Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 14 – The Woman’s Bakery

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 Woman’s Bakery On Main Street in Mount Pleasant, 1935. Photo: Vancouver Sun, Feb. 2, 1935

In the last century, bread was very much the staple of our diet. There were bakeries all over the city and Mount Pleasant had its fair share of them. But, there is one bakery in particular that stands out… The Woman’s Bakery.

Sarah Coulter – “the Woman”

The Woman’s Bakery started in 1905 in a small building at the south-east corner of Main Street and 6th Avenue. Mr. & Mrs. Coulter arrived in the city in 1905 and shortly after settling in Mount Pleasant they opened their bakery business. The Woman’s Bakery was one of the few female-owned and run businesses in the city. Mrs. Sarah Coulter was the baker, and Mr. Allan C. Coulter did the merchandising. As the story goes, when the bakery first opened it had no specific name. Soon the bread and cakes that baker Sarah Coulter produced earned a favourable reputation in the neighbourhood (and eventually beyond). So, when guests started asking their hosts where they got such delicious baked goods, the host would simply reply “at the woman’s bakery”. Eventually, the name, “The Woman’s Bakery”, stuck and was adopted.

A branch of the Woman’s Bakery on Granville Street in 1927. Photo: CoV Archives, Bu P633

As the popularity of their product grew, so did the business. By 1915 there were three branches of the bakery, in addition to the main store, and a bread factory at 66 West 4th Avenue. Ten years later, there were 17 locations in the city:

Christmas advert for The Woman’s Bakery. Source: Vancouver Sun, Dec 4, 1926


The Woman’s Bakery continued as a family business even after the Coulters retired in 1924. Sarah Coulter’s cousin, James Chester Brault, bought The Woman’s Bakery in 1924. Like the Coulters, the Braults ran the business together; Mr. Brault was the “master baker” and Mrs. Grace Brault was in the business manager. The Brault’s also introduced confections to the bakery’s repertoire under the brand name Brault’s Chocolates.

Vancouver Daily World, Wednesday, August 12, 1908.

Woman’s Bakery Ltd. continued operations in until at least the 1970s, however, by that time it was under the umbrella of Canada Food Products Ltd.

Happy 100th Birthday, Eleanor!

“She could start fires by rubbing two notes together!” – Vancouver Sun columnist Jack Wasserman on Eleanor Collins (December 1953).

Eleanor Collins Photo: Franz Lindner

There are not enough adjectives to describe the luminous, talented, inspiring… Ms. Eleanor Collins. Jack Wasserman does a pretty good job (above) describing her singing performance. And in an article from 2006, Red Robinson said that “[Eleanor] lit up our city by her very being”. On November 21, 2019, Eleanor Collins celebrates her 100th birthday. Time to celebrate and honour this amazing centenarian.

I first wrote about Eleanor, in 2014, in a post called All That Jazz which was about the history of jazz on CBC-TV in Vancouver. 3 years later, I wrote a longer biographical post about her that you can read here. A version of that same article appeared in Scout Magazine  February 22, 2017.

Since that time I have discovered some new (old) photographs of Eleanor and found some great newspaper clippings and links. I’ve gathered them all together to share on the occasion of Eleanor’s 100th birthday. Let’s go!

Eleanor Collins, 1965. Photo: Franz Lindner


By 1963 Eleanor had earned the epithet “Vancouver’s first lady of Jazz”. The Flat Five jazz house was located at 3623 West Broadway.


This article from the Vancouver Sun (July 16, 1955 p50) appeared at the time she got her own nationally broadcast TV show. This made Eleanor the first Black artist in North America and the first Canadian woman to host a nationally broadcast television series.


Publicity print of Eleanor Collins ca. 1950s.


In the 1970s the kind of music that Eleanor sang went out of popular favour, so an article like this one appeared “whatever happened to singer of yesteryear, Eleanor Collins.” Fortunately, by the end of the 1980s and early 90s Eleanor’s type of music was re-discovered and became popular with a new generation of Canadians. Source: The Province, August 16, 1973, p36.


Eleanor Collins on the set of Quintet, April 1962. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

I was in love with her then as now. It isn’t just her music; it’s the whole package. Collins has a magical personality and a wonderful philosophical view on life and living, and to her, family is everything. – Red Robinson, 2006

Red Robinson (a Vancouver icon in his own right) wrote this ‘love letter’ to Eleanor Collins in 2006. Source: Vancouver Sun, Feb 16, 2006 p.44.


CBC Television News Career Highlights and Investment into Order Of Canada November 21, 2014


More recently, at the Yucho Chow exhibition opening last May, an unidentified author at the Ollie Quinn blog did a Q&A with Collins and her daughter Judith Maxie.

One Hundred Years of Jazz: A conversation with Canada’s First Lady of Jazz, Eleanor Collins, C.M.
Eleanor Collins and her daughter Judith Maxie at the Yucho Chow exhibit, May 2019. Source: Photography: Garfield James, Lori Vance – Ollie Quinn blog

So then, what is the key to living a long life like Eleanor has? I think one aspect must be a lifelong love of singing and music that keeps one young. Just look at another Vancouver music icon Dal Richards he lived to the age of 97 and Ms. Eleanor Collins at 100 is still going strong. Eleanor 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”. And, of course, an overall joie de vivre is essential.

