The Dales House at 414 Alexander Street circa 1890 CVA Photo SGN 490

Saturday, September 12, 2009

THE HEATLEY BLOCK - City & VPL Put East End Heritage In Danger

About seven or eight years back, the Vancouver Public Library polled a number of East End residents concerning what they wanted in an ideal new branch library for the neighbourhood. Residents were excited about the prospect of having a full service branch for Strathcona and responded enthusiastically with a number of ideas. The only caveat being that wherever the new branch was located, that none of our heritage buildings be sacrificed.

Fast forward to December 2007. The neighbourhood finds out that The Heatley Block, a landmark character heritage building containing low income apartments upstairs and a number of viable healthy retail outlets below has been bought for the new library which, rather than a branch for the East End Neighbourhood is to serve also the needs of Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. The dreamed of tailor-made local branch has become a monster megaproject with huge implications for the neighbourhood.

Rumours fly that the new library will be a highrise building covering not only the site of the Heatley Block, but also the site of the Pivot Legal Services office building. Posters begin to appear all across the neighbourhood warning the neighbourhood of the proposed plan. An ad hoc group of concerned East End neighbours, including some residents and businesses from the Heatley Block, set up the Heatley Block Preservation Society, set up a website and online petition, and worked hard to find creative ways to save the Heatley Block by suggesting suitable alternates.

The neighbourhood was stunned. How could all of this supposed consultation have gone so sideways? Hadn't we said we didn't want any of our historic buildings demolished for he project?

The answer to that question is that The Heatley Block and its two attached houses were not included in the City's Heritage Register. The Heritage Register was set up in the 1980s. The original survey, though well meaning, was a drive by affair. City staff set out in all directions across the city in cars and wrote down addresses of buildings they thought worthy of inclusion. Of course, the whole process was rather arbitrary and many buildings worthy of inclusion, especially in the East End and lower Mount Pleasant area were not included. someone working in the city's real estate branch checked the heritage register, couldn't find the Heatley Block on it, and Bob's your uncle.

As soon as I became involved in the fight to save the Heatley Block I realized the best contribution I could make was to research the history of the apartment/retail block and those of the two attached houses. My findings are listed below.

Meanwhile, the HBPS came up with a brilliant plan that would save the Heatley block by offering the library the 1921 Strathcona School Building, a beautiful brick structure in danger of demolition itself unless it can be upgraded to Earthquake codes. This alternative is proposed in the neighbourhood petition was was signable online, and in neighbourhood corner stores. Close to 2000 signatures were collected.

Presentations were made to the library board, letters were written to the Mayor and Council before and after the last civic election. At one meeting we got the Library Board to agree to commision the writing of a Statement of Significance, based on my finds below. Despite all these efforts, the Heatley Block is still in danger.

For whatever reason, the 1921 Strathcona School Building idea was nixed. Although perfect from the perspective of the Strathcona community, the site was deemed inaccessible to some users from the Downtown Eastside... that the fact that the 1921 building was on a school ground, it would not be as welcoming and accessible a place for some of the more marginalized folk from the DTES... that it would be harder to offer special services for that segment of our community... and that perhaps people with young children would have issues. How does that change if the Library is moved a block or so away on East Hastings? If it is supposed to be a branch serving the East End community, are the needs and safety of our children to be sacrificed because some bureaucrat figures money will be saved by making the new library all things to all people?

When the first stage of community consultation was happening, no one told anyone that the proposed new library was to serve Chinatown, Strathcona and the Downtown East Side. The whole process was flawed.

It was like some well meaning, but eccentric and gormless adult saying to three different little girls, "I am going to buy you each a new dress. What type of dress should I buy for you?", getting three different answers, then producing a potato sack with six arm holes in it and expecting the three little girls to be happy.

Recently, several alternate sites on the north side of Hastings street came up for sale, but the Library Board would not consider these sites because the Kitchen Report, a summation of the rather skewed community consultation that took place around eight years ago, stipulated that Strathcona Residents would prefer a site on the south side of East Hastings... But that was before the Heatley Block was caught in the crosshairs.

