YOU SHOULD KNOW | All About The Lovely Art Deco Bathrooms On English Bay Beach

April 21, 2014 


by Stevie Wilson | It’s no secret that Vancouverites love the beach, and despite our city’s proclivity for short-and-sweet summers, English Bay proves to be a popular spot even in the shoulder seasons, year after year. Since its establishment as a public recreational area in 1893, the beach has been a prime spot for locals and visitors alike. It’s known by many as First Beach, but the original First Nations inhabitants referred to it as “Ayyulshun” (soft under feet), and its official name commemorates the meeting of George Vancouver and captains Valdes and Galiano from Spain.

But more important than all that…what’s the story with those amazing art deco bathrooms?

When sand was added to the English Bay beach in 1898 it quickly became a magnet for rest, relaxation, and the occasional swim for locals. A bathhouse seemed a charming – and practical – addition to the landscape. However, like many landmarks in Vancouver (including the Georgia Street Viaduct, the Granville Street Bridge, and the Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park, to name a few), the bathhouse we see today is not the original design. The first Bathing Pavilion, completed in 1906, was built by the Parks Board at a cost of $6,000, and could boast the title of the city’s first bathhouse.

Other beachside attractions in the early 1900s included a long wooden pier, cottages, and a glassed-in dancehall known as “The Prom”.  The beach was also the home of the celebrated Joe Fortes, Vancouver’s first official lifeguard who is credited with saving at least 29 lives while on (volunteer) duty at English Bay.

The original frame bathhouse was a large brick and wooden structure, 3-storeys high, with long open verandas stretching out on either side. While it offered impressive views of the water (and a private place to change), its 1931 successor saw a stylish new design in keeping with the sensibilities of the times.  Earlier, in 1909, it was determined that additional facilities were needed at the beach, and a new building designed by E.E. Blackmore of Pantages Theatre and Jackson Apartments fame popped up on the northern side of the original bathhouse. This Bathing Pavilion closed in 1939 and the building became home to Vancouver’s first public aquarium until its closure in 1955. The attraction’s biggest draw? Oscar the Octopus. Word has it he had eight arms. Eight arms!

By 1913, beach-goers could rent lockers, towels, and even woolen bathing suits to enjoy their stay with. Circa 1938, a short 7 years after the new concrete art deco bathhouse was constructed, the wooden pier and The Prom were both torn down. Fortes, who had already seen so much come and go, passed away in 1922.

The current bathhouse has undergone significant renovations over the years, including several updates in 1986 and a complete interior restoration in 2002 that won the Parks Board an Award of Recognition from the City. In 2012, a beachfront Cactus Club location was opened adjacent to the historic site, proving that if there’s one thing this beach is used to (other than laughter, bare feet, waves, and cops pouring out perfectly good liquor), it’s change.


DIG IT | Exploring The Artistic Institution That Is Mt. Pleasant’s Iconic Western Front

April 18, 2014 


by Stevie Wilson | With the ink of my recent Ghost Hoods feature on Brewery Creek not yet dry, I took a look inside Mount Pleasant’s Western Front building at 303 East 8th Avenue to learn a little more about the history (as well as the current goings-on) of this neighbourhood landmark. After over 40 years as an artist-run centre and exhibition space, the building is full of distinct history and remains the oldest existing centre of its kind in the country. What’s more, it was once home to the Vancouver chapter of the Knights of Pythias, and they even have a few old ceremonial capes and spears to prove it.

One of the (many) unique features of Western Front is how the building’s original design has been preserved to accommodate and complement the needs of the staff and various exhibitions. Their Development Officer, Kristin Lim, explained how the address has transitioned quite seamlessly from a Pythian headquarters to an internationally renowned artist centre by simply utilizing the space’s existing structure. The various small rooms and cozy layout emphasize the centre’s differences from typical gallery sites.

The building was originally constructed in 1922 as a lodge for the Pythians to conduct, well, whatever it was that they did – secret meetings and such. When they sold the property in the early 1970s, they left behind various paraphernalia including their signature capes, a trophy, club signage, and a portrait of their fraternal leader. During my tour we ran into celebrated Canadian artist and co-founder of Western Front, Eric Metcalfe (formerly known as Dr. Brute, who regaled me with more amazing history and anecdotes than I could possibly fit into a short article. He mentioned that when the space was founded by himself and eight other artists in 1973, the place wasn’t in the most pristine condition, which happened to be ideal for this group of young people engaged in the contemporary Fluxus movement. Of the creativity and freedom of the early years, he observed simply, “It was a party time.”

