THE STREETS OF CANADA: Hastings
Who walks this ugly, roaring, Vancouver artery?
Shipowners, fishermen, timber barons, bundle-blowing loggers. What can you do here? Get high on heroin, go under in the slum, grow rich selling cheap to hordes of shoppers
A legend of the ugly roaring Vancouver thoroughfare called Hastings is that the body of a man, a victim of the Great Fire of 1886, lies buried in the middle of one of its busiest blocks. This mingling of the quick and the dead surprises no one who really knows the street. It only helps to emphasize what was known all along—that everything happens on Hastings.
The street's paradoxical spirit has been admirably expressed by one of its theatres. Closed by the morality squad when its burlesque queens stripped too far. the theatre quickly switched its name from State to Avon and rang the curtain up again, this time on a legitimate production of Shakespeare's Macbeth. The police returned to ring it down once more—on what they considered an illegitimate production of Tobacco Road. Undismayed, the Avon carries on as a movie house that show-s Hollywood shoot-’em-ups on weekdays and Chinese films on Sundays.
This myriad-faced artery that is one of Vancouver's two principal streets runs the geographical gamut as well. It rises from the sea, hacks its way through asphalt jungle, swings on through suburbia, and, finally, trails off into the trees on a mountain top in the neighboring municipality of Burnaby.
During its hectic, almost nine-mile-long passage from tidewater to timber, Hastings lives off the riches of ocean and forest and rings all the changes that life in a big city, founded on the lusty industries of logging, shipping, and fishing, can provide. No street ever came by its name more honestly; Hastings Mill w'as the first lumber mill on the site of Vancouver, and it took its name from Rear-Admiral George Fowler Hastings, who was commander of the British Pacific fleet. Since those salty colonial days logger and lumber baron have played a pre-eminent part in the life of the street, yet Hastings is everybody’s oyster.
The street belongs, for instance, to the Naomi Greens, though Naomi herself won’t sec it for the next decade (less time off for good behavior) and, in more literal fashion, it also belongs to Lady Patricia Lennox-Boyd who, as a rule, sees it but once a year.
Twenty-one-year-old Naomi drew ten years last summer for pushing heroin, at five dollars a “cap,” in a Hastings Street coffee shop. Business was so good, the magistrate noted, that addicts appeared “almost to be standing in line to get a seat alongside her to buy drugs.”
Lady Patricia’s stake continued over page
in the street is considerably more substantial than that of Miss Green. The wife of the British colonial secretary and a member of the wealthy, ubiquitous Guinness family, brewers of the famous stout. Lady Patricia pays her annual visit to Hastings to inspect the Guinness' own colonial possession there — the handsome, twenty-five-story Marine Building.
From one end to the other. Hastings changes faces at least half a dozen times; at one point its countenance is fierce, and. at another, fun-loving. Yet it is unable to dispel an over-all impression of being the ugliest thoroughfare to serve as a main street in any Canadian city .
Its western end. brisk and businesslike, is cut from solid grey granite. Here, in offices overlooking the waterfront, are enthroned the men who rule British Columbia's vital. six-hundred-milliondollar-a-vear lumber industry, as well as the shipping magnates and financiers. Close at hand is the exclusive Vancouver Club where these and other men of substance dine, play cards, entertain, and manage and manipulate the fortunes of a province.
To the east Hastings becomes a raw and squalid paved pit. brimming over with a zest for life, where the free-spending loggers and fishermen head when they hit town. Here a working stiff can meet his friends, down a beer. and. nearby, check into his union. A dime will buy him a year's membership in the B.C. Loggers' Club, a barn-like room set with round tables where he may blow or double his poke at rummy, at sousam—a variety of stud poker that's popular in the Hastings Street card rooms—or a Chinese-Philippino game called panguigni.
Another stretch of Hastings, wedged in between these two extremes, is the bargain-hunter's mecca
where the slogans are a wonder to behold. The shopper is informed that Nobody Undersells Belmont!. that Nobody But Nobody Undersells Wosk's!. and that Army & Navy Undersells Everybody!
