Seeking Sarah Cassell

Sarah’s Cafe at 218 E. Georgia St in 1960. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC VAncouver Still Photo Collection.

In 2013, I wrote about this photo (above) that I found while working at the CBC Archives. It was one of a series of images shot by CBC Vancouver contract photographer, Franz Lindner, in 1960 as part of an assignment to illustrate a CBC Times (programming guide) feature for a radio documentary on drug addiction in Vancouver. At that time, I focused my research on figuring out where this photo was taken (218 East Georgia Street) and if the building still existed (it does).

Wallace building (built ca. 1906) home to the Liang You Book Store and Convenience store in March 2013 . Photo: C. Hagemoen

This first pass at research/inquiry satisfied me at the time and I put the story on hold for a few years. However it was consistently on the back of mind and I was always keeping my eye out for and collecting any piece of information I could find on Sarah and her café in my research travels. I wanted to know who Sarah Cassell was and how did she, and her café, fit into the (hi)story of Vancouver.  This historic area of the city (Hogan’s Alley/Strathcona/Chinatown) is full of tales of strong women who had their own businesses – Rosa Pryor, Viva Moore, Leona Risby, to name a few. Well here is the story of another one – Sarah Cassell.

Sarah’s Cafe window at 218 E. Georgia in 1960. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Around 1957, Sarah’s Cafe opens at 218 E. Georgia, a 3-story wood frame building built in 1906. Mrs. Sarah Cassell is listed in the directory as the proprietor. She operates her café here – serving “full course meals & de-luxe hamburgers” until around 1962/63. However, this is not where Sarah Cassell’s story in Vancouver begins. It starts a few years earlier, around the corner at the Stratford Hotel.

From the 1920s to the 1970s the Stratford Hotel (at the corner of Gore and Keefer) was a popular temporary home to loggers and other workingmen while they were in the city during the off-season. It should also be noted that for a period of time during the 20th C, the Stratford was one of only two hotels that admitted black guests in Vancouver.

1969 photo of the 600 block of Gore Street. Showing a portion of the Stratford Hotel (right) and the cafe that used to be called the Stratford Grill. The Stratford was built in 1912. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 780-333.

The Stratford Grill was a street level (619 Gore) café that was part of the Stratford Hotel building; serving both hotel residents and the general public. According to the 1951 City Directory the proprietor of the Stratford Grill was James M. Cassell who resided at 1152 Richards. Sarah Cassell’s death certificate (via BC Archives Vital Statistics) lists James M. Cassell as her husband at the time of her death in 1989. What is intriguing, however, is that this is the only time that James Cassell appears in Vancouver directories, he seems to completely drop out of the picture (almost as quickly as he appeared).  He does not appear to be living in Vancouver past 1951, nor prior to 1951 for that matter. James Cassell is also not mentioned in Sarah’s obituary in the Vancouver Sun. The following year, 1952, Mrs. Sarah Cassell is listed as the proprietor of the Stratford Grill and she stays as such until 1956 when she opens the self-named Sarah’s Cafe at 218 E Georgia.

1989 Vancouver Sun obituary for Sarah Cassell. This obituary was the first time I saw any mention of Sarah’s daughter Christine. It is likely she did not live in Vancouver, or its environs.

Sarah Cassell was born Sarah Jane White on January 10, 1910 in Tuitts village on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. How and where she spent the first 40 years of her life is not known. It is also not clear from the information I have gleaned so far, when exactly Sarah arrived in Vancouver. Sarah Cassell does not appear in the city directories prior to 1952. This, combined with the information about James Cassell from the 1951 city directory, suggests that Sarah Cassell did not arrive in Vancouver until 1951 or 1950 at the earliest. Her obituary states that she ran Sarah’s Café from 1951 to 1984. So it is likely she was running the Stratford Cafe along with James Cassell, and then took over the entire business after he left town for whatever reason.

1962 photo taken from Mclean Housing Tower (phase 1) looking west. Arrow points to location of Sarah Cassell’s home at 703 Dunlevy. Photo: CoV Archives , CVA 181-05.

