Jana Sakich on the Days of Train Tracks, Candy Stores and Marilyn Monroe

Jana Sakich (b. 1946) remembers her childhood neighbourhood, sweet treats and favourite playgrounds.

Jana Sakich: I was born in 1946 to a Croatian father and an Anglo mother, and we lived at Kitchener and Templeton. I think we were two houses up, and I was sort of across the street from Lord Nelson School. I don’t remember this, but I know that my older brothers, my two older half brothers—my father was a fisherman—they could walk just a block and a half to Nanaimo, get on a tram and end up in Steveston so they could visit my dad. I’m a little bit of a hoarder and I could see a very early moment of hoarding. My mother didn’t like hoarding because she had a grandfather who hoarded. I don’t actually remember the tram running, but when they tore the tracks out I was old enough to be out and about on my own and I brought home some spikes from the tram tracks, and my mother, who did not like any kind of mess in the house, got mad at me. It was the first time I can remember that she got angry with me.


We walked out to Hastings and Nanaimo for grocery shopping and I think there was maybe a Safeway, close to the the corner of Hastings and Nanaimo, where we shopped.


Another memory is going with my mother to a Marilyn Monroe movie. We walked down 1st Avenue to Commercial Drive, and went a block or two to the south and saw a Marilyn Monroe movie with my mother. I don’t think there was any traffic on the street the way it is now. In fact, when we were at Kitchener and Templeton, we played on the street and just very occasionally we had to clear off and let a car come through. In fact, at Kitchener and Templeton, up higher on the block where the houses were a bit bigger and a bit nicer, there was actually a doctor who lived there—he had a car.


B.M.: Wow. So most people didn’t have cars?


Jana Sakich: Oh gosh no! No, no no. When we moved to North Burnaby a few years later my dad got a car. No, most people did not have cars.


B.M.: The streetcars, of course; you didn’t need them.


Jana Sakich: And the street cars were really way more than adequate. We’d be in a really good position if we had that.


B.M.: Did you ever get treats when you were a kid? Like go to the store. Or ice cream store?


Jana Sakich: Oh. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of dental work done. In fact, there was a tiny grocery store, but my mother never shopped there. They sold milk and candy to the school kids. And for one penny I could get three jawbreakers, which I didn’t really like. I think we got three of those for a penny. Chocolate came a little bit later. I don’t know where we got ice cream or what the deal was with ice cream, but I know my brother had a pair of pants and I called them “the ice cream pants” because, if it was a birthday or something like that, we would have ice cream and he would be wearing what I called his ice cream pants, which I think were just long shorts. They were a little bit dressy at the time.

A candy shop
Image credit: Jack Lindsay, public domain

But there was absolutely much more hands on communication with other neighbours. We just went out on the street, and whoever was on the street we played with them. I was very interested with the school yard across the street at Lord Nelson, when I wasn’t old enough to go to school. Very interesting memories of children playing unsupervised.


B.M.: So let’s connect to the present. How did you end up living here just off Commercial Drive on Charles Street?


Jana Sakich: I grew up in North Burnaby, went to UBC, got a teaching degree, and ended up teaching school out on the West Coast of Vancouver Island where I developed a property. I built a beautiful gift shop which is still there. Coming back to the city, I started another shop in Port Alberni and then had another shop on West 4th Avenue. I wanted to live within a short walking distance to the makings of the caesar salad. Now I don’t know where that came from, but that put me on Charles and Commercial Drive, which is a much busier neighbourhood now. Occasionally I have regrets when I step out onto the street and everybody’s texting and talking to someone whose not there.


B.M.: The whole caesar salad thing… was it the early ’70s whenever you went to a restaurant they’d come to your table and make a caesar salad in front of you?


Jana Sakich: No, I just like the taste of caesar salad. I think I was still trying to build my fortune other places, but then I came back here. I lived around West 4th Avenue and rented there when I came back. That was before, when I was going to university. Yeah, it was altogether more serious after the West 4th Avenue days.


B.M.: So you went to university in the ’60s?


Jana Sakich: Yes.


B.M.: Oh, so that was hippie Kitsilano.


Jana Sakich: Yeah, it was hippie Kitsilano, yeah. I still have a few friends from that time, which is kind of nice.


B.M.: Wow. Them days are gone.


Editing and subtitles by Jade McGregor

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