Ever since  I first saw Eleanor sing on an old CBC TV Kinescope over 13 years ago I have been a big fan of hers. Her elegance, her stage presence, her beauty (both inside & out), her voice! It was magic! Eleanor, you are an inspiration to me with your energy, positivity, and enjoyment of life.

Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

P.S.  Here is the link to the CBC Vancouver TV news story on Eleanor Collins’ 100th.

And the link to the CBC Radio jazz program Hot Air’s hour-long tribute to Eleanor Collins on the occasion of her 100th Birthday! Of course, the best part of the show is not only hearing her singing voice, but to hear her speaking today, which is just as entertaining! (Special thanks to CBC radio host Paolo Pietropaolo for giving props to the local CBC Vancouver Archives staff for introducing him to the wonderful Eleanor 10 years ago.)



Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 18 – Jennie Wong

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 18: Vancouver’s Jennie Wong was the first female and first Chinese-Canadian disc jockey in Canada…

Teen Town Talk column in The Vancouver Sun, May 1948.

In 1948 Jennie Wong was one of three finalists in the CKWX-Teen Aid Disc Jockey Contest. The contest was co-sponsored by The Vancouver Sun’s Teen Town Association where Jennie was an active member of the Chinese Y Canteen. Each of the three finalists had their audition tapes sent to a panel of judges consisting of Freddie Robbins, a New York City disc jockey, crooner Frank Sinatra, and orchestra leader Claude Thornhill.  Though she was ranked #3, Jennie was given a half-hour Saturday afternoon program on CKMO that she called “Jennie’s Juke Joint”. On her program, Jennie would introduce the popular music of the day made by artists like Frank Sinatra (her favourite), Kay Starr, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole. This made 17-year-old Jennie Wong the first female and first Chinese-Canadian DJ in Canada.

Jennie (Jenne) Wong’s column in Teen Town Talk, The Vancouver Sun, June 1948.

Jennie was the older sister of local author Larry Wong. After she married in 1950 and moved from Vancouver, Jennie worked for CBC Edmonton for a time and then later started her own business doing theatrical and television make-up in Edmonton. Jennie died in Edmonton in 2011 at age 79.


Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 12 – Vancouver’s first female newspaper publisher

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 12:  Rena Whitney was the city’s first female newspaper publisher…

Sara Ann McLagan may have been the first female publisher of a daily newspaper (Vancouver Daily World) in Vancouver, however, the title for the first female publisher of a newspaper in the city goes to Rena Whitney. Like McLagan, who took over as publisher after the death of her husband, John McLagan, in 1901, Whitney took the helm at the weekly paper, the Mount Pleasant Advocate, after the death of her husband publisher Mayo Whitney in March of 1900.

Clippings from the Mt. Pleasant Advocate. Available via UBC Open Collections.

The Advocate was established April 8, 1899, by newspaper publisher/editor and lawyer, (Charles) Mayo Whitney. Whitney originally from Massachusetts moved to British Columbia with his first wife Laura and son Charles Francis Whitney sometime in the late 1880s. By 1890, the Whitneys had settled in Courtenay, B.C. where Mayo and his son Charles (Frank) started a newspaper, the Courtenay Weekly News. After the death of Laura Whitney on December 22, 1893 in New Westminster, the Whitney father and son team continue to run the newspaper in Courtenay until at least 1895. They drop off the radar until 1899, when widower Mayo Whitney and his second wife Rena show up living in Mount Pleasant and publishing the Mount Pleasant Advocate.

The Advocate newspaper office was located at 2525 Westminster Avenue (Main Street) in the heart of the Mount Pleasant village. “Devoted to the interests of Mt. Pleasant and South Vancouver”, the paper was not known for its hard-hitting news, but was nonetheless an important part of the growing community of Mount Pleasant.

Sadly, there is not much known about Rena Whitney. The 1901 Canada Census for Vancouver reveals that Rena Whitney was born in the U.S.*, on July 3 1854, was a widow, working as a newspaper publisher, and living with her son, Ralph Cummings (from a previous marriage), a printer, who was born September 24, 1878. Ralph worked at the newspaper with his mother, first as a printer and later as the Advocate manager.

Vancouver Daily World February 28, 1908.

Rena Whitney sold the Advocate in early 1908 due to health reasons. The Vancouver Daily World item (above) explains that she left the city for California. Unfortunately, this is the last information we hear about this intriguing woman who was part of Vancouver’s newspaper history.

*Update: An archivist friend of mine located Rena Whitney’s California 1934 death certificate it appears that she stayed in Los Angeles with her sister for the remainder of her life. The death certificate also revealed that she was born in the US not NS (Nova Scotia) as I previously stated.


Fun Fact: The first female publisher/editor in Canada was Mary Ann Shadd Cary who ran an anti-slavery newspaper called The Provincial Freeman (1853-1860).


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. Continue reading “Seeking Sarah Cassell”