The Drive: Birth of a Community (1901-1907)

This is the third chapter in my history of early Commercial Drive.

Chapter One: In The Beginning

Chapter Two: False Start

* * * *

What pushed things forward was the change in use of the interurban line and its inclusion in the city-wide streetcar system. The Vancouver Electric Car Co had been given rights to run streetcars along Park Drive way back in 1891, but had not taken up the option because the few Grandview families of the time could hop on and off the interurban as needed. But that was changing. “It is predicted,” wrote the Vancouver World in early 1904, “that before long, the electric streetcars will go on Park Drive and over Ninth Avenue to Mount Pleasant; then back over Westminster Avenue forming a circuit.” It was talk like that that spread the word and pretty soon the realtors ramped up the excitement by marketing Grandview as a neighbourhood of affordable lots with streetcar access.i

In 1902, the first city streetcar in the neighbourhood was an extension of an existing city line along Powell Street east to Victoria Drive, then one block farther east on Dundas Street to Semlin Drive. This certainly helped feed the growth of the northern-most sections of Grandview around Cedar Cove. More important for our history, perhaps, they gave realtors yet another advantage with which to market Grandview. One particular realtor — Dow, Fraser & Co. — seemed to have cornered the market and was offering hundreds of lots in the neighbourhood. During the next couple of years, Dow, Fraser & Co. had a regular advertising space in the Vancouver Daily World newspaper, page 3 each Saturday, and they sang the praises of the neighbourhood they were boosting.

“Grand View — the prettiest situation in the city that affords you the advantages of tram service, pure air, lovely scenery, high and dry, above the fogs.” And “Grand View, the recognized coming district of the city … It has the tramline, and unsurpassed view of the entire city harbor and False Creek.  High above the fogs it gets all the sunshine in winter time.“ ii

We must remember that at this time there was little reality to the streets and lots that were bought and sold in the first years of the 1900s; they were to a large degree nominal spaces within an uncleared bush, except for those blocks along the park trail. Demands for street openings in Grandview had been coming into the Board of Works since at least February 1903, but little had actually been done.In the spring of 1904, the Board of Works toured the entire city, looking to see what needed to be accomplished. Their final walk, on 2nd April, brought them to Grandview. It was obvious to all that new streets needed to be opened up, sidewalks laid, water and sewer systems dug all over town. However, as a reporter travelling with the Board members noted, “nowhere is this more noticeable than in Grand View. Here … the clearing of these streets will not be an easy task.” It was noted that as soon as Park Drive had been graded “no less than four houses were begun in one block.”iii

In this period, the early years of 1902-1905, the work that did go on — a number of the streets attached to Park Drive north of First Avenue were being cleared and graded, at least in part — was most often accomplished by the Chain Gang doing the heavy work. They would also have been used for clean up when the City Engineer experimented in the neighbourhood by using a logging engine to clear streets and pile up the stumps and logs for burning. Entrepreneurial efforts to open and clear Park Drive south of First Avenue were sporadic at best. In March 1904, Alderman Garrett at a meeting of the Board of Works looking at a request to open 4th Avenue could still reasonably argue that “streets should not be opened away in the bush when so much work still had to be done right in the City.” The estimate for opening 4th Avenue from Park to Clark was $1,700 and it needed more discussion before it could proceed.iv

There were other improvements. In January 1903, the Railway & Light Committee of City Council finally installed the light at Venables & Park which had been approved in 1900. Later that summer, the BC Electric Company was erecting poles and stringing lines along Park Drive. The following year, lighting was improved by replacing the original light at Grant with an arc lamp, and the addition of a light at Park & Charles. In July 1904, residents asked for an upgrade to the water main and for a fire hydrant to be placed at Park & Grant. On 1st January 1906, Grandview and Park Drive began to receive daily mail deliveries for the first time.v

One deficit the neighbourhood suffered from — a lack of schools — was eliminated by 1905. A small elementary school, mainly for children of nearby Cedar Cove residents, had been opened at Victoria & Hastings in May 1903. In June 1903 the School Board also purchased half a block on the north-west corner of what would become First and Commercial. On that site they erected an ornate two-storey building that could accommodate 300 pupils known as the Grandview School or, later, Grandview School of Commerce, which opened on August 29 1905 with an attendance that first month of 88

