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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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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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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DIG IT | Drinking Up 101 Years Of History In The Building That Houses The “Alibi Room”

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by Stevie Wilson | It has been renovated and repurposed as one of Gastown’s most popular restaurants, yet the Alibi Room at 157 Alexander Street still retains much of the unique character and historic architectural features of the building’s many previous iterations. Constructed on three small lots in 1913 by E.W. Cook & Co., the Classic Revival-style building was designed by famed Canadian architect William Marshall Dodd and is celebrated as his only example of commercial architecture on record in Vancouver.

Originally, this address served as the warehouse for Jacobsen and Goldberg Co., one of the thriving businesses engaged in the province’s fur trade. Later, the “White Seal” mittens decal across the western wall of the building (now covered) advertised the products of White Manufacturing Co.. The BC Grinnall glove manufacturers were another company found on the ground floor. The H.G. White Manufacturing Co., a shipping company, purchased the building circa 1919, when the address was 149 Alexander. The property was an excellent location for each and every one of its successive businesses, including Burnyeats B.C. Limited in the 1930s, due to its proximity to the nearby port and the CPR Railway.

The exterior of the building remains virtually untouched, including the mock voussoirs above the first-storey windows and brick corbelling across the top. The original glass in the arched fenestration on the ground floor, reminiscent of the building’s original commercial purpose, is still intact (the glass on the bottom half has been updated for safety reasons).

In later decades, the address’ upper storeys were converted into offices, and by the 1970s the ground floor was known as the Banjo Palace, a 20’s-themed club boasting the country’s largest circular barbecue. The owner, George Patey, had purchased pieces of the brick wall involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and had it re-constructed in the men’s room (true story).

Prior to the Alibi Room (which was reopened in 2006 after a change in ownership), the address was home to the Archimedes Club, an infamous watering hole for Vancouver’s taxi drivers where a signature on the membership book got you access to $5 pitchers (or so go the legends).

The historic brick interior is still on display all throughout the Alibi Room, where they have since turned the basement – once an office space – into a secondary seating hub perfect for a few pints with friends. The next time you bend an elbow within its cozy confines, let your eyes wander and your ears imagine all the old brick walls have heard in the last 101 years.

Special thanks to Perrin Grauer at the Alibi Room

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

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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.

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