Chemical Warfare — An Anniversary

April 22, 2017

With the current controversy in Syria over the use of chemical weapons it is fitting to note that the first effective use of poisonous gases in warfare was 102 years ago today.  (It had been tried without success in Poland the previous January.)

On 22nd April 1915, the Germans opened 6,000 cylinders of chlorine gas at Ypres. In very short order, more than 1,000 French and Algerian troops were dead and another 4,000 were wounded. The genie was literally out of the bottle and we haven’t looked back since.

Both the wife and son of the man who created the gas, Fritz Haber, committed suicide in shame. Undeterred, he would go on to help develop Zyklon-B, the Nazi’s death-camp gas, before himself falling foul of the Nazi’s anti-Jewish racial laws.


Chapter 3 of Birth of A Community

April 17, 2017

The third part of my history of early Grandview is now available at the Grandview Heritage Group website. This part covers the earliest settlers in our neighbourhood, from 1891 to 1901.

I hope you find it interesting!


Bursting The Bubble

April 13, 2017

At the Grandview Heritage website I  just posted a quick look at the housing market in Grandview back in the 1930s. It may offer some historical perspective on how house prices can fall.

Hope you find it of interest.


More Birth of Our Community

April 3, 2017

I have today published the second part of my history of early Grandview.

This part covers the period 1880 to 1899 when Grandview failed to blossom as a number of speculators had hoped.  As always, I am keen to hear comments and corrections.


Vancouver Up To Its OLD Tricks

March 8, 2017

As a community activist one of the first things you learn is that the Vision dominated council is not interested in hearing from you. They don’t want to know what you have to say and it is assumed by many that their decisions on development projects and urban planning have been decided by them and their cronies well before any meaningful public input or response can be gathered.

In the not too distant past, at least, this elitist we-know-best attitude also permeated a number of important civic departments, especially planning. Their methodology shifted, over the course of a decade or more, from a bottom-up City Plan approach to a top-down EcoDensity insistence that those at the top can do the thinking for those at the bottom, i.e., the residents of the neighbourhood about to be pillaged and altered beyond recognition.

That’s the case today, and oddly enough, it was also the case in 1910. In that year, the engineering department wanted to radically alter the shape and appearance of Salsbury Drive (the details are not germane, but can be found here). However, as the “Vancouver World” reported, the residents were outraged:

“They protested. They signed petitions. They went down to city hall. They got a committee of the board of works to look over the situation again. It was all useless. Wilful board must have its way.”

And by that September, the “World” was able to say that the work had been a disaster and city taxpayers and property owners both will be on the hook for “more thousands than have already been spent” to fix.

Sound familiar?

Does it make me feel angry that residents have been messed around here for more than a hundred years, and therefore it is somehow “normal” in Vancouver? Or do I feel the cold dread that this will keep going on until the people of our city wake up and realise that Vision Vancouver is the developer’s plaything and not your friend?

Either way, things have to change.


What’s Happening By E. 2nd?

January 18, 2017

wonderbucks-1

For some months now we have been reporting that the Wonderbucks store at 1803 Commercial is about to close due to staggering rent increases.  The closing date is just a couple of weeks away now, and there are signs and rumours swirling around about how this is a much bigger development play than it seemed at first.

There are stories being told that a number of alternatives were suggested to the building owner, alternatives that would have increased his current revenue; but that he turned them all down. There are rumours that a deal with a major pharmacy chain fell through (as if the Drive needs more pharmacies!). Now, I’m being told, the tenants in the apartment block next to Wonderbucks have been handed eviction notices.

This begins to smell like a major land assembly operation going on here. It could just be a coincidence, I know, but history teaches that there are very few genuine coincidences.

When asked about an earlier development in a different block, City planner Andrew Pask assured me there were strict guidelines on assembly in Commercial Drive; and I am certain that a frontage stretching a full half-block would not fit within those guidelines. But who knows these days?

Both these buildings in that half-block have significance for the cultural history of the neighbourhood.   The wide single-storey structure occupied by Wonderbucks was built in 1924 by Alexander Fraser and his brothers to house their Crystal Dairy. The rear of the building housed stables for horses and sheds for their delivery wagons.  By the mid-1930s they were the largest independent dairy in Vancouver. On the Commercial Drive side, they ran a hugely popular milk and ice cream bar which was upgraded several times in the 1940s and early 1950s to compete with other youth spots in town.

Unfortunately, the economics of the dairy industry created a need for consolidation, The Fraser family sold out to Palm Dairy which in turn was swallowed up by Turner Dairies. The Commercial Drive operation was seen as surplus to requirements and was essentially shut down in 1952.  By 1955, the building was owned by the Acme Novelty Company also trading as Select Music Company, and they sold coin-operated equipment until 1968. After that, it was an Italian dance hall called the Melodi for a while, and by the mid-1970s it had became home to a succession of cheap produce stores. Now, it has been the delightful Wonderbucks for almost two decades.

Next door, at what is now the Salonika Restaurant on the ground floor and two stories of apartments above, we have a slightly longer history as the original building dates from 1912. However, the success rate for businesses was not high here and there was a rapid turnover, mostly of furniture stores. In 1928, Harry Hipwell bought out the owner of the Grandview Furniture Exchange and for the next twenty years, he and his family operated a furniture and, later, appliance store from this building. When they closed the branch in the 1950s, one “new and used furniture” store followed another into the space in quick succession.  The building was badly damaged by a storage fire in 1968 and was vacant for a few years. Eventually some Italian coffee bars moved in from the 1970s through the 1990s, and most recently, a Greek restaurant has taken up the storefront.

These cultural and social histories are important components of what make our community so interesting and special.  Some, like the Wonderbucks building, are important enough to fight to keep.


Driving Right-eously

January 1, 2017

Today is the 95th anniversary of the change in British Columbia from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right.  I think quite a lot of Vancouver drivers are still learning about this.

 

driving-change

Vancouver World 1922 Jan 3, p.1