From 1951/52 to around 1961 Sarah Cassell is living in a row of houses at 703 Dunlevy St., right across the street from McLean Playground. Also living at 703 Dunlevy is David White a CPR Porter and Sarah Cassell’s son. Eventually this entire square block (along with 3 others) was demolished to make way for the MacLean Park housing complex forcing residents to find alternate housing. In the early 1960s (around 1962), Sarah Cassell and her son David move from their home on Dunlevy to 239 Union Street, directly above Valery’s Chicken & Steak House (241 Union).

Ms. Cassell runs her cafe featured in the photo by Franz Lindner at 218 East Georgia for 7 years. When the restaurant space below/beside her home becomes available around 1963, Sarah’s Cafe moves to 241 Union Street. Prior to that time, this location had been the home of Valery’s Chicken and Steak house for about 12 years run by a woman named Valery Nechia (yet another story!). Curiously, for the last year that Valery was running the restaurant at 241 Union, it was called Todd’s Café. According to the city directories by 1962 Valery Nechia was now a widow, living in Mount Pleasant and was now working as a dressmaker.

Detail of City of Vancouver photo from 1971 showing the 200 block Union St. and Sarah’s Cafe during the construction of the Viaduct. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 216-1.23.

For about 20 years, from 1963/64 until 1984, Sarah Cassell runs Sarah’s Cafe on Union Street and lives above. During much of this time Sarah’s son David is also living with her and working at Canada Post (and helping out at the restaurant on occasion).

Fire Insurance map ca. 1950s/1960s mapping out Sarah Cassell’s neighbourhood. Click on image to view.

OK, enough of the tangible facts. I now knew how Sarah fit into her neighbouhood physically – living and working within a boundary of a few blocks starting in 1951. But what about the intangible facts? What was Sarah Cassell like as a person? What did she look like? And what was it like to eat at her restaurant? Surely, there would be more information out there? How does someone live and operate a restaurant in a neighbourhood for over 30 years and not leave an impact?

I started to scour online and printed resources about the area and the neighbourhood. No mention of Sarah and her cafe. Some expert assistance was needed.  I contacted writer Wayde Compton who, among many other things, co-founded the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project. While Wayde did not have any personal experience with Sarah Cassell or her cafe, he said that his mother recalled going there. He then suggested I contact Elwin Xie, who grew up on Union Street in the 1960s and 70s and who’s family owned and operated Union Laundry at 274 Union St. [Side note: Elwin’s father, Harry Yuen fought the City’s expropriation of his property until the bitter end]

Union St looking east at Main. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 772-1093.

Elwin told me that his first experience with western food was at Sarah’s Cafe, specifically he recalls he had his first taste of french fries at Sarah’s. Elwin said it was a really a treat eat at her cafe, as it was a big change from his mother’s Chinese home cooking. Elwin recalled that Sarah ran her cafe as a one-person operation, she took the orders and then went to the kitchen to prepare the food all to a soundtrack of county music (CKWX) playing on the radio.

Elwin remembers Sarah as a kind woman in a wig (not uncommon for many women of that era to wear wigs of convenience) who would always ask after his mother. Elwin told me that Sarah would get her cafe linens laundered at Union Laundry. Often, Elwin was charged with picking up or dropping off laundry for Sarah’s Cafe. Even after his father’s laundry business was expropriated and torn down to make way for the Viaduct, he still had contact with Sarah. He assisted her during her move from Union Street to Bill Hennessey Place housing on Jackson St. in 1984. This is the same time that Sarah closed her cafe business at the age of 74, likely due to health reasons.

Sarah’s Cafe in 1971 during construction of the Viaduct across the street. All of the buildings across the street were expropriated by the City and torn down. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 216-1.30

I recently participated in a Hogan’s Alley walking tour – part of the Heart of the City Festival – lead by Randy Clark who grew up in the neighbourhood in the 1960s.  He talked about Sarah’s Cafe which was located directly across the street from the house he lived in with his family:

“[His] grandmother’s place [Vie’s Chicken and Steaks] operated in the evening and Sarah owned the café and the only other person I ever saw working in Sarah’s café was her son (David). So Sarah ran that café , for the most part, on her own and it was quite a neat establishment for people who worked during the daytime and lived during the daytime. Whenever we wanted french fries during the daytime prior to the restaurant being open in the evening, we went across the street to get them from Sarah’s. It was a great place and obviously was impacted also by the transition of the new viaduct coming into this area.”

