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.