August 21st meeting recap

There was a full house again for the GHG’s monthly meeting, held (as always) in the boardroom at Britannia at 7 pm on the third Thursday.

Cynthia Low, the executive director of Britannia, gave a Powerpoint presentation and listened to questions and comments about the ongoing planning process to replace the current Britannia Community Centre buildings. She focused on the desire to increase the visibility of the east and west facades of century-old Britannia school, which are largely hidden by the jumble of buildings, and mentioned the possibility of giving the new centre a presence on Commercial Drive, probably at Napier Street. She urged GHGers to become involved in the planning process and directed us to their website for further details on the Capital Plan and the various consultative stages that lie ahead.

Bruce Macdonald presented two of the interviews he has been filming with senior citizens – specifically those involved in the workforce in the 1940s and 1950s – who have a connection with Grandview and East Vancouver. Marjorie McKeown Agnew, aged 98, spoke of her youth growing up in the blocks around St. Francis of Assisi Church when that property was home to Australian real-estate speculator William Miller, her friendships with the children of the Odlum family of Grant Avenue, and her connection to the recently restored Hawkins-Agnew house on Victoria Drive between Napier and Parker. Several months ago, a few members of the GHG met with Marjorie’s daughters Susan and Barbara and received a lot of information and photographs of the family’s years living in Grandview.

Bruce then presented a brief excerpt of his hours of recordings of Bob Williams, the legendary planner and politician who became Premier Dave Barrett’s right-hand man in the NDP government of 1972–5. Mr. Williams told a fascinating story of his early years, from his birth in the Sally Ann unwed mothers’ home, his childhood rag- and bottle-picking on an old dump site where the Italian Cultural Centre now stands and his summers spent with his grandmother, who lived “a short walk” away in Capitol Hill in Burnaby and who had a cabin/shack on the Dollarton mudflats in North Vancouver near the sometime home of novelist and legendary alcoholic Malcolm Lowry.

Bruce intends to sort out the technology so this set of interviews (25 of which he’s done so far) can be streamed from our website.

Finally, Eric Phillips took a second look at floorcoverings in vintage houses, focusing on linoleum and its numerous imitators and adding new images of linoleum and wood carpets to what he presented last month. He brought a number of samples, including a strip of battleship linoleum and several handmade hooked rugs dating back to his own family’s homesteading and farming days.

Eric also drew everyone’s attention to the large number of upcoming lectures and events pertaining to heritage and history:

•the 5th annual Autumn Shift in Mount Pleasant, taking place on September 14th from 12–6.

autumnshift

•lectures on Heritage and Gentrification (September 30th), architect Samuel Maclure (October 21st) and Vaudeville (November 4th) offered by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation at Hycroft.

•walking tours and other programs offered on August 23rd, September 7th and 27th by Heritage Vancouver.

The next meeting will be held on Thursday September 18th at 7 pm!

Next Meeting: Thursday 3/20

The next meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group is this coming Thursday, 20th March, at 7:00pm at the Britannia Board Room.  The agenda at this point includes:

  • Report on our student intern’s work on Woodland Park area history
  • Michael Kluckner presentation:  “H is for Heritage”
  • Sunday’s walk (see below)
  • Update on 1872 Parker Street
  • Visit with the Agnew Family
  • Teaser for Eric on Glass

Michael’s presentation is a lead up to our 2014 Centenary Signs walk on Sunday.  We will be meeting outside the Britannia Library at 9:30am and we will be exploring the area west of Britannia to Clark and north to Venables.  Please join us on Sunday even if you can’t make Thursday’s meeting!

The Value of Family Papers

This morning a number of us met with two sisters who had contacted us because their family had lived in Grandview from the early days. Their grandfather was Dr. Thomas Agnew who practised at First and Commercial Drive from 1916 to his death in 1948, and their uncle was Dr. Glen Agnew who joined his father’s practice in 1945.  He moved his office to the then-new Toban Building at Commercial & Broadway in 1950. They had several other relatives who were prominent in Grandview over the years.

In the course of our conversations we managed to link their family to many other families in the neighbourhood. Bruce Macdonald has called Grandview an Edwardian Village and the linking of families and friends that we heard about this morning was certainly like putting together the social archaeology of a village.

We had a wonderful time as they regaled us with stories and showed us dozens of old photographs and albums and magazines. As time permits, and with their permission, we will be publishing some of the photos and telling their tales. They have, they said, boxes of personal material, letters and photographs stored in their attics and were pleasantly surprised about how excited we were with the material we saw.

For social historians of any period, the personal books, diaries, letters and photographs are foundational to our understanding.  We can read newspapers and City reports, but they only tell a small part of the story.  The real understanding comes from seeing what the people themselves thought and saw.  It is a true joy to realize that this kind of material is still available.  That made this morning very special.