We convey our thanks to The City of Vancouver for permission to include the following document.
The Ireland Canada Monument Society conveys our sincere thanks to The Vancouver Courier for permission to include the following article.
Once a wild place
By Lisa Smedman-staff writer
The people who lived there jokingly referred to it as “no man’s land.”
For many years, District Lot 301-that portion of Mount Pleasant south of 16th Avenue and east of Main Street-had no sewer, municipal water or sidewalks. Rifle-toting parents met their children after school and walked them home through the forest, keeping a wary eye out for bears and cougars. Homesteaders kept coal oil tins filled with water on their roofs to defend their homes in case a bush fire broke out.
People put up with the lack of amenities, however, because properties in District Lot 301 were cheap compared to those in Vancouver. When District Lot 301 was subdivided and put on the market in 1890, a lot could be had for as little as $125-a far cry from the $2,200 to $2,500 being charged for lots in the swankiest portions of the city in downtown Vancouver.
District Lot 301-which remained a separate entity until it was annexed by the City of Vancouver in January 1911-was the creation of New Westminster real estate agent Henry Valentine Edmonds, who purchased the property in 1870. It comprised just a fraction of the more than 1,400 acres of land Edmonds owned in Vancouver, New Westminster and Port Moody, but at 486 acres it was his largest single parcel, and so in the 1890s it was where he focused his energies. He personally drew up the plans for the subdivision of District Lot 301, naming streets after family and friends.
Only one of the streets named by Edmonds retains its original name: Sophia Street, originally known as Sophy Street. (According to Edmonds’ son, Edmonds named it after a niece.) But when Edmonds published his map of the subdivision in 1890, some 25 streets bore the first and middle names of his children, his wife, her sisters and those sisters’ husbands.
Edmonds also named one street after Dublin, the city where he’d been born on Valentine’s Day, 1837. Another he named after a minister in a Victoria Anglican church whose son married into the Edmonds family.
Most poignantly of all, Edmonds named a street in memory of his son Arthur Frederick, who died at just five months of age in 1873, nearly two decades before the subdivision was created.
Edmonds wasn’t the first to plot a community on a logged chunk of what would eventually become modern Vancouver. Nor did he live in Vancouver. His real estate office was in New Westminster, the town he’d called home since 1862. He served as that city’s sheriff and then as its mayor, and New Westminster was where he built a palatial home in 1889, at the corner of modern Queens Avenue and First Street.
Edmonds had a dramatic impact on the growth of Vancouver’s first suburb, however. He purchased what became the core of Mount Pleasant-District Lot 200A-in 1869, at a time when Granville Townsite, the precursor to Vancouver, consisted of a couple of hundred people living next to a sawmill, and he purchased District Lot 301, just to the southeast, the next year. Ultimately, he would donate land for the original Mount Pleasant School (located where Kingsgate Mall is today) as well as for St. Michael’s Anglican Church.
And his wife would give Mount Pleasant its name.
Edmonds was born in Ireland, as was his wife Jane Fortune Kemp, who came to B.C. in the early 1860s with her two sisters. According to their son Henry L. Edmonds, who was interviewed at the Vancouver City Archives in 1937, she named the area after the Irish town where she was born.
As the Vancouver News-Advertiser put it on July 10, 1888, “the residents of the Fifth Ward, who are tired of hearing their charming portion of the city spoken of as ‘across False Creek’ have been casting about for some time for a fitting designation for that lovely suburb, and the other day a lady suggested it should be called ‘Mount Pleasant.’ It is likely that the name will be adopted, and a ratification meeting held shortly to solemnly christen it.”
In those days, False Creek extended to the vicinity of modern Clark Drive. A bridge connected the city’s East End (modern Strathcona) with the suburb of Mount Pleasant. The first homes in the suburb sprang up in the late 1880s along the street this bridge led to: Westminster Avenue, later known as Main Street.
