Night Music: Too Bad

February 8, 2022

So many memories of East Vancouver in the 1980s.

Britannia Renewal

February 8, 2022


Last night was the monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC). These ZOOM meetings attract a wide selection of local residents, and last night was no exception.

The meeting began with a short presentation by Nathan Davidowitz regarding the removal of bus stops in various neighbourhoods, including in Grandview along Nanaimo. Nathan noted the success that Dunbar Residents Association had in persuading Translink to adjust their proposed plans and asked GWAC to do the same. The Board agreed to look at writing letters to both City Council and Translink.

The meeting then moved to the main agenda item, a report on the Britannia Renewal project, which was given primarily by Craig who is both Chair of GWAC and a member of the Britannia Board.

Craig went through the current state of thinking about the four main buildings proposed for the site:

The new ice rink in the northwest corner is probably the first one up for detailed design. There is some thought that the draft plans may be open for public discussion this spring with construction in about 2-3 years. Some thought had gone into making two rinks, but the current plan is for one ice sheet with changing rooms and office, with perhaps a sports area on the roof.

Next over would be the new pool building. It will be slightly larger than the current pool and thoroughly modernised. The building will also house an 8,000 sqft fitness centre, along with a 69-person childcare space.

On the northeast corner we have the new Library building, which will have a custom art gallery space, some innovative art workshops, a clean air facility, and another 69-person childcare area.

Along the Commercial Drive frontage will be a new social and cultural building with a performance space on grade level. There will be a large dining hall and a commercial kitchen to serve Britannia’s various food programs. Other areas will be for arts & cultural spaces, along with the Seniors’ Centre, the Teen Centre, and Eastside Family Place. A rooftop garden is proposed.

A number of problems were identified, including the reluctance of the Vancouver School Board to pay for moving their workshops and offices to a new area. If that cannot be resolved, major design changes will be required to accommodate VSB’s needs.

But the major issues are still housing and height. Regardless of what locals or Britannia might want, the City is insistent that the site must accommodate a certain level of housing. The proposal is to put housing on top of the three new buildings along Venables. The height of those buildings will be determined by the number of housing units the City insists on.

The Britannia Board has stated their position that buildings should not be taller than 60 feet, and that ANY and ALL housing on the site must be truly affordable; they want nothing to do with market housing of any kind. Britannia’s hope is that the City will keep the number of units low and that ALL should be for indigenous seniors.

At this point, neither the number of units to be built nor the height of the buildings have been finalized with the City. Unfortunately, many of us are not expecting the best from this Council and their staff.

This was a typically useful GWAC meeting, with a good group of informed and interested citizens debating solid ideas and proposals.

The Wealthy Barber & The Tin Man

February 8, 2022

Just the other day I was standing on Commercial Drive looking across at two of my favourite buildings which are in the centre of the east side of the 1600-block.

The building on the left is the Odlin Block and the building on the right is the Rodway Block.  My interest was piqued because these buildings were erected at essentially the same time, on the same size lots, and were designed to service the same marketplace — retail stores with apartments above — and yet their designs are so different. That intrigued me enough to look deeper into their histories, wondering whether these designs reflected their original developers.

Harry N. Odlin was a barber downtown.  He first appears in 1896, working for John Lambert at 530 Georgia Street, and by 1900 he was at the Elite Barber Shop at 617 West Hastings.  Between 1902 and 1914 he worked in partnership with another barber, Charles Herman, at various addresses on West Hastings and Granville Streets, and he lived at 1123 Nelson Street. He appears to have been wildly successful (perhaps not just from barbering) because by 1911 he had purchased an expensive waterfront lot where he built a fine two storey $3,700 dwelling at 3197 Point Grey Road that, much enhanced, still exists.

Odlin was also able to buy a 33 foot lot in the 1600-block of Commercial Drive (then known as Park Drive) at the height of Grandview’s speculative bubble.  Lots of this size were selling for about $10,000 that year, although he may have purchased it earlier. He was issued two building permits for the site in April 1911 to erect a building valued at $7,500 designed and built by W.W. Brehart.  When it was completed by the middle of 1912, one storefront was taken up by Philip Timms, a photographer, the other by a confectioner, and the apartments began to be filled.

In 1912, Harry Odlin listed himself in the Directory as a realtor.  However, he was in fact still a barber, operating as the St. Regis Barber Shop on Dunsmuir Street until the late 1940s. His long and rather uneventful career suggests a steady conservative man, and his building — the Odlin Block at 1608-1612 Commercial — reflects that same conservatism with its flat unadorned brick facade.

Next door the situation was very different.

Joseph Rodway was a sheet metal manufacturer who had been born in Manitoba in the 1850s.  He moved his large family first to Alberta and then to Vancouver where he took up residence at 1644 Woodland Drive.  He found the money to buy the lot next to Harry Odlin’s and in July 1911 he was issued a permit to erect a $10,000 building.  He hired W.G. Thomas to design it and a Mr. Wood to build it.

Unlike the flat brickwork of its neighbour, Rodway ordered up a building with bay windows and significant amounts of ornamentation.  It is easy to believe that the pressed tin cornices, wall pieces and window parts were a deliberate advertisement for Joseph Rodway’s own business which eventually took over both storefronts.By the time the business opened at the new store, Rodway was already in his late 50s and the company was operated by his son Albert.  The Western Call reported at the time that the business was “prospering” under Albert’s “able management.”  However, it seems that sheet metal work wasn’t what the son wanted, and by 1914 the business had been sold to newcomer Fred Hamilton.  Joseph Rodway worked for Hamilton for a short while, but then retired and he was dead by 1922.

The Rodway Block in 1922

Fred Hamilton operated his hardware and plumbing business at 1618 Commercial until 1945 when he moved up the street to his own building at 1447 Commercial where the company stayed until February 1969.

So, is it possible that the conservative barber and the flamboyant sheet metal maker are memorialized in the very different designs of their neighbouring buildings?  I believe it is.