Joyce-Collingwood Precinct – a brief history

Welcome to my hood. This is Joyce-Collingwood. I’m still not used to the long version of the Skytrain station name. I still just call it Joyce Station. However, Collingwood is the official name of the neighbourhood, hence the hyphenated name.

Joyce Collingwood 3D model capture

Well before I was ever around, this area of Collingwood was a lake where the Musqueam nation used to hunt and gather food. When colonial settlement happened, European settlers found that they could drain the lake and use the fertile soil for farming. In 1891, the Interurban tram opened along the very same alignment as today’s SkyTrain. The Interurban brought people, housing and businesses into the area.

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Covered Roots: The History of Vancouver’s Chinese Farms – Video

Here’s a neat video I came across while reading about East Van Market Gardens tour done by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. It’s a 22-minute video that talks about the history of how Chinese immigrants farmed much of the area. This agricultural history all used to take place right in the middle of the city.

Hong Kong’s Yuen Long

Chinese calligraphy in Ching Shu Hin house in Yuen Long

Yuen Long is a large district in the northwest section of the territory. It was one of the largest town centres in the New Territories outside of the urban core of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. I had been meaning to visit this part of Hong Kong on many occasions. I actually got there this time with my sister, parents, and mother-in-law in tow.

First off, you should know about the special day pass for the Yuen Long and Tuen Mun areas of Hong Kong. This pass is not very well advertised on the MTR website. There are only two stations from which you can buy such passes – Nam Cheong and Mei Foo. The pass allows for unlimited travel on the West Rail, the Yuen Long/Tuen Mun LRT, and MTR-run buses in the area.

Tuen Mun – Nam Cheong Day Pass

This was also the first time I ever rode the West Rail. This line was the last of all the Hong Kong rail lines for me to travel upon. I could finally check it off my list.

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Hong Kong Museum of History

In continuing with the free museum days on Wednesdays in Hong Kong, my sister and I made our way to the Hong Kong Museum of History in Kowloon on Chatham Road. In terms of rail transport, the museum is within easy walking distance of the Hung Hom Railway Station. However, most tourists may actually find themselves walking due east from the busier Nathan Road.

This is the second time I’ve been to this museum. There aren’t many temporary exhibits here. The one temporary exhibit I wanted to see was an extra cost on top of the usual admission.  So much of what I saw was the same as before. However, it is still worth walking through this very extensive museum.

Diorama models of Qing Dynasty Hong Kong

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Tai Po Railway Museum

As a transit traveller, I inevitably find myself drawn to all things transportation. The Tai Po Railway Museum is a small, but perfectly affordable destination. Nothing is more affordable than free!

The Tai Po Railway Museum is actually the renovated station area of the Old Tai Po Railway Station. The station was built in 1913 and was converted to a museum in 1985 after the new Tai Po Market railway station was open. Although built in the 20th Century, the old station was built with Chinese architecture and ornamentation. Even the Chinese is meant to be read in the old, traditional right-to-left style.

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VHF Railtown Walking Tour

The Walking Tour season for Vancouver Heritage Foundation has just finished.  If you would like to go on these tours, contact the Foundation or check their website some time next year to see what tours they have in store for us in 2014.

This time our Railtown walking tour actually started in or at the edge of Gastown.  I guess it depends who you talk to.  The Railtown moniker is quite young and not well defined.  I only heard the name a year or two ago.  We started right a the Gassy Jack Statue in the midst of some nasty traffic snarl.  That offered me a chance to take some nice photos of the colourful Juice Truck stuck in the middle of the Alexander/Powell/Carrall/Water intersection.

