In the beginning there was forest, where the local indigenous peoples hunted deer and other animals for untold generations. But then the settlers arrived and much of the rolling hills east of the new city of Vancouver had been granted to the Hastings Mill Company as a timber lease in 1870. They paid a dollar an acre for 1,200 acres; including District Lot 264a, which included all of Grandview down to Trout Lake and south of False Creek into Mount Pleasant (outlined in a heavy border in the map below). The company, first under San Francisco ownership and then under the management of John Hendry, spent the next twenty years clear-cutting the huge timbers that decorated the hills, moving the logs down skid roads to both False Creek and Cedar Cove.i
The company had vast areas of land to log elsewhere so that much of Grandview was left as a wild forest in the early years. Included in the City of Vancouver at incorporation in 1886, the hills became something of a pleasure spot for intrepid pioneer Vancouverites who claimed it to be “a beautiful drive through the woods.” Two such tourists were Professor Edward Odlum, alderman of the City, and William Craney whose family was heavily involved in Vancouver’s early development. It was apparently during one of their rides that the district’s name was established. In an article in May 1911, Henry H. Stevens 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 it 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.”ii
Unfortunately, the natural beauty was not to last. By the 1890s, the loggers had left behind a devastated wasteland of stumps and rough undergrowth.
But that didn’t matter so much to the various land owner speculators who had picked up acreage all across the Lower Mainland in the hope that the next big thing would be there. In Grandview, one of the most important of these was E.J. Clark, described in some sources as a dry goods baron and in others as a realtor in Toronto, who, in 1888, offered a large chunk of land he owned to the City for use as a park. In the way of things bureaucratic, the transfer of the property was not a simple matter, but, by 1890, the donation known at first as South Park but locally called Clark Park was complete. It comprised some 7 1/2 acres on the southeastern City limits, and Clark added $1,000 towards the cost of clearing the land. One of the old logging skid roads in Grandview proceeded north to the Inlet from a point on Venables Street. It seems that accepting South Park caused a walking trail to be cut due south from the skid-road to the entrance of the new park; a trail that quickly became known as Park Street or Park Drive.iii
There were also other pressures on the City to make Grandview land more accessible for development. For example, in March 1890, City Council received a letter from “F.S.Timberlake and others petitioning for the opening of streets between lots [DLs] 183 and 184 from Hastings Street to the intersection of Ninth Avenue, thence westward to the intersection of Westminster Avenue.” The relevant streets for this request would be Victoria and Park Drives. The following month, during budget discussions, Alderman Fox suggested adding $2,500 to the estimates to open up at least one of these streets. Alderman Browning noted that the Board of Works had thoroughly considered the question but that street ran through a forest not even slashed. The Board did not think there was an immediate need of that street.” However, Alderman Fox persisted and Alderman McLeod agreed. He said “there were many who wanted to go into 264a to improve their property, and the least that could be done was to give them a street. He seconded Ald. Fox’s motion. Next year, he said, the assessment on that property could be doubled, and the street would not really cost the city anything.” Alderman Horne chimed in that “he knew several [who] would build now if they could get material in there.”
A motion was passed to add $2,500 to the estimates “for the opening of the first street east of the South Park, from the southern boundary to Powell Street.” The first street east of the Park was Park Drive. However, in July the Engineers reported they were too busy to survey the street properly. Therefore, a motion was made to open up Victoria Drive instead as it had been properly registered already. However, Alderman Carroll objected, noting that “the Aldermen did not themselves know where this street was situated and none lived on it, while people were petitioning for streets to their dwellings and could not get them.” Other aldermen insisted the road was needed and finally the motion passed.iv
And thus was born, be it ever so humble, the street that would become Commercial Drive.
i The early pre-emptions and leases in DL 264a can be followed through, inter alia, F.W. Laing, “Colonial Pre-Emptions” (1940, at CVA HD 309.L3); Major Matthews, “Early Vancouver” (1931-1956), Vol 3, p.207-8, Vol 7, p.282, 295-6; Alan Morley, “Vancouver: From Milltown to Metropolis” (Mitchell Press, Vancouver, 1961) p.36-37; Vancouver World 1889 Sep 12, p.4; and various indentures included in Walter Graveley Fonds, CVA, AM 147, Box 512-E-3, Folder 9.
ii The “beautiful drive” quote is by Harold E. Riley in Matthews, Vol 3, p.75-85; the naming story is in Western Call 1911 May 19, p.1
iii The back-and-forth negotiations between Clark and the City can be tracked in Vancouver Daily World 1888 Nov 6, p.4; 28 p.4; 1889 Jan 7, p.4; Mar 12 p.4; May 14, p.4; Aug 19, p.4; 23, p.4, inter alia.
iv The Council discussion was covered in detail in Vancouver Daily World 1890 Apr 9, p.1,4; qv Vancouver Daily World 1890 Mar 25, p.4; Vancouver Daily World 1890 Jul 15, p.4