The GHOST HOOD series dovetails with the new HOODS section of Scout (launching on Monday)
In conversations about Mount Pleasant these days, the old “Brewery Creek” moniker is being increasingly employed on account of all the new breweries that have arrived in recent years. But what exactly is the significance of the name? It’s important to note that although it’s generally thought of as synonymous with the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the “Brewery Creek” distinction refers to a particular stretch of waterway that was integral to the growth and economic development of the area. Long before white settlers arrived, this expansive region was a popular harvesting location for First Nations. It would later become an important economic sector for new businesses thanks to its flowing natural resource.
The patch of land that became known as Mount Pleasant was originally shrouded in dense, dark rainforest. The creek that drained this forest into the salty waters of False Creek sat at the bottom of a large ravine that was open to the sky. It offered an abundance of flowers, berries, and other plants used by First Nations for medicine and food. The (now lost) waterway began near where Mountain View Cemetery is located today. Water flowed downhill just west of modern-day Fraser Street to a marshy, dammed area near 14th Avenue (Tea Swamp Park). From here, the creek flowed down the Mount Pleasant hillside, following a northeastern path alongside a First Nations trail (near where Kingsway cuts across Main Street), and continuing into the eastern waters of False Creek (which have since been filled in) near Terminal Avenue.
In 1867, the creek area in Mount Pleasant became Vancouver’s first piped waterway, delivering water by flume to Gastown – then the center of the city – and the boilers at Captain Edward Stamp’s Mill near the foot of Dunlevy (later known as the Hastings Sawmill).
The Brewery Creek region was defined by its open landscape, its distinct flora and fauna, and the numerous businesses that followed the path of the waterway – including several slaughterhouses, the nearby Vancouver Tannery, and an assortment of local beverage-makers that used the creek to power their water wheels: the San Francisco Brewery (later known as the Red Star Brewery), Mainland Brewery, Landsdowne Brewery, Lion Brewery, and the Thorpe & Co. Soda Water Works.
In 1889, Charles Gottfried Doering, a Saxony native, established the Vancouver Brewery along the Creek. Two years later, he partnered with Otto Marstrand and renamed the business as the Doering & Marstrand Brewing Co. It soon developed into the largest local industry, with several overseas export routes. In 1902, the successful company merged with the city’s first brewery, the Red Cross Brewery located near the Burrard Inlet, to become Vancouver Breweries Ltd. Eventually, the company upgraded to accommodate new technologies and a larger production space, and in 1904 Vancouver Breweries built an expansion at 280 East 6th Avenue.
The historic “Fell’s Candy Factory” signage on the exposed brick exterior of the building denotes one of the variety of other business that once operated here. These included a dairy, an ice plant, and a warehouse. Today it’s known simply as the Brewery Creek Building. The nearby Mission Revival-style building on 7th Ave (formerly the Vancouver Brewery Garage) was recently updated to offices and modern artist spaces. Main Street’s present-day Cascade Room takes its name from the Vancouver Brewery’s flagship beer: Cascade, “The Beer Without a Peer”.
In 1904, two of Brewery Creek’s slaughterhouses near Scotia and 1st demolished in order to expand the local railway systems; the flow of commerce began to extend uphill into Mount Pleasant as an extension of the development “downtown”. Circa 1910, 9th Avenue and Westminster Avenue were renamed Broadway and Main Street, respectively, to echo the growing departure from British influence towards a more modern “Americanized” character. Mount Pleasant was poised to become a major economic hub, and though this vision was never fully realized, the “Main Street” distinction was meant to attribute a commercial flair to the area.
While False Creek remained an industrial area into the 1950s, Mount Pleasant grew into a flourishing residential suburb, with plenty of historic homes and churches to prove it. Many homes and businesses that were built on top of the Brewery Creek ravine feature full sub-ground basements – a rare commodity for most buildings in the area. However, in the ’70s and ’80s, industrialization crept south and the area became less and less desirable for suburban homeowners. During the post-war period the area became home to a sizeable working-class and immigrant population, and a steady rise in crime and urban decay caused a shift in the neighbourhood’s reputation. The evolving needs of the community meant that preserving Brewery Creek and the ravine area as a resource was not a priority.
In 1922, the Masonic Knights of Pythias Hall had been built right over the creek at 8th and Scotia. This unique heritage building, now known as the Western Front, was purchased in 1973 by a group of artists and transformed into an internationally known live/work and performance space. Subsequently, the Brewery Creek area transformed, particularly over the 1990’s, into a collection of cafes, residences, and community spaces devoted to the growing artist population. That said, while Mount Pleasant experienced a cultural resurgence, Brewery Creek faded away.
Remnants of this historic landscape are still noticeable if you look close enough. While the streets north of 12th Avenue in Mount Pleasant are bumpy and unsettled (a telltale sign of swampy land underneath), the streets on the sloped northern side offered a direct cascading route down into False Creek that can be traced along the low points of the east-west streets. On 5th Avenue, between Scotia and Brunswick Street, a small ravine-type park was created to pay tribute to the famous waterway, and thousands of years of First Nations presence and prosperity in this area are recognized by the Native Education College on 5th Avenue and Scotia. Additionally, a number of historic bronze cairns by Bruce MacDonald were installed by the Brewery Creek Historical Society (founded in 1988) to follow the original northbound pathway of the creek.
The creek and its original breweries are long gone, and the historic industries have been replaced with a variety of residential buildings – including the 1992 conversion of the Vancouver Brewery Building into artist studios and trendy apartments. Recently, the spirit of this area’s heritage has been revived, thanks to a small number of new local breweries popping up along the hillside. In keeping with the character of the Brewery Creek area, their focus on locally made quality products provides sippable glimpses into the historic industry that sparked a citywide legacy, and offers a return to the roots of this ever-evolving neighbourhood.