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  And what little documented history that exists is often out of date, is from a male perspective (his-story, anyone?), and primarily consists of a European settler narrative.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.

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

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

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

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

Since then, most of the early houses have been replaced by commercial/industrial buildings, but fascinating pockets of the old neighbourhood hang on.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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