At the moment, a group of neighbours and Heatley Block businesses are trying to come up with the money to buy back the Heatley Block with the aim of retaining all buildings in their current form and use. Coming up with the funds will be a challenge, but the will is there.

But back to the history of the Heatley Block. Below I have put together what I found on the buildings in question. The biggest red flag was the fact that the oldest of the houses, built in 1889, is perhaps one of the four oldest houses left in the city. Read on...

Heatley Block Fast Facts

Original Legal Description: Lots 14-16 of Block 68, District Lot 196

Year of Construction: 1931

Building Permit Application #: 36285 March 10, 1931
· Samuel Plastino is listed as the owner
o Samuel Giovanni Plastino was born in Italy September 8, 1886 the son of Michele Plastino and Maria Patello. He came to Vancouver from Italy around 1922. In 1931 he is listed as the proprietor of the Windsor Hotel at 52 East Hastings.
o Samuel Plastino bought the property on September 13, 1930
· No architect is mentioned
· No contractor was listed. The block was built with “day labour”
· Estimated cost to build the Heatley Block was $9000.00

Water Service Application: March 27, 1931
· Samuel Plastino applied for an enlarged water service for the property which was originally served in May of 1893 (for a house on Lots 14 and 15) and July 1898 (for a house on Lot 16).

First Time the Heatley Block appears in the City Directories: 1932
· Originally four (later five) retail spaces are listed facing Hastings
o 684 East Hastings: Hastings Millinery (Finnish proprietor)
o 688 East Hastings: Hastings Bakery (Finnish proprietor)
o 692 East Hastings: Heatley Market (Irish proprietor)
o 696 East Hastings: Miss Vera E. Jones, Druggist (Welsh proprietor)
· The 1932 directory lists 12 suites occupied on the second floor. Occupants are mostly working class and range from married couples to single men and women. Half of the residents are of British origin. The other half are of Italian heritage.

From the 1930s through the 1940s and even the 1950s the proprietors of many of these businesses lived behind their shops. For a number of years there were also businesses facing on the Heatley Avenue side of the Heatley Block. Up until 1942, two of the Hastings Street businesses were run by Japanese families. Many of the early businesses were run by Finns and Italians. The star Fruit Market and the Elite Cleaners were run by Chinese families. The longest continuously running business, Frieda’s Beauty Shoppe, had a number of proprietors over the years from a number of ethnic backgrounds but none of them seem to have been named Frieda.

684 East Hastings
1932 – Hastings Millinery
1933 – Vacant
1934-1971 – Frieda’s Beauty Shoppe (later “Salon”)
1972 – Tami Beauty Salon
1973-1976 – Hastings Used Furniture
1977 – Vacant
1978-1999 Ace Tattoo Shop

688 East Hastings
1932-1933 – Hastings Bakery
1934 – B&K Bakery
1935 – Miss Shizuko Okugawa – Confectioner
1936-1942 – Miss “Dell” Shizuko Okugawa – Barber
1942-1951 – Anne’s Women’s Clothing
1952-1956 – Iser Shapiro, Sewing Machine & Piano Repairs
1957-1958 – Joe Orsi, Goldsmith
1959 – Vacant
1960 - House of Danish Furniture (Warehouse)
1961 – Vacant
1962-1963 – D. Lee Agencies, Broker
1964–1984 – Vacant
1985–1993 – O.K. Graphics (Extra Office Space)
1994-1995 – Vacant
1996 – Hastings Pawn Shop
1997 - Sunderland Inner Space Design
1998-1999 – John’s Pawn Shop

692 East Hastings
1932 – Heatley Market
1933-1945 – Star Fruit Market
1946 – R. W. Grant, Meats
1947-1949 – McMillan Meats & Grocery
1950 – Vacant
1951-1955 – Nicolite Advertising System
1956 – Vacant
1957-1958 – Harry C. Weinstein, Gas Contractor
1959-1982 – Custom Camera Reproductions
1983-1994 - OK Graphics