By this time, Edmonds had sold a half-interest in District Lot 200A to the owners of the Hastings Sawmill, who in turn sold it to Victoria resident Dr. Israel Wood Powell. It was Powell who named the first few streets south of the False Creek bridge. He chose Dufferin, Lorne and Landsdown (modern Second, Third and Fourth avenues), naming them after Canadian governors general. Powell also named the streets west of Westminster Avenue after Canadian provinces. But east of Westminster Avenue and south of Ninth Avenue (modern Broadway) and the city boundary (modern 16th Avenue), Edmonds would choose the names.
Edmonds handled sales of lots in the new subdivision himself. His price list for lots in District Lot 301, probably published on Aug. 15, 1890, lists just under 1,000 lots for sale in 82 blocks. The majority are priced between $125 and $175, although a handful have an asking price as high as $500 or even $750. The list noted that corner lots cost slightly more. Terms were one-third cash down, with the remaining thirds to be paid off after six and 12 months at an interest rate of nine per cent.
Mrs. J.J. Hatch, whose memoirs were published by the Mount Pleasant News in 1936, recalled Mount Pleasant of the 1890s.
“In those days Mount Pleasant was a wild place; I wondered why I had ever come to such a place,” she said. “Nothing but trees and forest, no roads, nothing.”
Hatch recalled bears and cougars wandering into her yard, and how she hauled her laundry down to the creek in coal oil tins to wash it in a beaver pond. She also recalled being startled in the silent woods by the sound of another woman’s voice. She worked alongside her husband, cutting cedar logs with a 10-foot-long crosscut saw and splitting the boards into shingles and shakes.
Their home was near the modern corner of 23rd Avenue and Carolina Street. At the time, Westminster Road (Main Street) extended only as far as 15th Avenue, one block shy of the southern boundary of the City of Vancouver. The only “road” near the Hatch home was the wagon trail known as North Arm Road (modern Fraser Street), so named because farmers along the north arm of the Fraser River used it to bring their produce to market.
“We used to tell people that we lived ‘a block off the North Arm Road’ but you could not see our place from the road on account of the trees,” Hatch said.
Elizabeth Newbury, another early resident of Mount Pleasant, told the archives in 1938 that the nearest telephone to her home was at the Gurney Cab Company stables at the foot of the Mount Pleasant hill, a mile away.
“Many’s the time I have dashed off across roots and stones and sticks until I was breathless, to try to call a doctor…” she recalled.
Newbury also remembered catching trout for breakfast in Brewery Creek, which received its name because it provided water to local breweries.
Edith Trites (nee Maddams), whose parents moved to Mount Pleasant in 1890, told the archives in 1938 that her father bought five and a half acres on the shore of False Creek for $400 and built a nine-room house on it that summer. The property was located near modern St. Catherines Street and East Seventh Avenue.
“When we went out there first the whole thing was green trees,” said Trites. “It was wonderful soil, fine loam, and Father let some Chinamen have the land rent free to clear it, and after they had cleared a section rented it to them.”
Those gardeners were the source of the name China Creek. Trites remembers it being filled with fish. “We used to go out at night with a pitchfork and spear the salmon in the creek; they were going up to spawn.”
In 1889, work began on something that would make Mount Pleasant a little more accessible: Vancouver’s streetcar system. The Vancouver Street Railway Company initiated the work, and originally intended to utilize horse-drawn cars. But in 1890 that company amalgamated with the city’s fledgling electrical company and changed its name to the Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company.
Major shareholders in the resulting company were David and Isaac Oppenheimer, whose Vancouver Improvement Company was busy developing Vancouver’s East End. Just across False Creek, the Oppenheimers’ friend Powell was developing his chunk of Mount Pleasant. Little wonder, then, that the first streetcar lines not only ran through downtown Vancouver and the East End, but also south on Westminster Avenue (Main Street) across the False Creek bridge to Front Street (East First Avenue).
On June 27, 1890, the News-Advertiser reported on the “spectacle” of the first electric streetcar running along the newly built tracks the day before, loaded with shareholders and other dignitaries.
