100 Years Ago Today in Grandview, #3

February 3, 2023


Swap Columns

The Vancouver dailies included scores of pages of ads. Many of them were corporate material just trying to sell you stuff; but a significant number were “swap” ads, where individuals offered up something in exchange for something else. For example, on Saturday 3rd February 1923, someone offered a short silk plush coat with fur collar and cuffs in exchange for “anything useful.”

Someone else was willing to swap their Edison phonograph and records for a heater or pullets.

A bed with dresser, skates and boots, a Briscoe roadster “in good shape,” 40 acres of unimproved land in the Okanagan, an 8-day clock and a Mackinaw coat were offered. A late model light touring car, a lot in South Vancouver, chickens, and a modern typewriter were sought after items.

Several people offered help around the property in exchange for rent.

It was an efficient way to recycle and re-use.

Source: Sun 1923 Feb 3, p.10

Changes On The Drive #129

February 1, 2023


We are back with edition #129, thanks once again to Penny and Steve for walking the walk and feeding me information.

The big news of the month was, of course, the closure of Santa Barbara Market at 1320 Commercial. That has been covered elsewhere (here and here). There are hopes that the new owners will be re-opening as soon as this week, and we await what changes that may bring to the street. In the meanwhile, our report goes as usual from south to north.

At 2245 Commercial we have just what we needed — yet another smoke shop! This one is called Haze.

The dope store at 2223 Commercial, which was Cannabis Cantina, appears to have changed its name to VanCity Weed.

We are not sure if Dr. Tong at 2105 Commercial is still in business? It is padlocked and never seems to be open.

The Holy Smoke Bangladeshi Restaurant at 2017 Commercial seems to have failed. That’s a shame — lost a bit of our diversity.

The purchase by Dava Developments for $62.5m of the Il Mercato Mall from Millenium City Malls is listed as one of the top ten commercial real estate transactions of 2022. The entire site is scheduled for re-development within this decade.

The space that used to be Drive Cafe at 1670 Commercial has people working inside, so hopefully this will open as something new soon.

People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial is now officially open 7 days a week!

Party Rock at 1314 Commercial is now sporting a Closing Down Sale sign.

We have lost the Spank boutique at 1027 Commercial.

The long-time “opening soon” Nicli Pronto at 935 Commercial finally looks as if it is close to being open.

The former Covid Cafe at 931 Commercial is re-branding as the Pizza Bagel Cafe, with a new menu and some decorative changes.

Although it is a couple of blocks outside our usual boundaries for these posts, I believe it would be sad to move on without mentioning the death two weeks ago of Nick Felicella, the owner of what used to be Nick’s Spaghetti House next to the York Theatre at Commercial & Frances. Nick’s was always a warm and welcoming place to go for huge family-style Italian meals until it closed at the end of 2017. He will be missed.

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2111 Commercial, 2096 Commercial, 2058 Commercial, 2017 Commercial, 1861 Commercial, 1858 Commercial, 1733 Commercial, 1670 Commercial, 1428 Commercial, 1340 Commercial, 1230 Commercial, 1124 Commercial, 1027 Commercial, 1020 Commercial, 935 Commercial

Previous editions of Changes on the Drive

100 Years Ago Today in Grandview #2

January 29, 2023

It was a big day for Grandview — January 29th, 1923 — as the Grandview Theatre debuted its brand-new $15,000 orchestral organ. It was, they said, “the last word in organs.” You got all this, plus a Jackie Coogan feature, for just 30 cents!

100 Years Ago Today in Grandview #1

January 24, 2023


One hundred years ago today, on 24th January 1923, it was announced that the School Board had purchased the block between Lakewood & Templeton, and E. Georgia and Barnard (now Adanac), for the sum of $10,500, a price that was considered “exceptionally low”. This would eventually become Templeton School.

Changes On The Drive #128

January 2, 2023


Many thanks once again to Penny and Steve for undertaking the walk this month and for the images.

With the closing of Pacific Ink & Toner last month, it seems that National Massage Chairs at 2135 Commercial has expanded into their space at 2115.