694 East Hastings
1932-1935 – Not listed
1936-1941 – Elite Dry Goods & Dressmaking
1942-1948 – Elite Dry Cleaning
1949 – Martin Studios, Photography
1950-1954 - Hors-Have Studios, Photography
1955 – Greg’s Studio Photography
1956-1957 – Used as a residence
1958 – Thrift Bargain Store
1959-1975 – Nick’s Shoe Repair
1976-1979 – Vacant
1980-1981 - United Signs Ltd.
1982-1984 – Used as a residence
1985-1988 – Vacant
1989-1993 – Spring View Realty Ltd.

696 East Hastings
1932-1933 – Miss Vera E. Jones, Druggist
1934 – Vacant
1935 – Harry Fujiwara, Meats
1936 – Sincere Fountain, Confectionery
1937 – Hastings Ice Cream & Candies
1938-1943 – Surrey Meat Market & Delicatessen
1944-1945 – Harold Egley, Meats
1946 – Vacant
1947 – Pacific Realty
1948-1951 – Tiny Tim’s Candy Store
1952–1953 - Vacant
1954 - Old Vienna Ice Cream Parlour
1955 - Jimmy & Ernie’s Café
1956-1963 – Braun’s Burger Bar
1964-1973 – Corner Café
1974-1986 - RSC Installations Ltd., Refrigerator Sales & Service
1987 – Vacant
1988-1991 – Lik Shing Auto Glass
1992 - Vacant
1993-Present – Maurel Enterprises Ltd., Hardware

401 Heatley
1947-1948 – Staminite Co, B.C.

403 Heatley
1947 – Empire Distributors, Manufacturers Agents

CVA Fire Insurance Map 384, Plate 14, edited to 1901 showing the two houses on their original locations facing East Hastings. (Click on the map to get a larger and clearer view)

Prior to the construction of the Heatley Block two houses stood on the property. 668 East Hastings stood on Lots 14 and 15, while 676 East Hastings stood on Lot 16. Rather than demolish the houses, Samuel Plastino had them moved to the back of the property so they faced Heatley Street. 668 East Hastings became 417 Heatley. 676 East Hastings became 407 Heatley. When they were moved they were also split into two suites. For example, 407 Heatley was downstairs and 407½ was the address for the upstairs suite. Later on, these suites were further subdivided.

668 East Hastings/now 417 & 417½ Heatley
668 (originally numbered 634) East Hastings was built in 1889 and is one of very few houses of that vintage still standing in Vancouver. Though no building permit records exist for that year, it was likely built by the new owner of Lots 14, 15, and 16, Ontario-born carpenter Charles C. Park, then residing at 721 Westminster Avenue (now the west side of the 700-block of Main Street).

CVA Photo 480 74 Constable Charles C. Park on patrol in Stanley Park

Charles C. Park disappears from the Vancouver directories for a few years. When he reappears he is listed as a commission agent, then a dealer in patents, and from 1896 onward, as a police constable. There is an 1899 picture of Charles C. Park in uniform with his bicycle on patrol in Stanley Park at the City of Vancouver Archives. The photo code is CVA 480-74. By 1900, Charles C. Park and his family had moved to 306 East 6th Avenue. According to the 1901 census, Charles C. Park was born in rural Ontario on May 25, 1858.