The neighbourhood also saw the establishment of its first church, a Methodist chapel, built on the corner of Park & Adanac and completed in June of 1905. It sat, “almost alone in the midst of what remains of a one-time huge forest. Burned and charred stumps, an undergrowth of green shoots, and a rough newly-opened road” surrounded the building. It may have been “in the stumps” but it was a popular success, with crowded services every Sunday.vii

Dow & Co. treated all these improvements, both those promised and those completed, as grist for their marketing mill. Their ads in 1905 sang all their praises:

Grandview “has attracted more attention than any section of our city the past few months. It is not speculation but rather bona fide investment that is marking its progress. Homesites are chosen with care by residents for building on. Corners are being bought by merchants with a view to establishing business in this growing healthy neighbourhood … Grand View and its many advantages; no bridges to cross; no steamer travel, just the ordinary every day up-to-date streetcar transportation … Improved car service; new school; water mains, streets graded and opened; also sidewalk being laid … “Every buyer here is making money.  There is a quick turnover, values steadily rising and development is rapidly taking place.  Good car service, new water mains.  A splendid $10,000 school building just completed and the city is rapidly pushing forward the street work in this section.”viii

There had been wild talk during the 1890s that most of the local streets were mis-aligned in the district’s original survey, and many of the existing buildings would have to be moved. Naturally, new developers were wary of erecting buildings that they might have to move in the event of a re-survey. However, most of these fears had been assauged by the end of 1905. Lots throughout the neighbourhood were already being flipped and flipped again for a good profit.ix

It was clear that the market for Park Drive property was hot. One corner of Park & Third was reported to have turned over four times in just a few months. Six lots on Park by 7th Avenue “easily cleared” were being offered for $750, while 6 lots opposite the new school at First were available for $1,600. A double lot at 3rd & Park could be had for $1,050. Dow & Co. were pushing more than 200 lots “on the tramline.” Once the lot was purchased, it was possible for a carpenter like D. G. McLennan to build a frame house for $600 or $800, and a shack could be erected for just $150. A simple store could be built for $700, while Philip Oben spent $3,500 for the building in which he opened his bakery.x

In late summer 1904, the Board of Works finally agreed to improve Park Drive south of First by building a “trail suitable for wagons” as far as 4th Avenue. The following November the chain gang was still removing stumps from between 4th and 5th Avenues. At the northern end of the Drive, a request for a wooden sidewalk along Park Drive from Venables to Graveley was accepted for estimates in 1904. This wasn’t approved in full but a sidewalk on the east side of the street from Charles to Grant was granted a year later.xi

By January 1905, agitation for a Park Drive streetcar was growing louder from both residents and speculators. As an important step toward that goal, the BCER appeared before the Board in August to propose double tracking the interurban lines on Venables Street and Park Drive. The Board approved the plan subject to an inspection by the Engineer which was successfully carried out the following week. By the end of the year, two new streetcar services had come into operation: one on “a completely new 1.62 mile line which ran east from Main and Georgia Street (Harris then) to Vernon Drive, north to Frances Street, and east to Victoria Drive” and the Park Drive loop which linked Grandview to Main Street. xii

Around this same time there was still some talk at the Board of Works as to whether or not Park Drive or William Street should be the main street into Grandview. Eventually, they decided to hold over the discussion until a later time, which apparently never arrived. The addition of the streetcar and the first rumblings of commercial interest along Park probably saved the aldermen from making a decision they would have regretted.xiii