I am sure Randy is right in saying that Sarah must have been greatly affected by the stress of seeing her neighbourhood being ripped apart (literally). Starting with the development of the McLean Park Housing development, through to the construction of the Viaduct. It takes a strong person to continue carrying on in the midst of chaos and division. And that is exactly what Sarah did, running her business though the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Black Strathcona sign indicating the location of Vie’s Chicken and Steak House – behind the sign across the street, beside the little blue building – just down the block from Sarah’s Cafe. Photo: C. Hagemoen

After trying many different search phrases, and drilling down deep, I finally located other recollections of Sarah and her cafe online.  In 2009, George Lee made a comment on the Hogan’s Alley Project blog post on Vie’s Chicken and Steak House:

“Does anyone remember Sarah’s Cafe…? It was a one story house made into a cafe and her son worked for the Post Office. I used to have lunch there all the time and I’ll always remember her as a very jovial black lady. A lot of the police and city workers used to eat in the back rooms.”

Contemporary Cree artist, Judy Chartrand, lived on Union Street as a child in the 1960s. On the “Family” page of her website she recalls:

“Our house was located two doors down from Sarah’s Cafe, a small business owned by a Black woman who used to give us candy. I don’t remember ever going into her cafe to eat, probably because we were so poor ourselves.”

 

Rear of 218 E. Georgia in alley that ran north/south parallel to Main Street between E.Georgia and Union St. in 1960. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

So far we can establish that Sarah Cassell was a kind and friendly woman, who worked hard, was independent, strong and resilient. She had two children and was not only a grandmother, but also a great grandmother with many friends. Her long-running cafe served the residents of this working-class neighbourhood and those that worked in the area during the day (perhaps even the construction workers building the viaduct across the street?). Since her business operated during the daytime, it didn’t attract the lively nighttime crowd that a place like Vie’s did. Therefore, there are no mythical tales of a young Jimmy Hendrix coming in for a burger and fries, or late night visits from visiting Jazz musicians. It just wasn’t that kind of place. Sarah’s Cafe was the place in the neighbourhood to get, as Randy Clark said, your “daytime fries” and simple cafe fare served with a smile. But that doesn’t mean Sarah’s story is less worthy of telling than any other story from the rich history of this neighbourhood.

I am sure there are more stories and memories of Sarah and her cafe out there. I still have many more questions than I do answers. So if you have any memories or photos of Sarah Cassell or her cafe please let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

900 Block Station street (south of Prior St.) ca. 1960. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

It’s funny how one thing leads to another (and another, and another…) You are researching one topic, and then you are led down a completely different path of discovery. I love that! It is exciting, but it can also be time consuming. What started out several years ago with a single photograph from the CBC Vancouver Archives turned into another tale of Black Strathcona.

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Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz

Several years ago I worked in the CBC Vancouver Media Archives on a film preservation project. The content introduced me to much of Vancouver’s moving image history as well as the artists and technicians who created that legacy. One of the most fascinating artists to catch my eye and ear was Eleanor Collins.

Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection

Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection

My fascination with this amazing woman all started with a single photograph (see above) from the CBC Vancouver Still Photograph Collection. I was mesmerized by her radiance. As a jazz fan, I had to find out more about this performer. Viewing some of her television work from the 50’s & 60’s, I was enthralled by her luminous appearance, her sultry sound, and her magnetic screen presence. But, there is so much more to this fascinating woman…

Known as “Vancouver’s first lady of jazz”, Eleanor Collins was a groundbreaking figure in Canadian entertainment history. She had a longtime association working with Vancouver’s leading musicians on CBC radio and television. Throughout her career, Eleanor was known as the consummate professional, able to take any song and give it meaning.  ‘Vancouver Sun’ nightlife and celebrity columnist Jack Wasserman once wrote about Eleanor- “She could start fires by rubbing two notes together!”

August 14, 1963 CBUT program,

August 14, 1963 CBUT program, “Showcase” production still – Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

Elnora (Eleanor) Collins was born on November 21, 1919, in Edmonton, the middle child of three sisters born to pioneering parents who came to Alberta in 1910 via the United States. They were part of a group of Black homesteaders drawn to Canada by advertising offering affordable homesteading opportunities in Canada’s west.

