COOL THING WE WANT #444 | The New Local History Book ‘Vancouver Confidential’

September 19, 2014 

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Local writer Stevie Wilson, the very same who pens the popular DIG IT and YOU SHOULD KNOW columns on Scout, has been busy contributing to a new book of local history called Vancouver Confidential. It’s a “collaboration of artists and writers who plumb the shadows of civic memory looking for the stories that don’t fit into mainstream narratives …. [shining] a light on the lives of Vancouverites that have for so long been ignored.” Within its pages, you’ll read…

Tom Carter on Vancouver’s Entertainment Czars, Aaron Chapman on Vancouver’s WWII Towers and our “Fear of the Outside World”; Jesse Donaldson explores the case of the Lovers’ Lane Marauder, James Johnstone revisits old Strathcona through the eyes of long-time resident Lucille Mars; Lani Russwurm investigates the “Red Shadows” and the 1930s communist scare with a spy’s eye view of Vancouver; Eve Lazarus probes the 1928 Lennie Commission into police corruption and all of its ensuing ramifications; Diane Purvey addresses the strange case of Viola Woolridge and how the mores and legal system of 1947 resulted in Viola (or at least her character) being put on trial for her own murder; Catherine Rose takes us back to the Dirty ’30s and shines a light on the “unholy trinity” of Police Chief John Cameron and gangsters Joe Celona and Shue Moy; Rosanne Sia looks at a 1931 Pender Street café murder/suicide that resulted in a ban on the hiring of white waitresses in Chinatown restaurants; Jason Vanderhill reveals the little-known story of Joseph Kennedy Ltd. and the liquor interest in 1920s Vancouver; Stevie Wilson on the staggering unemployment, relief camps, and Hobo Jungles of 1931; Will Woods on Mayor Gerry McGeer’s transformation from iron moulder and labour activist to controversial mayor and reader of the Riot Act; Terry Watada on Etsuji Morii, the “Al Capone of the Japanese community,” and the Black Dragon Society of Japantown, and John Belshaw pays tribute to early Vancouver street photography and the work of James Crookall.

Vancouver Confidential was made available at bookstores on Monday, September 15th. The official launch goes down at 6pm this Sunday, September 21st at the Emerald Supper Club in Chinatown.

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DIG IT | On Vancouver’s Maritime Museum, A Stunning Icon Of Mid-Century Modernism

September 18, 2014 

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by Stevie Wilson | Opened in 1959, the Vancouver Maritime Museum is one of the most gorgeous pieces of mid-century modernist design in the city, not to mention one of the most comprehensive displays of this Pacific Northwest’s storied maritime history.

The site was built to coincide with provincial centennial celebrations the year before, commemorating the establishment of the colony of British Columbia in 1858. The main building was designed by C.B.K. Van Norman & Associates, including Australian architect Raymond O. Harrison, who’s personal interest in the development of this site subsequently led him to pursue a long career as a museum administrator and director across Canada.

The stunning A-frame design features bright wood-shingled siding and large floor-to-ceiling triangular fenestration providing those who pass by a glimpse of what’s inside. The shape of the building is no coincidence, for inside sits the main exhibit: the 80-ton St. Roch, a 1928 RCMP arctic patrol ship.

Savour the last bit of summer and check out one of their other all-ages exhibits Babes & Bathers: History of the Swimsuit, on until November 2nd. Take note, too, of the beautiful totem pole just adjacent to the museum, carved by famed BC artist Mungo Martin.

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YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The Kind Of City Vancouver Nearly Became In The 1960s

September 5, 2014 

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by Stevie Wilson | The story of Vancouver is one of continuous development, and despite our city’s relatively short history it nonetheless features more than few unusual, unexpected, and straight-up odd chapters.

One fascinating example of what could have been is Project 200, an ominous-sounding urban plan from the 1960s that sought to wipe out much of the waterfront in present-day Gastown to make way for a re-imagined pedestrian plaza and, of course, a massive freeway.

Following WWII, many cities across the world began planning their reconstruction and rehabilitation with an optimistic eye towards the future. Despite not having endured the catastrophic physical destruction that took place in most European cities, Vancouver (and indeed Canada as a whole) was still very much in the throes of post-war redevelopment thought.

The aforementioned eight-lane freeway was one of numerous infrastructure proposals in the late 1950s intended to stimulate business and expedite traffic through the downtown area via large Autobahn-like trenches. The Georgia Viaduct – through the destruction of Hogan’s Alley – was built as part of this larger vision.