The former Cafe Deux Soleils space at 2096 Commercial will be occupied this spring by Chancho Tortilleria. (h/t to KL for the heads up). See also.

The former laundromat at 2058 Commercial is still closed, but the For Lease sign has been removed, and the windows are now papered over. Perhaps a good sign?

Carthage Restaurant at 1851 Commercial appears to have re-opened, though its signs are somewhat confusing (do they mean “Main Course” and “Mussels” perhaps?)

The storefront at 1832 Commercial has now reverted to being an office for Expedia Cruises (which it was before February last year) after being a housing developer’s sales office for most of 2022.

The Osita Restaurant at 1728 Commercial has an application in its window for a liquor license.

The latest news I have on the much-loved Santa Barbara Market at 1322 Commercial is that they will be closing at the end of this month. I haven’t seen official confirmation of that (though it came from a store employee) and so there is still hope, I guess, that it will remain with us into the future.

Fet’s at 1230 Commercial has closed after 35 years in business. My small tribute to them is here.

That same block will be very quiet this month as Havana Restaurant and Theatre at 1212 Commercial will be closed for the month of January for renovations.

The new building at 928 Commercial seems close to completion. We should be adding new storefronts anytime now,

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2245 Commercial, 2111 Commercial, 2096 Commercial, 2058 Commercial, 1858 Commercial, 1861 Commercial, 1733 Commercial, 1670 Commercial, 1428 Commercial, 1340 Commercial, 1230 Commercial, 1124 Commercial, 1020 Commercial, 935 Commercial

Previous editions of Changes on the Drive

Italian Labourers’ Strike, July 1910

November 10, 2022


I have written a short research article on the strike of Italian city labourers in July 1910, which started in Grandview and which featured action on our streets.The article can found at: https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/blog/

I hope you find it of interest.

Breaking Down The Drive

November 6, 2022


Based on the wonderfully detail inventory created by Penny & Steve, I note that we have the following breakdown of businesses between Venables and the Cut:

It is easy to see how successful the BIA and others have been in developing the Drive as a “destination”, rather than as the main street of a residential neighbourhood. I take that as a reasonable position for the BIA to have taken in the past, especially as the City was working hard to restrict certain businesses (furniture stores, appliance stores, automobile businesses come to mind) from inner-suburban neighbourhoods and move then into big box stores a car ride away.

But I think we are at the point now where the main street needs of the residents are being squeezed to bring in ever more restaurants and fast-food joints. Back in the 1980s and 1990s — not so long ago — we had a few dozen restaurants along the Drive. Now we have 92. While I welcome that diversity and availability of great food, I have to note that the last 40 or 50 restaurants have displaced 40 or 50 other different businesses that used to service the multiple needs of the people of Grandview.

Those are my thoughts on a snowy early November day. Here are some of the newest windows on the Drive (Images: Penny and Steph):

Changes on the Drive Coming Back!

November 5, 2022

Back in March, I announced that Changes on the Drive #126 would be the last of the series. I have missed walking on the Drive and keeping track these last few months, and it was gratifying to know through messages that others also missed the monthly updates.

Luckily, through the good offices of my friends Penny Street and Stephen Holmes, who have volunteered to do the legwork I’m no longer able to handle, we have a plan to restart the monthly Changes posts in December.

Meanwhile, as the first fruit of their walk on the Drive from the Cut down to Venables, they have produced this real-time list of all the businesses on that stretch as of November 2nd, 2022. (It is worth comparing this with the list still being offered by the BIA which is several years out of date). We’ll be using this as the baseline against which we will start noting changes next month.

Always happy to receive tips and news and gossip.

Commercial Drive in the 1890s

October 1, 2022


I have today published a new article:  “The Drive: 1890s:  False Start” which can be found at: https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/blog/.

I hope you find it of interest.

Grandview’s Drug Store Tycoon

September 5, 2022


I have today published a research essay on “Louis Toban: Drug Store Tycoon and Philanthropist” — a man who had a considerable effect on the Drive’s retail environment.

