The Triangle Building, the cornerstone of Mount Pleasant, sits at the intersection of Main and Kingsway. It’s part of the ‘Triangle Block’, which is recognized and celebrated as the “historic heart” of the neighbourhood.
Furniture retailer, developer, and philanthropist Ben Wosk built this landmark structure, initially known as the “Wosk Block”, in 1947. During its 70-year history, it’s been home to numerous street-level shops and cafes, including two of Vancouver’s iconic businesses: Wosk’s Furniture and Bain’s Candies & Fine Chocolates. The second-floor offices (2414 Main) have hosted a variety of trade unions, community groups, professionals, writers, artists, and not-for-profit organizations that have been an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric.
The Wosk Block/Triangle Building is a rare Vancouver example of the Streamlined Moderne architectural style. A later variation of the Art Deco style construction, Streamline Moderne buildings display the influence of the technological marvels of the day and developments in materials science, characterized by aerodynamic curves and smooth planar surfaces. The Triangle Building’s stainless steel window and door frames are also representative of the period’s affection for slick, shiny surfaces.
Currently hidden under a skin of painted mural on grey stucco, the triangle-shaped building (specifically a “scalene triangle” for all those geometry geeks out there) once featured the mid-century palette of jade green and black Vitrolite exterior finish. A product of the machine age, Vitrolite is a pigmented structural glass that was used in interior and exterior applications. Recently exposed areas of the building on the Kingsway side reveal glimpses of the original exterior finish (see photo below).
The light in Vancouver is often dull and grey, so the application of an interesting reflective surface like Vitrolite would have been a welcome addition to the urban landscape. Unfortunately, there are few examples of Vitrolite exteriors in Vancouver today. Before it was renovated in 2014, The Lido at 518 East Broadway once featured black and jade Vitrolite on its façade. (I was able to locate an existing example of mahogany red Vitrolite used as a decorative accent around a building on East Broadway at Quebec — see gallery). It would be fabulous if one day the Triangle Building’s original Vitrolite façade could be stripped of its current grey stucco coat and restored to its former reflective glory. What a stunning site that would be!
The Triangle Building is not only notable for its architectural significance. It might even be more significant in the continuing history of the social and cultural identity of Mount Pleasant and the city as a whole. The diverse history and changing identity of this neighbourhood are echoed by the diverse array of tenants over the Triangle Building’s history. The types of businesses that have called it home have always been a reflection of the evolving community. The graphic design businesses and skateboard shops of the 1980s and 90s replaced the dress shops and shoe stores of the 1950s and 60s. In the 1990s, several independent theatre and arts groups like the Public Dreams Society, Ruby Slippers Theatrical Society, and the Fringe Festival eventually replaced the high concentration of trade workers’ associations and credit unions that occupied its offices during the industrial 1950s and 60s.
Right from the start, the Wosk Block/Triangle Building supported many independent small businesses and community organizations by providing affordable retail and office spaces. The practice continues today with the building’s current owners, as featured in a recent story in Metro News. The only “chain store” to ever occupy space in the building was the original owner’s own Wosk’s Furniture Store (1948-1960).
The light-filled retail space in the point of the Triangle Building now occupied by Gene’s Coffee Bar (2402 Main) was once home to the building’s longest tenure tenant, Bain’s Candies & Fine Chocolates. The locally owned shop, run by long-time proprietor Campbell Munro, was a cherished community fixture for over 75 years. Munro was the proprietor for 66 years, from 1938 to 2004. But why was a man named Munro the owner of a business called Bain’s? While researching the building’s history, I discovered a curious and sometimes sad tale of a local baker, a chocolatier, and a yeast salesman.