Over the last several decades the space evolved into the professional, prestigious centre it is today, yet the building has undergone only a handful of minor repairs and changes, the most significant of which was the 2013 renovation of the Luxe Hall to uncover previously sealed windows. The original architecture remains, including the large windows, wooden wainscoting, traditional doorways (complete with Pythian peep-holes), a vintage telephone booth, and the awesome original fixed side seating in the performance hall. “One thing replaced the other,” said Metcalfe of the transition from lodge to artist haven. “The architecture informed our practice.”

For more information on this fantastic piece of Vancouver art history, visit their website, or better yet, pay them a visit! The space is open to the public – just buzz! – and offers plenty of (generally) free events and exhibits involving new music, contemporary art, media, and so much more. Who knows, you just might run into a legendary Canadian artist with a few stories to tell!

Archival photos courtesy of the Western Front Archives


GHOST HOODS | On The Rise And Tragic Fall Of ‘Nihonmachi’ On The Downtown Eastside

April 15, 2014 

The GHOST HOOD series dovetails with the new HOODS section of Scout

by Stevie Wilson | Railtown-Japantown is a compounded micro-hood that is part of DTES. Its boundaries are Main (some say Columbia) in the west to Heatley in the east and from the railway tracks (hence the name) south to Alexander Street. What was once a thriving industrial zone of warehouses and workshops has become something of a tech/design hub over the last decade. Railway St. itself is now a parade of local fashion houses (Aritzia has its head office here), design shops, tech start ups, interior stores, and even an urban winery. You’ll often find a food truck or three parked hereabouts, too, and a whole lot of Instagramming going down. What does the future hold for it? Either breweries and condos. Probably both.

Vancouver’s historic Japantown, however, is vastly different. Once home to generations of Japanese families and businesses, the area now features only a few remnants of the large community that once thrived there. The history of this cultural enclave is unique, and offers a startling look at the effects of racism, intolerance, and indifference in a city now celebrated for its multiculturalism.

Though the modern diaspora of Japanese-Canadians is now found throughout Vancouver, at one time this neighbourhood was the epicentre of local Japanese culture and business. The site spans from Cordova Street to Alexander Street, between Gore Avenue and Jackson Avenue, just north of Chinatown, with Powell Street as its (former) commercial center. It features several character buildings, primary historic sites, and a handful of municipally protected buildings, each indicative of the neighbourhood’s development – and its subsequent losses – experienced over the last century.

While Japanese (and Chinese) workers had been present in British Columbia as early as the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in 1858, the first “official” Japanese immigrant to Canada arrived in 1877. Following this, an influx of Japanese immigrants came to Vancouver near the turn of the century to work in the booming fishing and forestry industries. While they were a welcomed labour force for local industries in the city, particularly the nearby Hastings Sawmill at the foot of Dunlevy, many white Vancouverites were wary of what they perceived as a failure of the Japanese to assimilate, observing that they had their own cultural and religious spaces, generally did not speak fluent English, and had a perceived (potentially dangerous) loyalty to Japan. Additionally, many non-Japanese fishermen were concerned about the growing majority of Japanese fishing licenses being granted, fearing that their jobs were at stake. The federal government aggressively limited Asian immigration and originally only men were allowed to enter the country, forcing them to leave their families behind.

While many white Vancouverites tolerated the Japanese community, prejudice found a strong foothold in the Asiatic Exclusion League, a racist organization with aims “to keep Oriental immigrants out of British Columbia.” Following the 1885 imposition of the Chinese Immigration Act, which placed a head tax on Chinese immigrants entering Canada, racism and racial segregation had been a common sight across the country and extended the growing Japanese communities. This tension culminated in Vancouver on September 7th when members of the Asiatic Exclusion League rioted in the streets of Chinatown after being roused by racist speeches at City Hall (then located near Main and Hasting).

They marched into Chinatown shouting racist slogans, smashing windows, and vandalizing buildings. By the time the rioters reached Japantown, members of the Japanese community were waiting with makeshift weapons and bottles, ready to defend their neighbourhood. In response to the growing anti-Asian sentiment in Canada, the Canadian Minister of Labour Rodolphe Lemieux and Japanese Foreign Minister Tadasu Hayashi declared what is known as the “Gentleman’s Agreement” in 1908, wherein the Japanese government voluntarily limited its approved number of immigrants to Canada each year.

As white settlers migrated out of the area and into newer, more affluent communities – particularly the West End – Japanese business, cultural centres, and mixed-use buildings developed in the Powell Street area. Shops along Powell began opening in 1890, but the retail industry of took shape later, during the commercial building boom from 1907-1912. Multiple residential buildings, often with street-level shops, became popular in later decades as the boarding room trend developed. These apartments typically housed seasonal workers; many now function as SROs.

