Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 21 – Brewery Creek Building

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.

Brewery Creek Cairn with Brewery Creek Building in background. Photo: C. Hagemoen

A rare existing example of an industrial building from Mount Pleasant’s past, this circa 1904 stone and brick structure was originally built as part of an expansion of Vancouver Breweries Ltd. operations. 

A building permit was issued to the brewery in October 1903 for an $8,000 brick and stone building to be erected on the corner of Scotia Street & East 6th Avenue. Daily Province  newspaper articles from 1903 reveal that the new two-storey building featured a bottle-washing room equipped with automatic electric machinery and was constructed for use as a storage cellar for ageing ale. 

Detail of 1956 Fire Insurance Plan Vol. 3, sheet 341

After the building ceased its brewery function it became the home to a variety of businesses over the next several decades including: confectioner Benjamin F. Fell’s Candy Factory (you can still see the hand painted Fell’s Candy Factory sign on the East 6th Avenue facade), Purity Dairy, Vancouver Creamery, Canada Grease Works, and a stucco manufacturing plant to make bottle-dash stucco. The building was converted into artist live-work spaces in 1993.

The building in 1978 before renovations. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 791-0113.

In 1998, a TV “docu-soap” called Brewery Creek , which followed the lives of residents of the Brewery Creek condos for two months, including one time resident, singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan aired on CBC.

You can read 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!

Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 12 – W.H. Chow

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.

1908 Henderson’s Vancouver DirectoryAdvert for W.H. Chow showing his home on 24 East 3rd Ave and the address of his office 360 Front St. (East 1st Ave).

W.H. Chow was a Chinese-Canadian architect, builder and contractor working in Vancouver from around 1907 to the late 1920s. From his office on East 1st Ave (later on Pender St, in Chinatown) he designed a variety of commercial and institutional projects for clients from Vancouver’s Chinese community.

William Henry Chow was born in 1874 in Southern China, and arrived in Canada in 1894. In 1903, he married New Westminster born Nellie Look Won, a widow and the youngest sister of Won Alexander Cumyow. In 1904 the Chows moved into a home at 160 Lorne Street (today W 3rd Ave.) in Mount Pleasant. By 1907, the family moved into a new house built by W.H. at 24 East 3rd. Avenue (pictured in the ad above).

W.H. and Nellie had 2 children together, Robert and Richard, in addition to Lena and Stanley from Nellie’s first marriage. 

W.H. Chow was involved in the short-lived B.C. Society of Architects and used the term ‘architect’ on his building drawings. However, when the Architectural Institute of BC was established in 1920, Chow was denied admission to the professional self-regulatory body because he supposedly lacked “technical skills”. It is very likely he was denied admission purely for racist reasons. In 1922 he was prosecuted for violating the Architects Act (see clippings above) for hanging a sign outside his office that advertised himself as an “architect”.

Two of the buildings that Chow designed that still stand today are the Yue Shan Society building and Ming Wo on East Pender Street. Chow also worked with architect W.T. Whiteway on several Chinatown buildings.

VDW, January 15, 1914.

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!

Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 2 – Fox Cabaret

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.

Fox Cabaret in 2019. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Now the site of a popular music performance venue in the heart of Mount Pleasant, 2321 Main Street was originally the site of the Mount Pleasant Market, a retail outlet for P. Burns & Co. meat merchants. This retail space later served as a poultry shop, furniture store, clothing store, and grocery store.

Around 1976/77 the building was converted into a movie theatre. It was first called the Empire Cinema, a predominantly English language theatre that would occasionally screen Hindi movies. In 1980, Sean Daly took over operations and changed the name to the Savoy Cinema, an art house cinema screening an eclectic mix of films from 3-D classics like House of Wax to cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Source: The Vancouver Sun, June 21, 1978; Vancouver Sun, September 26, 1978; The Province, August 30, 1981.

In 1983 the theatre became the Fox Cinema, screening X-rated, 35mm adult porn films. The Fox had the distinction of being the last remaining adult film theatre operating in Vancouver (and possibly Canada) until it closed in the summer of 2013. David Duprey, Rachel Zottenberg, and Waldorf Productions took over the lease and transformed the space (which included a really good scrub) into a live music venue, opening in 2014 as The Fox Cabaret.

Timely Fun Fact: On December 3, 2022 at 7:30 PM, the Fox Cabaret plays host to Kyōdai, an interplay of historical home videos and live music from the Japanese Canadian community presented by the Powell Street Festival and Nikkei National Museum and Archives. Click here for more info and tickets.

You can find more about 2321 Main Street, the block that it sits on, and other Mount Pleasant histories 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!

Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 1 – Hanna Block

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.

Hanna Block (1908), 2747-51 Main Street at East 12th, 1978. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 786-61.12.

The Hanna Block is one of Mount Pleasant’s unsung historic heroes. Architecturally, the Hanna Block building is notable because it is constructed with hollow “cast stone” concrete blocks, a relatively rare early form of concrete construction and one of the few examples still found in Mount Pleasant. The earliest known example is from a 1905 house located at 2617 Ontario. American inventor Harmon S. Palmer patented the H. S. Palmer Hollow Concrete Building Block Machine in 1901. The concrete blocks used in the construction were made on site with a special moulding machine that combined the processes of texturing and forming the hollow concrete blocks.