The 1905 City Directory listed 10 households on the Drive. These included Capt. George McSpadden with his large new $1,600 house at 1237, a missionary, a contractor, a carpenter, a steamfitter, a blacksmith, a tailor, and three labourers. Businesses also start to make an appearance on Park Drive in the City Directories with the 1905 edition. The few listings included two grocers: William J. Duke on the corner of Park and Graveley; and Samuel Gamble with a place between Bismark and Grant Street. No street numbers were given and probably weren’t used. By the following year, though, Duke’s Grocery is officially listed as 1700 Graveley, while his competitor’s place, now sporting 1435 Park as an address, had been taken over by Henry Mumby. The grocers had been joined by three real estate agents, each with his own shack, one of which was Dow & Co. The only other retail shops in the neighbourhood were Mrs. Swinnerton’s confectionery store just around the corner on Venables, and John Clifford’s grocery two blocks further west on the same street.xiv

The majority of people moving to Grandview and Park Drive were regular wage workers. However, a small class of upper-middle-class Edwardians were also taking their place in the neighbourhood. Real estate promotors like the Miller brothers, doctors such as Thomas Jeffs, and an adventurer like Captain Copp built themselves magificent mansions on Victoria Drive. Another of that group, Professor Edward Odlum had plans for a large Queen Anne-style house on the lots at the southeast corner of Park & Grant he had purchased from the pioneer Mr. Cronk during the 1890s. Odlum’s well-manicured lawns would sweep down to the Drive until 1936.xv

By the end of 1906, with a proliferation of newspaper ads from realtors offering attractive deals, Grandview had become an integral part of Vancouver’s renewed rush for growth. Grandview and Commercial Drive were swept up in the general surge of prosperity that had begun with the Klondike Rush and was sustained in the early years of the new century by the rapid development of the B.C. Interior and the prairie provinces. These development were now in the process of driving Vancouver’s population so very close to its boosters’ boast that “in nineteen ten Vancouver then/ will have one hundred thousand men”.xvi

During the spring of 1906, J.J. Miller organized a series of auctions at which he sold several dozen Grandview lots, including most of the lots on Park Drive between Parker and Napier, and those between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Of the latter, Miller predicted they would be “splendid business sites” and noted that a year previously they could have been purchased from between $75 and $200 while his auction sold the 1st and Park corner for $855 and the rest for $700 each marking “a very decided advance on realty prices” in the neighbourhood.xvii

The official expansion of Park Drive continued with requests to open up 4th and 5th Avenues in early 1905 sent for estimates. Although a number of important improvements had been made along the Drive, most residents did not think that enough had been done. At a well-attended meeting in January 1906, it was unanmously agreed that City Council needed to open Park Drive all the way from Venables south to the City limits, to improve the water supply, and to stop the situation where, through lack of a real road, their children had to walk along the tramway tracks to get to and from school. Thomas Baxter took the matter to the Board of Works and they agreed, after a tour of the neighbourhood at the end of February, that most of the improvements should be made as soon as possible. The following month, a sidewalk from Graveley to the City limits was approved to make life safer for the children. The work was to cost about $25,000 but was not universally applauded. Professor Odlum, for example, called the sidewalk pointless while the street was “literally a nest of big stumps.” Alderman Halse claimed the cost would strip the engineers of all their funds for the following year.xviii

To speed up the work, the engineers introduced some new equipment. In his Report on 1904 to the Board of Works, the City Engineer wrote: “An experiment was tried in the East End of the city by using a logging engine for clearing streets and piling up logs and stumps to be be burned. It has been found very satisfactory, the average cost being about 15 cents per foot clearing streets 66’ wide. This is less than one-third what it costs by teams and hand labour.”xix

In March 1906, the Board of Works established their estimates for the year, included in which was $4,000 to open, grade, and put sidewalks on Park Drive all the way from Graveley Street south to the City Limits which were, at that time, on 15th Avenue beside Clark Park. They approved this after another visit to the Drive to check on what was needed and after hearing from residents (or would-be residents) that they urgently wanted a better water supply the pipes for which could not be laid until the road was graded. A few months later, they approved $400 to rough grade the street from 4th to 6th Avenues, the clearing of Park from 6th to 14th Avenue, and $750 for the Park Drive sidewalk. xx