Business development in Japantown – which locals called “Nihonmachi” (derived from the Japanese words for “Japan” and “Town”) – culminated in the 1920s and 30s, when local shops and restaurants flourished, and ties to nearby Chinatown also became strong. A shared sense of Asian identity – and likely a shared sense of the effects of racism – joined these communities. Fuji Chop Suey at 341 Powell, which offered Japanese-style Chinese food, is a unique example of the link between Asian cultures during this period, and is heralded as one of the important locales contributing to the area’s rich multiculturalism from 1931-1942. Japantown’s famous Asahi baseball team, established in 1914, won several championships and were a popular draw during the 1930s and early 1940s for the Japanese and non-Japanese communities in Vancouver. In 2003, the team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ultimately, Japantown and Vancouver’s Japanese population fell victim to the xenophobia brought forth by World War II. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, a series of legislations were imposed on Japanese-Canadians under the guise of national security. In addition to curfews, interrogations, job loss and property confiscation, all persons of Japanese heritage were forcibly relocated to Internment Camps in remote areas of the province. Their property and belongings were sold, and all mainstream Japanese newspapers and publications were shut down. In 1944, Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared that all Japanese-Canadians were required to relocate to eastern Canada or face repatriation. By the end of the 1940s, however, many individuals had been granted re-entry to the west coast and, finally, the right to vote. The variety of Japanese shops, restaurants, and vibrant community culture in Japantown never fully recovered from these events, and until the resurgence of Japanese cuisine in the 1980s only two ethnic restaurants remained on Powell.

Today, Japantown still retains a few visible reminders of its past, but has yet to be designated as a Historic Site by the City of Vancouver. This means that many of its remaining historic buildings are at risk. In 2013, the 122 year-old Ming Sun building at 439 Powell was threatened when city officials deemed it structurally unsound. Without proper heritage designation, it was up to the local community to save the site and propose restoration, rather than demolition. As a reminder of the rich history of the area and the continued legacy of the Japanese community in Vancouver, the Powell Street Festival at Oppenheimer Park is the largest annual Japanese-Canadian festival in Canada, and the city’s longest-running community celebration since its inception in 1977.


GHOST HOODS | On The Rise And Fall (And Rise) Of Mount Pleasant’s “Brewery Creek”

April 10, 2014 

The GHOST HOOD series dovetails with the new HOODS section of Scout (launching on Monday)

by Stevie Wilson | In conversations about Mount Pleasant these days, the old “Brewery Creek” moniker is being increasingly employed on account of all the new breweries that have arrived in recent years. But what exactly is the significance of the name? It’s important to note that although it’s generally thought of as synonymous with the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the “Brewery Creek” distinction refers to a particular stretch of waterway that was integral to the growth and economic development of the area. Long before white settlers arrived, this expansive region was a popular harvesting location for First Nations. It would later become an important economic sector for new businesses thanks to its flowing natural resource.

The patch of land that became known as Mount Pleasant was originally shrouded in dense, dark rainforest. The creek that drained this forest into the salty waters of False Creek sat at the bottom of a large ravine that was open to the sky. It offered an abundance of flowers, berries, and other plants used by First Nations for medicine and food. The (now lost) waterway began near where Mountain View Cemetery is located today. Water flowed downhill just west of modern-day Fraser Street to a marshy, dammed area near 14th Avenue (Tea Swamp Park). From here, the creek flowed down the Mount Pleasant hillside, following a northeastern path alongside a First Nations trail (near where Kingsway cuts across Main Street), and continuing into the eastern waters of False Creek (which have since been filled in) near Terminal Avenue.

In 1867, the creek area in Mount Pleasant became Vancouver’s first piped waterway, delivering water by flume to Gastown – then the center of the city – and the boilers at Captain Edward Stamp’s Mill near the foot of Dunlevy (later known as the Hastings Sawmill).

The Brewery Creek region was defined by its open landscape, its distinct flora and fauna, and the numerous businesses that followed the path of the waterway – including several slaughterhouses, the nearby Vancouver Tannery, and an assortment of local beverage-makers that used the creek to power their water wheels: the San Francisco Brewery (later known as the Red Star Brewery), Mainland Brewery, Landsdowne Brewery,  Lion Brewery, and the Thorpe & Co. Soda Water Works. Read more

DIG IT | On Groceries & Police Shootouts At The Finch’s Market Location In Strathcona

March 11, 2014 


by Stevie Wilson | As one of Vancouver’s most unique neighbourhoods, Strathcona has plenty more to offer than just a grouping of heritage homes. The “East End”, as the area was originally called, was one the first residential settlements in the city and, unlike many other communities, it never developed its own commercial sector, preferring instead of rely on a handful of locally-owned convenience and bodega-type stores.