By October 1891, work was underway on an extension that would create a circuit of track up Westminster Avenue to Ninth Avenue (Broadway), then west to Centre Street (Granville Street) and across another bridge at the western end of False Creek back to Granville Street in Vancouver’s downtown. Known as the Fairview Line, it would service a second subdivision of Vancouver, the CPR-owned Fairview.
David Oppenheimer, who in 1884 and ’85 had lured the CPR to relocate the terminus of its transcontinental railway to Coal Harbour by pressuring private land holders to grant the railway one-third of their properties, was at the opposite end of the negotiating table, this time around. The streetcar system would be extended through Fairview, he told the CPR, if the railway made a grant of properties to his company.
A.P. Horne, who worked with the land department of the CPR in the 1890s, described the deal in a 1936 interview with the archives. “[The CPR] gave-what is now the B.C. Electric Railway-a number of lots on Ninth Avenue, now Broadway, to induce them to run the street car tracks on Ninth Avenue.”
According to Henry Ewert, author of the book The Story of the B.C. Electric Railway Company, the CPR promised the company 68 lots in exchange for building the Fairview Line.
It was an expensive line to build. Ninth Avenue was bisected by a number of creeks and ravines; a total of
seven wooden bridges had to be constructed. The cost ballooned to $150,000-more than five times the original estimate.
After all this spending, the company was hit by the recession of 1892.
By early 1893, the Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company was in financial difficulty. On May 14, it cut service along the Fairview Line, as well as to the eastern end of Powell Street. Service to Mount Pleasant, which had been hourly, was cut back.
It didn’t help. The company went into receivership. It wasn’t until it was purchased in 1894 by the Consolidated Railway and Light Company that service to Mount Pleasant and Fairview was fully restored.
By 1897, Vancouver’s streetcar system (having once again gone bankrupt) was in the hands of the B.C. Electric Railway Company. It gradually built more track. In 1901, service along Westminster Avenue (Main Street) was extended to 16th Avenue. By 1904, riders could travel as far as Bodwell Road (33rd Avenue) to visit Mountain View Cemetery. By the 1920s, the Westminster Avenue line would extend all the way to Marine Drive.
Although the streetcar drew people to those portions of Mount Pleasant that it served, Edmonds’ subdivision-District Lot 301-remained sparsely populated. Mrs. Daniel Snell, in a conversation with the archives in 1941, recalled what it was like in the late 1890s when her husband and son-in-law bought three lots in what would today be the 300-block of East 17th Avenue, then known as Jane Street.
“Mr. Snell heard about some cheap property out in District Lot 301, what they called ‘no man’s land’ afterwards,” she said. “The street car at the time was running as far as Ninth Avenue and he and [our] son-in-law, my oldest daughter’s husband, built the first house in that district on 17th Avenue East.
“When we went there was all forest around us, and a little cow trail which came out about 14th Avenue. Westminster Avenue was opened as far as 16th Avenue, just a trail you could get through.”
Although annexation by the City of Vancouver brought much needed services to District Lot 301, it adversely affected some who had purchased lots in Edmonds’ subdivision. In a conversation with the archives in 1940, Hatch described how she lost her home when the city seized it for non-payment of municipal taxes. “[When] District Lot 301 was taken into the city… our taxes began to go up and finally the city took the property, our life’s work, from us for taxes.”
Amalgamation would also spell the end of the original street names. Streets that had been named after Edmonds’ family members were renamed to give them the same designations as those to the north, in the City of Vancouver.
Back in 1869-’70 when he first purchased District Lots 200A and 301, Edmonds would have had to travel by buggy along a rough road through the woods (modern Kingsway) that was known as the “Vancouver Road” to inhabitants of New Westminster, and as the “Westminster Road” to those who lived in Vancouver.
Two decades later, that would change.
In 1890, Edmonds-together with Ben Douglas, realtor Samuel T. MacIntosh and John A. Webster (Edmonds’ brother-in-law)-formed a company to build a streetcar system in New Westminster. According to William Burdis, who served as David Oppenheimer’s secretary, Oppenheimer approached these men with a radical idea: an electric tram service that would link Vancouver and New Westminster.
