DIG IT | A Last Look At UBC’s 60 Year Old “Empire Pool” Before Its Total Destruction

October 23, 2014 

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by Stevie Wilson | Though it doesn’t quite fit into the traditional concept of what a “heritage” structure should look like, UBC’s Empire Pool has been a fixture of the campus landscape for 60 years. The 50-meter long outdoor pool was built for the British Empire & Commonwealth Games in 1954, and has since hosted numerous men’s and women’s swimming and diving events that have drawn large crowds from across the city. Architects Sharp & Thompson, Berwick, Pratt (including Frederic Lasserre and F.W. Urry) not only designed the pool but also the adjacent Warm Memorial Gymnasium, which opened in 1951. The firm had previously been selected as the official University architects by an international competition in 1912. 

Sadly, the 60th anniversary of the Games also marked the end for Empire Pool. Though popular with students, athletes, and the general public, the facility was permanently closed early this year due to a filtration/mechanical failure. All is not lost, however, as the historical record is loaded (particularly with photos), and a brand-new $38.5-million Aquatic Centre is poised to replace both the outdoor lanes and the adjacent 1978 indoor centre by 2016.

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YOU SHOULD KNOW | On The “Paint In” Of 1966 & The End Of The Centennial Fountain

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by Stevie Wilson | Earlier this year it was announced that the Vancouver Art Gallery would be relocated from its current home to a brand-new structure at West Georgia and Cambie Streets. With this news came a second ruling that the 48 year-old Centennial Fountain out front of the gallery would not be preserved. The decision was met with a variety of perspectives, most arguing that the large fountain wasn’t conducive to the flow of pedestrians in the common area, and was no longer valuable as a gathering place – not to mention it had become prone to leaks. Others pointed out its historic character, and its value as a work of art itself, constructed of small, hand-chosen mosaic tiles by artist Alex von Svoboda. Whatever your thoughts on the fountain may be, there’s no denying that it’s a big piece (both literally and figuratively) of the Downtown core’s history.

Prior to its official unveiling in 1966, Premier W.A.C. Bennett wished to have the fountain’s construction kept hidden in order for it to be a surprise for the public. The fountain was intended to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the colonial union between BC and Vancouver Island in 1886. In 1966 the grounds were still home to the provincial courthouse – the VAG didn’t take it over until 1983. A memorial drinking fountain honouring King Edward VII was also sharing the ground out front on Georgia Street; it was moved to the side of the courthouse building in 1972.

Bennett requested the construction hoarding around the fountain site to be painted green and white, which conveniently enough were the colours of his BC Social Credit Party. However, this simply wouldn’t do for the more creative types at City Hall. Despite not being the renowned tourist attraction it is today, the location was nonetheless at the center of a growing cultural epicenter and therefore was a prime location for Mayor William Rathie’s alternative proposal to allow local artists to paint the hoarding instead.

The “Paint-In”, held on April 6th, 1966, featured over 100 local amateur and professional artists and displayed a wide range of styles and subjects. Artists had been encouraged to sign up and individual spots along the hoarding were assigned. Georgia and Howe Streets were closed as a large, curious crowd watched the painters get to work. The newly-formed Vancouver Life magazine even featured a photo of the artworks on the cover of their May issue.

The artists’ murals remained on view until the centennial fountain’s unveiling in December; what became of the artists’ work isn’t clear. Regardless, the creative stunt is not without its legacy. In 1968, the British Columbia Provincial Museum in Victoria staged a similar gathering and invited several local artists to paint on the hoarding around its construction zone. Check out the gallery below to view some of the unique works that helped add a little extra fleeting colour to our city.

Vancouver Life and BC Motorist magazine images courtesy of Jason Vanderhill. Archival photography of the murals is the work of Ernie H. Reksten and Leslie F. Sheraton.

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DIG IT | Getting Lost Inside The Elizabethan Hedge Labyrinth Out At VanDusen Gardens

September 30, 2014 

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by Stevie Wilson | Lauded as one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions, the VanDusen Gardens is a beautiful spot catering to families and flora fanatics. Opened to the public in 1975, the expansive gardens sit on Shaughnessy land that once belonged to the CPR Railway and previously operated as the Shaughnessy Golf Course. The grounds were named for lumber industrialist Whitford Julian VanDusen , a founding member of the Vancouver Foundation and a major funder of the site. The intricate gardens also include one very special feature: an Elizabethan hedge maze.

The maze is said to be one of only six of its kind in North America, and although some might say it’s best enjoyed by children, I’d have to politely disagree (I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve gotten lost in there before). Justice, Webb & Vincent Landscape Architects, the garden’s design team, featured original members of the first Vancouver firm to specialize in landscape architecture. Their multicursal labyrinth is modelled after the great English designs of the late 16th century and is comprised of 3,000 pyramidal cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Fastigiata’) that were planted in 1981. Bonus: an annual Easter egg hunt is held inside the maze each year.