A great example of Strathcona’s continued romance with small markets is the street-level corner of the Jackson Apartments at 501 East Georgia. Built in 1910, the Italianate-style apartment building was designed by E.E. Blackmore, the same man behind the storied Pantages Theatre on East Hastings.

Georgia Street, which was then known as Harris Street, had been poised to be a direct streetcar route to downtown via the original Georgia Viaduct, but when those plans fell through (because the viaduct couldn’t support trams), the neighbourhood still had the BC Electric line, which not only guaranteed its popularity as a residential spot but also gave it enough commercial viability to attract some trade.


The first recorded main-floor business at the Jackson Apartments was the Costalas Costa Grocery in 1911. It began the address’ unbroken “market” tradition that continues to this day (though Finch’s Market specializes in coffees and sandwiches, it also functions as a neighbourhood grocery, selling everything from apples and dairy products to preserves and pasta).


It was here on this corner in 1917 that police chief Malcolm MacLennan famously met his end. He and an 8 year old bystander were shot and killed by a local man named Bob Tait in a shootout with the VPD. There is a mosaic memorial to the fallen chief set into the sidewalk just outside the front door.


In the 1970s, when the streetcar rails were removed, it was known to the community as Fung’s Grocery. More recently, locals will recall it as the infamous U-Go-2-Store, which featured a variety of smokes, pops, Mr. Noodles, No Name bags ‘o chips, and a few candies that cost just a nickel apiece.


Today, the address operates as Finch’s Market, whose owners, Jamie Smith and Sheryl Matthews, gutted the space and built from the ground up to reveal and maintain much of the space’s historic charms, including the original brick walls, large fenestration, radiator, and corner entrance to match the oriel windows (see above). Scout Editor Andrew Morrison lives close by and took plenty of pictures during the construction process, so be sure to also take a close look at the gallery below. You can really see just how big of a transformation it was. Oh, and pop inside sometime for a quiet lunchtime retreat (they do some seriously great sandwiches) with a little local history on the side.



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she branched out with a cryptic agenda: to encourage the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with Scout columns that aim to reveal to readers the many fascinating things that they might walk past every day without noticing.

DIG IT | Looking In/Up At Mount Pleasant’s Iconic 1912 “Skyscraper”, The Lee Building

February 7, 2014 


by Stevie Wilson | Just over two years ago in 2012, the Lee Building celebrated its centennial to much fanfare and fond recollection as one of Mount Pleasant’s most iconic landmarks. One hundred (and two) years on, it operates nearly just the same as ever, with an assortment of small businesses and residents occupying the 7-story building heralded as the first skyscraper in the city. Designed by English architect Arthur Julius Bird, the building features a prototypical brick and stone masonry design, a look that was fairly new on the West Coast when it was completed 1912. Bird is also remembered as a pioneering force in city zoning and planning, with a particular focus on residential construction on sloped areas – a convenient match for Mount Pleasant’s hilly landscape.

The Lee, which sits on land that once was home to a large church, is named for Herbert O. Lee, a local businessman who originally opened H.O. Lee Grocery at 2425 Main Street (now home to F As In Frank. In addition to being president of the Westminster Lacrosse Club, Lee was well known as a successful, politically-minded man with plenty to offer the growing Mount Pleasant community.

Inside, the 7-storey building still retains many of the historic features, including an original elevator (now out-of-service) complete with antique chandelier and copper walls, mahogany railings on the stairway, and elegant marble walls and flooring on the main level. It’s a happy wonder that over the last century – including a period of dilapidation in the 1960s and ‘70s – that much of the original façade and interior remain intact.

Even the sidewalk outside The Lee boasts a story: in 1952, coinciding with the widening of Broadway as a major thoroughfare, the arcade-style sidewalk was constructed offering a unique covered passage for local shoppers and residents. This meant the removal of the front section of shops (rather than tearing down the entire building) and maintaining the original pillars for support. The building still towers as one of the few (for now) visible high-rises at the Main and Broadway intersection, so enjoy a look inside and out next time you find yourself in the ‘hood.



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she branched out with a cryptic agenda: to encourage the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with Scout columns that aim to reveal to readers the many fascinating things that they might walk past every day without ever noticing.