But none of this work was fast enough for some residents. Financier P.J. Foran, for example, wrote to the Board: “I have two lots on Charles Street, block 44. I want to put two houses on them, it is useless to do so before the street is opened up from Park to Salsbury Drives, as the appropriation was made some time ago, I would like to know the cause of the delay.” Two other neighbours, Albert Ross and R.J. Potts, also wrote that they had been “patiently waiting” for the same work to begin. About the same time, Thomas Gray of 1735 First Avenue complained that he had been living in his house for two years without First Avenue being cleared from Park Drive. He said that the block east of Salsbury had been cleared even though there was “not a soul living on the street.” He was supported by letters and a petition of five other householders noting that “there are already quite a number of houses already built” in their block. xxi

Property owners in the southern half of the Drive were also eager to see their lots included in the general infrastructure. More than a dozen residents wrote to the Board of Works in August 1907 about “the urgent necessity of 2nd Avenue from Park Drive to Victoria Drive being opened. There is already one building in course of erection in the said locality and other owners are preparing to build but experience difficulty owing to the street not being open.” Four other signatories sent in a petition dated 6th November “to open up 5th Avenue east as there is now 4 houses in the first block from the car line on Park Drive. There is (sic) 2 houses occupied, one with two families who is (sic) waiting to have the water laid on which cannot be done until the street is opened.” xxii

Regardless of the slowness of the Board of Works and its teams, realtors such as Dow & Co. were eagerly marketing lots in the area.xxiii

Howland Hoadley wrote in 1907 that “the suburb of Grandview is now thickly populated.” And prices had certainly stiffened with the popularity of the neighbourhood. Unimproved lots on the Drive were now priced from $950 to $1,250 each, while a corner at 4th could attract $3,000. A double corner at Park & Parker was selling for $2,000 and the same at First & Park was quoted at $3,250. Two lots between 1st and 2nd Avenues being offered in June 1907 for $950 each had risen by August to $1,050. And during 1907, the sale of houses on lots previously purchased became more prevalent with prices around $3,000 at the northern end of the Drive, while cabins around 7th Avenue were selling for $700. Between Graveley and 1st, a 264’ frontage containing a grocery store and “a big barn and stable” and suitable for division into 8 33’ lots was offered for $6,500 in January 1907. Between May and December that year, the price of an individual lot within the package rose from $1,150 to $1,325.xxiv

There were other types of improvement at hand, too, most especially in transportaton. During 1907, the BCER completed the double tracking of the streetcar lines along Park Drive to 3rd Avenue. While the work caused some annoyance for users of Park Drive during the construction, the double tracking allowed the company to institute a 15-minute schedule on the route as an improvement of the 30-minute schedule that had prevailed before, and this was appreciated by residents and developers alike. In the fall of 1907, the recently-formed Grandview Progress Association wrote to the streetcar company asking whether it was possible to have freight delivered to some specific point in Grandview, and whether a platform could be provided at 4th “so that passengers may be able to get on and off the tram in safety and comfort.” They also lobbied the Post Office for a postbox at Park & 4th.xxv

The general prosperity was interrupted briefly in the summer of 1907 when a growing stringency in the money markets of the world began to be felt in Canada. Financial stringency meant that the investment capital needed for many construction projects was not available, and few businesses were untouched. The city was obliged to provide relief work, cheap shelter and meal tickets for the unemployed in the winter of 1907-1908. Many people, not understanding the global nature of the finance system thought the downturn was because BC and Vancouver had grown so fast that the financial markets simply “needed a breather.” James Conley has noted that “of the twenty-five contractors listed in the city directory in 1905, only twelve were still in business in some form in 1910, suggesting that thirteen failed to weather the 1907-1908 recession.” Looking back, some would refer to it as the Panic of ‘07.xxvi

