Long before Vancouver was synonymous with hockey riots, we were civilized, happy people who enjoyed life’s finest sport: bowling. Remnants of the city’s love affair with this sport are still visible and, more importantly, accessible. The Commodore Lanes at 838 Granville is currently the oldest surviving bowling center in Canada, and its history reveals much about Vancouver’s affections for The Big Lebowski’s sport of choice.
Opening its doors on September 7th, 1930, The Commodore Lanes was originally named “Commodore Recreations”. Inspired by the success and excitement surrounding Toronto-based Tommy F. Ryan’s 1909 move from ten-pin to five-pin bowling (Canada’s first), owner Frank Pavin introduced five-pin to Vancouver, and it was an instant hit. With Pavin came Mitz Nozaki, a young Japanese-Canadian who had been in the bowling trade since he was 13, working for Pavin as a pinboy (hand-setting the pins!) at Gastown’s Abbott Lanes, a ten-pin joint. Inspired to create new five-pin lanes to suit the sport’s sensibilities of weak-wristed Canadian players (we didn’t like how heavy the other balls were), Pavin was also one of the first to allow women to play the gentlemen’s sport, with a special promotion that let ladies play for free in the mornings.
The Commodore Lanes quickly became a popular spot among locals, and soon grew to attract the likes of celebrities such as Roy Rogers, Clark Gable, and Buster Crabb, to name just a few. The Commodore was also the first to rent out bowling shoes; a well-liked alternative to the ‘blackies’ typically worn over street shoes. Pavin and Nozaki are remembered by those who knew them as hard-working, dedicated bowlers who transformed the sport into one of Vancouver’s favourite pastimes. In fact, Nozaki is said to have been absent from the lanes for just one occasion: his forced internment in the Japanese camp at Sushwap’s Blind Bay for the course of the Second World War.
When Frank Pavin passed away in 1962, Nozaki purchased the Commodore Lanes and went on to become one of the most influential names in Vancouver’s five-pin bowling scene. With the rise of monthly newsletters and annuals such as Strikes ‘n’ Spares, Vancouver Bowling News, and PNE Bowling, tournaments became increasingly popular, including several held at the Commodore Lanes well into the 1980s. Until 1983, the lanes were home to numerous games and tournaments played by the Vancouver All-Star League, a 3-player, 4-game scratch pinfall league (home to the best of the best of the city’s bowlers). In 2004 at the age of 91, Mitz Nozaki passed away, a legend among Vancouver’s bowling community and the Commodore Lanes.
So the next time you’re feeling wound up about the Canucks losing (again), try your hand at some five-pin over at the Commodore Lanes. It’s cheap, it’s fun, and best of all, it’s historical! And if none of that tickles you, they also serve beer.