DIG IT | Peeling Back The Layers Of Boozy Bootlegger History At Gastown’s Peckinpah

January 23, 2014 


by Stevie Wilson | Every once in a while Vancouverites are treated to excellent historical restorations. During the process, it is through the old bones of architecture – even though only temporarily exposed –  that we’re given glimpses of our city’s past. One great example is the Byrnes Block, which sits on the southwest corner of Maple Tree Square where Water Street meets Carrall Street in Gastown. The main building (and the later addition next door) was originally known as The Alhambra Hotel (in the photo series above, you can see how the rows of chimneys recall the days when each suite in the hotel offered private fireplaces). It was built in 1886 out of the ashes of the Great Fire as one of the city’s first fire-proof buildings. The original architect was Elmer Fisher, who was commissioned by George Byrnes, a wealthy Australian industrialist.

The site is perhaps the famous for housing the location of “Gassy Jack” Deighton’s first saloon, but the Victorian Italianate address was also home to The New Frisco Hotel, clothing store Jelly Beans for Jeans (1970), and Bootlegger Jeans (yes, that Bootlegger). There are even rumours of a Baskin-Robbins’ residency, though the truth of that I could not discern with any authority.

The location had already fallen into desperate disrepair by the 1950′s, so the latter half of the 20th century did not see its best years, which explains the Bootlegger Jeans tenancy. It wasn’t until 2009 that a massive renovation (overseen by the Heatherbrae Group) saw the structure, façade, and fenestrations restored to their former (and current) glory.


As Scout editor Andrew Morrison pointed out when Peckinpah was moving into the corner space in 2010 (see gallery above), plenty of historic gems could still be found inside the walls, including wallpapered Georgia Straight pages and antique bottles. Owners Ryan Murfitt and Tyson Reimer decided to keep most of it, so the next time find yourself in the restaurant munching on BBQ and sipping on bourbon, take a peek downstairs and dig one of Gastown’s most delicious historical time capsules.



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she branched out with a cryptic agenda: to encourage the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with Scout columns that aim to reveal to readers the many fascinating things that they might walk past every day without noticing.

YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The Ping Pong Punk Rock History Of 828 East Hastings St.

January 6, 2014 


by Stevie Wilson | The Hastings Dance Studio at 828 East Hastings sits like a bright orange beacon just east of Hawks Avenue in Strathcona. Unless you’re an avid flamenco dancer or table tennis star you might not know much about what goes on inside. For decades, this building has been a community center and hotspot for swing dances, readings, boxing matches, punk rock shows, weddings, and even political rallies. It was constructed with funds collected by the local Veneta society, debuting in 1928 as the Silver Slipper. It was the first Italian Hall in the area, catering to this growing cultural demographic in the area.

Soon after launching, the building’s purpose broadened in scope, blooming brighter as a general community hub. By the 1930s, The Celestial Gents (Canada’s first modern Chinese swing band) were playing here to much fanfare, as were The Pony Pals, an early version of the 1940s BC country band The Rhythm Pals. Various dances and sock-hops geared towards Vancouver’s growing teen population were also a fixture.

Following the Second World War and the forced interment of Japanese-Canadians, the Vancouver Buddist Temple utilized this address as their interim space before moving to their current location a few blocks to the southwest on Jackson Avenue in 1954. By the 1960s, the building had been renamed the Hastings Auditorium and featured a unique neon sign depicting a couple in the midst of a ballroom-dancing. In the 1970s, it continued to operate as a meeting place for a variety of community groups and gatherings, including the Vancouver chapter of the notorious Fair Play for Cuba Committee (made famous by the membership of Lee Harvey Oswald prior to his assassination of JFK).

With the 1980s came another transformation: the venue became well known for alternative music shows. It became a mainstay in the growing Vancouver punk scene alongside other spots such as the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. The name changed, too: fans of local bands, including the Pointed Sticks, D.O.A., and Young Canadians (formerly The K-Tels) will remember it as Viking Hall.


The hall was also the site of Charles Bukowski’s last poetry reading outside of the United States. It was in 1979, and entrance cost $6. The evening featured Bukowski’s typical boisterous banter with the 650-person crowd in-between a 17-poem set. Video footage of the reading, thought lost for several years, was eventually organized by fan Dennis Del Torre into a documentary film nearly 25 years later, entitled There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here. Those in the know might also recognize the venue from Dennis Hopper’s 1980 cult classic Out of the Blue, which features a (half) live scene of the Pointed Sticks playing two of their songs for the crowd.

These days the address still serves as a community space. Known as the Hastings Dance Hall, it’s home to Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy and the Vancouver Table Tennis Club. Much has changed inside, but the exterior – aside from a few coats of bold paint and missing original signage – remains much the same. Enjoy a peek next time you’re in the area, and maybe try out a few moves!



