Calvin Whitehead About His Disappearing Vancouver

Calvin J. Whitehead (b. 1926) spent his childhood in a little World-War-I-era house, on Prince Albert street, near Fraser and East Broadway, and reminisces about his Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

fraser-at-east-broadway-vancouver
Fraser at East Broadway in the 1930s
Image credit: Vancouver (B.C.). Transportation Division, Copyright City of Vancouver

 

Across Broadway, the building is still there that was a grocery store, run by two brothers. One was called Harry, and he was hairy—the pun wasn’t lost on us kids—and his brother didn’t have one hair on his head. They called him Curly, naturally… Curly ran the grocery, Hairy ran the meat, and they were a happy business.

 

Down further, on the flats where the trains came in, men traveling on the trains would drift up the street, knock on the door and ask for food. They asked for food because they needed it—they were hungry, thirsty men. Mom usually gave them something. One time, somebody came who was from right across the road from my grandparents’ homestead in Alberta. My father knew the family, and invited him in for Sunday dinner. He was tearful.

 

I could tell you the story of how they paved Broadway with wooden blocks—would you believe that the street was made of wood? On concrete there were wooden blocks about six inches high to equal the track of the street rail. They laid those with tar, like bricks. And the tar, it smelt, as they melted it. It was a different experience. On this street along here, there weren’t any cars then, except going through (Model A, Model T), and horse-and-wagons—the bakery, milkman, junk man, iceman all used horse-and-wagon.

vancouver-dairy-wagon
Associated Dairy wagon in the 1930s
Image credit: Stuart Thomson, public domain

 

The busiest sight was where the kids were playing; once in a while, you’d have to move over for a car. That world is, let’s say, being replaced. There weren’t cars parked as there are now. This frog pond has been replaced by a used car lot. But there are still people there in that building. The farm house has disappeared, but this house over here is still standing.

 

I’m standing on a paved alleyway that used to be dirt before where I scratched things during children’s games. There was a telephone pole that had an ants nets in it and once the ants developed wings they swarmed. But they had riddled the wood and my father went soldering up for kindling wood. That sort of thing disappears—wood as fuel. But some of the buildings are still here, the store is still there, the flats are still there. I doubt that there are many men riding the rods, these days. Although in 1949, I did; I went from here, hitchhiking and riding the rods across to Toronto. It took me 11 days and 11 dollars and fifty-six cents, and one street car ticket. That’s what I started with. That sort of thing is disappearing now too.

Hitchhiking. Image credit: M, Huy photography, CC, Flickr
Hitchhiking
Image credit: M. Huy Photography, CC, Flickr

 

Story edited by Jade McGregor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.