Welcome to the Vancouver Lexicon. Its purpose is to pin down the patois of the City of Vancouver by recording its toponyms, nicknames, slang terms, personalities, places, and other Van-centric things. Full A-Z here.

White Lunch Ltd. No. 4, 806 Granville St. Vancouver, B.C. | CVA 99-5167

White Lunch | restaurant, racism, history | A local chain of restaurants launched in 1913 by two Scandinavian bakers, Neil and Thos Sorenson, at 124 West Hastings (across from Woodwards). With the name, the Sorensons were advertising the fact that their establishments only served white guests and hired white workers. This was at a time when white Vancouver’s nativism and racist antipathy towards the city’s ethnic Chinese and Japanese inhabitants was still very much out in the open, just six years after the so-called “Anti-Oriental Riots” of 1907. The concept proved to be very popular at the time, with “White Lunch” expanding to included prime locations on Granville and Pender, plus another on Hastings Street just one block east of the original (next door to the Lux). The company’s abhorrent policies were eventually phased out, but the racist stigma associated with it persisted until the last location closed in the early 1980s.

Usage: “When Vancouverites find out that White Lunch used to be a thing, I think they’re more embarrassed than they are surprised…”

White Lunch on Granville St. in 1950 (detail) | VPL_81449
White Lunch on West Hastings in 1950 | Vancouver Public Library | VPL_81360
White Lunch, 1972 | via Michael de Courcy’s Background / Vancouver
White Lunch at 100 West Hastings Street in 1981 | CVA 779-E16.20

There are 16 comments

  1. Not only did we all go to the White Lunch for a decent meal at a decent price, we needed the “white lunch” stamped utensils to take home. It absolutely never dawned on us about the meaning of the name. We were so naive.

  2. Worked Granville st location as a young fellow.Cooks helper.Actually had fun! Did not look down on self.
    .lillian the manager, Jimy the cook.several Chinese cooks.closed 1973.for a few yrs.saw a few around town.Memories.

  3. I have only good memories of White Lunch. My Swedish dad would take me there for chocolate cake and a glass of milk when I was very young, in the late ’50’s and the early ’60’s. It was our special time when he would meet up with friends who were loggers up in the Queen Charlottes and were in town for a short time. Such great memories. I have no prejudices and I feel sad that this was the case but it won’t diminish my great memories of my dad who passed away in 1987.

  4. I have been hauling around a portrait of this for 20 ish years I got at a garage sale. Can I send you a photo of it scout?

  5. Every summer before us kids had to go back to school. Mom n dad would bring us to Vancouver to do back to school shopping. We always went to woodwords then white lunch for our meal. I always loved the 2 aides of the restaurant. The cafeteria style service and it was a highlight n great memory of mine because omg I loved their fries and gravy and fountain pop dispenser. I wish it was still there for me to go to and reminis about the 1970″s and summer holidays with our folks. Terrific memories at white lunch. I had no idea it was meant for only white people. Seeing we are native Indians I now understand the funny looks some white people would give. But wth my dad was never afraid. We enjoyed our time there for sure

  6. SOUVENIR CUTLERY? Here’s one out of left field! Does anyone have any souvenir cutlery from Vancouver’s White Lunch restaurants? I am writing a series of stories that revolve around the nightlife scene in the Granville Street White Lunch in the 1970s and would love to have such a souvenir.

    A friend gave me an old White Lunch spoon (the name was stamped on the handle) 30 years ago. It was worn through in the bowl of the spoon where, we surmised, it was used to cook heroin … an appropriate memento of the times and the place. But it was lost in the shuffle of time and change and I no longer have it

    Anyone?

    kevindalemckeown@gmail.com

  7. According to two of the comments here, people who were not white did in fact work there, and people who were not white did eat there. The narrative of this article suggests otherwise.

  8. I have a “White Lunch” food crock with lid . It has “ white lunch” in script to front. If anybody would like to see a photo of it please message me as I cannot work out how to upload here ! Oddly enough I am Scottish and live in Aberdeen, but cannot remember where I got it other than possibly in a job lot of kitchenalia. Have just been researching it and found this page.

  9. “According to two of the comments here, people who were not white did in fact work there, and people who were not white did eat there. The narrative of this article suggests otherwise.”

    Actually the article quite explicitly says –

    “…The company’s abhorrent policies were eventually phased out [eg by the time those people worked and ate there], but the racist stigma associated with it persisted until the last location closed in the early 1980s.”

  10. My grandfather was the manager of the White Lunch, with the rotating sign, on the north side of Hastings, back in the 1940/1950’s. I would love to talk to anyone that might have some information on him or if anyone could suggest where I might look for more information. His name was Peter Nelson. As a small child I remember going with my Mom and Grandma to visit him at the restaurant. Also recall him coming home, on the bus, one Christmas Eve with a cooked turkey!

  11. In the photograph above from 1971 that shows 4 young gentlemen seated in a booth, you can see that one of them is Oriental. Obviously somebody (or everybody) was oblivious about the purported purpose of the restaurant’s original nom de guerre. It seems from the photo, and from reading the comments above, that multi-racial dining had become the norm by the ’70’s, or earlier.

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