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 16 – Laura’s Coffee Shop

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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Laura’s Coffee Shop. Photo: C. Hagemoen

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

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Laura’s Cafe exterior & interior. 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. (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 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.  Son Samuel (Sam or Sammy) then took over the family store business – he had been previously working as a taxi driver.  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. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 786-23.10

In the 1960s, Sammy converted the grocery store into an industrial coffee shop and named it after his beloved mother Laura… what a good Italian son!  It has been serving breakfast and lunch to the workers in the area ever since.  Sam DeFilippo died in 1996.

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

Laura’s Coffee Shop is one of the few “industrial coffee shops” left in the city. These popular-priced eateries could be found in industrial areas all around the city like lower Mount Pleasant. I can imagine workers from the Alsco Laundry building across the street frequenting Laura’s. 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.

Grilled cheese, fries and coffee from Laura’s.

Today, Laura’s Coffee Shop is 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.

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.

Vancouver Impressions

Film Screening – Vancouver Impressions (The early 1960s) – A programme of archival films produced by CBUT (CBC Vancouver) between 1961 and 1965.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the CBC’s (English Services) Mass Digitization Project and their plan to trash all the original analogue media (16mm film, tape, transcription disc, etc.) once digitized.  Their reasoning behind this plan is that they will no longer need the original artefact once it is digitized, so why pay for the storage of this material? In their minds digitization equals preservation – end of story.

This is the height of hubris – CBC [mis]management are so confident in their digitization process that they aren’t even going to consider that anything could ever go wrong in the future, so they do not need to keep the analogue original?  Nor, it seems, do they need to take into consideration that this “plan” is against all archival best practices for digitization. They don’t even appear to be willing to discuss the possibility of working with an outside archival repository to see if a mutually beneficial agreement could be made – like the recent agreement between PNG and the CoV Archives for the Sun & Province newspaper photographs.

CBUT Station ID photo featuring the lights of Granville Street. Photo: Alvin Armstrong.

Sadly, the destruction of original formats is only the tip of the iceberg in this story. The inside scoop is that the selection process is also flawed, namely that much archival material that won’t even make it to the digitization stage of the project. The CBC is only interested in digitizing (saleable) complete programs and not interested in program inserts, individual news items, stox footage, etc.  This means the loss of much of Metro Vancouver’s and the Province’s audio-visual history. Check out my CBUT (CBC Vancouver) posts from a few years ago to see what kind of history could be lost forever: 60th Anniversary of CBUT part 1; Part 2 –All That Jazz ; Part 3 –  1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games; and Part 4 – Drama from the left coast.

Continue reading “Vancouver Impressions”

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”