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

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 10 – Punk Rock on the Ravine

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.

Arrow points to Brewery Creek Ravine & DOA practice space. Source: 58-74 Mt. Pleasant Vancouver, http://vintageairphotos.com

Jazz wasn’t the only genre of music that could be heard on the 2500 block of Watson Street (see LHAC Day 6). Punk rock also had its musical moment in this corner of Mount Pleasant. Before the current condo/retail building at Main & 10th Avenue was built, the ravine was still very open.  A wooden catwalk going from Watson Street led people over the ravine to the backs of the buildings facing Main Street. In the photo (top) from 1958, you can see the ravine, the catwalk and the building (which looks like a pitch roofed house) that was the DOA & TT Racer practice space in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (Also visible in the photo is the Broadway Theatre and the 1895 Abray House.)

In the video clip below, DOA’s Joey “Shithead” Keithley reminisces about the time when DOA and TT Racer used this spot on the edge of the old Brewery Creek ravine as their practice space. Including how they would cross the “wooden walkway” to get to and from their old practice space, occasionally tossing an old beer can or two into the ravine along the way. [Ostensibly to be collected later and recycled.]

From Watson Street, on the south side of 1895 Abray House, one can still view a very thin slice of the Brewery Creek ravine between the two buildings.

The last visible slice of the Brewery Creek Ravine. (A little underwhelming, isn’t it?) Photo: C.Hagemoen, 2018

The Brewery Creek ravine was featured in the video for DOA’s cover of Terry Jacks’ song “Where Evil Grows” (below); recorded in 1990 as a benefit single to fight the pollution and contamination of Howe Sound.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 8 – 1895 Abray House

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.

The 1895 Abray House in 2017. Photo: C. Hagemoen

On Day 4 of the LHAC 2019 we learned about the old Broadway Theatre that once stood at Broadway and Main – now a parking lot. Directly adjacent to that parking lot stands a structure that was originally built around 1895 beside the ravine of old Brewery Creek. One of the oldest structures still standing in Mount Pleasant, this building was one of three family homes that once stood proudly facing Main Street (then called Westminster Avenue).

Detail of Plate 37 of the Insurance Plan of the City of Vancouver from July 1897 (revised June 1901) showing Brewery Creek crossing the 2500 block of Watson Street (then Howard St.). Library and Archives Canada.

Its current state is adjacent to Watson Street, hidden behind grey/brown vinyl siding on one side and a colourful mural on the other; oddly tethered to the rear of a single-story, older commercial building. A historical building permit entry reveals that the home was moved in 1912 to the rear of the lot, where it stands today; ostensibly to make way for one of the commercial spaces that were then beginning to line this section of Main Street. It is unrecognizable today when compared to what is pictured in the historic photos below.

Looking southeast from the intersection of Westminster Ave. and 9th Ave. (Main and Broadway) from 1908. Photo: George Alfred Barrowclough, UBC Digital Collections

This fantastic photo (above) from ca. 1908 shows the intersection of Broadway and Main Street and the three ca. 1895 houses facing Main Street. You can just make out Watson Street (then Howard Street) running parallel to Main. In the background is Kingsway (then Westminster Road) and the large brick building is the old Mount Pleasant School. This property (owned by the Vancouver School Board) is now home to Kingsgate Mall. It’s interesting to see how this area of Mount Pleasant has changed over the years, as it transitioned from a mainly residential sector to the commercial hub it is today.

1908 photo showing Abray House, 2520 Westminster Ave., in the centre. Photo: George Alfred Barrowclough, UBC Digital Collections

This house has played a very significant role in the history of the area and the city. The first occupant at 2520 Westminster Avenue was Ewen Henry McMillan, owner of Ideal Grocery (353 Carrall Street), who lived there until 1898. In the past, it was called “Horne House”, after the famed “capitalist” J.W. Horne who once owned the property (ca. 1912), but never lived there.  Today it is known as “Abray House”, as it was once the home to Jackson T. Abray, one of Vancouver’s first police constables and early hoteliers. Abray lived in this Mount Pleasant home with his family from 1898 to 1906.

Wearing uniforms from Seattle, the four new police officers posed in front of the tent situated at the foot of Carrall Street in 1886. Jackson T. Abray is on the far left. Photo: CoV Archives, LGN 457

Before the Great Fire of June 13, 1886, that nearly destroyed the newly incorporated city, Vancouver had a police force of one. All that changed after the fire. The details of the story differ depending on the version told, but the gist is as follows: the day after the fire, Mayor Malcolm Alexander MacLean met Abray and convinced/coerced him to become a police constable for the young city. Two others, V.W. Haywood and John McLaren, it seems, were “appointed” under similar circumstances. And so, led by Chief J.M. Stewart, Vancouver’s first police force was formed. Abray remained a police constable for four years until 1890. Following his career in law enforcement, he went into the hotel and restaurant business as the owner of the Cosmopolitan Hotel (101 W. Cordova), and later the Burrard Hotel (400 W. Cordova).

1895 Abray House in 1978 (2529 Watson). In this photo, you can still see some of the original features of the house. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 786-61.03

The “1895 Abray House” is affixed to the rear of a commercial building that was built around 1926, which is currently home to Caffe Barney and Bean Around the World. The building has the distinction of being the first location, from 1926-1947, of one of Mount Pleasant’s cherished long-time businesses, Bain’s Chocolates. In the early days, original proprietors William and Viena Bain lived at the same address – most likely in the house at the rear of the shop (I wrote about Bain’s Chocolates in a March 2018 Scout Magazine article).

Let’s hope the soon-to-begin construction of Broadway Subway does not destroy the old Abray house and the building and businesses attached to it.

The juxtaposition of one of the newest buildings (The Independent) in Mount Pleasant with one of its oldest is jarring but also interesting. The mix of old and new makes a stimulating visual tableau and lessens the “shock of the new” – homogeneity is only good in milk, not liveable cities.

For the complete story on Abray, his house, and this section of Watson Street check out the 2018 article I wrote for Scout Magazine.