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Thursday, April 12, 2012

STRATHCONA: Vancouver's Oldest Residential District

I spent a couple of hours the other afternoon walking around the streets of Strathcona, Vancouver's oldest residential district. Strathcona was largely a district inhabited by new immigrants. It was known as "the home of the working man".

The land on which this heritage area sits was once the traditional land of three Coast Salish Nations.  In 1865 Captain Edward Stamp established Hastings Mill at the foot of the present Dunlevy St. this location had been used for centuries as an aboriginal campsite called Kumkumalay ("Big maple trees")
When the Dominion of Canada was born on July 1, 1867 a whiskey-drinking rowdy Yorkshire riverboat captain, John "Gassy Jack" Deighton arrived and built a saloon for the thirsty mill hands. In 1870 this site, "Gastown" was officially incorporated as Granville Townsite. In 1887 when the first CPR passenger train arrived, Vancouver began to boom and the area now known as Strathcona became a thriving residential and business area.
Some of Vancouver's most grand houses wee built in Strathcona and still grace the tree-lined streets, some of them restored to their original graceful Victorian and Edwardian grandeur with attention to the 't'rue colors' of that period. Many of them are now marked as heritage sites.

In 1907 the Jewish community established the Sons of Israel congregation and the first synagogue was built in the 500 block Heatley. (It's now preserved as a condo).

On September that same year Vancouver's largest race riot occurred with an attack on Chinatown and later Japantown over on Powell Street.  Chinatown is part of Strathcona.  Over on Powell Street in Oppenheimer Park are cherry trees, a memorial to the Japanese community that were interned during WWII.

The Sacred Heart Roman Catholic church was built in 1905 but destroyed by fire and rebuilt at 525 Campbell Ave. It was later known as St. Francis Xavier Chinese Catholic Church and is now the Korean Evangelical Church.

The Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, completed in 1950, is at Campbell and Keefer Street.
Lord Strathcona School was established in 1891. By 1937 half the students at the school were Japanese.

In 1911 Ross and Zenora Hendrix, grandparents of Jimi Hendrix, moved here from Tennessee and lived on East Pender St. (later they lived on Georgia Street). The area that is now Union Street was once called Hogan's Alley and was inhabited by most of Vancouver's black community.  (See my blog about the Jimi Hendrix shrine at Union and Main next to where Vie's Chicken and Steak House used to be where Jimi's grandmother was cook.)

In 1916 an Italian immigrant, Alfonzo Benedetti opened Benny's Market at 589 Union Street.

In 1908 another Italian immigrant, Peter Tosi, established a butcher shop at 550 Union Street.  Tosi's Italian Food Import Company is still in busineess at a new location, 624 Union St.  (I went to school with Angelo Tosi. He used to translate letters from Italian pen-pals for me. Today, he runs his father's shop)

In 1950 city planners proposed a new urban renewal program and Strathcona was destined to be demolished and transformed into apartment buildings and townhouses. Fortunately, the community opposed this plan and the development program was stopped.

There are still some of the old apartment buildings and hotels in the area.

There is a strong sense of community in this Downtwon East Side area and as you walk the shaded streets you get a strong sense of the neighbourhood spirit.  In places it reminds me of parts of San Francisco. There's definitely an 'old world' feeling and it's a particular blessing to see how many of the old Victorian and Edwardian houses and other buildings have been preserved.

Take some time to explore this fascinating area of Vancouver. Enjoy a quiet stroll along the tree-lined streets with their curb-side gardens. You'll get a real sense what our city was like when it was first settled by immigrants arriving to begin their new lives on this beautiful west coast.

Website for Strathcona archives and photos:

Photos by: W. Ruth Kozak


Thirtytwo degrees said...

Very interesting article. I had no idea that so many Japanese lived in Vancouver or even had been held there during WWII.

Wynn Bexton said...

There was a large Japanese community in Vancouver and other areas before the war. Most of the fishing fleets in Steveston were owned by Japanese fishers and there was a large community in east Van.

Wynn Bexton said...

The Japanese were shipped out of the city and interned in the Interior and all their property was confiscated from them. There was some redress in more recent years but most of them lost everything and sone didn't return to the city.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, remember the area from previous walks. Wonderful photographs. Makes me want to revisit the area. Well done! from your avid reader, Rosa

Marc Latham said...

Hi Ruth, I nominated your blog for a Creative Chaos award:
Hope you like it, cheers and have a great weekend...

Darlene Foster said...

Wonderful photgraphs and stories from the past. Thanks for sharing.

Wynn Bexton said...

Thanks for taking the time to read this, everyone. It had a great afternoon wandering around the district.