In the 1930s, when Eleanor’s father was incapacitated and unable to work, her mother was left to raise their three daughters on her own. To support the family, Eleanor’s mother Estelle boldly approached city officials to allow her to set up a home laundry business so that she would not have to rely on Relief,  but could earn her own money to support her family. It was a fearless move, which resulted in success.  Eleanor credits her mother for her own spiritual grounding and her ‘can-do’ attitude towards life.

A natural talent with a good ear for music, Eleanor was brought up with a tradition of family musical evenings. Each member of the extended family was expected to participate by either singing, playing an instrument, or reciting verse. Eleanor’s family was often asked to perform for their community and church. In 1934, at the age of 15, Eleanor won an amateur talent contest in Edmonton. These early experiences were her “music school” and laid the foundation for her future career as a performer.

In 1939, following in her sister Ruby’s footsteps, Eleanor moved to Vancouver. She was immediately smitten by Vancouver’s mild winters and almost year-round access to outdoor activities like tennis, cycling around Stanley Park, and Pro-Rec . It was on the tennis courts in Stanley Park where she met the man who would become her life partner of 70 years, Richard (Dick) Collins. They married in 1942 and settled into homemaking and rearing a family of four children in Burnaby.

The Collins family at home in the 1960s.

The Collins family at home in the 1960s. Photo: Franz Lindner

Moving into an all-white neighborhood in the late 1940s proved to be a problem for the Collins’ when neighbours started a petition against the family in an attempt to intimidate them from settling into their new home. Instead of getting angry, Eleanor and her family got busy. In order to combat the ignorance and misguided attitudes of her new neighbours, Eleanor and her family immersed themselves in their new community by participating in local activities, events, and organizations. By showing their new neighbours that they were “ordinary people with the same values and concerns as they had”, Eleanor and her family broke down barriers by inviting others to see beyond a person’s skin colour.

“Be at the right place at the right time. And wherever it is, blossom.”-Eleanor Collins

Eleanor’s career in radio began in 1945 when she accompanied a friend to the CBC radio studios in the Hotel Vancouver.  There she met Vancouver musician Ray Norris, who quickly put her to work as a singer on a radio show. During her radio career in the 1940s, Eleanor first sang with a group called The Three E’s and later with a quartet (that included her sister Ruby) called the Swing Low Quartet. She was also invited to join the Ray Norris led, CBC Radio Jazz series called Serenade in Rhythm.

Eleanor singing in the 1940s. Photo: Jack Lindsay, COV Archives, CVA-1184-1220

Eleanor singing in the 1940s. Photo: Jack Lindsay, COV Archives, CVA-1184-1220

Her work with CBC radio (CBU Vancouver) naturally evolved into working for Vancouver’s first television station CBUT (CBC Vancouver).  CBUT went on the air in December of 1953. In the beginning, CBUT broadcast very little local programming. Its programming scope increased considerably in 1954 with the arrival of the mobile television unit, and when the completion of the CBUT television studios permitted the first live broadcasts. The first live musical/dance broadcast out of Vancouver was a programme called Bamboula: a day in the West Indies featuring Eleanor Collins and the Leonard Gibson Dancers. Lasting only 3 episodes (August 25, September 1 & 8 1954) Bamboula featured the “music, folklore, voodoo ritual and popular music of the Caribbean countries”. Produced by Mario Prizek and choreographed by Len Gibson. Bamboula was groundbreaking – not only was it the first television show in Canada to feature a mixed-race cast, but also was the first (of many) musical/dance programmes produced out of Vancouver. Being involved in such an open and creative community, that were those early days of CBC TV would have been very exciting to an artist like Eleanor.

In this excerpt from the program she sings the jazz standard “Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good)“.

After Bamboula, Eleanor made guest appearances in other musical variety programs alongside musicians and singers from the local music scene such as Parade (1954), Riding High, and Back-o-Town Blues (1955). Her talent, professionalism, and charm were undeniable and soon Collins had her own national television series, The Eleanor Show. Alan Millar was the host for this summer of 1955 weekly music series starring Collins and pianist Chris Gage and accompanied by the Ray Norris Quintet. Regular performers on the show include dancers Leonard Gibson and Denise Quan. The show first aired on CBUT Channel 2, Sunday, June 12, 1955, at 10 pm. At a time when she “didn’t see a lot of my people on TV”, being the first black artist in North America to star in her own national television series was a significant milestone. Eleanor beat Nat King Cole’s achievement of being the first black performer to star in their own show on American television by over a year – The Nat King Cole Show debuted November 1956 on NBC. It’s also to her credit that she became the first Canadian female artist to have her own TV series. She is truly a television pioneer.