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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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DINER | Iconic “Ovaltine Cafe” On The DTES To Change Hands Next Week Before Reboot

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by Andrew Morrison | Rachel Chen, who owns the little Perks cafe at 39 East Pender in Chinatown, has agreed to take over the Ovaltine Cafe at 291 East Hastings from the current owner, an old family friend.

The Ovaltine, as you’re very likely aware, is one of the most iconic diners in the city. It has stood as a beacon of continuity on the Downtown Eastside since 1942. Conversations about the eatery these days seldom dwell on its grilled cheese sandwiches and hot coffee, focusing instead on either the lasting beauty of its facade (with its competing horizontal and vertical neon signs) or the likelihood of it being able to stick around much longer in this new age of greed/opportunity on the DTES.

The neighbourhood is for sale, it seems, and as we’ve seen especially of late, preservation is evidently not Vancouver’s official strong suit. Worry that the Ovaltine might be demolished to make way for cheesy condominiums or be replaced with a new restaurant that was somehow inappropriate for the area (say, a foie gras and leather bar) has been in the back and fore of many local heads. In Scout’s irreverent dictionary, the Vancouver Lexicon, the cafe’s own entry offers the following as its usage in speech: “I’m taking bets on how long the Ovaltine will last…”. The angst continued in a recent Vancouver Courier article:

[Local historian John] Atkin worries about the Ovaltine’s chances for survival with scant customers and low-priced fare. Diminished evening hours mean customers no longer see neon reflected down the long counter, but he doesn’t want the cafe “hipsterized” and serving craft beer.

Invoking the dreaded hipster/craft beer nexus is merely another way of employing the G-Word without actually saying it. Gentrification cometh, but in the case of the Ovaltine, it looks like Atkin needn’t worry too much. Rachel and her mother Grace aren’t going to be doing much to the place except give it a good clean, a lick of paint, and a menu makeover that might make it busy again.

It certainly deserves the love. The place has been through the ringer in recent years. And when it hasn’t been serving its regulars – some of whom can measure their patronage in decades – it’s been starring in countless TV shows and even a blockbuster or two. The building itself – a four-storey Edwardian Italian Renaissance Revival pile housing the Afton Hotel – was put together some 102 years ago. The cafe may have given the property a quaint Rockwellian coffee counter, varnished wood panelling, worn cloisters, and smoky mirrors, but the address kept other restaurants before it, not to mention a tailor’s shop, government offices, apartments, even a postal substation. It’s definitely got as much history as it does personality.

And so does Grace, who is something of a legend on the DTES. She used to own the diner at Save On Meats. She took it over in 1999, long before it was reimagined by restaurateur Mark Brand in 2011. Grace gave Rachel her start in the business when she was 11. The youngster would pull shifts after school and on the weekends, both serving and cooking; enduring Welfare Wednesday rushes with her mom and grandmother by the time she was 15.

Needless to say, Rachel and Grace will be drawing on their Save On Meats experiences and repertoire for the Ovaltine Cafe’s new menu, offering up things like root beer pulled pork, fully loaded 1/2 lb bacon cheeseburgers, and fish and chips using the old recipe from The Only Seafood, which still lies beautifully dormant a couple blocks east (the last owner is a friend of the family, too). I asked Rachel what such a burger with all the fixings might cost, and she quoted me $7 with fries, which is about as much a Big Mac meal goes for these days.

Oh, and did you know that the Ovaltine Cafe was sitting on a full liquor license? True story. And Rachel aims to take advantage of it. Will we see them selling local craft beer? Most probably. Will there be hipsters in attendance? It’s guaranteed. But neither of those apparent detriments should prove obstacles enough to dampen what Atkin was hoping for in the broader scheme of things. From the same Courier piece:

Atkin hopes the Downtown Eastside will morph into a neighbourhood that includes healthy businesses, old and new, alongside affordable housing, service organizations, artists and cultural venues. “If this neighbourhood continues to evolve and returns to what it was in 1978, that’s the perfect balance because you had the hotels serving a certain type of clientele — now you’ve got a ton of social housing here — but you had vibrant and viable retail and you had a slight edge to the neighbourhood,” he said.

I’m glad to see that The Ovaltine will remain, craft beer or no craft beer, and regardless of the maintenance of the neighbourhood’s “slight edge”. That it will continue on much as it had before with new, proven owners (who are very familiar with what area residents view as value for dollar) is a great development.

As far as a timeline is concerned, the Chens take possession of the space early next week. The current cooking regime will be maintained as things get organised, adjusted, and primed (a few days), and then they will briefly shut it down for cleaning, painting, and reopening. The plan is to launch before September is through – same decor, same signage, same name – refreshed and ready, one hopes, for another 72 years. Long live the Ovaltine!

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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 | 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

3rd-CPR-Station-1914

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.

Lunch-Counter

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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