Robert Andrew and the East Van Trip That Changed His Life

Robert Andrew (b. 1939) fell in love with Vancouver during a “magical” childhood visit and decided to return as a student in 1957.

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Robert Andrew in 2014, age 75

In 1945, when I was six years old—or maybe it was in 1946—I traveled here on the C.P. Railway from the Prairies, from Lethbridge. It was an overnight trip, and we had a very nice sleeping car with a dining room, this very formal English-type dining room—there were 3 different types of shiny silver forks on the table, and the food was served to us by this man with a towel around his wrist. I loved riding that wonderful train!

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A passenger having tea in an elegant Canadian Pacific Railway dining car (1942)
Image credit: Jack Lindsay, public domain

We stayed with relatives, with my mother’s sister who lived on E 4th Avenue, just above Victoria Drive. From her house, you could see the beautiful city spread out there with the harbour full of ships. This was stuff a Prairie kid doesn’t see that often. And we were always told to be very careful on Victoria Dr. because of the cars.

 

Sometimes we got a ride with a family friend who would drive us to the Lost Lagoon, and we lookedat the fountain with the lights changing colour; it all seemed so magical! Then we would go to the White Spot drive-in, and the guys in uniforms would put a tray of Chicken Pick’ns on the front seat of our car. There was nothing like that in Lethbridge where we had come from!

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The Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park in 1946
Image credit: M. James Skitt Matthews, public domain
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A White Spot drive-in restaurant
Image credit: Stuart Thomson, public domain

We used to have picnics at Second Beach, because there was a better playground there. I remember lots of excitement, chasing crabs, and sandwiches full of sand…

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Picnics at Second Beach in 1946
Image credit: Donn B.A. Williams, public domain

The view of English Bay from my uncle’s house was stuck in my mind for many years after that, so by the time I finished high-school in 1957, I had decided I was going to come study at UBC.
At first, I stayed with my aunt in Surrey; she owned the Joe’s and Flo’s Café on Nanaimo St, which is now Bon’s Off Broadway. It was a 24 hour restaurant that had started as a greasy spoon with one stool and one booth. I worked there washing the dishes and keeping the drug users out of the bathroom—the usual stuff. My aunt rebuilt it after my uncle died, but she kept the 24 hour tradition. There weren’t many 24 hour cafes back then; there was Scott’s Café and Peter Pan Café on Granville, and maybe one in the West End.

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The Peter Pan Café on Granville St. was one of the few 24h spots in Vancouver
Image credit: Stuart Thomson, public domain

For a while, I lived in a trailer behind the restaurant. If they needed a dishwasher in the middle of the night, I had to get up and wash the dishes, and then I would go back to bed until I had to get up, take the bus and go to UBC. But it was alright, it kept me going to school.

 

Later, I lived on Kitchener Street, a block west of Commercial Drive. We rented and old folks’ home, five of us gentlemen of different varieties, and I had a choice room up on the second floor. It was a communal house, which was unusual back then, and, I have to say, it was a little bit too communal. A lot of weird stuff went on; you never knew whom you were going to find there the next day.

 

Commercial Drive has changed a lot, of course. I remember that Pofi Bar was still open, and we spent a lot of time there having our espresso coffee and our Gauloises cigarettes.

 

I revisited my uncle’s house on E 4th Avenue after 65 years. A lot has changed: in 1945-‘46 there were no sidewalks, just a road of macadam or asphalt, with ditches full of brush on each side (where the drainage went), little bridges across, and maybe a cinder path. The current owner, Rolf, let me take a tour of the house so I could see what it looks like now. He is a collector of various items, and the house looks like a museum of curiosities.

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