to exist.” “It’s going to take some real out-of-the-box thinking … and, quite honestly, guts at city hall to find ways that things can be maintained.” – Alyssa Myshok

Mount Pleasant’s on the rise, but for whom? – Sean MacPherson, Megaphone – July 20, 2015. As Vancouver’s oldest suburb changes, let’s consider what we’ve lost.

As urban “improvement” strategies begin to transform the neighborhood, it seems a fit time to think about the cycle of change throughout the history of this place. It is important to consider these changes and their ramifications for the people who live here. – Sean MacPherson

Vancouver’s industrial heritage faces uncertain future – Mike Kissinger, Vancouver Courier – December 23, 2019. In this article, Javier Campos, president of Heritage Vancouver Society, discusses the difficulty in preserving the city’s industrial past. Something that is very relevant to Mount Pleasant’s own industrial heritage.

“Heritage is about that. For me personally, it’s to understand a shared history that we have. But it also needs to allow things to evolve and develop. Industrial heritage is part of our history. It’s part of why Vancouver is here. It’s about how it developed. It’s about how we became Vancouver. So it’s very important to preserve some of that and to help people remember and understand where we came from.” – Javier Campos

We don’t want to hold our communities in aspic, (think suspended fruit in jello) but we also don’t want to obliterate them in the name of progress, or in the name of density. So no matter what happens… there will be changes, the plan is to work together to mitigate those changes so that we can preserve what we already have, while still getting what we need.

It is the desire of the MPHG to open up a conversation with the City about ways to protect the neighbourhood’s treasured heritage assets – both tangible and intangible – which contribute so deeply to its liveability. We want to find ways to manage change so that the neighbourhood is able to hold onto its valued characteristics. We would also like the City to recognize all the work that has already been done with the creation of the Mount Pleasant Community Plan and 2013 Implementation Plan.

The MPHG believe an important first step would be to set up a neighbourhood advisory committee and follow the suggestion of the Mount Pleasant Community Plan to make Mount Pleasant (and in particular its ‘Heritage Heart’) a heritage area with a management plan. Such a plan would follow best practices in heritage and city planning. One of the goals would be the creation of a Main Street Heritage Precinct in the Old Mount Pleasant Village or Heritage Heart of Mount Pleasant. This unique area, with some of the most historically cohesive blocks left, has continuously been the hub of the neighbourhood. It is a vibrant and well-loved shopping and gathering space with an active streetscape that draws people from all over the city, and it is worthy and in desperate need of protection and preservation.

MPHG is going to need your help. The new year will bring a call to action for those interested in preserving and protecting Mount Pleasant’s heritage. So please follow the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on our MPHG website  – for updates on how you can help and for news on what’s happening.

This post was written with files from the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group. All photography – Christine Hagemoen

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 23 – Japanese community in Lower Mount Pleasant

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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Predominately residential Lower Mount Pleasant ca. 1913. Source: CoV Archives, PAN N161B

If you study the few remaining houses in Lower Mount Pleasant (the area north of Broadway) you will notice that they were all built prior to 1914. The pre-WW1 period was one of great growth in Mount Pleasant – its “Golden Age”. After the war, things began to shift. In the 20s and 30s, industrial uses crept southward from False Creek and original settler families (predominately British) moved out and were replaced by immigrant families (like my own Italian immigrant family). Over time, the area declined – buildings aged and were not maintained, and in the 1950s, property-owners successfully petitioned City Council to re-zone the neighbourhood for light industrial development.

Since then, most of the early houses have been replaced by commercial/industrial buildings, but fascinating pockets of the old neighbourhood hang on. This semi-industrial area is often ignored when people discuss the history and historic merit of Mount Pleasant. Few buildings in this area have made it onto the Heritage Register, and even fewer are designated. So, this area is still not on the radar for heritage retention and/or planning.

With the pressure of development of False Creek South, new density zoning, along with plans for a new Broadway subway, there is a lot of pressure for redevelopment and it is increasing at breakneck speed. It is just a matter of time until we see further erosion of heritage resources in the area. But it’s not just about built heritage, the area’s social and cultural history is also surprisingly very rich.