August 7 1955.

August 7 1955. “Eleanor” (l-r) Juliette Cavazzi, Alan Millar, Eleanor Collins. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

In 1961, Eleanor was joined by the Chris Gage Trio appearing in a program called Blues and the Ballad. Three years later in 1964, she was again starring in her own music TV series simply titled Eleanor. In this l964 Eleanor series, Collins was backed once more by the Chris Gage Trio. They performed their renditions of show tunes and popular music from the United States. Guests included local jazz musicians such as Carse Sneddon, Fraser MacPherson, and Don Thompson.

Eleanor Collins with the Chris Gage (Piano) Trio - Stan

Eleanor Collins with the Chris Gage (Piano) Trio – Stan “Cuddles” Johnson on bass, and Jimmy Wightman on drums, CBUT-TV studios. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

In addition to her extensive work on local CBC radio & television, Eleanor was also involved in local theatre appearing in several TUTS (Theatre Under The Stars) and Avon Theatre productions such as You Can’t Take it With You (1953), Kiss Me Kate (1953) and Finian’s Rainbow (1952 & 1954). Eleanor was able to introduce her children to the performing arts when they appeared with her in various productions for TUTS and on CBC Radio and Television. In 1952 Eleanor and her four children appeared in the TUTS musical production of Finian’s Rainbow at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. For this production “they put dark make-up on one of the ladies who could sing and used her as the Sharecropper–a bigger role,” Collins explains. When the show remounted in 1954, Eleanor accepted the offer to perform in it again, but on one condition: “I need to be doing the Sharecropper,” she told them. And so she did. Once again her personal strength and her belief in doing, what was right, saw her through.

Here is a clip of Eleanor singing “Look to the Rainbow” from Finian’s Rainbow on CBC TV in 1980.

Eleanor was committed to her family and community. As a result, she felt she “would have to limit my singing career to work in Vancouver”. There’s no doubt that Eleanor had the talent to go much further in her career, but fleeting fame wasn’t what she wanted out of life. So she turned down opportunities with American recording companies and glamorous nightclub engagements in the States. She did so without regret. Her work at CBC and her singing engagements around town in Vancouver’s vibrant jazz community kept her plenty busy. Vancouverites should consider themselves fortunate to have had such an amazing local talent like Ms. Collins in their midst.

Eleanor Collins publicity still

Eleanor Collins CBC publicity still, 1960s. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

The popularity of musical variety shows ebbed and musical tastes changed by the late 1960s and Eleanor’s performing career subsided. She kept very engaged by focusing her attention on her own personal and spiritual growth. Eleanor served as musical director at Unity Church.

She also managed to keep her hand in public performance during the 1970s. One of the most memorable was her performance in front of an audience of 80,000 for the Canada Day Ceremonies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 1975. Performing for the largest live audience of her career, she recalls looking out from the stage at a mass of people holding candles. “Suddenly it came very clearly that I was Canadian,” Eleanor recalls fondly, “and to be proud of it.

In the 1980s her family was featured in a segment of a documentary called “Hymn to Freedom: The History of Blacks in Canada Series”. She was also profiled on the CBC television newsmagazine style programs Take 30 (1976) and Here & Now (1988).

In 2009, Eleanor turned 90. This event was celebrated on the long-running CBC Radio jazz show, Hot Air, with a feature on the fabulous Ms. Collins produced by Paolo Pietropaolo. In her 90s Eleanor Collins is still very active and engaged in the community. In the last couple of years, she sang at her friend Marcus Mosely’s “Stayed on Freedom Concerts” as well as performing at the memorial for legendary singer and performer Leon Bibb held January 10, 2016.

Video Feature on Eleanor at the age of 95,  with her singing at the Stayed on Freedom Concert.

