During a recent debate on the future of Commercial Drive, Jak King briefly described the historical/social processes that have created the Drive of today. These remarks may be of interest to our readers:
“From its founding in the early years of the 1900s through to the Second World War, the Drive was a rather staid and boring street, dominated by a population that was 85%+ Anglo. There were always a few Italians, a few Germans, some Chinese and, until 1942, a substantial Japanese population. But the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh dominated.
By the mid-1950s, the Drive was collapsing as an economic unit and Grandview was undergoing what the City called “slumification.” The area was saved by two circumstances: the Italians who had previously lived in Strathcona decided to move East; and Federal immigration laws were relaxed, allowing many more southern and eastern Europeans to come to Canada, many of whom settled in Grandview.
Perhaps surprisingly — but certainly an important marker for the future — the Anglo elite welcomed these newcomers because they added a vitality and prosperity to the Drive that had not been there for a generation.
Since that time – for some 60 years – the Drive has been the scene of continuous change. We have had a constant change of people on the Drive – starting with the Italians and the Portuguese and some East Europeans, followed by Central Americans, Jamaicans, those from the Middle East, and a variety of Africans. Not only different cultures and nationalities and languages, but also different sexualities and those of various economic circumstances were welcomed to the neighbourhood.
Each of these groups have left their mark on the patina that is the glory of the Drive today. They have changed our building styles, grocery options, street art, food availability, everything; and they have done this over and over again.
And all of these continuous changes have been welcomed, indeed encouraged, by most Drive residents. And that is because each of these changes have been subtle, incremental, and evolutionary within the general envelope of what the Drive is – which is a place of low-rise buildings, 25′ store fronts, and, importantly, local business ownership.
That is how we got to today, and it this same velocity and style of change that will maintain the Drive that we all love. Introducing rapid and intrusive change can only damage what is a highly successful and well-loved neighbourhood.”