The commercial spirit is catching. Nearby, pushers and addicts operate only slightly less furtively their own market, where they deal wholesale and retail in heroin. The Vancouver papers —one cannot tell whether in pride or protestclaim that the intersection of Columbia and Hastings. where most of this trafficking is carried on, is Canada’s most notorious underworld rendezvous. In any case, it is a fact that as far east as Montreal the drug racket continued on page 38
B.C.’s birthday party
With British Columbia celebrating its hundredth anniversary. Maclean's has planned several special articles appropriate to a centennial year. This is one of them; others will follow. Later this spring an entire issue of the magazine—photographs, paintings, cartoons, fiction and articles—will be devoted to the province.
continued on page 38
Hastings Street continued from page 17
continued from page 17
“It’s not wide, it’s certainly not beautiful. It’s just wonderful, and steeped in tradition”
knows this spot simply as the Corner, and makes sure that there nobody undersells anybody.
At Hastings’ western tip, where there’s salt spray in the air, young ladies of the Anglican Church known as Senior Lightkeepers entertain foreign seamen — as many as fifteen thousand a year — by showing movies and holding dances at Flying Angel House. In the smog of the slums, to the east, drunken Indian girls stagger blindly by a museum that houses priceless relics of the past glory of their race. They, too, entertain the seamen.
Politically, Hastings ranges the arena from right to left. Conservatives and Liberals maintain headquarters on West Hastings; the CCF and LPP on East Hastings. The downtown, melting-pot reaches of the street are represented in parliament by Canada’s first MP of Chinese extraction, Conservative Douglas Jung, a lean and handsome thirty-fouryear-old lawyer who knocked off a Liberal cabinet minister last June. Born in Victoria, where his Cantonese father worked as a gardener, Jung bears the Chinese name of Ten Wah, meaning Beautiful Heaven.
The country’s largest sports stadium, its second largest fair, the world’s largest relief map, and a gym that developed Doug Hepburn, the world’s strongest man—all stand on the crov/ded banks of turbulent Hastings. So do a racetrack, a Salvation Army temple, Vancouver’s oldest newspaper, The Province, and the city's famous Church of the Open Door which, because it is on Hastings, wisely bolts its door at night.
From his vantage point on the topmost floor of the street's tallest building, George Stacey, a financier who has spent a lifetime on Hastings, beholds all this with awe and remarks, “It’s not wide, it’s certainly not beautiful. It’s just wonderful, and steeped in tradition.”
The tradition goes back to a day in 1885 when CPR land commissioner Lauchlan Alexander Hamilton strode out of the waterfront village of Granville, popularly known as Gastown in honor of one of its more prominent and most talkative public figures, hotel - keeper Gassy Jack Deighton, and into the nearby forest. There he sank a surveyor’s stake and began to lay out the street system of the soon-to-be-created city of Vancouver. The place he chose is now the busy downtown corner of Hamilton and Hastings Streets.
Though in his time he helped fashion the face of many other cities along the CPR right-of-way, Hamilton is called the godfather of Vancouver because he also wrote, for the people of Gastown, a petition to the legislature to achieve the incorporation of the city of Vancouver.
Hardly had he accomplished this, as well as his own election to the first city council as alderman, when the Great Fire of 1886 all but wiped out Vancouver. The ashes were still smouldering when Hamilton pitched a tent and called it City Hall. The stricken town of one thousand people began to rebuild.
Since then, the story of Vancouver as it grew to be the nation’s third largest city and its busiest seaport has been
written, page by page, on Hastings Street.
Fittingly, the finest landmark on this street which traces its name back to a British sea-dog is the towering Marine Building, set athwart the western end of Hastings, hard by the docks where ships from the seven seas are berthed.
The skyscraper was the project of Canada’s oldest bond house of the day. But before the building was finished the bond firm went broke in the 1929 crash, and money was imported from Wall Street to finish the job. Then Alfred J. T. Taylor, an engineer and flamboyant promoter, sold it to the Guinness family for—the exact figure is not knowneight or nine hundred thousand dollars.
At that price it was a bargain, for two and a half million dollars had been poured into the building and, at present, it is worth at least five million. Yçt this was merely one item in a whopping investment package the hard-selling Taylor had wrapped up for the Guinness family. This included five million dollars to be spent constructing the longest suspension bridge on British soil—the Lions’ Gate, which spans the entrance to Vancouver harbor to link the city with the suburbs of North and West Vancouver.