Eleanor has received many honours over her lifetime. In 1986 she was recognized as a Distinguished Pioneer by the City of Vancouver. More recently, she was invested with the Order of Canada in 2014 for her pioneering achievements as a jazz vocalist, and for breaking down barriers and fostering race relations in the mid-20th Century.  I asked her what it felt like for her to receive the Order of Canada award. She replied-

“You know, Christine, I am often asked how it feels to be given the Order of Canada and, of course, the bottom line is that I feel very blessed to have my life and work acknowledged by my Country. But the reality of the actual experience of traveling to Ottawa on my 95th Birthday, finding myself in the midst of a very grand event at Rideau Hall and standing before the Governor General and a room full of so many other outstanding Canadians being honoured for their excellence … well, it feels nothing short of surreal! Truly, I am still trying to process that whirlwind weekend of events.”

As an Order of Canada recipient, she is being further honoured with her inclusion in a new book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Order of Canada along with Canada’s 150th Anniversary titled: “They Desire a Better Country: The Order of Canada in 50 Stories”.  Out of the 7000 recipients of the Order, Eleanor was one of only 50 individuals to be featured in this book, a collection of inspiring stories showcasing remarkable individuals who reflect who we are and what the Order means to the nation.

Eleanor Collins in 2014. Photo: Ghassan Shanti , courtesy of Eleanor Collins

Eleanor Collins in 2014 looking fabulous. Photo: Ghassan Shanti, courtesy of Eleanor Collins

Now in her 98th year, Eleanor feels fortunate to have enough good health and vitality to live independently in her own home. She practices healthy living and carries a positive spirit as part of her daily routine, filling her days with “lots of good music, good television, good food, and good family and friends”. Ms. Collins explains, “typically you’ll find me preparing to tuck into a very nutritious meal while enjoying a favourite watch like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ or one of the other showcases for today’s young talent. That’s where it is at…ushering in the best of the new generations!”

“It’s all music, really. Life is.”-Eleanor Collins

Many thanks to Eleanor Collins and her daughter Judith Maxie for all their help with this post.

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Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

I was a shy child. Consequently, I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a child that I first noticed the purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checker board grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post].

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Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band

The first time I saw this intriguingly odd photo on the City of Vancouver Archives website, I was inspired to know more about the photo and Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band.

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 - Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 – Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

The photo depicts Lesk and life sized effigies representing the leaders of the Axis and the Allies. The photograph, dated February 1942, is from a series of photographs taken for the Vancouver News-Herald newspaper by photographer Jack Lindsay.

I made a trip to the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch to search the historic newspaper microfilm reels to see if I could find the photograph in a February 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald. It wasn’t long before I found the image (or a version thereof) in the Thursday, February 19th edition of the Vancouver News-Herald. Unfortunately, the image that appears in the paper has cropped out Alvin Lesk and only focuses on his effigies.

Photo in the Thursday, February 19th 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald.

Photo in the Thursday, February 19th 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald.

Here is the caption that accompanies the newspaper photo:

Here’s Alvin Lesk’s ideas of how the war should end — Churchill, Uncle Sam and Stalin standing erect over the crumpled beaten forms of a cartoonist’s version of the Axis trio — a frustrated Japanese, a sobbing Hitler and a dour mouthed Mussolini. Lesk has built life-sized effigies to enact the scene and has them on display on Georgia Street, near Granville. He originally planned to put the fascist chieftains in a jail on a trailer, but couldn’t find parking space.

When I discovered that Lesk had originally planned to put the Axis leaders in a jail, the sign that the Churchill effigy holds then makes a little more sense:

This is where We would like the Axis Gang, Help put them there! Buy the new Victory Bonds!

The Canadian Encyclopedia entry on Victory Loans states that “Victory Loans were Canadian government appeals for money to finance the war effort in WWI and WWII” through the purchase of Victory Bonds.

Save to Beat the Devil - Canadian World War II Poster. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-1220

Save to Beat the Devil – Canadian World War II Poster. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-1220

Victory Bond sales were slow in Canada at the beginning of WWII, so after “the slow-moving second war loan of 1940, the Victory Loan returned with the panoply of colourful posters, patriotic pleas and vast sales apparatus which had become familiar in WWI”.  Alvin Lesk and his One Man Victory Band were just one example of a local patriotic plea for citizens to buy the “new” Victory Bonds.