The essay can be found at: https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/blog/

The Buftons of Commercial Drive

August 2, 2022


I have today published a biographical sketch of the three generations of the Bufton family who ran a florist shop on the Drive for 60 years, and who were community stalwarts, engaging in all the issues that faced Grandview and the Drive in those years.

The article can be found at: https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/blog/

I hope you find it of interest.

The Viaduct That Saved Grandview

July 1, 2022


Today — Canada Day — is the 84th anniversary of the opening of the First Avenue Viaduct. I have written a short history of how the viaduct came to be built, and its effect on Grandview.

The history can be found at: https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/blog/

I hope you find it of interest.

100 Years Ago Today

June 27, 2022


Vancouver Sun 1922 June 27, p.13

I would wager this house is still there, but the price may be a touch higher.

Why It Took 50 Years For Grandview To Get A Library

June 8, 2022


I have today published a new research essay on the 50-year struggle to get a library established in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood.

The essay can be found at: https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/blog/

I hope you find it of interest.

House Contents, Grandview, 1922

June 3, 2022


One hundred years ago today, there was an auction of household contents at 1549 E. 2nd in Grandview. The 6-room wooden house had been owned and occupied for some time by Albert Cameron and his wife, Susannah. Albert is listed in the census of the previous year as a carpenter in a railway shop, while the 1922 City Directory lists him as a painter. He claimed wages of $655 in the 12 months prior to the 1921 census.

In these years, auctions of households were a regular occurrence in East Vancouver. They were usually a result of either a death, a move out of town, or the failure to pay rent. Albert Cameron owned the house so there was no rent to be defaulted, and he was 63 years old at the census. So, I assume (without any stronger evidence) that he died and his widow was selling the house.

Province, 1922 Jun 3, p,22

The value of the list of contents to be sold is in the view it grants us of the home of a skilled tradesman and his family in those years. As can be seen, the couple enjoyed a full range of furniture and furnishings, a china cabinet, several carpets, and some electrical appliances. The list tells us nothing about the quality of the items for sale, but I believe they allow us to imagine a fairly comfortable, almost middle-class life for this working man just off the Drive.

The Development of First & Commercial

May 16, 2022

I have today published a new research essay on the 15-year fight for the development of the old Grandview High school site at First & Commercial.

The essay can be found at: https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/2022/05/16/battle-for-the-school-site-1940-1955/

I hope you find it of interest.

Smallpox! Grandview’s Isolation Hospital

May 3, 2022


I have today published another research essay, this one tells the history of the smallpox Isolation Hospital erected in Grandview in 1892 and which stayed in place until it became part of Templeton Park in 1912.

The essay can be read at https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca/blog

Grandview’s Parks (1890-1930)

April 19, 2022


I have today published a brief essay on the history of parks in Grandview from 1890 to 1930.

The essay is posted at https://wordpress.com/post/grandviewheritagegroup.ca/3429 and I hope you find it of interest.

The Widening of Commercial Drive

April 12, 2022

Visitors and locals alike often wonder why Commercial Drive south of First Avenue — a wide arterial road — is different than the northern half which is narrower and more intimate. The reason goes back more than 110 years and it all had to do with political intrigue in the Balkans.

Like many streets in Vancouver, Commercial Drive (or Park Drive as it was then called) began as a path through tall stands of timber, or at least the stumps thereof. It was barely wide enough for the interurban tracks that were laid in the early 1890s. As Grandview began to grow in the first years of the twentieth century, and as the Drive developed into the retail and commercial hub of a burgeoning residential neighbourhood, the roadway was widened and improved to a standard width of 66 feet.