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Fire Insurance Plan, 1940. The arrows point to Japanese residences, cultural buildings, and businesses.

This area (see above) was at the centre of the Japanese-Canadian community in Mount Pleasant. The 1941 census revealed that the largest non-British ethnic group in Mount Pleasant and Fairview was Japanese at 1,400 people. In fact, Mount Pleasant/Fairview on the south shore of False Creek was the second-largest Japanese Canadian community outside of Japantown centered on Powell St.

Many Issei and Nisei came to work in the industries along the south shore of False Creek. During the housing shortage after WW1 cheap tenements and cabins were set up there to house the Japanese workers. (There were also many Indo-Canadians who lived and worked in this industrial part of lower Mount Pleasant.)

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The old Japanese Church at W6th & Columbia ca. 1970s. Source: CoV Archives, CVA 1135-32

Just down the street on 6th at Columbia (PHOTO) was the Japanese Canadian United Church aka Columbia United Church or Fairview United Church. The Japanese Kindergarten (starting in 1912) was also there. On the same block between Alberta and Columbia on 5th was the Japanese Language School and The Mikado Club was at 154 W 5th.

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233 West 6th in 2017. Photo: C. Hagemoen

This hold-out house at 233 West 6th Avenue was built ca. 1907 according to the water service records.  In 1910, a building application was placed for the house to be raised, at a cost of $500. Architecturally, it is unique in that it is constructed with hollow-cast concrete blocks; the blocks would be made on the site by the builder with a special block moulding machine.

From around 1937 to 1941, the Asano family lived there: Masao Asano who worked at Peace Cleaners on Fraser St. , his wife Umeko, mother Sugi (widow), and daughter Jean. Jean was a talented young artist as evidenced by the drawings she submitted to the Sun Newspaper’s “Sun Ray Club”(children’s section).

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Vancouver Sun, October 13, 1938. Drawing by Jean Asano age 13.

As a member of the Sun Ray club, you get your name mentioned in the newspaper for your birthday along with all the other Sun Rays who share the same birthday. This must have been an automatic yearly event because, curiously, Jean Asano’s name under her birthdate is included on this celebratory list until 1945. (I suppose the Sun Ray’s Uncle Ben didn’t realize he had an enemy alien on his list!)

In 1942 the Asano’s were either interned along with all the other Japanese Canadians living on the west coast or were forced to leave British Columbia. More research is needed to find out exactly what happened to the Asano family of Mount Pleasant.

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The last Asahi baseball team in 1941. Back (L-R): Yuki Uno, Eddie Nakamura, Naggie Nishihara, Koei Mitsui, Kaz Suga. Front (L-R): Mike Maruno, Ken Kutsukake, George Shishido, Roy Yamamura, Tom Sawayama, Frank Shiraishi. Centre: Kiyoshi Suga Nikkei National Museum, 2010-26-19

Many of the famous Asahi baseball team players also lived in Fairview/Mount Pleasant.

Asahi baseball player, Naggie Nishihara (see above) lived at 2109 Alberta St. and in 1938 he is listed as a helper at BC Fir. Another Asahi player, Mike Maruno (see above) also worked at BC Fir and he lived at 161 W 6th. Many other Asahi players lived in Fairview west of Cambie.

My Grandfather, Pete Mauro (53 E. 6th) was also a baseball player; he played on several Commercial League and Terminal League teams that took on the Asahi team. Apparently, he was a bit of a hothead, and he was called “pugnacious Pete Mauro” once or twice in the press. There is one newspaper report of him getting into fisticuffs once with Asahi star player, Kaz Suga.

TheNikkei Museum has produced a great booklet on the subject: FE-A-BYU: Japanese Canadian History in Fairview and Mount Pleasant. It’s a great resource to check out.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 22 – Mount Pleasant Bowladrome

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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The Province, May 5, 1955

Not only did Mount Pleasant once have its own movie theatre, but it also had its own bowling alley! The Mount Pleasant Bowladrome opened 71 years ago during the peak of popularity for league bowling in Vancouver. The grand opening was held on Wednesday, December 15, 1948…

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Vancouver Sun – December 15, 1948

“Its glittering facade fronting on Broadway between Main and Quebec Streets, at 116 East Broadway, the Mount Pleasant Bowladrome represents a large financial investment in the district’s business section and adds to the solidity of that centre.”