Residents of Local Historic note include:
· 1889-1891 - Foundry worker and later owner, Hugh Orr
o There is a photo of Hugh Orr in the City Archives
· 1892 - BC Sugar Refinery Accountant Henry Thomas Lockyer. Henry went on to become a store manager for the Hudson’s Bay Company then eventually the manager for the Hudson’s Bay Company in all of British Columbia. In 1903 he was elected president of the Vancouver Board of Trade. From 1920 to 1922 he was president of the Vancouver Exhibition Association.
o There are several photos of H. T. Lockyer in the City Archives. In many he is shown accompanying Lord Strathcona and Sir MacKenzie Bowell (Canada’s fifth Prime Minister from December 21, 1894 to April 27, 1896) during their 1909 visit to Vancouver
Other residents from 1893 to 1930 include wholesale druggists, rooming house operators, plumbers, sawmill workers, lumber company employees, coopers and miners. From 1909 to 1911, the house was run as a rooming house.
o Water Service was only applied for on May 1st 1893 by wholesale druggist and later real estate broker Christopher W. Ford. Therefore the house had water from a well and there was an outhouse from 1889 to 1893.

676 East Hastings/407 & 407½ Heatley
676 East Hastings was built in 1898, during the height of the Klondyke Goldrush by retired miner William Cameron McCord. McCord was born in Scotland on October 5, 1837 the son of Benjamin and Margaret McCord. He came to Canada in 1840 and was instrumental in guiding and outfitting CPR surveyor Walter Moberly in 1872 through the Yellowhead pass through the Rocky Mountains during his search of a usable rail route over the mountains. In a paper penned by Moberly for a presentation made in Vancouver in 1909, Moberley is quoted:
“Previous to my leaving Victoria I had engaged and instructed Mr. William Cameron McCord, an able, trusty and experienced mountaineer, miner and frontiersman, to equip a party of axemen and a pack train, and open a pack trail by the valleys of the North Thompson and Abreda Rivers to and through the Yellowhead Pass, where I promised to meet him as soon as I could get away from the Columbia River.”
From what can be gleaned from the 1901 census, McCord was single and a Presbyterian.

Residents of Local Historic note include:
· 1900 – 1902 pioneer school teacher and principal Thomas A. McGarrigle. According to the 1911 census, Thomas’ mother, the family matriarch, the widowed Margaret McGarrigle, was born in Ireland in October of 1829. Thomas A. McGarrigle, was born in New Brunswick in November of 1863. McGarrigle was one of the first teachers of the West (later called Dawson) School at 935 Helmcken Street.
o There is a photo of Thomas A. McGarrigle in front of Dawson School at the City Archives
· From 1944-1945, Samuel Plastino, the former owner and builder of the Heatley Block lived downstairs at 407 Heatley with his wife Janet.
· From 1972 to 2000, Mr. Hon G. Lee, one of the founders and benefactors of the Lee Clan Benevolent Society, lived downstairs at 407 Heatley.
Other residents from 1903 to 1930 include a grocer, a sugar refinery bookkeeper, a peddler, a blacksmith, a tailor, a lumber company saw filer, a millwright, a Hastings Shingle Mill sawyer, wholesale druggists, rooming house operators, plumbers, a logger, a construction worker, and a general labourer.
o Water Service was on July 29th 1898 by William Cameron McCord.


The Heatley Block is important to our community because of its architectural and social history. It is important because of its aesthetics. It is important because it provides stable low income housing that is not in some concrete institutional building, but in a heritage building with important history and a soul. It is important in that its existing retail outlets encourage healthy foot traffic on an otherwise desolate East Hastings. It is important because it is one of the last remaining links this neighbourhood has to our old retail centre along Hastings Street. It is a reminder of what East Hastings was and a model for what East Hastings could again be. It is important because so long as the Heatley Block remains in its present form that there is hope to revive that retail centre on East Hastings for the neighbourhood. It is important in because it is a landmark gateway to our residential neighbourhood from Hastings. It is important in that it is a visible and historic link between Strathcona south of East Hastings to what remains of the residential neighbourhood north of East Hastings. For all these reasons we value the Heatley Block. For all these reasons the City and Library board should be backing off and looking for alternatives.

Here is a link to Heritage Vancouver Society's Heatley Block webpage:

Do you feel like writing a letter?
Here are the e-mail addresses for the VPL Board and the Mayor and City Council

Help up make the powers that be really listed to neighbourhoods. Help us save the Heatley Block!

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