Commercial Drive, 1936-1940

I have had a number of requests to make available the text of my presentation to the Vancouver Historical Society in January this year.  It seemed easiest to post it here as a downloadable PDF called Commercial Drive to 1940.

The talk gives a brief history of the Drive to the mid-1930s. It then covers in some detail the propaganda campaign that led to the building of the First Avenue Viaduct, which I believe laid the foundations for the modern Drive. The talk concludes with the introduction of self-service and supermarkets to the Drive and their affects on the local stores.

It doesn’t have the images I used for the presentation, but I hope you find the text interesting and useful.

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Interview With The Courier

I was contacted yesterday to do a brief interview with The Courier newspaper — and here it is already!


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“The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive” is Released!

The physical environment, the streets and buildings, are important elements of the Drive’s neighbourhood, but they cannot compete in importance with the people and the companies that have lived their lives on the Drive.  This Encyclopedia is dedicated to the memory of all those who went before to make the Drive the joy it is today.

Collected from every available public directory and with additional material from multiple newspaper accounts and memoirs, there are more than 10,500 entries in the Encyclopedia covering about 15,000 people and businesses.

The Encyclopedia has been designed as a handy resource for historians, heritage enthusiasts, genealogists, and everyone who loves Commercial Drive. We hope it encourages further exploration, and that it is used for more detailed research into the lives and work of those whose Commercial Drive as their home.

“The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive to 1999” runs to 558 pages and is available direct from me via PayPal (see link on right sidebar), from Amazon, and from the People’s Co-op Bookstore on Commercial Drive. Retail price is $40.00.

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The VHS Speech

I had a great time last night delivering the Vancouver Historical Society’s monthly lecture.  It was standing room only and I really want to thank everyone who came out for it. Thanks!

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Review of “The Drive”

BC Studies has published a review of “The Drive.”

On the morning of April 8, 1949, a nattily-dressed crook named Robert Harrison visited the Bank of Commerce at the corner of First Avenue and Commercial Drive and relieved it of $3,000. Armed with a 9mm pistol, the agitated Harrison sprayed the interior of the bank with gunfire, wounding the manager and an accountant. Stepping back into the street, he was making his escape using a young boy as a human shield when Constable Cecil Paul, a member of the Vancouver Police Force assigned to the motorcycle squad, dropped him with one shot to the middle of the forehead.

This scene does not conform to our modern image of Commercial Drive as a place where progressive politics, ethnic diversity, and coffee-drenched hipness converge. But it is clear from Jak King’s excellent history of the Drive, that in its origins the neighbourhood was a much different place than it is today, much more Main Street  (and occasionally Mean Street) than arty bohemia.

The Drive began to take shape as a distinct neighbourhood with the arrival in 1891 of the interurban streetcar line linking New Westminster to Vancouver. There was a stop at Largen’s Corner (Venables and Glen) and a scattering of houses appeared. Development was stalled by the economic downturn of the 1890s but resumed its steady pace during the boomtime that preceded the Great War until by the time King picks up the story in 1935 the area was a settled neighbourhood with its own identity in the constellation of Vancouver “suburbs”.

The book’s subtitle promises retail, social and political history and King delivers on all three. His encyclopaedic cataloguing of every storefront between Venables and Seventh Avenue may try the patience of some readers, but generally he keeps the story moving at a brisk pace. The social is epitomized by the Grandview Lawn Bowling Association, whose greens were at Victoria Park. Among its members, the Club counted everybody who was anybody in Grandview. It was the glue, remarks King, that kept the local elite together.

As for the political, King argues that the good burghers of The Drive invented a master narrative to get the improvements they needed for their neighbourhood. According to this narrative, Grandview was the victim of discrimination on the part of the City Fathers who habitually neglected the needs of the east side in favour of the downtown and the west side. “They positioned Grandview as the neglected colony of the indifferent Vancouver empire,” writes King, “and pitched their demands as requests for deserved equal treatment.” King does not always agree with this point of view but he argues that it usually worked, especially when it came to obtaining important communications links to the downtown.

King explores several subjects that impact the larger city. To take an example, now that the future of the viaducts has come up for debate, it is interesting to read about the role that Commercial Drive boosters played in the planning of the First Avenue Viaduct in the 1930s. As well, King’s description of the end of the ward system, abolished by the voters at the end of 1935, adds useful background to another perennial debate in the city.

The Drive is the first of a projected series of books about the neighbourhood. If this one is anything to go by, residents of the area are lucky to have found such an intelligent and entertaining guide as Jak King.

Many thanks, folks. I appreciate it!

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Early Morning Radio Date

In advance of my talk for the Vancouver Historical Society tomorrow (Thursday) evening, I am being interviewed on CBC Radio 1 at 8:15 tomorrow morning by Rick Cluff for the Early Edition.

I’ll be giving away a copy of the “Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive to 1999” as part of the show.

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The Books Have Arrived!

Bravo to our printers — the first run copies of “The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive” have arrived!

That means we will definitely have copies available for the Vancouver Historical Society talk on 26th January.  It also means I will happily take orders via and, I believe, Amazon will start making them available online this week.

The official launch is February 6th and we’ll make the formal announcement at that time.

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