The “panic” didn’t last but there was the occasional disaster of a different sort. In January 1908 a grocery suffered the penalty of fire and inadequate insurance. The Thistle Grocery was operated by Messrs Rennie & Carlisle on the north side of the Venables and Park Drive intersection. An overheated stove left on the upper floor set fire to the building, destroying it completely even though firemen from both No.1 and No.5 halls attended. The grocery lost its entire stock, valued at $3,000, only some of which was covered by insurance. However, Henry Carreau, who owned the building, which cost $2,800 and had another $1,000 in dry goods stored there, held no insurance and lost everything. Robert Rennie picked himself up and was operating another grocery at Park and 10th within a few months, with a new partner.xxvii

i  Vancouver Daily World 1904 Mar 9, p.6

ii  Vancouver Daily World 1905 Jan 23, p.4; Sep 18, p.4

iii  1903 request examples: Board of Works Minutes 1903 Feb 26, April 30, Aug 6, Oct 16 in CVA, MCR-36 Roll 2; see May 1904 for repeat requests; Board of Works: News Advertiser, 1904 Apr 3, p.6; Vancouver Daily World 1904 April 4, p.5. Street openings: See for example work on William Street in Province 1904 Jun 10, p,2; Daily News Adveritizer 1905 Oct 13, p.7; Charles Street in Province 1904 Oct 11, p. 2; Bismark Street in Province 1904 Jan 26, p.9; Grant Street in Daily News Adveritizer 1905 Oct 13, p.7; Graveley Street in BoW Minutes 1903 Apr 30, Aug 6, Oct 16, and Daily News Advertizer 1903 Aug 7, p.2; First Avenue in Daily News Advertizer 1903 Apr 28, p.2 Province p.7; May 1, p.6

iv   Chain gang: Matthews, Vol 7, p.96-97; see also Edith Trites interview at Vol 5, p.68. The chain gang was eliminated in 1907; logging engine: Daily News Advertiser 1905 Jan 6, p.2. The City Engineer declared the engine to be a practical and economical method, cutting the cost from 45c to 15c per foot length of 66’ wide road. 4th Avenue: Board of Works Minutes 24 Mar 1904, CVA, MCR-36 Roll 2; Garrett: Daily News Advertizer 1904 Mar 25, p.5. Costs: Daily News Advertizer 1904 April 28, p.3, 29, p.3, May 6, p.4

v  Vancouver Daily World 1900 Oct 17, p.2; 1903 Jan 30, p.8. Poles: Province 1903 Aug 4, p.1; Improved lighting: Province 1904 Oct 25, p.10. Hydrant: Province 1904 Jul 28, p.2; Vancouver Daily World 1904 Aug 2, p3. Mail service: Vancouver Daily World 1906 Jan 13, p.1

vi  MacDonald School: Highland Echo 1962 Mar 1, p.3. A four-room brick addition was built in 1908 for a further $24,500. First & Commercial: School Board Minutes 1903 June 15; the lots were DL 264a B63 Lots 13-24. Daily News Advertizer 1905 Aug 29, p.6; Province Oct 10, p.7

vii  The full story of the Park Drive Methodist Church is told at A Church, Lost and Found (

viii  Vancouver Daily World 1905 Mar 6, 18, Sep 18, Oct 12

ix  Vancouver Daily World 1905 Oct 17, p.1; Province 1906 Jan 23, p.12. The final resolution was delayed because “small boys” dug up and played with the stakes laid by the surveyors: Vancouver Daily World 1906 Feb 5, p.16; Province p.8

x  Various ads in Western Call 1905 Feb 1, Vancouver Daily World May 9, p3, Nov 1, p.23. VHS Building Permit database 1905-1906

xi  McSpadden quoted in Vancouver Daily World 1904 Sep 30, p.1; “wagon trail”: Vancouver Daily World 1904, Aug 23, p.3; Sep 2, p.6; Board of Works Minutes, 1 Sep 1904, CVA, MCR-36 Roll 2. Also Daily News Advertizer 1904 Aug 23, p.3; Province Nov 10, p.12. Sidewalks: Province 1904 Jan 26, p.9; 1905 Jan 31, p.5; Daily News Advertizer 1905 Feb 3, p.3; BoW Minutes 1905 Feb 3. Stumps: BoW Minutes, 1904 Oct 10; 1905 Nov 9, CVA, MCR-36 Roll 2