As early as 1909, the Grandview Progress Association had written to the Vancouver Board of Works suggesting that Park Drive be widened. But it was not until 1911 that City engineers had begun planning to widen several main thoroughfares, including Main Street and Park Drive. Discussion of this possibility became a matter of concern for developers wanting to erect new buildings and wondering what street line they should plan for. In July of that year G.W. Fuller and other Park Drive property owners approached the Board of Works for clarification. He suggested that the Drive be widened from 6th Avenue south to the City limits from 66 feet to 80 feet. Fuller asserted that 75% of the property owners were in favour of the plan, each to give seven feet on either side of the road. He noted that the southern end of the Drive was not yet built up but would become busier once the tram cars started to make their planned turn at 6th Avenue. It was, he suggested, a good time to make the improvement while local owners were willing to defray the costs. Alderman Williamson moved that the City Engineer report on Fuller’s request. However, Alderman Cameron felt it was “unfair that the residents of one portion of the street should pay” for improvements desired by the other portion; and so the motion was amended to seek the Engineer’s report on widening the Drive all the way from Venables to 16th Avenue.i

Later that same month, the Ward 5 Ratepayers Association wrote to the Board urging that the Park Drive widening be completed as soon as possible. But the Engineer reported that there were issues with the sewer system which needed to be solved before any street widening could take place. The matter seems to have been settled quickly as the Board in August was urging that the widening from 6th Avenue south should be rushed forward “with all possible speed.”ii

The Engineer also recommended that the widening be divided into two parts. He noted that the Drive from Venables to First Avenue was “fairly built up with brick buildings” and was already under contract for pavement. It would be more complex to deal with a widening of that section compared to the barely developed southern section. This recommendation was approved by the Board of Works in September where a budget of $208,772 was agreed for the northern section, and $215,137 for the much longer southern part, to be paid by local assessment. The details were published as a Public Improvement By-Law on October 18th 1911.iii

Opposition to the plan emerged in November 1911 when a number of Drive ratepayers met at Grandview Hall under the chairmanship of realtor A.E. Tregent who was secretary of the Property Owners Association. They were concerned about what if any compensation would be paid for losing seven feet of their land. Moreover, many of them claimed that the Drive was already wide enough for the amount of traffic they were seeing. The majority attending believed, following an address by Professor Edward Odlum, that if the widening was to go ahead either the City or the BC Electric Railway should pay as the streetcar operators woud be the main beneficiaries. In a sumbission to the Court of Revision, they complained again about what they considered the excessive costs of the project.iv

Whether it was this opposition or simply pressure of other work for the engineers, the widening project took a long time to get started. In September 1912, almost a full year after the meeting in Grandview Hall, propery owners had taken to complaining that they still did not know the street line against which they should be building. A letter from the London and British North Amerca Company noted that some buildings had been erected seven feet back from the old street line, and other owners didn’t know whether they should move their buildings back or not. They complained that they could not get the City to make the necessary arrangements to acquire the strip required for the widening nor, indeed, get confirmation that the widening was actually going to happen. Meanwhile, they were unable to rent their stores and houses due to the uncertainty and had lost considerable revenue. Land Agent J.B. Williams said the problem had been caused by “the mixed-up condition” of papers at the Land Registry Office which was delaying the surveying of road widening across the city. He thought that another four months would be needed before the work on Commercial Drive could begin.v

By January 1913, the sidewalks south of First Avenue had been laid on the new streetline, but only one building had been moved. Property owners led by Charles E. Smith appealed to the Board of Works to allow them to move the buildings themselves if the City was unwilling to proceed even though the work had been contracted with McCain Bros. The Board ordered the Purchasing Agent, the City comptroller and the City solicitor to report on the situation by the next meeting.vi

Two weeks later, the Purchasing Agent reported to the Board that only 101 of the 175 property owners had signed their approval to accept the assessment. He suggested that support for the widening scheme was flagging with each delay. Board chair Alderman Crewe agreed that the whole matter was a “muddle,” but promised that the removals would begin just as soon as final terms had been agreed.vii

To the relief of just about everyone, the work began in earnest in early February 1913. A total of nineteen buildings were to be moved back between First and Fifeenth Avenues, and Messrs. McCains planned to set a second gang of men to work by the middle of the month. They anticipated completion by April.viii

We are fortunate to have photographic evidence of one of the building moves.

In the 1900-block of Commercial, the Frederick Block was erected in March 1911 along the former streetline. In the photograph above from 1912 it can be seen as jutting forward compared to the Allen Block next door which was built several months later along the new streetline. The right-hand image shows the same blocks today, with the Frederick Block having been moved back seven feet to align with its neighbour.