We walked down Alexander Street.  You often wouldn’t notice, but the railroad tracks are just on the other side of the buildings along Alexander Street.  If you look closely at the buildings, there look to be places where cornices run along the middle of the building.  Many of these buildings were actually added onto.  In order to keep the heritage building, the City of Vancouver would allow developers to add floors on top of the existing building.  A pretty neat feature on some of the buildings along Alexander Street

You can obviously tell that people live in many of these buildings.  Our ever-entertaining guide, Maurice Guibord, asked us if any of us would want to live next to the railway tracks.  A few in the group raised their hands.  I’m not sure I would like to hear the clanking of railway cars connecting and the sound of the locomotive engine rolling past my window.

We walked in a block to Powell Street because Maurice wanted to show us a old converted brick warehouse.  It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but this is Bryan Adams’ Vancouver studio.  How cool is it that Bryan Adams has his studio on the edges of the Downtown Eastside, Gastown, and Railtown?  And is that a rooftop patio I spy with my little eye?

We went back to Alexander and Columbia.  On the north side of Alexander Street sits the Columbia Street Pump Station.  What’s neat about this pump station is that it’s not just a simple pump station; it’s part interpretative centre and has information on the pumps and some First Nations info.

Then we walked to Main Street next.  I didn’t realize I could walk so quickly from Gastown to Main Street.  To be honest I had never walked between Carrall Street and Main Street, but it’s really, really close.  At the foot of Main Street is the overpass to get over the railroad tracks.  It offered a wonderful view of downtown and Burrard Inlet.  It’s a very little known part of the city that has a great view of the city and harbour.

Again, we returned to Alexander Street and we came to a non-descript, industrial building.  Maurice knocked on the door and rang the doorbell.  Was somebody expecting us?  We thought nobody was home until I caught a glimpse of somebody on the other side of the window.  This was Ironworks Studio. It’s a very secluded and little known venue for entertaining guests.  What a great space!  It was a real treat to go inside and take a peek.

After about 5 minutes taking in the great interior of Ironworks Studio, we were back onto Alexander Street.  Maurice took us up to a small 100+ year wood-sided Japanese Rooming House called Ross House.  The name comes from Charles Haynes’ son, Ross.  Haynes’ lost his son to a heroin overdose in 2000.  He then subsequently poured his heart into helping those on the Downtown Eastside.  Haynes has been slowing restoring and renovating the home since 2006.  These are the beautiful stories that hide behind some of these simple buildings in our own city.

Near Ross House, Alexander Street is actually no longer right next to the railroad tracks.  Starting from Gore Avenue, there is Railway Street that is now next to the rails.  We walked past a collection of new businesses in the area.  It was a mix of Information Technology, fashion, interior decoration, and design firms.  I guess this neighbourhood would fit well into Richard Florida’s Creative Class.

Just on the other side of the rails, we couldn’t walk over to it, but there was an old blue house.  This is the Flying Angels’ Seafarers Club.  It is owned by the Mission to Seafarers.  It’s actually housed in an old showhome from 1906 that was once owned by BC Mills Timber and Trading Co.  We couldn’t get a good view of it from where we were.

We managed to peak our heads into another place in Railtown.  We traipsed into the Union Wood & Supply Company’s storefront and workshop.  They were busy preparing for the Industrial Design Show West that was coming up soon at the time.

Right next to Union Wood Company is what I’ll call Fashion Warehouse Central.  I can’t figure out the official name at this time.  This warehouse is home to a lot of fashion headquarters like Aritzia.

Back up on Alexander Street, we came across the new home for single mothers in the Downtown Eastside.  It’s not just any home, though.  It’s a new home built of old shipping containers.  The Vancouver Sun says it cost about $82,500 per unit.  Usual costs with concrete construction would have been around $220,000.  The City of Vancouver kicked in about $92,000 for the whole project.  When I had posted the story on my Facebook way back in August, one of my FB friends said it was a waste of money.  I think any money spent to get somebody off the street and with a roof over the head is worth it.  The money to support a person living on the street (costs to law enforcement and the health system) is probably more than the cost of housing them.  That’s my 2 cents.