Luxury in the clouds
To crown his triumph, Taylor, who as a youth had run a boarding-house nearby, took a twenty-one-year lease on the top three floors of the Marine Building and then spent thirty-five thousand dollars to convert them into a luxurious penthouse. Most of the furnishings were imported from England; a chandelier of pure silver was fashioned by Tiffany’s, of New York. Unnerved by the great height, three hundred and fifty feet above street level, Taylor’s wife eventually had an office on a lower Hoor made over into a bedroom where she slept.
Since Taylor’s death these majestic quarters have been occupied in turn by two other wealthy tenants. The first was Mrs. Sholto Smith, aunt of Charles Woodward of Woodward Department Stores, who moved after Pearl Harbor, fearing the place presented too obvious a target for any Japanese bombers that might come that way. She was followed by Garfield Weston, the expatriate food multi-millionaire. Today the penthouse suite is headquarters for the vast ranching, mining, shipbuilding and financial empire of one of B. C.’s wealthiest families, the Spencers. Seventy - year - old George Stacey, who began his business career in 1903 as a bank clerk on lower Hastings, and became, in 1922, financial controller of the David Spencer department store (now Eaton’s) on upper Hastings, is installed at the very pinnacle of the street as overseer of the Spencer interests.
From the verdigris spire of this earthquake-proof building one looks down upon the intricate pattern of Vancouver's great natural harbor and its dirty, utilitarian maze of wharves and warehouses. Yellow piles of lumber and consignments of sockeye stand on the docks to be loaded into rust-streaked freighters for the trip through Panama to Europe or across the Pacific to the Orient. Prairie grain
is tunneled into ships of almost every flag, including the hammer and sickle. Incoming, these vessels bring the provender and manufactured goods B. C. takes in exchange for its raw materials.
Within the Marine Building itself and in the long shadow it casts down Hastings winds a network of offices from which all this activity—and, in fact, virtually the entire economic life of the province — is controlled. Almost the whole ground floor of the building is taken up by the Vancouver Merchants’ Exchange, clearing house and meeting place for the shipping fraternity and the grain trade. Across the street, one corner is held down by Seaboard, world's largest exporters of lumber, and the other by Empire House, headquarters of a pioneer shipping company. Beyond these stands a row of insurance, realestate, and investment houses.
And in the midst of it all is the street's most select, as well as one of its oldest, institutions, the Vancouver Club, which proudly restricts itself to roughly a thousand gilt-edged members. Six days a week, in fair weather and foul, a ninety-twoyear-old knight, Sir George Bury, holds court at a round table in the club lounge. From here Sir George, who retired in 1918 as operating vice-president of the CPR, commands a sweeping view of the railway yards and steamship docks that are a part of his former domain.
As Hastings emerges from this cold canyon of the financial district and sweeps by the unsightly main post office and the massive headquarters of three banks at the intersection of Granville, it plunges suddenly into its role as Vancouver's busiest shopping street.
Though Eaton's bought into Hastings in 1948 by purchasing the David Spencer firm, the merchant prince of the street is thirty-four-year-old Charles N. Woodward, ruler of the department-store chain that bears his family's name. Sixtyfive years ago Charles’ grandfather set up shop on Hastings at Abbott, and Woodward's has done business there ever since. Its new 867-car garage is the largest in the Commonwealth and the store’s basement houses the largest floor in the world devoted solely to the sale of food.
Once a month an army of bargain hunters storms into Woodward's to take part in a skirmish that has been a Vancouver institution for fifty years. This is Dollar Forty-Nine Day, the inflationary version of the store's pre-war Ninetyfive Cent Day which wags called the Scotchman’s Picnic. It's the biggest oneday, one-price sale in North America. “The day” packs them in the year round but hits its frenzied peak in December when as many as two hundred thousand shoppers throw themselves into the fray. They come from all over Vancouver, streaming out of the suburbs like bands of fleeing refugees; from the Fraser Valley; from Washington State, and, by boat, from Vancouver Island. Even before the doors swing open the crowds begin to assemble on Hastings, ready to do or die for a $1.49 bottle of Woodward's Improved Multiple Vitamins, or pant hangers, six for $1.49.
"Hastings,” says young Charlie Woodward, “has no high-priced stores, no high-fashion shops. It’s Vancouver’s family shopping street and it does by far the biggest volume of business in town.”