The work of moving buildings actually took longer than anticipated but, by the middle of August 1913, the final building to be moved was dealt with. This was the Halse Block at 1729-1735 Commercial which had been built in 1910 at a cost of $14,000.

The Vancouver Daily World covered the unusual move in great detail and their report is worth quoting at length: ix

“Complete success attended the moving back of the large two-storey brick building on Commercial Drive, between First and Second Avenues, which undertaking was carried out this morning in connection with the Commercial Drive widening scheme. This was the first time that such a thing had been attempted locally and the task was watched by a large crowd of interested onlookers. The structure contained three stores on the ground floor and seven suites of apartments on the upper floor. Many of the latter were occupied during the time of the setting back of the building, but so gently was the work carried out that the movement  was all but imperceptible.

The building weighed, at a careful estimate, 550 tons, and the whole of it, from the very foundation, was set back seven feet. During the operation, the water supply and the sewerage system was not interfered with for a moment, the occupants of the apartments being able to continue their domestic duties without let or hindrance.”

The work may have been completed successfully but the building’s owner, George Halse, was not happy. He successfully sued the City, seeking $7,000 compensation for the seven feet of property he lost. After protracted negotiations, the City settled by paying him $4,200 plus $300 costs.x

The moving of the Halse Building turned out to be the final act of the Commercial Drive widening saga. Not unlike today, Vancouver’s growth before the First World War was driven in large part by foreign money. In the early 1900s it was British funds that drove the market. However, in late 1912 a serious crisis erupted in the Balkans and, cautious as money managers tend to be, they decided to hoard their cash in London rather than invest in Canada. By March 1913, the financial market situation in Vancouver was grave, leaving the City with a large amount of unsold municipal improvement bonds. The City was obliged to cease all local improvement work for the balance of the year. xi

Although the bond markets would quickly recover once the Balkan crisis was over, this recession was followed almost immediately by the start of the First World War, and the Commercial Drive widening scheme was never resumed, leaving the section north of First Avenue at its original width. In November 1915, the Improvement By-Law for the northern half of the Drive was repealed.xii

i  GPA request: Daily News Advertizer 1909 Dec 21, p.8. The discussion at the Board of Works meeting is covered in Vancouver Daily World 1911 Jul 12, p.9; Province, p.7

ii  Vancouver Daily World 1911 Jul 26, p.8; Daily News Advertizer 1911 Aug 3, p. 5. Discussion of the sewer issue can be found at Province 1911 Jun 15, p.13, Oct 13, p.7

iii  Engineer’s comments reported in Daily News Advertizer 1911 Aug 9, p.10. Approvals: Vancouver Daily World 1911 Sep 20, p.3

iv  Vancouver Daily World 1911 Oct 31, p.8, Nov 1, p.11; Province Nov 1, p.11; Daily News Advertizer Nov 14, p.7

v  Sun 1912 Sept 12, p.11; Vancouver Daily World, p.16

vi  Daily News Advertizer 1913 Jan 22, p.2, Province, p.9; Vancouver Daily World p.7

vii  Vancouver Daily World 1913 Jan 29, p.13; Daily News Advertizer, p.3

viii  Vancouver Daily World 1913 Feb 5, p.4; Mar 7, p.14; Province Mar 8, p.40

ix  Vancouver Daily World 1913 Aug 15, p.24. This is now known as the Brandon Block. Building details from the building permit dated 8th November 1910.

x  Daily News Advertizer 1914 Jan 24, p.7; Province Oct 6, p.2; Sun, p.2, 1915 Aug 13, p.8

xi  Province 1913 March 19, p.22; Vancouver Daily World, p.17. The financial crisis affected the private market, too, causing bancruptcies among local developers such as James Guinet in Grandview

xii  Province 1915 Nov 18, p.15

Shoot Out at First & Commercial

April 8, 2022


It was the spring of 1949 and Commercial Drive — after two long decades of Depression and War — was reveling in the first flush of postwar prosperity: the stores were full and people finally had money to spend.

No doubt, it was this very prosperity that drew Robert Harrison to the corner of First & Commercial that 8th April.

