History & Heritage
June 4, 2020

Physical Distancing 1948 Style~Vancouver’s Georgia Street & Bing Crosby comes to Town

Another gem from Diana Sampson via Dave2onreddit:

Here’s the corner of West Georgia and Howe Streets looking east. Take a look where the traffic lights were, they are on lamp standards. There’s no crosswalk markings, no curb cuts to make it easier to step off the curb when walking. The width of the sidewalk  appears to be a generous six meters wide. You can see the Hudson’s Bay building in the left background, and just make out the Birks Clock when Birks was located on Georgia Street.

That’s Tenth Avenue Angel playing at the Strand Theatre  in the background  starring Margaret O’Brien, Angela Lansbury and George Murphy.

It’s interesting  how vast the large portion of the street  dominated by vehicles appears. Signage for people crossing the road indicates that “pedestrians start on walk light only” , and is placed  way above walkers’ heads on the signpost  facing traffic. It is oddly located above  the  “left turn only” sign for vehicles.

To get a sense of the post-war optimism of the era, here’s a YouTube video from September 21,  1948 when Hollywood actor and singer Bing Crosby brought his “radio show” to Vancouver toraise money for the  completion of the Sunset Community Centre(which was again  replaced in 2007). He raised 25,000 dollars and the City of Vancouver contributed the rest.

You can hear City Hall being called “ultra modern” (it was built in 1935) and see the City’s silver mace (which is a replica of the City of London England’s mace and one of the only pieces of civic regalia hallmarked before  Edward VIII’s abdication)  being carried out.

The acting Mayor follows wearing the Chain of Office. Bing Crosby meets First Nations Chief Mathias at the Sunset Community Centre site and be aware, there are some cringe worthy comments  in the description.

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Three years ago on the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion I wrote about the 2,000 people that died when a munitions ship blew up. That explosion left 25,000 people homeless, with 20 percent of the  population killed or seriously maimed. The Vancouver Sun published an interactive map that detailed the events leading up to and after the explosion.

But there was another story too, and that was the rebuilding of the city. The explosion meant that Halifax could  rebuild the city with better constructed houses, paved roads,  and proper water pipes and discharge sewers, an effort that took many years.  The City of Boston and organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation teamed together to bring health and sanitary services to the community. This has been documented in a book edited by David Sutherland called We Harbour No Evil Design: Rehabilitation Efforts after the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Before the blast, Halifax still had dirt roads, unreliable electricity, open sewers and a declining tax base. Despite the  funding that came to rebuild the city in a sanitary way, it  was not distributed evenly across Halifax. While the funding brought pasteurized milk, water treatment and a health centre, certain neighborhoods received sanitary sewers while one neighbourhood received none. Author Michelle Herbert Boyd observed that wealthier areas such as Richmond were  provided for while the African Canadian neighbourhood at Halifax’s North End, Africville, received scant assistance.

Africville was established in the 1840’s and included freed slaves and refugees from the War of 1812.  When new sanitation sewer was provided for all of Halifax, it was not extended to Africville. While the Richmond neighbourhood  was “being reconstructed and improved after the Explosion, the main sewer line was brought directly through Africville to empty into Bedford Basin; Africville residents were not themselves given sewer service, and to add insult to injury, they had to endure raw sewage from their Richmond neighbours running through their backyards whenever a line broke.” 

That inequity continued in the following decades.  In the 1930’s Africville residents petitioned for running water, paved roads, sewage disposal garbage removal, police coverage and electricity. That was ignored by Halifax City Council. And in the 1950’s Council placed an open-pit garbage dump 350 meters away from the western side of Africville. That cemented the city’s perception of this neighbourhood as a slum. There’s no “reference in the council minutes to any concern for the health of Africville residents, or any consultation”.

In the 1960’s when Africville was cleared for a “renewal” scheme popular at the time, few residents had land titles and the land was expropriated by the City a lot at a time over a period of five years. Promised rehousing never materialized, and residents’ belongings were moved in dump trucks instead of moving vans.

Today the segregated school which was closed in 1953 has been rebuilt as a museum and the area renamed Africville Park. The school site was made a National Historic Site in 1996 and on February 24 2010 Halifax Regional Municipality Mayor Peter Kelly offered an official apology for the community’s destruction.

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Say “corner store in the West End” … and the romantic among us think of this:

Most aren’t really ‘corner stores’ of course – more remnants of an age prior to ‘Euclidian’ zoning when the owner of a house with a front yard could build a storefront to the sidewalk and open for business, providing, as Sandy describes below, “a place where locals can buy milk, cheese, some staples and hear the local goings on and gossip.”

When I first moved to the West End in 1978, there was such a place literally down the lane – empty now – operated by a Korean immigrant family whose daughter I watched start to turn into a teenager.  (Perhaps now writing a novel or screenplay on the west-coast version of Kim’s Convenience.)

No wonder we feel so romantic about them, though many of those that remain are really coffee shops, able to survive on the caffeine mark-up and artisanal sundries.