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historical things that they walk past every day without noticing.

YOU SHOULD KNOW | More About The Old And Storied Pub 340 On Cambie In Gastown

December 13, 2013 


by Stevie Wilson | It wasn’t too long ago that Pub 340 was a haven for punk and rock ‘n roll fans. If you ever got the chance to see any of the myriad bands that graced its dilapidated stage, you may have suspected that the place had a long history in the Vancouver scene. And you’d be right. The building enjoyed a long and dynamic life as a turn-of-the-century hotel and parlour, long before its walls had even heard of Mr. Chi Pig and SNFU.

Built circa 1898, the building began as the Commercial Hotel. It served as a temporary home to tourists, travellers, and workers drawn to the area’s booming resource economy. The hotel stood in great company with similar buildings in the area, some of which still stand today as testaments to the growing wealth and subsequent real estate spike ushered in by necessity and local investment (in 1886, the Great Fire had ravaged Vancouver, leaving only a handful of buildings standing and a void of commercial and residential spaces). In 1889, the Flack Block was constructed right next door (home to Meat & Bread today), rounding out the area and contributing to the revitalization of Gastown.

The architecture signals a departure from the intricate Victorian designs of old and into the more subdued Richardsonian Romanesque-inspired style complete with molded brickwork, recessed entry (later removed), stonework by David Gibbs and Company, and diagonal-patterned spandrels that were typical of the period. Separate entries for Ladies and Gents added a sophisticated edge to the downstairs parlour, which featured a sub-ground level. In Pub 340’s heyday as a venue one often heard tales of an old basement bar. They’re absolutely true, and it’s still down there, gathering dust in dormancy. Next door, the Rose Brothers barbershop kept clients looking their best.


During the 1960s, the hotel – still boasting the same curled marquee it had for the last several decades - was a point of inspiration for famed photographer Fred Herzog, but tragically, in 1973, it was the site of a massive fire. Five men died inside, including one of the beer parlour’s waiters, and it was believed to be an act of arson. At this point, Vancouver bylaws had no provisions for smoke detectors or sprinklers for single room occupancy buildings, with an estimated 40 individuals dying each year – mostly on the Downtown Eastside. The mass media attention following this incident finally led to the passing of the Fire Sprinkler Bylaw later that year, largely thanks to locals like the legendary Bruce Eriksen and the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA).

In 1976, the Commercial Hotel was revamped with a Spanish-inspired theme, becoming the El Cid. It ran for 11 years – with rumours of brothel activity – until 1987, when it was transformed again into the Stadium Inn. It was at some point during these transitions after the fire that the large ornamental rooftop façade was removed, and with it some of the notable charm of the structure.

Today, the former hotel remains an SRO site, with a revamped version of Pub 340 still housing fledgling local bands and comedy acts within. It doesn’t look (or smell) like it has been particularly well taken care of, but take a second glance (inside and out) the next time you stroll by, and imagine its better days.



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not understand.

YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The 100 Year Old “Heritage Hall” At Main & 15th Avenue

November 11, 2013 


by Stevie Wilson | If you live or work in Mount Pleasant – or simply enjoy visits to its plethora of shops and coffee joints – you’ve likely strolled past the towering Heritage Hall on the on the corner of Main and 15th Avenue (either that or you recognize it as a classic X-Files filming location). It’s the neighbourhood’s go-to wedding reception spot in summer, and for the rest of the year it’s home to a number of community events, art collectives, and meetings of all sorts. But enriching all of the Hall’s modern uses is its century-long history, the outline of which we’ll trace today.

The land upon which it sits once belonged to the Federal Government. It was purchased in 1912 to the cool tune of $40,000. The building got its start in 1914 as a civic Post Office. Postal Station “C”, to be exact. It was designed by Englishman Archibald Campbell Hope and lead architect David Ewart. Hope was also responsible for several historic apartments, halls, stores, and other buildings across the Lower Mainland, including Britannia High School and Fort Langley’s imposing Community Hall.

It’s unusual to find such a large, expensive (original cost was $92,000), and elaborate building like this in an area that was, despite being a major thoroughfare, not prime real estate or a commercial hotspot at the time of its construction. In fact, it was among the very few contemporary buildings in the neighbourhood – such as the 1912 Lee Building – that were poised to spur economic growth south into Mount Pleasant from the Gastown area. The commercial tide, however, would take several more decades before it reached the top of the hill.