Harrison, a 29-year old with a criminal record stretching back to before his 16th birthday, and who had already served eight years for armed robbery in a federal penitentiary, was a short stocky man with a round face and high cheekbones. He was well dressed in a tan topcoat over a leather jacket and a sports shirt, as he stood outside the Commerce Bank building after parking his car just around the corner on First Avenue. It was 10:30 on a sunny morning and Commercial Drive’s sidewalks were already crowded.

Harrison, who had stolen $6,000 in an armed robbery of a bank in Victoria just two months previously, used a band-aid to attach a white handkerchief across the bottom half of his face. He then pulled a Canadian Army-issue 9mm pistol from his pocket, and strode into the bank, following behind an older woman.

Once inside, Harrison roughly pushed the customer aside and started shooting wildly, firing six times. Every shot missed the customers waiting in line, but others weren’t so lucky. Bank manager Charles Scanlon was grazed in the thigh, while another of Harrison’s bullets passed through an office door and hit accountant Arthur Pearson in the shoulder, damaging his lung.

Harrison took his time. He stuffed three thousand dollars in mixed bills into his pockets and then ran back to the door.

By this time, everyone out on the street knew a robbery was in progress and an alert Fraser Transfer truck driver had already blocked off Commercial to the south with his vehicle. After being alerted by a Mrs. Clarke who rushed into his shop, Lloyd McWilliams called the police from his drug store on the southeast corner of the intersection while his clerk, standing on a chair, could see people with their hands up through the bank windows.

A cashier who had been returning to the bank from her morning tea break but had been stopped at the door by the noise inside, ran in a panic into the Quality Shoe Store next to the bank. Thirty-nine year old manager William Bishop and his father Arthur had already heard the gunfire next door. Encouraged by the cashier, Bishop ran out into the street to flag down Constable Cecil Paul, who he knew was on motorcycle patrol that day. Looking back as he ran, Bishop saw Harrison leaving the bank, gun in hand, and the gunman immediately saw him. Bishop just managed to duck behind a parked car as a bullet crashed through the side of the engine hood and came out under the fender, a few inches from where Bishop crouched.

Harrison shouted “Stand back!” to the world in general and moved toward the corner where his car was parked. A number of elderly women happened to be gathered on the corner and at least one of them attacked him with an umbrella as he tried to push through. Harrison, realizing that his car had been blocked by the Transfer truck, grabbed one of the women to use as a shield and began to cross Commercial heading west. But the woman proved too awkward to carry and he dropped her. Just at that moment, five year old Ian Erlandson, not understanding the danger, ran by and was grabbed by the gunman to use as a shield instead.

By this time, 26-year old Constable Cecil Paul, a veteran of six years active service in the war, had arrived on the scene and dropped his motorcycle. He pulled out his gun and deliberately fired a shot over Harrison’s head. Harrison fired back, almost hitting 26-year old housewife Gloria Groome who was standing on the west side of the street. She felt the bullet graze her hair.

Constable Paul aimed again and his second shot hit Harrison in the forehead, killing him instantly. Blood spattered everywhere as Harrison crumpled to the ground, the boy still in his arms. The gunman’s Browning automatic still had five live rounds, and there were 32 more rounds in his pocket. The $3,650 he had stolen fell from his jacket and lay scattered across the sidewalk.

Young Erlandson was unhurt and scampered off, to be found later playing with friends near his home on Cotton Drive, seemingly unfazed by his adventure.

The coolness and bravery of Constable Paul was recognized by all and he would eventually be awarded the King’s Gallantry Medal. Immediately after the shooting he had been promoted from second class to first class constable with a pay rise of $21 a month.

Manager Scanlon, though not badly injured, took three months’ stress leave, not returning to work until July. The seriously wounded Arthur Pearson also recovered and returned to the bank well before his manager.

* * * * *

References: The details of the robbery and its aftermath have been pieced together from reports in the Highland Echo (April 14, June 30, 1949), Vancouver Sun (April 18, 26, 1949), Province (April 8, 9, 19, 1949), and News-Advertizer (Nov 10, 1949)