For places that never had such conversions in their post-war history – starting with ’50s suburbs like Oakridge – corner stores of this kind are not allowed today, and there are reasons.  A new structure would have to be built, and it would require rezoning, raising two problematic challenges: parking and the impacts, perceived or otherwise, real or mistaken, on the present neighbours.  Ask the opinion of someone who would live in their single-family home next door to a design-controlled, limited-service, locally serving commercial establishment without parking, and then wonder whether the proposal would survive the public consultation process.

In reality, of course, there are still corner stores.  They’re very viable, selling diary, staples and many flimsy packages of fat, sugar and salt in all their processed variations, and they look like this:

They may be the only places, under 20,000 square feet, that can meet the ‘popsicle test’ – where your kids can go out by themselves to a store safely to purchase a popsicle and return home before it melts.

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Via Portland’s Tim Davis, here’s Vancouver’s Phoenix Chamber Choir putting to song what everyone is feeling. So very well done. As Tim says ”

“One of my favorite performances of 2020 thus far is by a chamber choir based in Vancouver, BC. Here’s their hilarious “quarantine edition” of Billy Joel’s “Longest Time”Phoenix Chamber Choir (https://phoenixchoir.com/about) has tons of top prizes in the annual CBC National Choral Competition. I’ll have to see them perform in Vancouver sometime!”

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Another set of images from Diana Sampson discovered in the Vancouver City Archives. They are unusual in that they are photographed in the winter and in the summer from roughly the same location.

But there is something different in the photos~look at the number of women walking on the wide sidewalks. They are wearing fur collared coats in the winter,  sun hats and white gloves in the summer.

In the top photo there  appears to be some kind of festive lighting atop the old post office (now part of Sinclair Centre).  Campbell Studios in the left of the photo is advertising that they will take your portrait and produce an 8 inch by 10 inch photo for $1.00.  You can also see the James Inglis Meat Store  at 559 Granville street that started business in that location in 1915 and ran until 1986.

There is a YouTube video below that has some footage of Vancouver’s commercial areas in 1934. Look how differently pedestrians use the street with the street cars in the middle of it.

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Man with generator laying streetcar tracks for reconstruction of Hastings and Main lines

Here’s another great photo from the Vancouver Archives found by Diane Sampson. The generator on the wagon has a sign that reads “Danger 600 Volts Do not Touch Do Not Watch Flame”. In the foreground a man is welding tracks. He is wearing button up spat boot coverings and has steel wool for soldering close by.

The man at the wagon with the generator looks exactly like former Vancouver School Board groundskeeper Chris Foxon.  The wagon is set up with a two horse hitch, and there are two workhorses complete with harness tied up in the right hand upper corner of the photo.  There is another horse harnessed up and standing in front of the Timothy Hay sign in the upper left corner of the photo.

From 1886 to 1914 Hastings Street between Granville Street and Cambie was Vancouver’s downtown, with most of the city’s banks located on Hastings. The streetcar was operated by the B.C. Electric Railway Company who had been in operation since 1897. Since 1900, the company had increased their rails from 21 kilometers in 1900 to 170 kilometers by 1912, allowing access to large areas of land that could be developed for single family housing.

Take a look at this YouTube video below that shows Victoria and Vancouver from a streetcar in 1907. You can see The Empress Hotel being built and the Legislative Buildings in Victoria, and in Vancouver you can see the old Hotel Vancouver and the streetcars serving Howe, Robson, Powell Streets  and Kitsilano.

 

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Located on the southeast corner of the 200  block of West Tenth Avenue and nestled in salal bushes, the enameltec sign that provides a historical interpretation is missing. There were several historic plaques placed in granite sets along West Tenth Avenue. In this case, there is also a bench which has not been taken.

You can take a look a this geocache site which shows a photo of the plaque for Dad’s Cookies, which is still outside 398 West Tenth. That plaque remembers the small bakery at Broadway and Yukon that had as its base an innovative cookie recipe.

Who remembers what was on this missing plaque, and when will it be replaced?

 

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From the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:

In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26 storey office building at 555 Cordova, shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver. Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station and the proposed building site has been the eastern access and parking lot for the Station since it opened in 1914.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The building, dubbed the Icepick, was turned down at City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original. Responding to design objections, the developer rotated and pushed the building a little further west and north, slightly reduced its footprint, and made it possible to see and walk through the ground floor.

With these changes, the developer seems intent on getting approval at a Development Permit Board Meeting scheduled for May 25, 2020.

The proposed building is not consistent with the existing 2009 Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework. In October 2017, Council approved a program to update the Framework and resolve implementation issues. This work has only just begun.

Does it make sense to put approvals before planning? Should a private developer be able to sabotage a public planning and design process?

The proposal does not conform to planning guidelines for the area. The most recent proposed building is more than twice the suggested height of 11 stories, and six times the recommended floor space. It overwhelms heritage buildings on either side and provides an uninviting gateway to Historic Gastown.

