Grandview Walking Tour, July 7th

Local resident and author Michael Kluckner will lead a walking tour of a corner of Grandview, examining blocks of century-old builders’ houses and contrasting them with the finer homes of the real-estate speculators who put the ‘grand’ into Grandview, as it were.

All proceeds benefit the projects of Grandview Heritage Group. Gather at 9:45 am at the corner of Pender and Victoria. Please register by email to $10 contribution to the Grandview Heritage Group at the meet-up.

And don’t forget Jak King’s Walking Tour of Commercial Drive on June 9th.

The King and Queen Visit Grandview

In the late spring of 1939, as the political situation in Europe darkened and war with Germany became inevitable, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada by train to meet their subjects and bolster the bonds of Empire  From small-town whistle stops on the Prairies to bustling cities coast to coast, eager crowds cheered, sang and lined up for hours, eager for a glimpse of royalty. Grandview was as excited as anywhere, especially when it became known that the royal procession would pass by First & Commercial.

Come the day — May 29th — there were flags and bunting on First Avenue from Woodland to Victoria, and on Commercial from Graveley to Second.  Local people had started arriving before noon, bringing boxes, chairs, stools and benches as spontaneous grandstands.  The Graveley Boys Band stood in front of the Commerce Bank, playing hard.  The streets and sidewalks around the First & Commercial intersection were jammed with spectators as the royal motorcade was spotted climbing the First Avenue hill.  At a few minutes past three in the afternoon, the royal car crossed the streetcar tracks traveling at about fifteen miles per hour.  The car went by so fast that most of the eager crowd caught just a brief look at the King and barely a glimpse of the Queen’s powder blue hat.

And that was that.

[Source: King 2010 “The Drive“, p.98-99]


Who Lived Here In 1911? (part 1)

I have spent more than a few days recently with my head in the Canada Census for 1911.  The original census takers’ sheets are now available on line (I’ll have more to say on that at the end of this post.) and it is possible to build up a fairly detailed picture of the pioneers who lived on what was then Park Drive (the present Commercial Drive) in July 1911. This post is a quick review of some what I’ve found.

I have been able to identify 179 individuals living on Park Drive in the summer of 1911. These folks made up 60 families, living in 34 buildings. There were 91 men and 86 women, well balanced in terms of age

[Note: the records of 2 individuals were so badly defaced that gender could not be determined; also, clicking on the image will enhance the view].

Many people today consider the Drive to be a multicultural neighbourhood with a strong background Italian influence. That is certainly not the case in the Drive’s first few years when Park Drive was overwhelmingly British, with 86% of all residents self-describing themselves as of English, Scottish or Irish extraction.

They were a religious lot, too, with churches being some of the first buildings erected.  Their choice of faith was broad if limited almost exclusively to Protestant Christianity.

There is a great deal of information that can be teased out of these census records, and later I will post about immigration, employment, wages, and the place of women in Grandview in 1911.

The census records are available online but they are not so easy to use if you are trying to put together location-based data rather than simply searching for an ancestor.  Vancouver records are found in British Columbia District 12.  District 12 is broken down into a great many sub-divisions.  I couldn’t find any overriding geographical structure to the sub-divisions and so had to look through hundreds of page to find my Park Drive data. This was scattered across 17 different pages in 3 different sub-divisions.  Bizarre. And that can be the easy part!

The census pages themselves are hand-written by normal people and therefore the quality of the writing is all the way from indecipherable to almost OK.  Add to this erasures, stains, fading pencil — sheesh!   Here is a link to an example.  Have fun!

A Grant For Birthday Signs

For some while now, the Grandview Heritage Group has discussed the idea of placing celebratory signs on local houses and buildings that are 100 years old in a particular year.  1912 was an excellent year for buildings here and so we were keen to make sure the program kicked off this year. Therefore, we applied to the East Vancouver 2012 Neighbourhood Small Grants Project, funded by the Vancouver Foundation.

We want to thank the Foundation and everyone involved in the adjudication of these awards for approving our grant, and we look forward to writing more about this exciting project over the next few weeks.