xii  “agitation”: Ewert 1986, p.61-62; “double track”: Board of Works Minutes, 3 Aug 1905 and 17 Aug 1905, CVA, MCR-36 Roll 2; extensions: Ewert 1986, p.66 For complaints about the work see BoW Minutes 1905 Oct 5; Province 1906 Jan 23, p.12

xiii  Daily News Advertizer 1905 Oct 13, p.7

xiv   Henderson’s Directories 1904, 1905, 1906. McSpadden Province 1904 Jun 28, p.12. Odlum: Province 1906 Jan 23, p.12

xv   The Building Permit for $5,500 was issued in May 1907: Provin ce May 4, p,1. We know thanks to Ruth Raymond that Professor Odlum’s house at 1774 Grant, which has often been dated at 1904, 1905 or 1906, was only occupied by Odlum in 1910. While it was being built he lived in a smaller house at the back of the lot, which is why the directories first have him living on the site in 1908: Bruce Macdonald, email to GHG 2012 Aug 7

xvi  See MacDonald 1992 for Vancouver’s growth in this period; this early stage of second growth is tracked through the listings in the “Henderson’s B.C. Directory” volumes for 1903-1906..

xvii  Province 1906 April 2, p.7; May 30, p.13; Daily News Advertizer 1906 April 4, p.6. Note that most of the lots betwen Parker and Napier were still vacant in Goad’s map in 1912.

xviii  Board of Works Minutes 1905 Feb 2, May 18, Jun 15. Province 1906 Jan 17, p.7; 28, p.6; Feb 28, p.6; Vancouver Daily World p.1; Jan 31, p.16; Feb 21, p.5; Daily News Advertizer Feb 14, p.2; 28, p.3

xix  Daily News-Advertizer 1905 Jan 6, p,2

xx  Board of Works Minutes, 1906 Feb 27, Mar 6, 27, May 22 CVA, MCR-36 Roll 2

xxi  R.J. Potts to Board of Works dated 21st Jan 1907, CVA Series 342, Board of Works, Letters reported 12th Feb 1907; P.J. Foran to Board of Works dated 18th May 1907, Letters Reported 21 May 1907, 129-A-5 File 9; Albert Ross to Board of Works dated 18 May 1907, Letters Reported 4th June 1907, 129-A-5 File 10; Joseph Ferguson to Board of Works dated 1st May 1907, Letters Reported 21st May 1907, 129-A-5 File 9; Thomas Gray to Board of Works dated 29 May 1907, Letters Reported 18th June 1907, 129-A-5 File 11; Petition to Board of Works dated 15 May 1907, Letters Reported 18th June 1907, 129-A-5 File 11

xxii  Petition to Board of Works dated 13 Sep 1907, CVA, Series 342, Board of Works, Letters Reported 22nd Oct 1907, 129-A-5 File 20; Petition to Board of Works dated 6 Nov 1907, Letters Reported 3 Dec 1907, 129-A-5 File 23

xxiii  See ad in Vancouver Daily World 1904 Jul 8, p.12

xxiv  Hoadley 1907, p.50. Miscellaneous ads in Vancouver Daily World 1907 Mar 9, Apr 8, 11, 13, May 18, Jun 8, Aug 10, Oct 16 p,16, 24. The Graveley to 1st lots are from Vancouver Daily World 1907 Jan 23, p.5; May 20, p.15; Jun 11, p15’ Daily News Advertizer 1907 Nov 1, p15, Dec 15, p.5

xxv  Province 1905 Aug 4, p.13; 18, p.5; Sep 29, p.9; 1907 May 8, p.1; 11, p,26; GPA Minutes, 1907 Dec 30

xxvi  “interrupted”: Bartlett 1981, p.33; “breather”: quotation in Westward Ho 1907 Sept, p.3; contractors data: James Conley, “Open Shop Means Closed To Union Men” in BC Studies 91-82 (Autumn-Winter 1991), p.132. “panic”: News Advertiser 1910 Jan 1

xxvii   Vancouver Daily World 1908 Jan 25, p.5; 27 p.1; City Directory 1910, see Rennie & Stephenson.