|Boxing East Enders outside the Kiwassa Club at Keefer and Vernon sometime between 1941-1943|
More often than not, as a result of these meetings there is a mutually beneficial exchange of information. Either I have already done some research on a house or person that can help them out, or they have some family information and images that help me in my research. In the end, we are all working to bring to light and preserve the stories and histories of people and places in Vancouver that have slipped or are slipping from our collective memories.
Every day we walk by houses that may register physically, but do we stop to think about who built those houses, and for whom? How much value do we place on an old run down house when we don't know its story? ... And the name of the builder and that of the first occupant is only the beginning.
So here is an example. This unusual brick house on the south side of the 600 block of East Georgia Street was built in 1894 by a County-Mayo, Ireland-born brick layer named John Henry Freney.
This house was part of a rather large research project that involved about 16 houses on the 600 block of East Georgia. I was sitting at my usual spot near the City Directories at the City of Vancouver Archives when I realized that the woman sitting across from me was researching exactly the same block. It turns out that she was the granddaughter of John Henry Freney. At this point in my research I had his name from the water service records but knew nothing about him. Here before me was a living descendent, who was not only able to tell me all sorts of things about him and about his wife Mary Catherine "Mame" Gibbons but also was able to give me their photographs. Mame Gibbon's parents were David Gibbons and Sophia Catherine Gibbons, and it was for his future in-laws that he built the house.
|Mary Catherine "Mame" Gibbons and John Henry Freney, courtesy of Betty Anne Meek|
|John Andrew McDonald on front porch of 1240 Venables in the early 1900s, courtesy of Gary McDonald|
Among the photos that Gary gave me was one of Fire Hall No. 5 which used to stand on the SE corner or Vernon Drive and Keefer Street.
|Fire Hall No. 5 and Captain John Andrew McDonald courtesy of Gary McDonald|
For whatever reason, by the late 1930s this building ceased to be used as a Fire Hall. Sometime in the late 1930s, the building was converted into a boys club called the Vernon Drive Junior G-Men's Club, and operated as such until the late 1940s when the building was converted into the Kiwassa Girls Club.
But it was during its time as the Vernon Drive Junior G-men's Club that the picture of the boxers at the top of the page was taken. The photo was taken sometime between 1941 and 1943, and shows six young boxers lined up along the north wall of the old Fire Hall building. The photo came into my possession via former Strathcona resident Paul Rossetti Bjarnason. Paul's uncle Hector Rossetti is the young man third from the left.
According to Paul's friend, Joe Di Palma, the people in the photo from left to right are as follows:
2. Phil Palmer (Felice di Palma) - 716 Hawks
3. Hector Rossetti - 776 East Georgia
5. Harry Smith
Phil Palmer was a well known East End boxer who taught a lot of the East End boys how to box. According to the Italian Cultural Centre's website, Joe's brother Felice Di Palma was born in Civitanova del Sannio in Molise, Italy in 1922 and fought under the name of Phil Palmer. This naturally talented boxer was to go from Vancouver all the way to New York city by way of his fists. This altar boy from Sacred Heart Church was to fight 41 professional fights: 34 wins, and seven losses. It is reported that he fought under the assumed name to avoid his mother discovering his boxing career!
I met Paul, like I have met a lot of other former Strathcona residents, in front of my house. I was likely gardening or raking leaves or something and Paul was cycling through his old neighbourhood and had stopped to look at the rowhouse where I live. You can always tell a former East Ender by the way they stop and look up at the houses... Anyway, Paul and I got to talking about East End history and we have been in intermittent contact since then.
The other day we bumped into each other when I was working for Gourmet Warehouse during Christmas At Hycroft. Paul mentioned he had a photo to send... This one with the boxers.
Both Paul and his friend Joe are interested in identifying the three other men in the picture. Can you help? If you know anything about the men in the picture, please leave a comment below. Your help in solving this mystery would be much appreciated.