Monday, July 18, 2011

Market Alley

Saturday I went on a history walk sponsored by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. Unfortunately the weather was less than cooperative - it was raining buckets - and my notepad got soaked. So I am going to show you the few pictures I have and whatever I remember from the tour.

Market Alley is an alley between Pender and Hastings Streets in Chinatown. We entered from Carrall Street. This alley was once a hubbub of activity with storefronts, gambling halls and opium dens. (At one time opium was legal in Canada.)

34 Market Alley - the doorway I am showing you now - is significant. During the 1907 riots - when the white men stormed Chinatown and later Japantown - windows were broken at this address. The owners of the establishment filed a claim with the federal government for compensation and our future Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, came out to assess the damage. He was aghast to find out that the dealt with opium. He then proceeded to have legislation passed that made the use of opiates illegal. Ironically there was another establishment a couple of doors down that escaped King's notice. They didn't file a claim for damages.

Our guide, John Atkin, told us an interesting story about this place. Two young men lived in this hotel and both were avid about airplanes. They ordered a kit to build an airplane and assembled it in the hotel. They would put together a wing and store it in one area of the hotel then the fuselage in another area and so one. Once everything was put together a friend helped them move the pieces out of the hotel to Richmond where the final assembly took place and one of the brothers - a licensed pilot - flew the plane. It actually did fly. You may wonder how these two men got away with putting this thing together in the hotel but it may have helped that their parents owned the building.

This ordinary door,  painted red, actually holds a whole lot of history and secrets. Originally it was green and was the entryway to the Green Door Restaurant. The way it started is that there was a gambling house inside and this is where the restaurant was. A gambler could stay at the tables all night and never have to leave. If he got hungry he would order some food and it was prepared in the kitchen and then served at the table.

Word spread about the food and the thrill of danger of being in Chinatown with the gamblers and opium dens attracted a lot of people. They would knock on the green door and if the person behind the door liked how you looked, the door would open and you could sit at a table in the kitchen. This restaurant ran for many years but for a long time it was dangerous to go into these alleys since were filled with addicts, drug dealers and other nefarious types. Sadly the restaurant closed and the door was repainted.

The building itself is interesting as well. It is built around a courtyard that you cannot enter directly. That way if the law was going to try to raid the place the gamblers would have enough warning to clear out before the officers got there

So, apparently, this building actually wraps around the block. A person would never know it just looking at the structure. How clever!

There was a public market at the end of the alley at one time. And above that market was our city hall for awhile! So a person could go pay their city taxes and do their grocery shopping at the same time.

This is also the alley where the back of the Pantages Theatre is. John was telling us that the building has been gutted and the roof is being removed as we could see. Sad that we are losing that treasure. But when the city is making cuts to the fire department then how can a person logically expect them to keep paying for a building that nothing can be done with? After all it is in the center of skid row and I know people who are afraid to go down there in the daytime.

This rubble used to be the location of the Blue Eagle Cafe and the San Francisco Cafe. Both establishments were fixtures in the city and prospered greatly from the nearby theatre. But that was when the section of Hastings Street was the center of town. The Carnegie Centre is a few doors away, the Holden Building - where city hall was after they left the public market - is in this block, the Pantages Theatre is close and one of the largest Chinatowns in North America is right here. This was the place to be. Sadly not so much now. It is inhabited by drug dealers, addicts, homeless people and many are violent.

I love the history and the secrets these buildings hold. But I am logical as well. We can't save them all, sadly economics and priorities mean that the city can't maintain every building. That is also why what I, and others like me, do is so important. We are preserving the history for the future. Personally I don't make money off of this blog - it is a labor of love. Because I have posted these photos on the Internet they will probably always be here.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. Great post... i didn't know Vancouver's Chinatown had this interesting history (how cool it would have been to go to the Green Door Restaurant).

    Thanks, now i have some new places to check out next time i'm wondering around Chinatown.


    1. I am happy that you found it informative David. There is a lot of mystery and history in Chinatown. In Vancouver period. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    2. Actually, I was introduced to the Green Door in 1983 by a friend and it became my "go to" place well into the early 1990s. Even then, there was a slight air of danger about the place - you knew there was a gambling den in the back - but the food was great and cheap. I can still well remember Victor the cook, I assume owner. He treated us like friends for many years - I miss the place (and Victor) but am glad to have been able to take that stroll almost back in time to a city that is now just a memory.

    3. Thank you for sharing Bill.

  2. Thank you. Very interesting article! We're from bc but in ab right now. Might check these out! Ty