President Frank Welters boasted that the Bowladrome had 12 lanes on a “double deck of six smooth alleys on each of the two floors, in addition to the latest equipment for five and tenpin bowling”.

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The Vancouver Sun, January 14, 1953.

The Mount Pleasant Bowladrome was host to top tournaments and regular league play. It was also one of 30(!) bowling centres in the lower mainland that participated in a British Empire Games (Commonwealth Games) mass bowling tourney in September 1953.  The bowling spree was the single biggest bowling event in BC history – a fundraiser for the British Empire Games’ Special Events Committee. In addition to the top prize of a 17″ Admiral TV, prizes for this event included: 10-pin bowling ball and bag donated by National Manufacturing, a Gadabout ladies bowling dress donated by Bernard Casuals, and 12 North Star hams awarded by Jack Diamond.

Sadly, bowling “on the hill” lasted less than 10 years. In the early morning hours of March 22, 1957, a carelessly tossed cigarette started a two-alarm fire that was the final gutter-ball for the Mount Pleasant Bowladrome. Causing between $50,000 to $75,000 damage, the fire left the second floor a charred ruin and water damage was extensive on the main floor.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 21 – George A. Barrowclough

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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Mt. Pleasant, 1907 – Barrowclough Cards. Photo: G. A. Barrowclough, Source: Uno Langmann Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs Barrowclough, George Alfred

Two of my favourite photos of historic Mount Pleasant (because they clearly show Abray House) were taken by a photographer named George Alfred Barrowclough (1872-1950). English-born Barrowclough came to Burnaby, B.C. via Winnipeg in 1906. By the end of that year, Barrowclough had settled in Mount Pleasant and opened a restaurant at 2440 Westminster Avenue (Main Street).  On January 17th, 1907, Barrowclough was involved in an accident at his restaurant. Frozen water pipes caused his boiler to explode when he lit his stove, resulting in the rear wall of his restaurant being blasted out.  So, I suppose it is not surprising then that by 1908, Barrowclough is no longer running a restaurant and decides to work full-time as a photographer (again).

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Barrowclough’s photograph of the newly constructed Frontenac Block, ca. 1910. Source: Uno Langmann Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs Barrowclough, George Alfred 

But, what about his photographs? In their book, Breaking News: The postcard images of George Alfred Barrowclough, Fred Thirkell and Bob Scullion chronicle Barrowclough’s career as a picture-postcard photographer in Vancouver from 1906 to 1920. In it, they describe how he headed to San Francisco immediately after the great earthquake that shook that city on April 18, 1906, to take photos of the destruction. Documenting disasters or accidents would become a signature of Barrowclough’s photographic work. Barrowclough would photograph a subject, and if it was a timely news event, he’d process and print the photographs so that they would be available to go on sale by the following day.

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All cars stop at Ferguson Drug Store, Corner of Granville and Davie, Vancouver, B.C. Source: Uno Langmann Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs Barrowclough, George Alfred  — 1920

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Barrowclough, some of his work reveals that he had a sense of humour:

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On Strike for a Wider Road in Stanley Park, B.C. Photo: Uno Langmann Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs Barrowclough, George Alfred  — 1910

In 1910 he married twice-widowed Elizabeth Davie and moved back to Mount Pleasant settling into the newly constructed Algonquin Apartments at 10th Ave and Ontario. Shortly thereafter, Barrowclough starts working as a caretaker at Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church at 10th and Quebec. He is still taking photographs and producing postcards, just not full time. Interestingly, there is no evidence to suggest that Barrowclough ever did portrait photography – which was quite common for most professional photographers at that time.  Another interesting thing about Barrowclough is that every couple of years he seems to switch from photography full time to another job and then back again – at least that is what a survey of the City Directories of the time suggests.  For example, in the city directory for 1915 he is listed as a photographer,  in the 1916 directory, he is listed as a helper at BC Sugar Refining Co., and in 1917 he’s listed as a photographer in active service. During WW1 he served with the 231st Battalion.