In September 1936, 29-year-old Campbell James Munro, salesman and manager at Standard Yeast Service (519 West Broadway) married a 45-year-old confectioner named Viena Margaret Bain. Viena was the widow of William Moir Bain, a baker originally from Scotland whom she married in 1919. In the early 1920s, William Bain worked as a baker alongside his wife Viena, a chocolate dipper, at the Mission Confectionary Co. Ltd. (722 Granville). Around 1926, William and Viena Bain open up their own shop, Bain’s Confectionary, at 2520 Main Street. When William Bain died at the age of 50 in 1934, his widow Viena becomes the sole proprietor of Bain’s Confectionary. She continued as such even after her 1936 marriage to Campbell Munro. Not only does the Munro couple work in Mount Pleasant, they live there too, just up the street at Belvedere Court (2545 Main). Sadly, two years later, Viena (Bain) Munro dies at the age of 47 in 1938. Widower Campbell Munro becomes the third proprietor of Bain’s Confectionary. By the time he sets up shop in the newly constructed Wosk Block in 1948, Munro was remarried to a woman named Dorothy. The 1889 Depencier House (151 E. 8th) was home to the Bain’s Chocolate Factory; everyday Munro would get up at 5am to make chocolates here for the Triangle Building store. Apparently, the candy and chocolate business was the key to a long life for Campbell Munro. He died in 2004 at the age of 94.
Community-based Mount Pleasant Heritage Group (MPHG) believes that the Triangle Building’s continuing “popularity as a social gathering place, both inside its shops, café’s and eateries and outside along the sidewalk, reflects how much the building and its tenants are held dear by the residents of Mount Pleasant and the citizens of Vancouver”. The ultimate goal of the MPHG, and of heritage supporters all over the city, is to identify buildings like the Triangle Building that not only have “architectural significance” but also have a “history of contributing to the social & cultural identity of the community”.
Currently, the Triangle Building is not included on Vancouver’s Heritage Register. This is an oversight that should be remedied. In my opinion, it could easily be included on the Heritage Register under the “Recent Landmarks Program”, an initiative that recognizes the historical and cultural importance of structures built during Vancouver’s post-war period.
Anyone remember when you used to be able to buy weed from that weird neon shop where Gene is?
I never knew who owned the neon shop but walked by to the wafting weed smell many times.
Had no idea the guy who ran Bains wasn’t Mr Bains! We called him that for years. He made the most amazing humbugs that were a Christmas regular in my place for many years! He made the candy and chocolates in the 8 and 1/2 space and lived upstairs with his wife. She died and he closed up the store and I heard moved to the island. I remember she wasn’t impressed he was still working in his 90’s but the man was a going concern.
Great job on this! Campbell Monroe loved his work and he really enjoyed giving out free samples of his latest creations. He always had nearby a 1938 photo that showed him and the other Bains people standing in front of the original Bains store, a little over a block south on Main Street. In his early 90s he just had a tiny outlet in the bottom of his 1889 Depencier House on 8th Avenue off Main Street behind the Goh Ballet, right next door to the entrance to the 8 1/2 restaurant. What a guy. It was an amazing combination, him living and chocolate-making in his house, the oldest single family dwelling in Vancouver, and having the same job and business for over 65 years in the heart of Mount Pleasant. Another special person and unique business, part of the long history of Mount Pleasant!
Great article. It would be great to see the tile work hiding underneath!
I have a couple of old photos from the neighbourhood. One of Bain’s Chocolates on East 8th from 2002 and the Lido from 2012 pre renovation.
Thanks for to all for sharing their memories of Bain’s. And thanks to John for sharing the photographs!
I remember in the 1980s the coffee shop was occupied by a business named Drums Only! that sold instruments and is credited on record albums by Vancouver artists like Bryan Adams. In the early 1990s it was a neon art studio shop. Yeah it should be included in a heritage building registry otherwise in Vancouver’s crazy real estate frenzy some developer might turn the site into yet more lifeless architecture like those condo towers across Kingsway!
Thanks for the great work on this important Vancouver Landmark. I agree it should be part of Vancouver’s Heritage Inventory. Do you know the name of the architect who designed it?