By 1950, the Beaux-Arts-inspired pile was no longer being used as a Post Office and was operating as the Dominion Agricultural Building. In 1963, a special investigations branch of the RCMP moved in, taking advantage of the office spaces until 1976, when the building fell into disrepair, a mere two years after its “heritage” status had been cemented by the City (the hall was among the first buildings in Vancouver to be officially imbued with historical importance). Both the interior and exterior were in need of significant overhaul.

Heritage Hall was left dormant until 1982, when Main Source – a community group made up of passionate volunteers – rallied to initiate its reconstruction and the development of the site into the multipurpose resource space that it is today. Among its many Edwardian features are a sandstone portrait of King George V on its Main Street facade and a working bell inside a clock tower, which was built by the same company responsible for Big Ben in London. Late Vancouver historian Chuck Davis noted how animal and plant fossils in the interior marble were evident to the naked eye. The interior boasts a 3,300 square foot, French-inspired ballroom that features many re-conceived details, including a large mural, a tile floor, and stained glass chandeliers.



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not undertstand.

YOU SHOULD KNOW | About Vancouver’s Once Iconic “Aristocratic” Chain Of Diners


by Stevie Wilson | Vancouver has always been a city with a great love for food, particularly of diner fare. The first Aristocratic Restaurant, a family-oriented cafe that would become locally famous for its “courteous service, quality food, all over town”, popped up at Kingsway and Fraser in 1932. It featured a popular drive-in service catering to a growing car culture across the city. This drive-in, and those which would follow, underscored the early-to-mid-century cultural emphasis on convenience, great gimmicks, and fast food (particularly the 15-cent hamburger). When founder Frank Hunter sold the chain in 1947, he had established nine successful locations all across Vancouver. These include addresses at 13th & Cambie, 10th & Alma, Main & King Edward (now Helen’s Grill) and – perhaps the most iconic of them all – at Granville & Smithe.

The company evolved into Aristocratic Restaurants Ltd and expanded to include the development of several other restaurants across the city: Risty’s, the Silk Hat, Henri’s Grill & Smorgasbord, and the Flame Super Club. Additional locations of the original Aristocratic were established at the Lee Building on Main & Broadway and on Marine Drive in North Vancouver. Hunter’s company did exceptionally well, and eventually a dozen locations of the Aristocratic dotted the Vancouver and Burnaby landscape. Not bad for a former baker who took a chance on the industry he used to cater to!

The 1950s were a decade of change for the Aristocratic restaurants. Hank Oliver became chain manager in 1953,  when the rising number of restaurants, growing competition, and commercial missteps led to a degradation of quality and popularity. The business employed 95 staff and featured its own butcher shop at the Cambie location (sold to White Spot in 1975). Despite being a successful manager and consultant, Oliver was let go from the business, only to be called back to work in 1956 in an attempt to revitalize operations. Oliver took things a step further by buying into the company and taking ownership of five locations.

The Aristocratic empire was eventually reduced to one location – Broadway and Granville – which served up diner-style food until its closure in 1997. It’s worth noting that however nostalgic and charming the familiar “Risty” sign decorating the entrance to the Chapters at Broadway and Granville might be, it’s not authentic.  The original – from the 1960′s – can be found in the Vancouver Museum (thanks to curator Joan Sidel). It’s a 10’x11’ installation that is a little too heavy for the bookstore’s window. The replica was designed after the location closed to make way for redevelopment.

Some heritage fans have noted, quite aptly, that the small scale of the reproduction encourages visitors to forget the impressive size (literally) and history of the landmark restaurant, but what is nostalgia if not an edited, customized version of history? Whether you’re on your way to a five-star meal or a quick stop at a greasy spoon, be sure take note of the miniature reminder next time you pass by.



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not undertstand.

YOU SHOULD KNOW: More About The Mid-Century Marvel That Is The Electra Building

September 17, 2013 


by Stevie Wilson | Vancouver is a young city, one that features a remarkable development trajectory that sometimes muddies our concept of what is historic, what is modern, and what falls somewhere in-between. The city has grown exponentially since its incorporation 127 years ago, and while there still exists plenty of awe-inspiring heritage in every neighbourhood, it’s clear that development – namely real estate – has taken precedence over the establishment of heritage sites. Fortunately, the Electra Building at Burrard and Nelson is one of the unique examples where history has been accommodated to complement Vancouver’s ever-transforming identity as a modern city.