Freeway planning in Vancouver was nothing new; the 1928 Bartholomew Plan had also envisioned widening and expanding vehicle access to the downtown core. Project 200 – named for its initial $200-million price tag – was to span from the CPR Pier (near present-day Canada Place), across the waterfront to approximately Abbott St. and up towards Dunsmuir. The introduction to the proposal eloquently explains:

The citizens of Vancouver have long had a great love for their harbour and a desire to be at the water’s edge and part of the busy scene. The realization of this desire and at the same time the redevelopment and revitalization of the downtown business and retail centres is the challenge of Project 200.

Canadian Pacific Railway, department store giants Woodward’s and Simpsons-Sears, Marathon Realty, and Grosvenor-Laing Investments all championed the large blueprint, which was estimated to encompass around 8-million square feet. Big money, no doubt, but the project was ultimately tossed aside when financing became contentious and plans for the freeway were abandoned.

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However, perhaps the most interesting bit about Project 200 is that a few of the proposed structures were actually built. Circa 1969, architect Francis Donaldson designed the Canadian Pacific Telecommunications Building at 175 West Cordova, a monolithic example of bold New Formalist architecture. And in 1973, Donaldson completed a second building proposed by Project 200: the nearby Granville Square at 200 Granville (home of The Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers).

This towering concrete building was the tallest reinforced structure in the country at the time of its completion, and is the only skyscraper to have been realized from the plans. The large open design of the plaza demonstrates the post-war emphasis on accessible pedestrian/gathering spaces, while traffic was to be segregated to higher-volume thoroughfares out to the suburbs via the freeway(s). It planned to include “a large shopping centre […] parking for 7,000 auto-mobiles, and a residential high-rise and townhouse complex”. One could almost confuse it with a contemporary development proposal…

The Project 200 concept reveals much about the mid-century fascination with vehicles, efficiency, and the desire to connect, but it’s probably for the best that the plans never fully came to fruition. Take note of these neat structures on your next trip down to Gastown and around the waterfront, and try to imagine how different it all might have looked.

The Project 200 brochure and photos for this piece came courtesy of Tom Carter and Jason Vanderhill. You can view the rest of the document here.

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YOU SHOULD KNOW | The History Behind Playland’s Ancient, Iconic Wooden ‘Coaster’

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by Stevie Wilson | Whether you love a good rush of adrenaline or prefer to just sit on the sidelines and watch, there’s no denying that the Wooden Coaster at Playland is a true Vancouver landmark. Towering over the eastern end of the fairgrounds, the ride has been serving up thrills for guests for 56 years, remaining one of the PNE’s most popular attractions to this day. What’s more, it’s an interesting piece of civic history, one that has not only stood the test of time but has also been accessible to (nearly) all ages.

Renowned coaster architect Carl E. Phare designed the coaster in 1958, one year after the original PNE amusement park, Happyland, was closed. The wooden coaster was intended to replace his earlier model, The Giant Dipper, which had been demolished in 1948 to make room for the Hastings Racecourse. Phare was an extremely knowledgeable builder; before he created this new ride for Playland he had worked on 28 other major coasters and had also overseen operations at Seattle’s own Playland Park.

Born in 1885, the Missouri native had been a well-known player in the roller coaster industry since the beginning of his career shortly after the turn of the century. He was widely acknowledged as having been one of the greatest minds in the trade. This wooden coaster was the last design of his career, and stands as a testament to the incredible quality of his designs and engineering skillset. The construction cost over $200,000 at the time of its completion and relied on a building team that was said to have been comprised of 300 Norwegian shipbuilders. When the ride opened it was the largest in Canada, drawing thrill-seekers from across the country and the world. The winding track is built of fireproof Douglas fir and features the original 1900’s-style rider trains. Compared to its modern steel competitors, this ride is known for its variable ride times and louder operation. The coaster was constructed on-site, which is quite a feat considering it measures about 22 metres high, and is recognized as a “coaster classic” amongst the aficionados at American Coaster Enthusiasts, who in 2009 awarded the ride a Coaster Landmark Award.

The coaster’s track spans 1 kilometer in length and reaches speeds of up to 80km/h. It also boasts a maximum drop height of 20 metres. Movie and television buffs will recognize the ride from the (classic) thriller Fear, the film Riding the Bullet (it played the Bullet), and the TV show 21 Jump Street. But it isn’t just adrenaline junkies who recognize the importance of this unique site. In 2003, it was listed on Heritage Vancouver’s “Top Ten Endangered Sites”, and in 2013 was included in the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s “Places That Matter” commemoration. If you’re ready and aren’t afraid of heights, let it take you for a ride. It might just be the most fun you’ve ever had with history.