Detail of cast concrete block house at 2617 Ontario Street decorated with cast acanthus. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Vancouver’s longest running independent sports store, Abbie’s Sports Shop, got its start at this location. You can see the Abbie’s sign in the 1978 photo above.

Albert (Abbie) Bevilacqua opened his store at 2749 Main in 1948 and ran Abbie’s for 50 years. In addition to running his business, Bevilacqua coached, played on, managed, and sponsored many local sports teams. In a 2013 Courier letter to the editor, Bevilacqua’s daughter, Debbie, wrote that her community-minded father “helped everyone out and always gave special deals and payment plans to those who couldn’t afford a lot and sometimes even gave things away”. Abbie’s operated out of the Hanna Block until around 1978 when it moved to its present location at 32nd & Main.

You can find more about the Hanna Block, the lot that it sits on, and other Mount Pleasant histories 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!

Mount Pleasant Stories: Historical Walking Tours

It’s Heritage Week (February 21 – 27, 2022) in BC! Making it the perfect time to reveal why it has been ages since I last posted anything on vanalogue. Last December my first walking tour guide book was published! Ta-da!

Cover of Mount Pleasant Stories – Walk 1: Mount Pleasant’s Heritage Heart. Cover design by Jeffery Chong, CoV Archives CVA 790-0084

In October 2020, I received a partial grant from Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Yosef Wosk Publication Grant program, which set the timeline for the completion of my project. It was a hard journey that took about 14 months from start to finish.

My initial plan was to create one guide that contained five different walks — northwest, southwest, northeast, southeast, and the central Heritage Heart — for each of the distinct areas of Mount Pleasant. It was my inexperience with a self-publishing project like this that made me underestimate how much I could accomplish in one year. By the summer, I came to realize that the scope and breadth of my walking tour content increased and I had to make some adjustments.

Pages from Mount Pleasant Stories.

I’ve been researching Mount Pleasant’s history for several years now (and continue to do so) so it was hard to distill all that research into one guide. The settler community of Mount Pleasant is over 140 years old; there are so many to tell! I had gathered so much great content that it became overwhelming; I had to let some things go. I came to the realization that I would have to accomplish my series of Mount Pleasant Historical Walking Tours, in stages.

The first book consists of one walking tour — the Heritage Heart of Mount Pleasant — Mount Pleasant’s main, commercial core. I’ve really tried to emphasize the “stories” of my Mount Pleasant Stories walking tour. It’s a walking tour but, I hope, also very readable as an illustrated collection of historical stories and facts.

My plan is to continue my Mount Pleasant Stories project series with the remaining 4 tours but I will need to figure out ways to help fund this self-published project. So, if you have any ideas on how I can do that, please let me know.

You can read some excerpts from my guide book in this article I wrote for Scout Magazine earlier this month.

Currently, copies of Mount Pleasant Stories are available for purchase in Mount Pleasant at Pulp Fiction Books – 2422 Main Street, R&B Brewing – 54 E 4th, and in Chinatown at Massy Books – 229 E Georgia St.

Some reviews of Mount Pleasant Stories:

Christine Hagemoen’s MOUNT PLEASANT STORIES, a walking tour of our neighborhood only slightly currently compromised by open pit excavations, blocked-off sidewalks, huge industrial fences, drills & excavators’ steady roar, & etc. Lots of stuff in this lushly illustrated guidebook that I have never learned in 21+ years of basically living at the shop, including details about our distinctive & only slightly dilapidated premises. Recommended!” – Pulp Fiction Books, @pbvan (Instagram)

Highly recommend! Informative AND beautiful. Looking forward to my walk with this in hand.” – Goretti, @rulesofassembly (Instagram)

A great self-guided walking tour book! Well-written with lots of great stories!” – Janet Nicol, @JanetNicol20 (Twitter)

We had a lot of fun road-testing Christine Hagemoen’s Mount Pleasant Stories: Historical Walking Tours this week. Christine, a researcher and photographer wrote and published her guide—the first of five walking tours in the Mount Pleasant area—last November. It’s a great mix of old and new photos, extant buildings, missing heritage, history and a few fun facts thrown in.” – Eve Lazarus, Every Place has a Story

Great book. A must for Vancouver history lovers!” – Stephen Hui, Author of 105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia (Instragram)

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.

CVA 786-23.10
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.]

The_Province_Sat__Jul_3__1965_
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.

*2021 update: A few people have commented that the most likely scenario is that 5 rolls of film were already developed and were then rolled onto one spool and covered with a couple of winds of backing paper for protection many years ago. I had previously wondered the same thing but didn’t know what the effect of processing film twice would have on the rolls. It seems that processing film twice would have no effect on film once the film has been fixed once. This would explain why the decades old, loosely rolled film had such great looking negatives with no fog. The technician at The Lab would not know that the film was already processed since they were working in full darkness and all film feels the same in the dark.

In 2021, I wrote about this discovery in the latest issue of Geist magazine: Geist 118.

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