Though I had some success finding the photo in the newspaper, I wasn’t very successful finding out anything about Alvin Lesk himself. The city directories of the time only listed a Vera Lesk, who was a musician. I suppose it is possible that they were related, but it would be hard to say definitively. I also checked the Vital Statistics for BC and could only find evidence of members of a Lesk family that lived primarily in New Westminster. Vera Lesk appears to be related to those Lesks. I found no evidence of Alvin Lesk in the BC Vital Statistics.

So for now, it seems that Alvin Lesk himself remains a bit of mystery. He must have felt very strongly about supporting an Allied victory to put so much energy in creating his effigies and promoting the sale of Victory Bonds. I wonder how many Vancouverites were motivated to buy Victory Bonds by Alvin Lesk’s Victory One Man Band and creative street display?

 

Fun Fact: Author Pierre Berton was the News-Herald’s first city editor.

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Fun with sticks and stumps

1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “clearing for a new city (Vancouver) at Granville.’ . From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

This was Vancouver. 1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

In the mid to late 1800s Vancouver was literally being carved out of the forest. As the city grew, the forested land around the town site of Granville (later Vancouver) was being cleared resulting in great piles of slash – branches and other residue left on a forest floor after the cutting of timber. This waste material was mainly disposed of by being burned in controlled fires (one of which, infamously got out of control in June 1886 and resulted in the Great Fire) but, not all of it.

Where most saw waste, a few saw opportunity. Along with the (sometimes giant) tree stumps left in the ground, this slash gave some creative/resourceful early Vancouverites lots of raw material to work with.

 

The bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel.

Bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel. Photo: CoV Archives - Hot P5.

Bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel, ca. 1898. Photo: CoV Archives – Hot P5.

One such example is the bar at The Poodle Dog Hotel (love the name!). According to the Major J.S. Matthews notes that come along with the photograph, “the unique Poodle Dog Hotel bar was made of almost every kind of bark, cedar bark, vine, and maple twigs, moss and fungus, etc. it was built by George Cary for Bert Burton.”

Though the image above is a little primitive (early artificial light photography), you can still see the amount of intricate work that Cary did. It sort of has the feeling of an old west tiki bar.

George Cary with dog (far left) poses in front of the Stag nad Pheasant Hotel. Photo: CoV Archives - Hot P22.1

George Cary with dog (far left) poses in front of the Stag and Pheasant Hotel, ca. 1888. Photo: CoV Archives – Hot P22.1

The Poodle Dog Hotel first appears in the 1896 city directory at 318 Cordova with C.S. McKinnell listed as the proprietor. Two years later, in the 1898 directory (same date as the photo), the proprietor of the Poodle Dog Hotel is now listed as a H.F. [Bert?] Burton. This must be the Burton that Matthews’ notes refer to and who had George Cary build him the unique and rustic bar. According to Matthews’ notes, Cary even spelt out the owner’s name in big letters made of maple twigs along the front. “The Poodle Dog” was on Cordova Street between Cambie and Homer Street.

 

Three room stump house.

Stump House in Mount Pleasant, ca. 1908/9. Photo: CoV Archives - SGN 988

Three room Stump House in Mount Pleasant, ca. 191-?. Photo: CoV Archives – SGN 988

The stump for this stump house (or rather shack) was likely left over from when Mount Pleasant was cleared of its trees to make way for the ever growing need for land and of course,  timber. These two side-by-each stumps were converted into a shack by Swedish immigrant Gustav Burkman, a carpenter/builder who lived at 4230 Prince Edward St. (formerly Seacombe Rd.). The stump house was located on the east side of Seacombe Road, now Prince Edward street, between E. 26th and E. 27th Ave. It was reached by a short trail from Horne Road (now  E. 28th Ave). According to the notes made by Major J.S. Matthews, this photo was taken by photographer W.J. Moore, who lived nearby, and who also provided some of the particulars.