Special thanks to Amanda Ribeiro & Colleen Dunbar at the PNE

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DIG IT | Remembering A Piece Of Chinatown Before It’s Destroyed For A Mid-Rise Condo

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by Stevie Wilson | In 1931 the Shell Oil Company opened this auto garage at 231 East Pender St. – it’s 20th location in the province – as the Lion’s Gate Service Station. The tucked-away business was originally run by Thomas Chang, whose name will be recognized by Chinatown history buffs as the son of Chang Toy – more commonly known as Sam Kee. Chang passed away in 1953, and the business was transferred to H.H. Leong who renamed it Henry’s Service Station. In 1959, Max Goldberg Supply Ltd, a nearby business located at 424 Main St., bought the building and continued to operate it as Henry’s until it closed in the 1970s. The company continued to use it as a storage facility until 1989. The Goldberg family had significant ties to the Strathcona and Chinatown neighbourboods; in addition to their 50-year commercial tenure, Max’s son, Harry Goldberg, sat on the Chinatown Planning Committee for many years.

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Today, the building is in extreme disrepair and is already slated for demolition to make way for a new condominium project, but under the filth and graffiti remains a long-forgotten piece of Downtown Eastside history. Look closely and you’ll notice the structure’s unique Chinese-inspired architectural elements, including a curved hip roof, carved brackets in the bay corners, and similarly rounded rafter details along the exterior. In 1933, an additional fifth bay was opened on the eastern side of the station; the slightly wider design and more intact construction is still discernible. The parking lot’s uneven plane indicates where a gas pump island once sat, which also explains why the structure is set so far back in the lot. Much of this area is quickly disappearing in the wake of the G-Word, so keep an eye out for this and other forgotten sites while you still can.

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DIG IT | Sipping History In “Delamont Park”, Kitsilano’s Forgotten Micro-Neighbourhood

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by Stevie Wilson | With its abundance of beautiful heritage homes and structures, the Kitsilano neighbourhood comes loaded with history. Case in point: the area’s oldest intact hood within a hood, Delamont Park (so named for the founder of the Kitsilano Boy Band, Arthur Delamont). It’s comprised of a few tree-lined blocks and a handful of homes, but today its best known for the quaint experience that is Arbutus Coffee (formerly Arbutus Grocery), which is located on the corner of Arbutus and 6th Avenue.

Built in 1907 at 2096 W. 6th (the address has since changed in the books) by Thomas F. Frazer, the building was originally known as Eureka Grocery. Frazer also built the bungalow next door – one of the first homes in the area – where he had lived since 1901. The commercial space, which features a high boomtown front (see also: The Western Front), also boasts original fenestration and a unique corner entryway typical of mom-and-pop convenience stores of halcyon days.

In 2013 the building was recognized as part of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Places That Matter Contest, an all-too-important distinction given that the neighbourhood has a long history of being threatened by civic development. Thus far the area has survived propositions for a thoroughfare to the Burrard Street Bridge in the 1930s, a six-lane connector in the 1970s, and apartment developments from the 1980s onward. Fortunately, this unique enclave is still standing (for now) with most of the homes remaining in their original century-old glory. So the next time you’re nearby, stop here for a sit and a sip, and give thanks for its survival.

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YOU SHOULD KNOW | More About The City’s Long Love Affair With The Game Of Baseball

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by Stevie Wilson | Whether you’re a diehard fan or just love a cheap hot dog, a trip to the baseball diamond is just good fun. Our city’s interest in baseball dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when visiting American semi-pro teams played to a growing number of fans at the Powell Street Grounds  in Japantown (now Oppenheimer Park). Inspired by the turnout and encouraged by the sport’s growing popularity across North America, a team called the Vancouver Veterans were founded in 1905. The Vets, named after manager John McCloskey (who was indeed a veteran), had their first game at the new Recreation Park located at Homer and Smithe.

Two years later in 1907, after a season-long hiatus from the game, a new team called the Vancouver Canucks was established. In 1908 they were renamed the Beavers, which appears to have been a lucky choice: the team won the pennant in both 1911 and 1914. The Beavers’ league had dissolved by 1922, and throughout the 1920’s and the Great Depression of the 1930s, only amateur ball was played in Vancouver. These teams played at the new Athletic Park located at Hemlock and Fifth.