If you live in, or know of, a house or building in Grandview that was built in 1912 and you would like to see it adorned with a Happy Birthday sign, please contact us as soon as possible.

The Name “Grandview”

There have been a few explanations of the name of our neighbourhood or, rather — because the name is so obviously descriptive — the date and person who coined the name.  In the 1920s, City Archivist Major Matthews noted that Prof. Edward Odlum, scientist and local realtor, always claimed naming rights.  I have now found a report from 1911 which seems to substantiate the story.

In a page one article on May 19th, 1911,H.H. Stevens, editor of the Western Call, wrote:

“The writer recently undertook the task of ascertaining the origin of the name ‘Grandview’ … Well, about twenty years ago, two gentlemen, one an alderman of the young city of Vancouver, and the other a member of Parliament, by name Professor Odlum and William Craney, took a walk out into the forests lying eastward of the then City of Vancouver.  They stopped on the crown of a hill and, looking westward, they beheld one of the most beautiful views which is was possible to imagine.  Under the spell of the vision which unfolded itself before their wondering eyes, they gave expression to their delight in various terms.  One said to the other: ‘What a grand view! Let us call this beautiful hill Grandview.’ They agreed at once, and so it was named.  Through his position as an alderman and as a newspaperman, Professor Odlum was able to keep the term before the public, and thus by constant reiteration it became a fixed name for that section of the city.”

Odlum was a columnist for Stevens’ paper and lived at the corner of Grant &Commercial.

Next Meeting: Thursday 17th May

Just a reminder that our next meeting takes place this Thursday at 7pm in the Britannia Centre Board Room, Napier & Commercial.

As usual, we have no fixed agenda but, I am sure, we will have a bunch of heritage and history things to talk about.  These may include possible new regulations for heritage buildings, our walk on June 9th, No Car Day, etc.  Come and join the conversation!


Before Lily Street Was Named

Lily and Rose Streets are two of the most interesting oddities of Grandview, being “off the grid” of the surrounding streets.  No doubt they were a function of lot-splitting at some early date.  I have found what may be one of the first mentions of “Lily Street”.

In August 1907, famous local auctioneer J.J. Miller and 9 other local residents wrote to Vancouver Council’s Board of Works asking them to:

“clear a right of way on an un-named street lying between blocks one and two in Block 136 Grandview, and between William and Napier Streets, being about 260 feet long.  Several new houses are going up there and the residents are unable to obtain access to their homes unless the Council renders them sound assistance in the manner asked for.”

Lily Street was probably given its name soon after as it appears in Goad’s 1912 Map and in the City Directory of 1913.

[source: J.J. Miller et al to Board of Works dated 1 Aug 1907, CVA, Series 342, Board of Works, Letters Reported 13 Aug 1907, 129-A-5 File 15]



Grandview On Top 10 Endangered Sites List

Heritage Vancouver has issued a list of the Top 10 Endangered Heritage Sites in Vancouver — and the entire Grandview Neighbourhood is on the list.

Grandview is one of Vancouver’s oldest historic neighbourhoods, with many consistent streetscapes of older houses and commercial buildings, few of which are on the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Register. While individual owners continue to work to upgrade their houses within broad heritage principles, builders and developers have set a trend of erecting front-back duplexes on 33-foot lots in a generic “heritage” style that can erode overall neighbourhood character.

Historic resources that are not listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register are threatened, as they are not eligible for the creative tools, relaxations and bonuses offered for Register resources. Unsympathetic zoning allows unchecked demolition of houses not on the Register, leading to generic replacement buildings. Some historic houses that are not on the Register sit on multiple lots, which could be attractive to developers and very difficult to retain …

Commercial Drive – our best surviving early commercial streetscape outside of the downtown core – has no specific heritage protection, and could be threatened with the kind of densification being seen on Vancouver’s other arterial corridors.

I suspect that we have enough activists in the neighbourhood — including quite a few media types — that we can at the very least make a lot of noise about unwanted changes.  However, the massive barn that Council has recently approved at 1st & Victoria, and the bad compromises made at the Presbyterian Church at Salsbury & Napier, remind us that vigilance is always needed.