So like all tours, it must come to an end.  We ended ours this day at the Vancouver Urban Winery.  This is a neat place.  They take wine from some of the big wineries in BC and put them into stainless steel kegs for wine-on-tap.  They even ship wine in these kegs to local wine bars.  No time for wine this time, but it would be worth a re-visit to the Vancouver Urban Winery.

VHF West End Walking Tour

The Walking Tour season for Vancouver Heritage Foundation has just finished.  If you would like to go on these tours, contact the Foundation or check their website some time next year to see what tours they have in store for us in 2014.

In August, I had the pleasure of joining the Vancouver Heritage Foundation and Maurice Guibord on yet another wonderful walking tour. This time, we were delving into the West End of Downtown Vancouver.  We met up just outside St. Paul’s Hospital.  St. Paul’s is not only key to Vancouver for its place in our medical system, but it is also a historic landmark downtown.

A few years ago, St. Paul’s considered moving the hospital to the False Creek Flats between Main Street and Clark Drive along Terminal Avenue.  That’s the reclaimed land used mostly by the rail companies.  However, Maurice retold his story of the public consultation.  The new hospital, said the builders, would still be standing in the event of the megaquake.  However, Maurice asked how would anyone get to the hospital if all the roads leading to the hospital liquified in the megaquake.  Good point.  St. Paul’s stayed put downtown.

From the old to the new, the City of Vancouver just spent the summer installing the new Comox-Helmcken Greenway.  The greenway cuts east-west through the West End and then continues through the rest of downtown towards False Creek.  The bright painted green of the bike boxes really grab your attention.

As we walked away from the hospital to Thurlow Street, Maurice pointed out a few of the buildings that were built in a Miami/South Florida style.  There were corner windows that were reminiscent of the South Florida apartments.  Apparently quite a few of the apartments in the West End were built in this style.  The giveaway of the Florida reference would be the names of some these buildings.

Then we came across a small Queen Anne style home.  This was the home of Ewing Buchan who penned one of the first English versions of our national anthem.  Hence, the home is known as ‘O Canada House.’  Today it is a small bed & breakfast of the same name.

Roedde House Museum in Barclay Heritage Square

In the early part of the 20th Century, much of the West End was made of the mansions of the rich.  However, that changed once Shaughnessy developed as the enclave for the elite of the city.  Many of the mansions were converted over to rooming houses and eventually apartments started to change the landscape of the West End.

Highrises started to take over much of the neighbourhood in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Large concrete brutalist and modernist structures started to pop up.  One of the first were the infamous Beach Towers near English Bay.  From there, a steady march of modern concrete highrises sprouted throughout the West End.

However, there are still many charming, character apartments that survived the concrete redevelopment of the area.  Apartments like the Beaconsfield and the Queen Charlotte can be found along little closed-road parklets dotted within the West End.

At the end of our West End walking tour, some of us had some extra time and had a delightful visit to the West End Guest House along Haro Street.  We were invited in for tea and biscuits.  It was all very British.  Highlights of the Guest House were the monochrome paintings of old West End homes in each guest room, the wonderful balcony in the back (complete with lazing feline companion), and the working gramophone!

Even in a city as young as Vancouver (127 years young!), we can find little bits of history interspersed throughout neighbourhoods like the West End.  As always, I’m grateful for these tours and the little tidbits of heritage and history they offer on familiar places.

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Georgia Viaduct Walking Tour

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation does it again.  I simply love them and their tours.  A couple of Wednesday nights ago, I had the extreme pleasure of joining a small platoon of social media contest winners along with John Atkins and Gordon Price on a walking tour about the Georgia Viaduct.

First off, there were the ruins of the first Georgia Viaduct.  I didn’t even know there was another Georgia Viaduct.  This Georgia Viaduct started at Main and Georgia in Chinatown and ran to Georgia Street downtown.  However, because of shoddy construction, this viaduct quickly started sinking into the soft soil on which it was built upon.  So they had to take it down.