This was a very successful period for Vancouver’s legendary Japanese-Canadian team, the Asahi, who in 1914 also got their start at the Powell Street Grounds. Athletic Park, rumoured to have been hand-cleared by then-owner Bob Brown, is recognized as the first sports field in the country to have been equipped with flood lights. You can learn more about the Asahi here.

Yet another new team, the Vancouver Maple Leafs, emerged in 1937 at Con Jones Park (later renamed Callister Park) near the PNE grounds. However, then-owner Con Jones soon sold the Leafs to Emil Sick of Seattle’s Capilano Brewing Company, who moved the team back to Athletic Park. Sick also renamed the team to match his company; they were now known as the Vancouver Capilanos. The economic strain of the Second World War caused the league to close again in 1942, and three years later the field, which had been renamed Capilano Stadium, was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt soon thereafter, but Sick was ultimately keen to move to larger space.

His brand-new stadium, finished in 1951, was modelled after the Capilano Stadium in Seattle and was completed at a cost of $550,000. In 1956, after Sick acquired members of the Oakland Oaks to play for Vancouver, the Capilanos became the Mounties. This marked the first time that our city was home to a ‘AAA’ (Triple A) team. The Mounties left in 1970, and it wasn’t until 8 years later when a new ‘AAA’ team was formed: the Canadians. In the same year, Capliano Stadium was renamed to honour local baseball supporter (and Triple-O sauce inventor) Nat Bailey.

In 1999, the Canadians played their last game as a ‘AAA’ team, and in 2000 the empty stadium became the site of a struggle between the Park Board (who wanted to demolish it) and a lobby campaign headed by Bud Kerr, a local historian/champion of the game. Fortunately, the stadium was saved (now known as Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium), and in 2011 the Canadians were established as a member of the Northwest League, where they duel with the likes of the Spokane Indians and the Tri-City Dust Devils to this day.

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DIG IT | Peeling Back The Woody Layers Of The Legendary “Railway Club” On Dunsmuir

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by Stevie Wilson | It is recognized as one of Vancouver’s most popular music venues and the longest continuously occupied space of its kind, but there’s much more to the Railway Club at 579 Dunsmuir than the occasional anecdote about The Tragically Hip. With over 80 years of history behind it, the space is yet another product of the inextricable link between Vancouver and its busy rail lines. The club, established in 1932 (at midnight on New Year’s Eve, to be exact) was originally a members-only space for the CPR’s staff to unwind, and was allegedly opened in response to the exclusivity of the nearby Engineers Club. Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, The Railwaymen’s Club (as it was then known) operated as a busy, beer-stained and smoke-filled poker bar for the city’s thirsty working class.

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The slim Laursen Building (also registered as Lawsen) dates back to around 1926, and has since featured many small businesses both upstairs and down. Prior to the Railwaymen’s Club, the top floor belonged to the European Concert Cafe, where one can only imagine what sort of fun was had. Over the years the space fell into significant disrepair until the Forsyth family purchased the bar in 1981. None of the contemporary furnishings are original, save for the fenestration and radiators; everything had to be constructed for a new crowd of patrons. Behind the main bar a set of beautiful stained glass windows are nearly hidden by a wide variety of signs and stuff to stare at over a pint.

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Another surprising element of the Railway is its cozy back-end bar. While it blends seamlessly with the dark wooden decor of the front space, this room used to be the H. Miles Jewellery Store, which the Forsyths took over in 1988. The beautiful oak back bar was purchased from the storied West End gay bar Buddy’s when it closed its doors in the same year.

So whether it’s for a drink, a show, or to watch its charming toy trains circle the ceiling, just soaking up an hour at this local landmark means soaking up some uniquely local history, too. Indeed, in a city where restaurant and bar interiors seldom last as long as they really should, it’s an uncommon environment worthy of your thirsty investigation. Photos after the jump… Read more

YOU SHOULD KNOW | What It’s Like Inside The Dome Of Vancouver’s Iconic Sun Tower

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by Stevie Wilson & Andrew Morrison | The Sun Tower at the corner of West Pender and Beatty Streets is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks, particularly due to its eye-catching, mint-coloured dome that’s visible from nearly everywhere in the city. However, despite the building’s iconic status (and its magnetic tourist’s photography), it’s not too often that hear from anyone who’s actually been inside the dome or, better still, atop the cupola, so we decided to take a look.