We are supportive of sympathetic change — we have supported the Jeffs House restoration, for example — but are concerned that some developers don’t look beyond the balance sheet. If you are aware of any potentially damaging changes that are upcoming, please let us know by email or in person at one of our monthly meetings.

St. Francis of Assisi church and the Italian community


(This is an excerpt from the recently published Vanishing Vancouver: The Last 25 Years [Whitecap Books]. The photographs are from The History of Saint Francis Parish, Vancouver, published in 1959)


The Franciscan Monastery, its front porch closed in, on Semlin at Napier in the 1950s


There are just a handful of places in Vancouver where the street grid is broken up with short blocks, large properties or other curiosities. One is the neighbourhood around the old Franciscan monastery in Grandview. Like in an Italian village, the ringing bell of St. Francis of Assisi Church on Napier Street carries through the quiet parish streets at midday, answered by the distant “O Canada” four-note horn atop Canada Place.


Nearby Commercial Drive was first identified in the newspapers as Little Italy about 1967, 20 years after Italian migrants from Strathcona and new immigrants began to flavour the old Anglo working-class Grandview area. Described as a city within a city, the area bounded by Campbell, Nanaimo, Hastings and Kingsway was home to about 30,000 Italians.


The pull to Grandview was probably the church, which began in the mid-1930s to hold services at the Franciscan monastery established in 1924 in the old William Miller mansion, Wilga, at Semlin and Napier. In earlier years, the Catholic parish ministering to the Italian population was Sacred Heart Church at 525 Campbell Avenue in Strathcona. The push from Strathcona was increased prosperity throughout society, which gave Italian-Canadians more opportunities than they had had when, mainly as labourers, they had crowded into the tenements and small houses along Union Street around the turn of the 20th century. The changing ethnic mix of Strathcona, especially the wave of Chinese immigrants settling there around 1950, undoubtedly helped.


The impetus for a Franciscan parish came in June, 1930, from a number of people living near the monastery. The group included the Italian consul, Mr. Masi, and the vice-president of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Frank Rita. Eventually 200 people signed a petition and in September, 1936, a new parish bounded by Hastings Street, 1st Avenue, Templeton Street and Commercial Drive was carved from three earlier ones. The church’s first rector, Reverend Father Boniface, noted in his 1959 history of the parish that even in the beginning there were a lot of immigrants in the area, a great diversity of nationalities and challenges in weaning families away from the downtown church. Only one of the 14 presidents of the altar society in the ’40s and ’50s had an Italian name; one had a Chinese name.


“For one year the parishioners had crowded into the small Monastery chapel for the three Masses on Sunday, but this could not keep on for any length of time,” Boniface wrote. “A church had to be built.”


Late in the fall of 1937 he submitted a sketch of a plan to George Aspell, “known as one of British Columbia’s best draftsmen,” to be worked out “in a Roman-Mission style with no pillars, a large sanctuary, a sacristy to the east of the main Altar, a choir for the religious community to the west with a corridor connecting it with the monastery, concealed or recessed confessionals, a baptistry [and] a glazed-off vestibule supporting the organ loft to the south.”


The plans were ready by the beginning of 1938 and contractor S.J. Grant of North Vancouver won over five other bidders; he began construction on February 20 and worked so quickly that the church was ready by the end of June. The pipe organ was installed in 1942 and the pulpit of fumed oak in 1953. A number of articles in the church had been used by priests in hiding at Berington Hall in England during the Penal Laws. The baptismal font of beaten brass “formerly served as a flower stand in the Czar’s garden, Petersburg.” Boniface noted that the alms box had been stolen from the church a number of times “but always found its way back intact” as it weighed 65 pounds and the thieves found it hard to carry very far.


During those years of church-building the Italian community was coming to terms with the reality of Mussolini’s Italy. On May 22, 1936, according to a news report, “150 loyal Italian wives of Vancouver” exchanged their gold wedding rings for steel ones at a ceremony on board the Italian ship MS Rialto in the harbour. The rings were donated to the Italian Red Cross, part of a fundraising campaign to support the Italian adventuring in Ethiopia.


