Tag Archives: Kensington-Cedar Cottage

A Little East Van History – The Lakeview Disaster And The Wild West

12 Jul

LakeviewDisasterVancouverHeritageFoundationWe introduce you to a new contributing writer Al Tee. Al loves a good story and has his eye on East Van’s history.  His East Van roots go back to his grandmother’s childhood home and farm at 41st and Sophia. Today, he’s going to share a little East Van history in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage area.

You live in East Van, youʼre always rushing. In a hurry. Youʼre rushing for the bus, for the Skytrain. Youʼre riding in the bike lane rushing to make the next light. Youʼre rushing trying to avoid traffic from pop-up city road work. All that rushing, and no time to take a side glance at what youʼre rushing past in East Van. Short anomalous streets and tiny micro neighborhoods. All of them bubbling over with anecdotal history. Because if you hadnʼt realized, East Van is where Vancouver started.

So let me do the side glance for you while you rush. As you rush North down Victoria thereʼs a point where you hit a big curve that becomes Commercial Drive. On your right you pass a large patch of green that hides a community garden. Plenty of those in East Van, except this has some history. At the bottom of Lakeviewthe garden is a shed thatʼs been built like a replica of one of the old shelters for the Interurban. The Interurban was the original Skytrain, Vancouverʼs first rapid transit. These shelters offered both protection from the elements and often a ticket agent to sell riders their fare. More importantly the shed has a plaque, placed there to remind passersby of the events of the Lakeview Disaster.

In 1909 at the current location of the community garden, a BC Electric Interurban train collided with a runaway railcar loaded with timber. The collision resulted in 14 people killed and another 9 seriously injured. What happened at Lakeview became the worst transit accident in Vancouver history. While you give that a pause as you rush by, two blocks east is a short strip of Commercial Street that was itself once considered a village. The Commercial Street Cafe located at East 20th and Commercial Street, is particularly significant. While I canʼt vouch for the coffee – Iʼm too anti-social to have coffee anywhere but home – I can vouch that this was the sight of Vancouverʼs first armed robbery. The restored Cafe was once home to the Bank of Hamilton, a forerunner of the CIBC, and on one August Saturday night back in 1912, six armed men entered the bank and robbed it. While this was going on, members of a nearby gospel meeting began singing. At the same time two South Vancouver Police Constables Pcʼs Thomas and Winters happened by. There was a shoot-out. According to PC Winters; “ …men came running out of the bank and opened fire on me. Quite a fusillade was opened on me…I raised my revolver to shoot, but the crowd that had been singing and preaching now began to realize what was on and they scattered. “

Picture the opening scene in Sam Peckinpahʼs The Wild Bunch happening two blocks from the Croatian Cultural Centre. A running gun battle ensued and the robbers, some possibly wounded, escaped into the bush around Trout Lake. Which brings us back to Lakeview. Because these six “ desperate outlaws “ all passed by the sight of the cityʼs worst traffic accident ever. Think of it, a train wreck and an armed robbery with a shootout only a couple of blocks apart. Is this is a side glance of East Van? Or the Wild Wild West?

Contributing Writer: Al Tee

Photo Credit: Vancouver Heritage Foundation (above)
Photo Credit: Commercial Street Below (below)

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