Keep in mind that it wasn’t easy. The dome is impossible to gain access to if you don’t have the building managers on your side. It took plenty of correspondence and explanation of benign intent on Scout’s part to convince the keymasters that we were there by virtue of sincere curiosity and true affection for the building’s architecture and history. In the end, our foot in the door came last month when Scout was invited to a Vancouver Heritage Foundation event. One thing (begging) led to another (pleading), and eventually a tour was arranged in good humour, for which we will remain eternally grateful. Take a look…

To gain access to the dome, one most first get to the 17th floor, up a winding staircase made of marble and through a locked door. The interior is a bit of a shock at first. There are no frescoes, sculptured metopes or decorative flourishes of any kind at all, which is a truth that came rudely, really, as one half expects the gorgeous thing to be filled to the knees with treasure. But it’s completely bare and unadorned save for spidery support beams in yellow painted steel that have been bolted above a noisy blue machine that operates the building’s elevators. It was all very industrial, which is to say a little deflating of the imagination.

And yet it clearly wasn’t without beauty. The dome is lit by a ring of oculi (the fancy name for circular windows). These look over the city from the cardinal points, and gazing out of them was a real trip. Though the buildings that surround it are mostly new (especially to the west and south), the windows – recessed and antique as they are – soften their glaring modernity like a Hipstamatic filter. But the real view is up even higher. A sketchy, steel-framed platform leads to a ladder that rises to a trap door in the ceiling. Once unbolted, this leads to the cupola, or the open-air nipple that stands erect at the dome’s apex. Here, the building’s big fib is revealed. The green-tinge on the dome’s exterior isn’t real. It’s a faux patina design that’s been painted to mimic oxidized copper. Alas, the view – so raw and exposed – more than makes up for it.

The history of the Beaux-Arts building is readily found and filled with fantastic details, but here’s a brief run-down: Noted Canadian architect William Tuff Whiteway (of Woodwards fame) was commissioned to design the structure in 1911-12 by the now-infamous Vancouver mayor L.D. Taylor. It began as the offices for Taylor’s newspaper company, The Vancouver World, before the publication folded and the building was passed to Bekin’s, the Seattle-based storage and moving company. At the time of its completion, the building was recognized as the tallest (commercial) structure in the British Empire – a distinction that previously belonged to the nearby Dominion Building. In 1937, the Vancouver Sun took over the building, renamed it, installed a massive red neon sign across the top, and continued operations until 1965 when it relocated to 2250 Granville Street.

Unlike the exterior of the tower – which still features Charles Marega’s controversial “nine maidens” perched at the 8th floor, bare breasts and all – the interior has changed much over the years. In 2011 it was redeveloped by Allied Properties as creative spaces, though several historic features are still on display on the top floors, including tile work, marble staircases, single-paned fenestration, radiators, and beautiful door handles. Inside and out, there’s no other building like it. Take a look…

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DIG IT | The Story Behind Mount Pleasant’s Iconic “Depencier House” On Eighth Avenue

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by Stevie Wilson | Known as Vancouver’s first suburb, Mount Pleasant features an abundance of heritage homes and historic buildings, many of which have been renovated and repurposed to showcase their original charms. A perfect example is the Depencier House at 151 East 8th Avenue, the current home of Eight ½ Restaurant Lounge and Hairkraft Studio. The structure, built in the classic Edwardian style, is recognized as the oldest currently occupied single-family home outside of the downtown core, and has become a staple Mount Pleasant landmark since its construction circa 1894, 1887, or 1889 (depending who you ask).

The house was originally located around the block facing Main Street and is rumoured to have been a brothel (naturally). A few years into its life it was transported to its current location on Eighth Avenue, presumably to make way for its new neighbour, the Royal Bank. Sometime around 1912 it was converted to include an additional storey for businesses on the ground floor. Over the years, in addition to being a residential property, it has featured an array of different awnings and company signage, including those for a haberdasher and a shoe repair company.

In 1938, Campbell Munro opened production for Bains Candies and Fine Chocolate at the site, and continued to tempt locals with its large window display of hand-dipped chocolates until 2004. Following Bains’ departure, the Cook Family bought the home and fixed up the building before Wink Vegetarian Cafe opened downstairs. Later, the quintessential Mount Pleasant cafe, Soma Coffee, moved in for a brief period before Eight ½ took it over in 2009.