Clustered around Woodward’s are the cut-rate appliance and clothing marts where life consists of one never-ending giant, unprecedented SALE!, and where slogans and ideas are pirated as freely as prices are slashed. One store even runs its own Dollar Forty-Nine Day in brash defiance of Woodward’s.
The most spectacular of these establishments is the furniture and appliance store of the brothers Wosk, Ben and Morris, who have succeeded in making their modest motto — Nobody But Nobody Undersells Wosk's! — a Vancouver catchword. The Wosks, who landed in Vancouver in 1929 from Odessa with hardly a ruble to their name, now own eight stores with an annual turnover of six million dollars, and claim to be Canada's biggest appliance dealers.
Glaring across the street at a competitor who advertises Nobody Undersells
Belmont. Morris Wosk mutters, “Copy cats!” and then admits, not without a touch of pride, “1 stole our slogan from Gimbels, of New York.”
Tossed, by way of diversion, into the turmoil that swirls along Hastings between Eaton's and Woodward's is the quiet oasis of Victory Square where, on Armistice Day, Vancouver remembers its dead of two wars. Some of these men may well have enlisted at this very spot, for recruiting booths sprang up here during both wars. Others may have been part of the crowd of unemployed that milled
about the square one day in 1935 while the mayor, standing at the foot of the cenotaph and ringed by two hundred police, read the Riot Act.
Mostly this patch of green belongs to the worn old men who escape to it from their dingy rooms, there to doze on the grass, chew the fat with their cronies, or feed the pigeons.
A tubby gnome-like man with long pink hair and a petulant face was the best friend the square’s pigeons ever had. His name, tnough few knew it. was Alex Christie. People called him the bird-and-
cat man. Christie lived in a windowless room nearby. Every night for years, until he unaccountably disappeared, he begged scraps of food from the restaurants on Hastings, and every day he fed these to the pigeons and to stray alley cats. There was method in his kindness: the best scraps lie saved for himself.
The formal dividing line between West and East Hastings falls at Carral! Street, a block beyond Woodward's bustling corner. But more than a change of postal address takes place here. The street suffers a shattering breakdown. For just ahead lies the half-world of Hastings, the worst of it jammed into a single, incredible block from Columbia east to Main.
Peering clown from his office above the corner of Main and Hastings, Harry Rankin. a gruff young lawyer, shakes his head in mild disbelief. "It’s not a street any more," he remarks. “It's a scene from Gorky’s Lower Depths.”
“It belongs to the dopeys, the loggers, and the fishers," is the way John Nagel, proprietor of an Italian spaghetti house located there, sizes it up. By this he means the drug addicts he bounces out of his place and the loggers and fishermen he bows in.
By day, this Great Blight Way throbs with the activity of working-class folk, conic there on a myriad of errands. Weaving in and out among them are the grotesque people of the abyss. These are the drunks, the derelicts, the drug addicts, young punks, petty crooks, pimps, and blowzy hags and teen-age girls whose profession is ancient. Intermingled with them are the shuffling prisoners of the surrounding slum. By night, the people of the abyss prevail.
In keeping with the schizophrenic personality of the street, the block itself boasts its own contrasting institutions, dedicated to the service of, respectively, culture and crime.
For fifty-four years, and until last fall, an ugly stone pile at the corner of Main has served as the Vancouver Public Ubrary. The library has finally fled from this leaky, rat-ridden building to a brandnew home in a less sleazy part of town. This has brought considerable relief to the staff, who, on more than one occasion, had to place buckets in the reading room to catch the dripping rain water.
Still, culture carries on at the weird and wild corner of Main and Hastings. The Vancouver Museum, crowded for many years into the library’s attic-like top floor, has now taken full possession of the building. Kept there is a magnificent collection of Northwest Indian arts and handicrafts, the buckskin costume and other personal effects of poet Pauline Johnson, and a fine Chinese collection that includes—an explanatory card notes —“a rare painted tile looted from the Summer Palace, Peking.”
Though many native Indians circulate around this corner, where headquarters of their fifteen-thousand-member Native Brotherhood is also located, few ever venture into the museum.
"I wish more would come in,” comments curator Thomas Ainsworth. “For, whenever they do, it fills them with pride in their past, and pride is what they so desperately need at the present.”