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Hindu [Im]migrants, B.C. Source: Uno Langmann Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs Barrowclough, George Alfred  — 1920
After the war, George and his family ( in addition to two step-daughters, he and his wife have a daughter named Grace) move to 168 West 22nd, but he still has ties to Mount Pleasant through his work at the church. And in a surprise move in 1928, he takes over the proprietorship of Coville Bakery (later Federal Store) for about a year.

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George Barrowclough with Grace in front of 168 West 22nd Avenue, 1924. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 1376-303

Sadly, his young daughter Grace died at age 13 on Sept. 15, 1925. The circumstances surrounding her death are unknown. In 1926, Barrowclough and his wife leave the family home and move into a suite in the Lee Building at 175 E Broadway. They live the remainder of their lives in Mount Pleasant within a couple of blocks of their church at 10th and Quebec Streets

Barrowclough seems to have stopped taking photos by 1930; the last time he is listed in the city directory as a photographer is in 1928. In fact, when authors Thurkell and Scullion contacted the step-granddaughter of Barrowclough in an attempt to find out more about the subject of their book, she was surprised to find out that he was a photographer at all! Her family had never seen any of his photographs before.

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A giant of Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC. Photo: Uno Langmann Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs Barrowclough, George Alfred 

Through a donation by Uno Langman, UBC has a collection of about 125 Barrowclough picture postcards, you can check them out here.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 20 – Junction Inn

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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Map of New Westminster District, B.C 1876 –  showing District Lots in Vancouver, and township/range designations in other areas. The map also shows False Creek Trail (Westminster Rd), North Arm Road. Source: COV Archives, Map 2

The intersection of Kingsway and Fraser (at 16th Avenue) has been one of the most important junction points in the history of the city.  This area was known as “Junction” or “Pioneer Junction” after the aptly named Junction Inn – a stagecoach roadhouse.

In 1872 the first bridge over False Creek was built, completing land access between Granville (Vancouver) to New Westminster. Soon after, in 1876, at the crossing of today’s Kingsway and Fraser Street was the location of the first “intersection” or junction in the future city outside of Gastown. At that time Kingsway was known as the False Creek Road (later Westminster Road) and Fraser Street was called North Arm Road; developed as a wagon road to connect the farmlands of the Fraser River to the False Creek Trail.

The Junction Inn started serving refreshments to early commuters in around 1876, making it the first commercial building in Mount Pleasant.

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1912 Goads Fire Insurance plan showing the location of the old Junction Inn (Block 91, Lot 1).

There were four public houses along this route from New Westminster to Vancouver where travelers could “wet their whistle” – The Gladstone Inn, The Royal Oak, The Pig & Whistle (later Collingwood Inn), and the Junction Inn – where, according to the city’s first archivist, J.S. Matthews, you could get a “schooner” of beer for a nickel and whiskey was 2 drinks for a quarter.

A residential neighbourhood and small commercial centre developed around the Junction Inn (also called Junction Hotel). Starting in the 1910s, several of the businesses begin to adopt the name “Junction” ( like Junction Barber Shop, Junction Pharmacy, Junction Meat Market) as a nod to the history of this area. Today, this neighbourhood is popularly known by the moniker – Fraserhood.

The Junction Inn was located in District Lot 301 on the south side of 16th, making it technically on the border for the neighbourhoods of Mount Pleasant, Kensington – Cedar Cottage, and Riley Park-Little Mountain. Lot 301 has an interesting history because in the late 1800s and early 1900s it was not a part of any of the municipalities that surrounded it. It stood independently and therefore was under the jurisdiction of the Province and not a municipality. This served the various proprietors and customers of the Junction Inn well over the years allowing them, on occasion, to go under the radar of propriety.

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The Province July 6 1898

Once a place to have a drink outside the city limits in relative obscurity, by the turn of the century the Junction Inn was now well within sight of the growing temperance and morality movement.

The last mention of the Junction Inn as an operating venture is found in a newspaper article from November 1920. The article suggested that the Junction Inn was attempting to circumvent their lack of a ‘near-beer’ license (prohibition had just been rejected voters) by operating as a private club called “The Union Jack Club” (private clubs were allowed to serve alcohol). It is unclear how long this scheme worked.

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