Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

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 child that I first noticed the purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checker board 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”

Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band

The first time I saw this intriguingly odd photo on the City of Vancouver Archives website, I was inspired to know more about the photo and Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band.

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 - Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald
Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 – Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

The photo depicts Lesk and life sized effigies representing the leaders of the Axis and the Allies. The photograph, dated February 1942, is from a series of photographs taken for the Vancouver News-Herald newspaper by photographer Jack Lindsay. Continue reading “Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band”

Fun with sticks and stumps

1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “clearing for a new city (Vancouver) at Granville.’ . From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.
This was Vancouver. 1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

In the mid to late 1800s Vancouver was literally being carved out of the forest. As the city grew, the forested land around the town site of Granville (later Vancouver) was being cleared resulting in great piles of slash – branches and other residue left on a forest floor after the cutting of timber. This waste material was mainly disposed of by being burned in controlled fires (one of which, infamously got out of control in June 1886 and resulted in the Great Fire) but, not all of it.

Where most saw waste, a few saw opportunity. Along with the (sometimes giant) tree stumps left in the ground, this slash gave some creative/resourceful early Vancouverites lots of raw material to work with. Continue reading “Fun with sticks and stumps”

For the love of old buildings

I no longer live at the corner of 1912 and 1925.  I recently moved into a 103 year old brick apartment building. This was a big change coming from the mid-century (ca. 1960) time-warp apartment I left – wood paneling, pink bathroom suite, Formica countertops – all very Mad Men-esque.

I love old buildings; they often have special architectural details that you just don’t find in newer construction – high ceilings, claw footed tubs, odd little closets, built in furniture etc. This is the third time in my life that I have been fortunate to reside in a heritage building.

The first was an apartment building at 15th and Granville. Originally built in 1912, Shaughnessy Mansions (as it was then known) was designed by the architectural firm of Townsend & Townsend. They were known (infamously perhaps) for a “zig-zag” pattern in the brick work of many of their buildings. A fine example of one of their buildings (still standing) is Quebec Manor at East 7th Ave and Quebec Street.

Photograph shows Shaughnessy Mansions under construction at 15th and Granville, 1912. Photo: Cov Archives - Trans P89.
Photograph shows Shaughnessy Mansions under construction at 15th and Granville, 1912. Photo: Cov Archives – Trans P89.

Despite the noticeably sloping floors and other ‘wabi-sabi’ details that came with age, it was a sturdy old gal. Proving as such when a van smashed into the ground floor early one Sunday AM (at first I thought it was an earthquake).

When the building was sold several years ago it was torn down (save for the front façade) in yet another example of architectural taxidermy that has become popular in Vancouver lately. For those who don’t know, architectural taxidermy is the situation where developers literally “skin” the exterior of an old building and re-apply it to a new structure (stuffed inside). In my opinion, this practice of architectural taxidermy is a pathetic attempt by developers to fulfill their heritage preservation requirements. What is supposed to be seen as a nod to the history of the building is really only lip-service. It should not be confused with actual preservation.

Continue reading “For the love of old buildings”

The Pro-Rec Program (1934-1953)

Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley PArk
Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley Park, 1940.   Photo City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 1184-2355
Pro-Rec dance demonstration. CVA 586-237
Pro-Rec dance demonstration in Stanley Park, 1940. Photo: City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 586-237

These intriguing photos are from a series of images that depict a ‘Pro-Rec’ mass demonstration held at Brockton Oval in Stanley Park in 1940. “Pro Rec”, short for Provincial Recreation, was a community sport and recreation initiative offered through the Physical Education Branch of the BC Department of Education. It was developed by Jan Eisenhardt (program administrator) with the support of BC Minister of Education, George Weir. Continue reading “The Pro-Rec Program (1934-1953)”

“Please wait a minute Mr. Postman”

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of her move to this Province, a friend of mine recently mailed out postcards from her extensive personal collection to all her friends. Each of the thoughtfully selected postcards contained a brief narrative about one of her many experiences over the past 25 years. It was a delight to receive such a personal memento in the mail.

Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen
Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Analogue experiences like this are far and few between these days thanks to the internet. There is no doubt that everyone loves to receive a handwritten card, however very few people actually take the time to write one these days. Since the advent of email, texting, twitter, Facebook and other digital technology there really isn’t a need, nor desire, to write and send letters (or cards) via snail mail. Even etiquette traditionalists, bowing to the new technology, agree that email is an acceptable way to deliver an invitation, thank-you note or business letter.

What does this all mean? It means the end of the conventional post office and mail delivery as we know it. I’m afraid that door-to-door mail delivery is going the way of the rotary dial landline telephone (remember those?) and I think that is a real shame. Continue reading ““Please wait a minute Mr. Postman””

The city in flux: Cedar Street (aka Burrard Street)

Spend any length of time living in Vancouver and you know it is constantly changing (old buildings come down, new buildings go up). Vancouver is a city in flux.

For a relatively young city (in the global scheme of things), Vancouver has certainly gone through its fair share of changes in its 129 year history. Personally, I am amazed how quickly one can get used to the new scenery and forget what used to be there before. In my own experience, that is just in the past 40 years. Imagine how much the city would have appeared to have changed for people who lived here 80 or 100 years ago – it would be almost unrecognizable to them.

Here is a brief snapshot look at one part of that flux – Cedar Street aka Burrard Street.

 

Cedar St.
This sidewalk stamp found along Burrard St. near 11th Ave. dates to 1931. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Continue reading “The city in flux: Cedar Street (aka Burrard Street)”