“I realized that electricity was going to become the great potent factor for the supply of street cars and interurban tramways and suggested to David Oppenheimer that a company should be formed to apply electrically powered cars between and in the cities of Vancouver and New Westminster,” Burdis wrote in a 1928 letter to the archives. “He embraced the idea…”
The end result was the Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Company, incorporated in 1890.
At that time, nothing existed between Vancouver and New Westminster except a handful of inns that catered to stagecoach traffic along Westminster Road (Kingsway). The CPR operated a Vancouver to New Westminster rail service, but passengers had to travel via Coquitlam, the trip took 75 minutes, and it cost $1 each way.
Edmonds’ interurban service, when it began running in October 1891, was a vast improvement. The trip from downtown New Westminster to the corner of Carrall and Hastings streets in downtown Vancouver took just 50 minutes, and cost 50 cents, or 75 cents for a return fare. By 1896, the interurban was offering hourly service from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Speedy transportation wasn’t what the interurban railway was all about, however. According to George F. Gibson, traffic manager for the interurban during its first three years of operation, it was about real estate.
“There was a strong suspicion in many minds that, in routing the system between the two cities, an effort to enhance real estate values by the operators of the line was as much a motive on the part of the promoters as [anything],” he told the archives in 1934.
Edmonds and Webster both owned a great deal of property between the two cities. And Oppenheimer had a scheme for increasing their holdings. Just as the CPR had done six years previously, he negotiated with land owners along the potential routes the interurban might take, asking them to turn over a portion of their property to his company in return for it selecting a route that would increase the value of their land.
He also asked the provincial government for a land grant-again, just as the CPR had done.
On Dec. 16, 1890, Oppenheimer wrote to B.C. Premier John Robson that the directors of what was then called the New Westminster Electric Tramway Company would soon be choosing a route. “The [interurban] will not only be a great advantage to the properties through which it will run, but also to that adjacent thereto,” Oppenheimer wrote. “The line will pass through a long tract of unsettled country, and when made will cause property to be built [upon] all the way between the two points, so that in a short time Vancouver and New Westminster will be united and the property will rate the same as in the cities.”
Oppenheimer asked the province to give “the same amount of assistance which private owners are willing to render”-a 100-foot-wide right of way, plus one-tenth of the properties in the lands traversed by the interurban. Oct. 28, 1893, Oppenheimer wrote to F.C. Vernon, B.C.’s chief commissioner of lands and works, to report that private land owners had given an average of nearly 7.5 per cent of the lands the interurban traversed, in addition to the right of way. These “bonuses” totaled 120.8 acres.
He repeated his request that the provincial government give one-tenth of the provincially held properties the interurban line passed through, a total of 205 acres. And he got it-or close to it. The provincial government turned over District Lots 36 and 51-the area around modern Collingwood’s Joyce Street SkyTrain station-a total of 196 acres.
Development of the land between Vancouver and New Westminster didn’t get going until the early 1900s. Some properties sold in the 1890s, but the smallest were one-acre parcels and most of the lands the interurban passed through remained a wilderness.
In a 1931 conversation with the archives, H.P. McCraney said there were only three houses between New Westminster and Vancouver when the interurban first opened.
According to Gibson, “The line ran through solid timber from city to city and there was very little intermediate traffic of any kind.” While the cars would stop anywhere to pick up a passenger, mid-route customers were few and far between.
By August 1894, the interurban teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. The company was seized by trustees and held until June 1895, when it was purchased by the Consolidated Railway and Light Company. The causes of its failure were said by a June 1896 souvenir edition of the Vancouver World to be “too little paid up capital and a lack of population to create a paying traffic.”
First published on 05/05/2006
In British Columbia, five interurban lines were operated by the British Columbia Electric Railway Company. The private right-of-way of the Central Park line, between Commercial Drive in Vancouver and New Westminster, is now used by the SkyTrain’s Expo Line.
Mount Pleasant Square in Dublin Ireland.
Mount Pleasant Square signage.