Flourishing at the opposite end of the block, at Columbia, and showing little inclination to move in spite of constant police persuasion to do so, is the liveliest heroin market in Canada. Even a stranger to the Corner may. if he lurks there and keeps his eyes open, watch pushers and addicts wage their relentless war with the men they call the Horsemen (the RCMP) and the city drug detail. So heavy is the two-way traffic between the Corner and the B.C. Penitentiary that
it sometimes seems as though the place functions as an out-patient department for the pen.
Early in 1957 an RCMP undercover agent spent two months at the Corner posing as an addict and then the trap was sprung on twenty-eight traffickers. In court the agent told of buying heroin from several of the accused in the Broadway Hotel beer parlor on the Corner, prompting the presiding magistrate, Oscar Orr, to remark, “I am coming to the conclusion that it's just as easy to buy drugs at this hotel as it is for a child to buy candy at a store."
At this, the owner of the Broadway, Paul Fhman, became incensed because, he said, he had purposely allowed addicts and pushers to set up shop in the beer parlor as a convenience to police. It helped keep things all under one roof. “This was a stake-out for the police,” Fhman explained. "There wasn't just one cop: they were swarming over the whole joint.” Moreover, in renovating the place he had made it possible for the police to see inside from a look-out across the street. Heavy drapes had come down, walls had been panelled with mirrors, peep-holes had been arranged, and a
secret rear entrance, through which the police could rush to nab a suspect, had been provided.
“Now,” says Fhman, “I've chased all the addicts out.” The police agree that he has. But Detective-Sergeant Charlie Campbell, chief of the city's drug detail, says, “The main street for drugs is still Hastings, at Columbia. It never gets far from there. And between ourselves and the RCMP there’s always someone there watching it.” It was at the Corner they nabbed Naomi Green one day last summer as she carried on her thriving trade in heroin.
The alcoholic needs of the block, though monumental, are amply provided for by its own four beer parlors and a nearby late-closing liquor store, called an "owl store,” that probably caters to more chronic drunks than does any other grog shop on the planet. Sodden derelicts haunt the place, and, in whispers, cadge the last two or three pennies they need to meet the price of a bottle of domestic wine.
Conveniently situated around the corner from all this booze is the Vancouver Public Safety Building, which, as though to justify its pretentious name, has a fine, suicide-proof drunk tank with a heated floor.
The block is also the scene of a gambling club, a gymnasium where a Chinese teaches Japanese jiujitsu, a cabaret, a travel agency that specializes in trips to Italy and another that arranges Buddhist pilgrimages to Japan, and newsstands that sell papers written in almost every
language but Sanskrit. The Coin City slot-machine arcade carries on next to a bank, and the Sunshine Mission (Sound Preaching—Bright Singing) glows in the shadow of a shop that enjoys the uncertain tenancy of a Gypsy fortune teller. All this—and the Avon Theatre, too.
All that remains from a glittering era when this now hideous stretch of Hastings was actually Vancouver’s Great White Way. catering to the carriage trade, is the Avon and three other movie houses. Nijinsky and Pavlova danced here (at the Empress, where, two decades later, workmen found one of Pavlova's powder-puffs while tearing the theatre down to make way for a supermarket) and. more recently, so did Miss Evelyn West, the Hubba Hubba Girl, whose colossal bosom was insured for the occasion, by the Avon management, for one hundred thousand dollars.
No theatre is held in such affectionate regard by the people of Vancouver as is the Hastings Odeon, though it's best known to them as the Beacon. Like the Avon, it was built during the hey-day of vaudeville by Alexander Pantages, the Greek immigrant boy who became theatre king of the Pacific Coast. Vaudeville never had a longer run anywhere than it did at the Beacon, spanning the years from Fatty Arbuckle to Texas Guinan (who died in a Vancouver hospital while her troupe played the Beacon). to Roy Rogers. Now ironically, vaudeville in its televised form is doing its best to kill the Beacon. Odeon Theatres tried to run it as a straight movie house, then shut it down. They re-opened it three times a week to show Ukrainian-, Italianand German-language films to audiences mostly of New Canadians. Last fall Odeon gave up and sold the old Beacon to two businessmen who've closed it again while they ponder what to do with it.