The exterior of the house has seen many slight renovations over the years, including the construction of a small ground-level patio, a few window replacements, and a rainbow of paint colours, but its character has remained largely intact. Among its many typical Edwardian features, the building showcases a gabled rooftop and two small front porches that have been closed in with glass tile. Inside the cozy interior of Eight ½, the original fir ceiling beams are on display in addition to the original single-pane fenestrations. It’s a unique spot to grab a bite, a beer, and a little Vancouver history all in one go, so be sure to pop in the next time you’re on the lookout for a true local experience.

Special thanks to Mike Wiebe at Eight ½ Restaurant Lounge.

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YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The Imposing Neoclassical Giant At The Gates Of Gastown

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by Stevie Wilson | The old, neoclassical-style building at western edge of Gastown and the northern end of Seymour Street – now known as Waterfront Station – is one of Vancouver’s many standing examples of civic evolution. Similar to the current structure of the Hotel Vancouver, the Granville Street Bridge, and various other sites across the city, this building has gone through several changes in its 100 years. Though it now operates as a transit hub for the SkyTrain, Seabus, and West Coast Express, it was once a different kind of station altogether: the terminus of the CPR Railway’s transcontinental line. It is the third incarnation in a series of historic sites whose predecessors were ultimately destroyed in favour of new design, new tastes, and the accommodation of civic development.

The first CPR station was constructed nearby at the foot of Howe St. in 1886, but it was not much more than a single-level shed. The second station, designed by Edward Maxwell, opened in 1898 adjacent to the current site, where the Granville Plaza now stands. It featured beautiful chateau-style brick architecture with a large, arched stone entranceway, two imposing tower facades, pitched roofs, and spires similar (though on a much smaller scale) to the current Hotel Vancouver, which was also built by the CPR. The chateau-style design is found throughout many of their other (former) properties, including the historic rail station in New Westminster (now a Keg restaurant) and the Château Frontenac in Quebec City.

The stations third design was constructed between 1912-1914 and reflected the success of CPR’s trade route expansions. The exterior features a colonnade façade typical of the time, with a large interior reminiscent of Beaux-Arts design. Look closely in the photos below and you’ll notice the CPR banner atop the south-facing main entrance. Inside, Canadian landscape murals high across the walls act as a subtle nod to the cross-country route of the pioneering CPR line.

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Originally, the interior featured a lunch counter and kitchen, dance hall, and lodging for travellers, in addition to amenities for staff. Outside, the bronze Angel of Victory statue by Coeur de Lion stands as a memorial to CPR employees lost during WWI.  It’s worth noting that the locations of the three stations had an impact on the development of the city; their location far west of the Granville Townsite became a new focus for economic growth, which in turn contributed to the area’s evolution into the “downtown” that we recognize today.

By the late 1970s the station had begun its transformation into a modern transit hub. Commuter rail travel was eventually taken over by Via Rail in the 1978, and service shifted to Pacific Central Station off Terminal Avenue. A year after the opening of the Seabus terminal in 1977, the lobby at Waterfront Station was renovated by Hawthorn Mansfield Towers Architects to include shops, restaurants, and offices. The construction of the Expo Line in 1985 required the removal of several CPR tracks. However, the West Coast express, which opened in 1995, operates on original rail lines. Take a look around next time you’re waiting for the SkyTrain, and enjoy a glimpse into one of Vancouver’s busiest landmarks. Like any good historic building, it’s rumoured to have plenty of ghosts, too, so be sure to keep an eye out.

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YOU SHOULD KNOW | About The History Of Lost Lagoon, Stanley Park’s Watery Jewel

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by Stevie Wilson | Known for its scenic views, photo-op fountain, and its few graceful swans, Lost Lagoon is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks. Situated at the southern entrance to Stanley Park, it’s a welcoming start or finish (depending which route you fancy) to a walk along the seawall, and a unique link between the busting downtown core and the adjacent 1000-acre park.

The lagoon holds the title of being the largest body of water in Stanley Park, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, the lagoon is actually a lake – it was landlocked in 1916 by the construction of the Stanley Park Causeway. Previously, this stretch of water was used as a food-sourcing site for First Nations – Musqueam, Squamish, and Burrard peoples were the first settlers in this area – back when it was known as Ch’ekxwa’7lech, meaning “dry at times”. The area was then a tidal mud flat connected to the Burrard Inlet via Coal Harbour, and was rich with clams and other sea critters ready for harvesting.

When the causeway was first proposed various groups lobbied in support and in protest. Many wealthier Vancouverites, beholden to the cause of civic beautification, were opposed to any destruction of the park on purely aesthetic grounds. Conversely, groups such as the blue-collar Trades and Labour Council were eager to see developments on the site for public and recreational use, and even supported filling in the lake to create a sports field.

