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YOU SHOULD KNOW: About The History Of The Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood

Before the dollar stores, cheap dosa spots, and abundance of basement suites spanning Fraser to Nanaimo, the Kensington-Cedar Cottage neighbourhood was a unique development area that played an essential role in cultivating the economic and cultural landscape of late nineteenth-century Vancouver. While it’s true that there was an actual Cedar Cottage Brewery in the area, the nomenclature of this diverse and expansive area goes much farther back than that. During the 1870s, pioneers of the Granville Townsite purchased a series of land plots along what would become the Kingsway corridor – it was then known than as Westminster Road (“Kingsway” wasn’t paved and named until 1913).

Following the establishment of an interurban tram system between the newly established Vancouver and New Westminster, the station named “Epworth” (also known as Cedar Cottage) contributed to the development of communities surrounding the area that is now home to the Croatian Cultural Center. Until its amalgamation into Vancouver in 1929, the area south of 15th Avenue was originally deemed South Vancouver, and would serve as a bustling commercial hotspot in the early 1900s, featuring Marfew Hall, “the largest hall in South Vancouver”. Centered around Commercial Street, between 15th and 20th Avenues, the epicentre of Cedar Cottage grew to include a silent movie theatre, a bank, a hardware store, and later, a roller coaster. The roller coaster didn’t last – the Depression of 1913 deemed this sort of thing a luxury – and neither did the growing economic and commercial intensity of this area that was “just like downtown, jammed with shoppers”. The pride and joy of area residents? The city’s only lake: Trout Lake, or as it was known in the 1870s, Blackie’s Lake.

Mr. Arthur Wilson built the actual cottage at the center of this history in 1886, having purchased 35 acres of land spanning the area of Knight and Kingsway. Wilson’s lot featured a grove of cedar trees and, as every old photograph of the area attests, it wasn’t the only one. The area was filled with vast expanses of trees, small homes, and Gibson Creek, one of the many salmon-filled waterways that fed into the China Creek system. Like China Creek, Gibson was eventually turned into a park after receding into a garbage dump.

In 1901 George Raywood built the Cedar Cottage Brewery at 1404 Kingsway, later known as Benson’s. Before becoming a mid-century Safeway, complete with requisite 20-year redevelopment restrictions, the brewery offered bottled beer delivered to your door for 75 cents. The development of Knight Street (formerly Knight Road) beginning in 1893, the Clark-Knight Diversion in 1907, and the Knight Street Bridge in 1974 all led to a denouement of the “cottage” era as KCC grew into a major thoroughfare and commuter route – recent cultural and economic revitalization notwithstanding.

Kensington-Cedar Cottage is a large area, bordering the region of Broadway up to 41st Ave, and features a history to match. Reflecting on the diversification, expansion, and changing character of our city, the neighbourhood offers more than a route to the suburbs. Despite it’s transition into an urban landscape, it’s a unique historical area, with plenty of stories as rich as the more archetypal over-emphasized “heritage” areas (I’m looking at you, Gastown). Check it out on a walking tour. You might just learn to love that basement suite of yours.


There are 7 comments

  1. It would be nice to read some stories about how diverse Vancouver really was back in the day, for example Japanese fishing villages all along kitsilano, before they were interned, and moved out of their homes.

    It is time to bring back the real history of BC and Vancouver, instead of just promoting the white washed stories.

  2. Thanks for this article, I enjoyed learning more about this part of the city. Great photo in the header, did you find it in the City archives?

  3. The Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House recently did a historical research project of the area with a public presentation this past October. Incidentally, they have served the community since the 1950s and compiled some excellent data for this project.
    The Vancouver Civic Railway Society also has documented a wealth of information about the local history of the area too.

  4. Actually, the name Epworth belongs to the post office which was located in the restored Gow Block. It was common practice for post offices to have unique names not related to the community they served. It is true that Epworth was promoted (by local resident Frank Vosper) as being the name Cedar Cottage should adopt, and he even managed to influence the (unofficial?) renaming of what is now Hull St.
    Epworth probably refers the the Epworth League, a popular YMCA-like organization in England in the late 1900s. It might also refer to a local neighbourhood in Islington, part of London England. The name Vosper and also the name Stainsby (corrupted into “Stainsbury” Street) appear in church rolls in the Clerkenwell area, which might suggest that some of the settlers were from that neighbourhood.

  5. I did a walking tour of cedar cottage that emphasized the geological history of the area, and how was transformed by colonization. Prior to European settlers, the area was covered in rich creeks and streams running over the land. Cedar cottage brewery was located on one of these creeks which it used as a source of water for beer production. The streams were also used as open sewers and as the population grew the streams became less and less healthy until they were covered over and converted into sewer systems. An anecdote that stays with me concerns the coffee shop at the corner of Knight and Kingsway. Back in the day, it was a drug store, and China creek ran directly alongside it, and each morning, the drugstore owner was known to drop a line into the creek to catch a fish for his lunch.

  6. The history of cedar cottage – what is left if it – is actively being erased to the point of zero as i write this by the city of vancouver and developers. Make no mistake of interpreting public relations statements and the changing of building code laws on the spot as preserving this heritage site by those who would take every last bit until there is nothing else to take.

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