I learned that the alley behind the current Chinatown Parkade used to be Shore Street.  As the name suggests, this street ran along the shore of False Creek.  It was also home to a tiny red light district.  Ever the more incentive to ram a “progressive” viaduct over the street.

The Jimi Hendrix Shrine. It’s here in Vancouver because he spent many of his summers with his grandmother who lived here.

We looped around towards Union and Main Streets and stopped right by the Jimi Hendrix Shrine.  The shrine made for great photos, but was not officially part of the tour.  John Atkins showed as a map of the planned highway that was supposed to meet up with these viaducts. A giant interchange would have sat atop Carrall Street and the current viaducts to connect the planned freeway to another freeway bound for the North Shore.  It would have destroyed much of historic Chinatown and Gastown. It was thanks to the many protests of the locals in Chinatown, Gastown, and neighbouring Strathcona that brought the freeway juggernaut to a halt.  According to Gordon Price, we were very close to having a downtown freeway.

from voony.wordpress.com

a passerby admiring the Jimi Hendrix Shrine

There was a small debate between good old Maurice and Gordon Price about the need for the viaducts.  That debate is still going.  Should we leave the viaducts as they are?  Do we need the viaducts if traffic into downtown has been tallied and shown to be declining?  Should we leave a part of the viaducts as a memory of what was here?  Is there any aesthetic to the viaducts themselves?

utility pole and building next to the Georgia Viaduct

So what will become of this land if the viaducts go?  John Atkins pointed out that there is an opportunity to transform this area of giant empty parking lots and concrete into something more beautiful.  Could we connect downtown differently to the shoreline?  Is there an opportunity to have a new civic plaza near Science World and end of a potential new Georgia Street that descends down from the downtown ridge?

One little thing I learned to end the post.  The city for the past 20 years has pretty much planned for the demise of these viaducts.  An engineering decision many years ago decided that it was in the financial interests of the city to maintain and upgrade the viaducts.  One will note that there has been no call for seismic upgrades to these structures.  Why?  Well, because the general thought at city hall has always been to take the viaducts down eventually.  It’s not the current city hall politicians that conceived of this idea.  The removal of the viaducts has been on the pages at city hall for a long time.

Cumberland – Chinese and Mining History in a Small BC Town

Cumberland is one of the last places I would have ever thought of visiting. I never heard of this little Vancouver Island town until I heard that my wife would be working for a while in Courtenay.  Cumberland is up and away from the east coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a quick drive past the Inland Island Highway from Courtenay to Cumberland.

For me, the little gem in town is the Cumberland Museum and Archives.  However, I discovered a Chinese and Japanese connection in the town.  Cumberland was home to the second largest Chinese settlement in North America after San Fransisco around the turn of the 20th Century.  So the museum is full of Chinese related articles and stories about how those Chinese locals lived.  Many Japanese had also settled in Cumberland at the same time.

There were also some other tidbits about Cumberland in its early days.  There were a collection of different items from the past.  I also loved the list of rules for teachers of the day.  In a modern-day context, the list is totally hilarious, but it’s very indicative of the culture of the day.

In the basement of the museum was the mining section.  That part of the museum wasn’t interesting to me, but there were sure a lot of mines in the area.  The mines were the reason that so many Chinese had come to Cumberland.  The owner of the mining company liked to hire Chinese workers.

The rest of town was centred around the one small commercial street, Dunsmuir Street.  Cumberland is becoming a home for many young families.  The homes are cheaper in Cumberland compared to Courtenay and Comox which are both down on the water.  Cumberland is up into the hills and well inland. Dunsmuir Street may be short, but it does have that small town charm to it.

Just a little ways further out-of-town is the site of Chinatown.  The Chinatown was torn down in the 1960’s.  Many of the buildings had become derelict and unsalvageable. Many of the Chinese who were here had already left town and moved to places like Vancouver.  Today, the site of the Chinatown is a nature park.  The park has trails to walk and is a well-known mountain biking area.  All that remains to remind people of the existence of the Chinatown is a sign and a small gazebo.