Built between 1955-1957, the 21-storey skyscraper was known then as the BC Electric Company Building, and features many of the recognizable traits found in mid-century postwar design. Noted Canadian architect Ronald Thom and lead architect Ned Pratt, of Thompson, Berwick & Pratt were the principal design team behind the iconic landmark, whose thin, lozenge shape reflected the Modernist trend towards geometric-inspired design. However, the building’s unique shape also served a practical purpose:

From Exploring Vancouver:

“It was B.C. Electric chairman Dal Grauer who (despite being in the business of selling electricity) insisted that every desk be within 15 feet of a window. . . Safir’s (Otto, engineer) solution was to have all systems distributed via the central shaft off which floors branch out, cantilevered, column free with daylight and a view for each worker.”

Hydroelectric power had been a prime focus of the postwar provincial economy, which relied heavily on grand infrastructure as a symbol of growth and development. In addition to numerous eye-catching structural attributes, the building features typical mid-century elements: west coast-inspired mosaic wall tiles and facade (the work of celebrated Canadian artist B.C. Binning), terrazzo paving, geometrical detailing, and re-enforced concrete finishing, among many others. Adjacent to the building lies the Dal Grauer Substation, completed in 1954; it currently sits on the Vancouver Heritage Society’s 2010 list of Endangered Sites.

The former BC Electric building was known for its iconic presence in the mid-century landscape of Downtown Vancouver, particularly because its lights were left on all hours of the day for several years (you know, to illustrate how cool hydroelectricity was). It literally stood as a beacon of industry, modernity, and prosperity, and for many years was one of the tallest buildings in the city. The spot featured an audio presence, too. Musical horns on the roof played the opening notes of “Oh Canada” each day at noon – a distinction now passed to the Pan Pacific at Canada Place.

Upon Grauer’s death in 1961, the operations of BC Electric were transferred to the province to be continued under the BC Hydro moniker, and the offices were eventually moved to Burnaby in the late 1990s. Years later, the redevelopment of the building into condominiums signaled the first major transition of its kind in Vancouver. In order to give this project the go-ahead, the city required heritage designation to be issued, with facsimile (operational) windows, porcelain, and other features installed to match the original aesthetics. The Electra, as it now stands, was the first post-1940s building in Vancouver to be granted heritage status.

For more information on the mind behind the design of the Electra Building, visit the new exhibit Ron Thom and the Allied Arts on now at the West Vancouver Museum.



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not undertstand.

YOU SHOULD KNOW | About Vancouver’s Early Affection For The Art Of Photography

August 21, 2013 


by Stevie Wilson | Anyone with a camera (or a smartphone) knows that Vancouver is a fantastic place to snap incredible photographs. Long before the days of digital sharing, there were many Vancouverites with an eye and a passion for the art of photography, and their organizations tell us quite a bit about our city’s leisurely relationship with the capture of scenery.

Back in the late 1800s, photography was a passion for many well-to-do individuals with enough time and money to spend their days reflecting on the craft. The first independent club in Canada was the Quebec Amateur Photographer’s Association, which operated from 1884-1886 in Quebec City. Other creatives set out to celebrate the science and art of photography by launching numerous clubs across the country. This resulted in myriad partnerships and affiliations, with British Columbia spawning many clubs, including the Powell River Camera Club (1939), the Victoria Camera Club (1944), and the granddaddy of them all, the Vancouver Camera Club (1897). The VCC is not to be confused with the Camera Club, a 40-member co-ed Vancouver organization established two years earlier previously in 1895, though the 1897 group was purported to be the first of its kind in the province.


The Vancouver Camera Club featured many high-ranking individuals from across the city, including the young F.T. Salsbury, whose father, William Salsbury (of Salsbury Street fame), was involved in the finance sector of the Canadian Pacific Railway and had been an alderman for Ward 1 (among many other distinctions). Salsbury Jr. was an active Vancouverite, known for being a sports fan (cricket and rowing, natch), and the first secretary of the VCC. Other members included Board of Trade member C.M. Beecher (one-time Vice President), alderman and businessman George Buscombe, and accountant Maurice Gintzburger. Most members appear to have been involved in the various resource industries that were creating a name for Vancouver back then. The club had 56 members when it launched, but it only lasted three years, disbanding in 1890.

Members would likely have been quite thrilled with the development of the Kodak camera, which launched as their club reached its nadir. Previously, other cumbersome box cameras had relied on the manual use of plates, but Kodak’s new technology introduced rolled film to the masses. The first meeting of the club was held at the Edwards Brothers Studios on Cordova Street, which was known in later years as a hub for amateur photography in Vancouver following the Kodak revolution. In 1903, the Vancouver Photographic Society was established, paving the way for a new generation of enthusiastic photographers to get together and share in their documentation of Vancouver’s adolescence. One can only wonder what sort of Instagram filters they might have preferred!



Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not undertstand.

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