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In 1922, the area was officially named Lost Lagoon, and in 1929 was converted into a freshwater site with funds raised by a fly-fishing organization. The small area originally earned its name from Canadian writer Pauline Johnson, who recalled:

“This was just to please my own fancy, for, as that perfect summer month drifted on, the ever-restless tides left the harbour devoid of water at my favorite canoeing hour, and my pet idling place was lost for many days – hence my fancy to call it the Lost Lagoon.”

In addition to receiving water from a municipal stream, the lake feeds off a nearby creek and is home to a diverse group of birds and small animals. The famous Mute Swans are not indigenous; their wings have been pinioned to avoid migration to elsewhere in the province. The first swans are said to have been a gift from England circa 1890. By 1950, over 75 birds were gliding across the lagoon and neighbouring Beaver Lake.

The Jubilee Fountain, installed in 1936 to coincide with the city’s 100th anniversary, was purchased from the 1934 World Fair in Chicago [correction: see comments]. The installation proposal was fraught with public outcry, particularly due to its $33,000 price tag in the midst of the Great Depression. However, the infamous Mayor McGeer would not be swayed, and the lake was drained temporarily to erect the landmark.

The lagoon is currently plagued by a number of ecological issues, including pollution and invasive non-local species, which the Stanley Park Ecological Society and Vancouver Parks Board look to remedy in the coming years. Care for local and migratory birds, beavers, and trees are of prime concern. Their protection is a large and complicated task considering how this is one the largest urban parks in North America.

So go for a stroll hereabouts the next time you’re on the lookout for an idling place of your own. Though the lagoon is no longer lost, it’s a neat spot for lovers of local lore.

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GHOST HOODS | On The Rise & Fall Of The City’s Black Neighbourhood, “Hogan’s Alley”

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by Stevie Wilson | Like most cosmopolitan cities around the world, Vancouver is known for its distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own character, landscape, and history. But what happens when an entire neighbourhood is razed to the ground and its community is displaced? The historic Hogan’s Alley in Strathcona is a unique example of how a neighbourhood can come to define the history of a group of people, and the intricacies of cultural identity within urban spaces.

The name “Hogan’s Alley” is often explained as being the colloquial term for Park Lane, an alley that spanned from Main Street to Jackson Avenue between Union Street and Prior Street, and the surrounding area. The lane, which ran parallel to Main Street, did originally border the sides, backs, and gardens of homes, but to consider the whole neighbourhood as simply an “alley” would be a disservice to the businesses, residences, and cultural centres that developed around it.

Hogan’s Alley was not marked on the city map in any particular fashion, and its precise boundaries are not entirely clear. City archivist J.S. Matthews noted on a photo from 1891 that the lane adjacent to the home at 209 Harris Street (now East Georgia) was known as Hogan’s Alley; from where exactly he learned the nickname is unknown.

While the definitive nomenclature is still up for debate, what is clear it that multiple generations of families and workers, predominantly of African-Canadian descent, called this area home for decades. Ultimately, many of these families were displaced when the City demolished a number of homes and businesses in Hogan’s Alley to build the second version of the Georgia Viaduct.

The black community which came to define Hogan’s Alley came to the area shortly after the turn of the century. Many individuals had come from Vancouver Island, likely in search of work in local resource industries, and this section of Strathcona (then known simply as the East End) quickly developed into a mecca for those of African-American and African-Canadian heritage. Many had also migrated to Vancouver from California and Louisiana. At this time, Vancouver was seen as having limitless economic potential.

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Prior to his political defeat in 1934, Mayor L.D. Taylor had a unique and often controversial perspective of how Vancouver should mitigate the growing crime rates in the city. In particular, his “open town policy” on vice crimes such as prostitution, gambling, and illegal drinking meant that areas such as Hogan’s Alley were ripe for these types of “victimless” crimes to continue unchecked. Moreover, his ties to corruption in the police department further frustrated those who recognized the fragile state of the city’s lower-income neighbourhoods. Given Hogan’s Alley’s proximity to transportation centres and the commercial hub of Hastings Street (the very same reasons residents were drawn to the area in the first place), it attracted a wide variety of legal and illegal activities for locals and visitors in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Park Lane itself was only 8 feet wide and spanned only a couple of blocks, but the area was filled with a variety of after-hours entertainments, including bootlegger establishments, cheap eateries, and popular brothels. These businesses, popular with loggers, sailors, and other resource industry workers, included Buddy’s on Union for booze, the Scat Inn on Park Lane for music and food, and even a back-alley wine merchant called Lungo. All this – including stories of a blind prostitute known as the “Queen of Hogan’s Alley” – led to a rough-and-tumble reputation that scared many folks off and intrigued even more.