So Cumberland and its museum is worth the visit if you are into learning history of small towns.  It’s also a popular place with all the mountain bikers.  You should see the town parking lot in town on the weekend.  There are mountain bikes everywhere.  For me, I enjoyed the Chinese connection that I never realized existed in Cumberland.

Chinatown Walking Tour – East along Pender

Continuing our Chinatown Historic Tour put on by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, we headed back east along Pender Street.  We walked under the Millennium Gate that marks the entry into Chinatown from Downtown.  Almost every Chinatown in North America has a similar gate.  We just didn’t get ours until the turn of the millennium.

We walked past our starting point at Pender and Carrall towards the Chinese Cultural Centre mid-block.  There stands the China Gate. Maurice had pictures of the old China Gate, which was a traditional red column Chinese gate.  The new one is concrete and in a very different style.  Across the Chinese Cultural Centre is the home of Rennie Marketing systems in the old Wing Sang Co. building.  Bob Rennie has definitely made a fortune for himself as the “Condo King” of Vancouver and has helped to open up a satellite of the Royal BC Museum at the Wing Sang.  The gallery should definitely be worth checking out one day.

Nestled behind the Chinese Cultural Centre is the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden.  In Chinese pinyin, the good doctor’s name is Sun Zhongshan.  So how Yat-sen ever came about, I have no idea.  Dr. Sun Yat-sen visited Vancouver a few times in the early 20th Century.  He was drumming up financial support for the revolution that eventually overthrew the Qing Dynasty and gave birth to modern China.  There are two sections to the garden, the free public side and the paid side.  Obviously, we went through the public side.

After briefly walking through this classical Chinese garden, Maurice surprised us with a visit to the Chinese Cultural Centre’s museum.  I don’t know if it’s free all the time, but it was for us.  So we had 10 minutes to quickly peruse the exhibits upstairs.  The exhibits included children’s art about technology and a display about different men and women who helped to shape the Chinese community in Vancouver.

After the museum, we went across the street to the little plaza with a giant memorial.  The pillar in the middle is shaped like the Chinese character for “middle” which also represents “China” and the “Chinese.”  Flanking the pillar are statues that remember the Chinese-Canadian soldiers that fought in the World Wars and the many Chinese railway workers that helped complete Canada’s continental railway dream.

We walked back up to Pender Street and looked at all the buildings with their benevolence and kinship societies.  The most remarkable feature of these buildings tend to be the giant balconies on the upper floors.  As we were standing and looking at something, you could hear the clacking of mah jong tiles ringing overhead.  Also suddenly, a man from one of the upper floors called down to the street below and told him to hurry up.  Maybe they needed a fourth person to get another table of mah jong going.

We eventually walked up Pender past Main Street.  Maurice stopped us at the alleyway just behind Main Street and pointed out an old rooming hotel.  He pointed out the entrance in the alley and the balcony above.  This was an old rooming house which is probably now a single residency hotel.  Rooming houses like these were common in days when young men would ride the ships from China in search of work.  So where else would you stay, but in a rooming house.

Then finally, we ended our tour at the corner of Gore Avenue and Pender Streets.  On the corner is a four storey yellow building.  This is the Kuomintang Building.  The Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party, is the party that Dr. Sun Yat-sen founded.  After World War II, a civil war ensued in China.  The Communists chased the Nationalists to Taiwan.  So that’s why you find the Taiwanese flag flying high above the Kuomintang building.  Maurice said he had snuck into this building at one time to see how it was on the inside.  He says the inside is nothing like the outside.  The stairway wreaked of urine and the walls had seen better days.

That was a sad note for heritage to end the tour on, but it was enjoyable as always.  Thank you again to Maurice Guibord and to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation for these walking tours.  There’s still more tours in the summer season, so check them out at the Vancouver Heritage Foundation website.