Most disturbing, Cadillac Fairview has not agreed to an extension of Granville Street to the waterfront. The developer owns the parkade at the foot of Granville. Removing part of the parkade’s top level was a central concept of the original Hub Framework. It would open the street to the waterfront, and provide an opportunity to build a public walkway connecting Stanley Park, the waterfront, Gastown, Chinatown and False Creek.

As the most important transportation hub in the region, this site is critical to the future of the city.

Surely Vancouver, which prides itself on progressive planning, can find a better solution.

Approving Cadillac Fairview’s latest proposal will preclude the current planning process and seriously undermine future options for the City’s waterfront.

Icepick 2 must to be stopped.

 

Community Open House & Feedback Session

Tuesday, Feb 18

3 –7 pm

Fairmont Waterfront Hotel
900 Canada Place, Mackenzie Ballroom

 

 

 

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On Tuesday night CBC radio hosted a special broadcast of their feature program, The Current with Matt Galloway. Never a program to shy away from controversy, the broadcast centered on “The Future of Vancouver’s Chinatown”. The event brought out a capacity audience of CBC afficiendos, passionate Chinatown supporters, and a cross section of people that would not look out of place at a community centre or any Vancouver civic gathering.

Matt Galloway had as panelists  Carol Lee, who is with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and the inspiration behind the wildly popular Chinatown BBQ, Jordan Eng from the Chinatown Business Improvement Association (BIA) and the Duke of Data and SFU Professor of City Planning Andy Yan.

All three panelists have deep roots in the Chinatown community and refreshingly they all saw the importance of this place not just for the city, but for its pivotal importance provincially and nationally. As Carol Lee poignantly noted the story of Chinatown goes back to the nation building  railroad across Canada where thousands of Asian labourers stitched the country’s rail tracks together. The “physical legacy of struggle and sacrifice” is also manifested in Chinatown which was built on a drainage swamp around 1885, the same time that the railway was completed. Andy Yan described Chinatown as “my muse and my tormentor“, in that this culturally rich place was always a neighbourhood of sanctuary and brought together many ethnic groups over time, and is important to maintain in a city built for everyone. How do you save what is integral to a community? How do you continue to provide the liveliness, the cultural activities, and social housing?

Carol Lee talked about the community handling the issues of homelessness, addiction and lack of inclusion, and the panel discussed the fact that the planning and solutions that work in Vancouver’s Chinatown can provide a pattern language for other downtown innercity neighbourhoods coping with similar issues. The BIA’s approach has been to focus upon cleanliness, graffiti and safety, with half the business association’s budget spent on security.

Several speakers active and engaged in Chinatown spoke about the importance of this place culturally and and as a destination. Despite the fact that there are other malls and places to go to that reflect Chinese culture, they are perceived as a substitute for the real thing. Architect Stanley Kwok who built the Crystal Mall in Burnaby and who has lived a half century in Vancouver questioned whether Chinatown needed to form a corporation to manage all the buildings, and whether the location was to be a museum or a living place. All speakers pointed to the importance of commerce in the area’s health, citing the importance of physical, economic and cultural revitalization.

The location of the new hospital precinct as well as the towers planned for the Northeast False Creek will provide plenty of customers for Chinatown businesses. In terms of housing, units that could accommodate older Chinese seniors and integrate with the community form and fabric was discussed.

This was a surprisingly rich and passionate discussion about Chinatown’s place as the “gateway to achieving Canadian dreams” and the importance of collaboration was stressed.

There was a puzzling reference and long dialogue  from a Vancouver City Councillor that Chinatown needed to work better with City Hall and that most of City Council were not on board in working towards Chinatown’s future.

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Wednesday, Feb 19 – Places That Matter: Community Celebration

Hear the stories of Places That Matter sites from the people and organizations who brought their history forward.  This free celebration includes refreshments and displays related to Places That Matter sites and local history, a short program of inspirational storytelling, as well as live music from bluegrass band, Viper Central. For more information about the Places That Matter project visit vancouverheritagefoundation.org/places-that-matter.

Heritage Hall, 3102 Main St. 6 – 8:30pm, FREE

 

Friday, Feb 21 – Mid-Project Tour: St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church Seismic Upgrade and Heritage Restoration

Join us for a special opportunity to tour inside the landmark church as it undergoes seismic upgrading and heritage restoration during a two-year closure. This is a professional education event and all participants must supply specific safety equipment.

St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church, 4 – 6 pm, $85

 

Sunday, Feb 23 – Something Old/Something New: Adaptive Reuse and Industrial Heritage Walking Tour

Today much of the early legacy of development in Mount Pleasant can be found with former industrial sites adapted to new uses. Join historian John Atkin to explore the challenges and benefits of adaptive reuse with examples found in this historic neighbourhood.

Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood. 10 am – 12 pm, $16

 

To purchase tickets or for more information visit www.vancouverheritagefoundation.org or call 604 264-9642.

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