Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 5 – Sidewalks

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 oldest sidewalk in Mount Pleasant. 1907 Sidewalk date stamp at 7th and Alberta.

Anyone who has regularly followed this blog or my column at Scout Magazine will know I am a bit obsessed with sidewalks – specifically sidewalk prisms, and sidewalk date stamps. In my sidewalk date stamp article I stated that the city started installing cement sidewalks in 1906. Well, apparently that is incorrect. It was as early as 1903 when the city first started to install cement sidewalks. However, it wasn’t until 1904 that a systematic program of installing cement sidewalks began; replacing the existing 3-plank wooden sidewalks or, in some cases, no sidewalk at all.

So imagine how early residents of  Mount Pleasant felt when they learned in early 1904 that they were on the list to receive these permanent sidewalks:

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Sidewalk editorial by publisher Rena Whitney in the March 26th, 1904 edition of the Mount Pleasant Advocate.
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Mount Pleasant Advocate, July 9, 1904.

These “modern” cement sidewalks were first installed in the West End and downtown neighbourhoods. That is where we find the oldest surviving examples of these early sidewalks in the city: two ‘1906’ sidewalk date stamps in the West End – the oldest sidewalk date stamps in existence.

The oldest surviving sidewalk date stamp in Mount Pleasant is from ‘1907’ and is located on W7th Avenue at Alberta. The house at 303 W 7th was built in 1905 and first occupied by Charles J. (an engineer) and Elizabeth Ellis and their two children. I can imagine the Ellis children excitedly watching out the front window of their house as workers installed the new sidewalks and stamped ‘1907’ into the wet cement.

303 West 7th at Alberta.

Other early examples of sidewalk name and date stamps found in Mount Pleasant are found on 10th Avenue at Columbia Street and 10th and Manitoba – the same block that is home to the famous Davis Houses. At 10th and Columbia, a ‘1908’ stamp and a ‘1909’ stamp can be found. At the other end of the block there is another ‘1908’ stamp.

1908 on the corner of 10th at Columbia.

On his Sidewalk Contractor Stamp website, Lincoln Cushing states that “much can be learned from these artifacts, including construction dates and patterns of urban development” and sidewalk stamps aficionado Andrew Alden refers to sidewalk name and date stamps as “fossils in the city’s hardscape”.

Covered, but there… the only example of sidewalk prisms on this side of False Creek at 2545 Main (10th Avenue side)

Oh, and for those of you who like sidewalk prisms, there’s an example of those in Mount Pleasant too! They are found along the E. 10th side of Belvedere Court (formerly the Harris Block), which dates from 1911-12. They are special because this is the only location of sidewalk prisms found outside of the downtown core. They are a visual example of what commonly happened to sidewalk prism lights, once they become damaged and a hazard – they were covered with asphalt and only an impression of them remains.

Sidewalk date stamps

I live at the corner of 1912 and 1925. I discovered this fact shortly after I moved into my neighbourhood.  As someone who commutes mainly by walking (and public transportation), I have the pleasure of seeing the world at a slower pace. This allows me to notice small things, like sidewalk date and name stamps, that most people are incognizant of. These inconspicuous markings in the urban landscape were originally used to date the construction of the sidewalk but consequently, mark the provenance of a neighbourhood.

Composite of date stamped sidewalks in Vancouver. Photo: C. Hagemoen
Composite of date stamped sidewalks in Vancouver. Photo: C. Hagemoen

I live in an established part of the city, but since my building dates to ca.1960, I was quite surprised to find sidewalks dating from 1925 and 1912 intersecting on the corner of my block. The impact of this may be lost to those of you who live in older cities with plenty of heritage buildings, but here in Vancouver a building from 1960 can be considered old – a construction from 1912, is positively ancient!

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