While Hogan’s Alley was a predominantly black community (Vancouver’s first), there were other cultures and ethnicities prevalent in the area as well. Several Jewish families and business were well established and an Italian consular office was located in the Bingarra Block at Union and Main. Some of the houses on the 200-block of Union Street, which became vacant during World War I, later became home to Chinese families.

It is important to note, however, that this area was once a comfortable community for Vancouver’s black population. Indeed, while other ethnically defined areas are historically common in Vancouver (Little Italy, Chinatown, Japantown, etc), this was the first – and only – example of a cultural enclave for African-Canadians. It is also the site of Vancouver’s first black church, the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel (823 Jackson Avenue), which was purchased by the community in 1918.

During its heyday in the 1930s and 40s, Hogan’s Alley featured a number of black-owned businesses that added a distinct southern flavour to the neighbourhood. One of these black-owned businesses was Emma Alexander’s Mother’s Tamale and Chili Parlour at 250 Union Street. Emma’s niece, Viva Moore, later opened the famous Vie’s Chicken and Steak House at 209 Main Street, which operated from 1948 until 1976. Run by Viva and her husband Rob, the restaurant was a popular spot for locals and even a few famous faces, including Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong. Sadly, the unique culture and popularity of businesses like these, and the fact that a growing community was thriving in the area, wasn’t enough to protect the neighbourhood from “progress”. Eventually, Hogan’s Alley’s reputation as a red light district gave Mayor Tom Campbell’s government the justification to approve the $11.2 million Georgia Viaduct Replacement project.

Since its destruction in the early 1970s, the surrounding area has evolved from a primarily residential neighbourhood into a growing commercial sector, with a number of shops, cafes, and restaurants along Union Street catering to a new generation of Vancouverites. Modern civic and cultural organizations, such as the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project, help memorialize and educate people on the experiences of black individuals in Vancouver, as well as the history of Hogan’s Alley.

The Jimi Hendrix Shrine at the corner of Main and Union (adjacent to the former site of Vie’s Chicken and Steak House) pays homage to the musician and his grandmother, Nora Hendrix, who migrated to Vancouver from Tennessee in 1911 and worked at Vie’s restaurant. Nora’s home at 827 East Georgia still stands today, where she raised three children with her husband Ross. In 2013, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Places That Matter program installed a plaque near the Hogan’s Alley Cafe in conjunction with Black History Month. While most tangible remnants of this historic neighbourhood are long gone, the legacy of its community and its place in the story of Vancouver is, thankfully, still remembered and celebrated.

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DIG IT | On The Historic Buildings Artfully Stashed Away Inside A Local Shopping Mall

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by Stevie Wilson | When it comes to adaptive re-use in historic architecture, it just doesn’t get much better than The City Square Shopping Centre at Cambie & 12th across from City Hall. Designed in 1989 by Paul Merrick Architects, it’s truly a unique blend of history and modern design, with two of its core structures designated as separate municipal heritage sites.

On the western side sits the former Model School, a Romanesque Revival Style building established in 1905 as an elementary training school for teachers. In addition to its large original fenestration and institutional-style sandstone design (the work of famed Vancouver architect E. E. Blackmore), its ornate arched entrances on its north side are still visible and accessible.

To the east of the mall is the 1909 Normal School, a Gothic-style building designed by Pearce & Hope Architects that also served as a training centre for Vancouver teachers. The two sections feature stained glass windows and (renovated) slate roofs to complement the original architecture.

The Model School continued to operate as an elementary school before it was closed briefly in 1963; it reopened the following year as an annex of the King Edward Continuing Education Centre. Over a decade later in 1979, after a few years of being boarded up, the Heritage Advisory Committee recommended the site for heritage designation. In 1986, both were designated as municipal heritage sites.

The newer section of the mall is a classic example of 1980’s postmodern architecture, with an interesting use of glass creating a courtyard-style promenade and showcasing the copper cupola perched atop the roof. In 2005, several of the original stained glass windows were unveiled to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Model School. The following year, the City awarded the mall a Heritage Award of Recognition.

So take a closer look next time you’re picking up a few groceries or dollar store gems. You’ll be amazed at what you find!

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