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  And what little documented history that exists is often out of date, is from a male perspective (his-story, anyone?), and primarily consists of a European settler narrative.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

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 7 – Federal Store

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.

Federal Store, E 10th at Quebec St. June 2019.

Last month, The Federal Store (2601 Quebec Street) celebrated its 3rd Anniversary. Owned and operated by Chris Allen and Colette Griffiths, in 3 short years, the Federal Store has become a much-loved community gathering space and a very welcome addition to the neighbourhood. The “Store” has animated this corner of Mount Pleasant – compare the photos above and below – and is a great example of a human scale streetscape: with places to sit outside, garden greenscapes, and the re-use of an older building.

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Google street view of The Federal Store (then a corner grocery) in 2009.

The history of the building that houses the Federal Store is much longer and is an interesting one. The building was built in 1922 by John Coville for his wife Hannah and together they opened the Coville Bake Shop. Coville went from builder to baker. From about 1910 to 1920 Coville worked as a builder, responsible for many structures in and around Mt. Pleasant and the rest of the city. In 1910, He built the Frontenac Apartments (designed by R. A McKenzie) at 11th & Quebec. In fact, Coville along with his partner Dr. Coy developed the entire west side of Quebec between 11th and 10th Ave – building 4 houses in addition to the 3-story Frontenac. Like the current owners of the Federal Store, the Coville’s lived and worked on the same block.

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1927 Fire Insurance Plan- Shows Coville’s bakery and the other buildings he built on Quebec St.

In the 1921 Canada Census, John (54), listed as a contractor, and Hannah Coville (50) and their 3 children: Stuart (25), Cecil (19) and Walter (14) are living at 2605 Quebec Street. The Coville’s operate the bakery together for about 5 years.

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Main entrance of Frontenac Apartments at 2649 Quebec Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

After John Coville dies in 1928, George A. Barrowclough (photographer and Mount Pleasant resident – more about him in a future LHAC post) takes over the proprietorship of the Bakery. But this only lasts about a year.  Around 1930, the bakery closes and the store is converted into Kenny’s Korner Grocery by Ken I. Lambert. He owns the property through the 1930s. There are a variety of owners and name changes in the 40s and 50s like 1945 -A. Faries Grocery; 1950 -J&M Confectionary; and 1955- Ming’s Grocery.

The name changes to the Federal Grocery in 1964 under the management of Bertha Swartz. Save for the first female owner,  Hannah Coville, with Ms. Swartz now at the helm, so begins a long history of predominately female ownership of this corner retail space.  The Federal Grocery is named after the Federal Building (125 east 10th) that opened kitty-corner to the store in 1963; possibly in the hopes of attracting civil-servant customers.

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Detail of plan showing the outline of buildings at Quebec and 10th Avenue in 1976. Source: COV Archives, LEG1493.10a

In 1971, current property owners, Mark and Fong Kwok take over the Federal Grocery and reside at the same address. By 1978, the Kowks are living at one of the townhouses along 10th Ave. attached to the store building, but the store is being run by someone else. The Federal Grocery closes in 1985 and a year later reopens as the Federal Store with Fong Kwok listed in the City Directories as the proprietor. By this time the Kowks now own the entire retail and residential property. While the final corner store operator, (another woman) was moving out in February 2015, serendipitously Chris and Colette happened to be walking by… the rest is another story.

For almost two years the store is closed while Colette and Chris go through the hoops of renovations and permits (again, another story) until November 2016 when the new Federal Store as a café/bakery cum grocery store à la Le Marché St. George and The Mighty Oak opens. And now, thanks to Federal Store baker Cole Friske, this space has come full-circle moving back to its bakery roots (and then some) in just under 100 years.

I had a chance to chat with Colette earlier this fall about the appeal of using a historic space for their new business:

“It felt just so much more meaningful to be a part of something that had such a long history, serving the neighbourhood and being a space. My Grandpa used to be the fire captain at the fire hall on Quebec [Street]… and he had his memories back in the 50s or 60s, I can’t remember exactly when it was, of coming down to the store and buying a carton of eggs and milk and bringing it back up to the boys [at Firehall No. 3] so they could cook dinner for everyone. And the idea that my Grandpa has been in this space for that long is great.”

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Inside the Federal Store. 2019. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Part of the attraction is uniqueness – these smaller independent businesses (often in historic spaces) offer some relief to our increasingly homogenous cityscape. When you enter one of these local corner grocery/café’s you know where you are… when you enter a chain store you don’t. Each space reflects the creative sensibility of its owner/owners, and in turn, they respond to the needs of the neighbourhood and the neighbours they serve.

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Ever since they opened, the Federal Store has hosted a variety of pop-ups! Like this 2019 Holiday Pop-Up Series.

Modern takes on the corner grocery store, like the Federal Store, have become hyper-local gathering spaces – encouraging an old-fashioned sense of community by bringing neighbours together. Something that citizens (and city planners) need to heartily encourage and foster more of in this city.