Roy McLeod, a former Beacon manager who spent the best years of his life booking fiesh-and-blood Swiss bell-ringers and trained seals, sighs as he says, “Nowadays all the entertainment on Hastings comes in a can and goes out in a can. '
Set down in the worldly wikis of Hastings, near Main, and surprisingly at home in this environment, is Vancouver's best-known church. This is First United, the Church of the Open Door, made famous during the Thirties by its stormy, socially conscious Presbyterian preacher, Dr. Andrew Roddan, whose radio sermons stirred the faithful from Dawson City to Panama, and, in Vancouver itself, provoked violent controversy.
Delivered in a rich Scottish brogue, Roddan's preaching breathed hell-fire and brimstone into every conceivable subject from prostitution to the plight of the unemployed. During one assault on the red-light district that flourished in his parish, he challenged the police and shocked, or titillated, his listeners by reading out the addresses of various brothels.
It was the unemployed and destitute Roddan had in mind when he spoke of First United as the Çhurch of the Open Door, for in the depths of the depression as many as a thousand men a day flocked there for help, and truckloads of food were sent from the church to the city dump where a Hooverville had sprung up. Once when he appealed for coal for families on relief, his radio congregation responded with a gift of three thousand sacks of the fuel.
Though Dr. Roddan has since died, the doors of First United remain open as ever to the jobless who. during the lean winter months, come there at the rate of eighty to one hundred a day, seek-
ing a bed or a meal. But at night, its present pastor, Rev. H. R. Ross, confesses with a smile, the doors are securely bolted.
On Sunday they are flung wide so that four distinct congregations may enter, for First United is also the city’s most cosmopolitan church, conducting services in English, Japanese, Finnish, and Ukrainian. The Ukrainian service is taken by Dr. Herman Neufeld, a Russian-born Dutch Mennonite who supervises the church's work among New Canadians.
Once it shakes itself free of the slums, Hastings takes a breather and leads a reasonably normal life for a spell as the main thoroughfare of Vancouver's most populous working-class suburb. And then, as if to compensate for its previous nightmare existence, the street is set free to frolic in its gayest role.
Fronting on Hastings is a one-hundredand-eighty-acre enclosure called Exhibition Park, the city's foremost athletic and amusement centre. The annual Pacific National Exhibition held there draws 750,000 visitors a year, making it one of the six largest fall fairs on the continent and. in Canada, second only to Toronto's CNE. Open the year round is the park's B.C. Building where the prize exhibit is the world’s largest relief map, measuring sixty by eighty feet. School children are brought there from all over Vancouver to see this giant likeness ot their province which cartographer George Challenger and his son Robert spent seven years creating from nine hundred and seventy thousand pieces of plywood.
The park also encompasses a racetrack, known affectionately to plebian patrons of the sport of kings as Little Saratoga; the Exhibition Forum, home of the city's professional hockey club: and the country's largest sports stadium. Though new to the street. Empire Stadium has already proven itself worthy of the Hastings tradition, for in its cavernous arena have taken place within three years such diverse events as the Bannister-Landy “miracle mile,” a Grey Cup game watched by the biggest crowd (39,417) ever to attend a Canadian football contest, a Jehovah’s Witness convention, and an Elvis Presley concert. The tidy Witnesses of Jehovah were pronounced the best tenants because they left the stadium spotless, and the tempestuous Presley fans the worst, because they were on the verge of tearing it down.
After this frivolous interlude, Hastings leaves Vancouver, though hardly with reluctance, and crosses into Burnaby where it buckles down, wearily, to its final chore: serving as the main street for the northern half of this thriving municipality.
This accomplished, the street, now no more than a rutted dirt road, finally crawls up Burnaby Mountain and steals into the silent forest, there to die. At this point stands an isolated wooden frame house surrounded by several acres ol terraced gardens, which for thirty-one years has been home to Edward Biegenzahn, now a seventy-two-year-old pensioner. and his wife Arabella. It was he who hacked the last two thousand feet of Hastings out of the wooded mountainside. From this serene retreat, which he seldom leaves, Edward Biegenzahn can see into every nook and cranny of the street from where it begins at the sea to where it ends, at his doorstep.
All this entitles him, perhaps, to pass final judgment on Hastings Street, and the last word is his.
“Oh, but it's ugly,” he says, and turns his gaze to the great expanse of sea and mountains beyond. ★