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  And what little documented history that exists is often out of date, is from a male perspective (his-story, anyone?), and primarily consists of a European settler narrative.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