That October, on Columbus Day, “cheers for Mussolini rang out through the Silver Slipper Hall . . . Glasses were raised and drained to the conqueror of Ethiopia.” Reports of subsequent events make no mention of him and the tone changed totally in June, 1940. “City Italian Colony Worried, Thinks Il Duce Won’t Fight,” one newspaper headline reported. Those who spoke for the community believed that the Catholic Church and lingering anti-German sentiment left over from the First World War would stay Mussolini’s hand.


Events changed suddenly when Mussolini allied Italy with Hitler’s Germany. An announcement on June 11 from Ottawa stated that no Italian funds could leave Canada and the following day the community started a self-registration process coordinated by the Canadian-Italian War Vigilance Committee. By that time, Angelo Branca had emerged as the community’s leader and chaired the committee.


As of June 20, all Italian nationals and anyone naturalized since September 1929 had to register with the RCMP. In addition, all such persons had to surrender firearms, dynamite, gunpowder and other potentially hostile materials. Branca predicted that, as most Italian immigrants had arrived between 1900 and 1914—the years before the start of the First World War, in which Italy was on the Allied side—there would be little disruption (he was proved right). Newspapers estimated 3,000 to 4,000 ethnic Italians in Vancouver at the time and another 15,000 in the rest of BC.


The postwar influx of new immigrants made an impact on St. Francis of Assisi church in the late 1940s. Of about 1,250 baptisms at the church in the ’40s and ’50s, 270 were children with Italian names. The church responded quickly—its parish school at Venables and Victoria across the street from the Grandview United Church turned sod on July 2, 1947.


In the 12 blocks around the church the numbers of households with Italian surnames in the city directory grew rapidly, from 5 in 1949 to 42 in 1958 and to 79 in 1968, before falling back to 59 in 1978. Asian migration also increased. In the past 20 years, the notable change has been the arrival of young families who are restoring the century-old houses and gentrifying the area.


Commercial Drive was at its most Italian in the late 1960s and 1970s, the successor to European/German Robsonstrasse and Chinatown as an exotic destination for shopping and dining in what was, still, a very British-Canadian city (Greek Kitsilano flourished during the same years). In the popular imagination, Italians were a kind of happy, picturesque folk, eager for a street party, a sea change from the restraint of traditional Vancouver, and of traditional Commercial Drive, too. Also arising at that time was an edgy counterculture, politically hard left, adding to The Drive’s burgeoning reputation as the centre for the city’s lesbian population.


As for the church and monastery, they settled comfortably into the changing neighbourhood. In 1947, the old house across Semlin from the monastery that had been run for many years as the Norman Apartments became a convent for the Order of Poor Ladies, usually known as the Poor Clares (for Clare of Assisi, their founder). The convent building is now used as a church and monastery by St. John of Shanghai Orthodox Church.


St. Clare’s Convent on Napier Street, across Semlin from the monastery, in the 1950s


St. Francis was in the news once, in 1963, for a bizarre murder that seems more in character with contemporary Vancouver than the quiet town of the early 1960s. As Sun reporter Moira Farrow wrote:


“Father Cuthbert Seward, 51, rector of St Francis church, was shot and killed as he opened the door of the adjacent monastery Friday night. Two hours after the shooting, police arrested a 29-year-old unemployed mechanic in his apartment six blocks away from the monastery. Police said the man has a history of mental illnesses and is believed to have threatened several times to shoot a priest . . . Two children playing a game of tag outside the monastery said they saw a man drive up to the door about 7 pm. They told police they saw the man leave the engine running and walk calmly up to the door carrying a rifle over his shoulder. A moment later they heard a shot then saw the man walk back to his car.”


The parish raised the funds in the early 1990s to restore the monastery to its original glory, as it was when completed for William Miller in 1908. The project, by Rhone & Iredale architect Charlotte Murray, won a Vancouver heritage award.