The narrative for this stump house was cobbled together by Major Matthews from the information he gleaned from Moore (the photographer) and a conversation he had with the Burkman’s foster daughter,  Mrs. Robert Williams, in 1963. Apparently the Burkman’s (Gustav and Hannah) came to Vancouver via Seattle during Vancouver’s Real Estate boom (ca. 1905-1912). The large hollow stump near their property, was converted into a shack, or tool house, and was about half a block from the Burkman’s house in Mount Pleasant. One has to remember that at that time city blocks didn’t look the same as they do today, and often houses were few and far between. Mrs. Williams recalls that an old gentleman (then in his 70s), Mr. Cunningham, lived inside the stump. The Lower stump was the kitchen, and the lower part of the higher stump on the left was the living room. The sleeping area was in the top of the higher stump (a loft?) and was reached via a ladder.

The date of the photograph of the stump house is most likely around 1912. This would coincide with the time period that Moore and Burkman were in the Mount Pleasant area. They both first appear in the Vancouver city directory that same year.

 

J. W. Horne real estate office in big tree.

Real estate office in big tree [Georgia Street, near Granville] Photo: CoV Archives - LGN 453.

Real estate office in big tree [Georgia Street, near Granville], May 1886. Photo: CoV Archives – LGN 453.

Though this is a promotional stunt, it still shows excellent use of land-clearing forestry detritus. The photograph shows a group of men posing on and around large tree stump used as the staged office for real estate capitalist, James Welton (J.W.) Horne. He used the photo to promote the sale of lots in the new city of Vancouver. The men in the photograph on the ground are (L-R): Mr. Stiles, A.W. Ross, Dr. Luke Port, J.W. Horne, Mr. Hendrickson, and U.S. Consul Mr. Hemming. The men on the log are (L-R): H.A. Jones, Mr. Perry, and an unidentified man thought to be Mr. Perry’s partner. This identification is based on Major J.S. Matthews’ notes with the print indicating identification provided by the photographer H.T. Devine who took the photo in May 1886.

 

Considering that the large area we call Vancouver today, was clear-cut of its old-growth forests in the second half of the 1800’s it is not surprising then that some inventive citizens would take advantage of all that debris and get creative.

 

Fun Fact:  Tree stump houses were actually quite common in the Pacific Northwest. They were the only thing that remained of a logging industry once enriched by the giant trees of the old-growth forests.

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The Pro-Rec Program (1934-1953)

Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley PArk

Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley Park, 1940.   Photo City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 1184-2355

Pro-Rec dance demonstration. CVA 586-237

Pro-Rec dance demonstration in Stanley Park, 1940. Photo: City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 586-237

These intriguing photos are from a series of images that depict a ‘Pro-Rec’ mass demonstration held at Brockton Oval in Stanley Park in 1940. “Pro Rec”, short for Provincial Recreation, was a community sport and recreation initiative offered through the Physical Education Branch of the BC Department of Education. It was developed by Jan Eisenhardt (program administrator) with the support of BC Minister of Education, George Weir.

Pro Rec [demonstrations in] Stanley Park, ca. 1940. Photo: CoV Archives - CVA 586-226

Pro Rec [demonstrations in] Stanley Park, ca. 1940. Photo: CoV Archives – CVA 586-226

The community-oriented scheme (initially set up in 1934) offered volunteer-run games and recreation classes for those unemployed aged 15 and over. The program proved so popular, that the Pro-Rec program was eventually made available to all in 1936. Summer displays (like these from 1940) were used to promote a changing schedule of activities.

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Handy Meat Market

We are all familiar with the adage a picture is worth a thousand words, so when I came across this (ca. 1972) charming image of a man and woman in the window of a store in Strathcona, I wondered what thousand words would describe it? Seemed like a good opportunity to delve into a little historical research.

[Handy Meat Market, 894 East Georgia Street], Strathcona , ca. 1972. Photo: Art Grice , COV Archives - CVA 677-920.

[Handy Meat Market, 894 East Georgia Street], Strathcona , ca. 1972. Photo: Art Grice , COV Archives – CVA 677-920.

Being a true Vancouverite, my first thought was: Is the building still standing? [knowing full well that many old buildings in Vancouver get torn down before their time] And if so, what was its history?  A quick check on Google Maps street view showed that, indeed, the building was still standing and a field trip to the area confirmed it.

The former Handy Meats store front, 2014. Photo: C. Hagemoen

894 East Georgia. The former Handy Meats store front, 2014. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Perhaps a little worse for wear, but actually looking pretty good for over 40 years on. I next wondered, just how old is the shop and building anyway?  The best way to find this kind of information out was to do some building history research.

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