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Sam North explores Vancouver

'No pictures, no chocolates, no publicity, out, out, out! '

It began as a romantic idea. A walk up Main Street from Mt.Pleasant to beyond. Savour the atmosphere of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods, samples the coffees and pastries (of which there is much to taste) and take a look at the second hand clothes, antiques and all manner of collectibles that spread all the way from Fifth avenue and Main to the 40’s block.

It’s an afternoon adventure, so bring the kids, but don’t, whatever you do, start at 151 East 6th Street and Main.
Here stands the most curious chocolate factory in the whole of Canada.

Bains Hand Dipped Chocolates
The Adams family structure houses Bains Hand Dipped Candies and Fine Chocolates and looks as though it was just plain forgotten by time itself. It’s wonderfully inviting and there’s an odd picture window with a painting in it that you almost feel Uncle Mortimer created himself. You approach sensing a pleasurable time with chocolate.

‘I’d like to buy some chocolate.' You say.
‘No Pictures - No chocolate’
‘But…’ I wailed
‘No publicity, out, out, out’.

I sincerely believe Mr Bains Hand Dipped Candies and Fine Chocolate are well fancied citywide. I also believe the 90 year old man, with a remarkable resemblance to the actor Peter Cushing, who shooed me out of his tumbledown palace of chocolate was the legendary Mr. Bains himself. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he has lived there since the building was new and been making chocolate since he was old enough to stir a pot. The display of hand made chocolates look very tempting and should you feel brave enough to venture into this curious structure, with the timbers vaguely held together by time itself, you will want to savour the colourful wares. (But don’t blame me if they turn out to be a tad bitter). Call first at (604) 876 5833 and perhaps they will deliver. Someone was loading up with trays and boxes of the stuff as I left- so I know it must be a thriving business.

Secondhand Rose above
The Town Hall below

Mt Pleasant Clock above- Liberty's Bakery below
For the book lover, First Used Books is right opposite at 152 E 6th and a good place to search for that book you always meant to read.
Main Street kind of missed out on the urban growth spurt since Expo in 1986 and there’s a small hallelujah for that. It probably hasn’t changed much since the 1930’s and that means it’s low rise, one or two floors in the majority, some older apartment blocks, no big box stores, just rows and rows of small independent businesses, the kind Wall-Mart are trying to obliterate. It’s true that Main Street is changing rapidly with Chinese, Korean and other Asian businesses building up between Broadway and 16th but beyond that, the character is still maintained. It’s individualistic, personal, off beat.
Mr Bains is not the only business that clings on in the face of’progress’. Just around the corner lies John’s Jukes. Yes a shop selling JukeBoxes with original 45’s. Next door is the Acme barbershop unchanged in 80 years. Skipping right by the Asian 'Fox' Porn theatre (rest assured the only porn on the street) you can find the wonderful Mt Pleasant clock.
Long ago neighbourhoods were proud of themselves and they erected clocks to welcome you. Well Mt Pleasant is proud again and it stands sentinel over Vancouver and FalseCreek spread below it.
Photo: John's Jukes Shop

The actor Peter New and friend in Soma
Diagonally across from here is a great store selling stained glass windows. Not just any stained glass, but huge frames with ornate cut glass and scenic views taken from the mansions that Vancouver so easily tore down in the rush to be ‘new’. (If you want to restore your old home, Main Street is a great place to look for doors, windows, and authentic fitments. From 7th all the way up to Rose Antiques around 26th you’ll find what you want.)
Your first stop is the vibe filled café Soma. We know it is cool because there was Peter New (left), the much loved star of ‘Velocity Zero’ and up and coming Vancouver actor/writer rehearsing with a friend. Main Street is also where all the artists live before they make it big and buy in Kits.
You have to walk Main Street. Drive and you’ll miss a a great deal. At 2418 Main and Broadway you’ll find Pulpfiction Books who buy sci-fi books. You can shop for original baby fashions at Motherland Clothing at 2539 Main. After 16th street blocks alternate between antique clothing, retro objects and genuine collector furnishing (although skip anyone selling thirties varnished oak, it just looks so naff).
Keep moving. You’ll find bicycle shops, sofas, designer jewellery and up on 26th and Main you’ll find Butchershop Gallery
This is an artists co-op run by and for final year Emily Carr students and for fun they kind of buried a car in the building and covered it with sods. It’s conceptual, vaguely erotic, in a seventies ‘love machine’ kind of way.
You’ll be needing coffee again or something stronger. If you need liquor and the company of gregarious folk then Reef Bar is your place, if you just want coffee and the best blueberry scones in the city, Liberty at 3699 Main will do the honours. (No microwaves, they warm them in the oven here). You can nip next door to Eugene Choo to catch up on designer fashions at a realistic price whilst you wait.
There is some development going on Main but it hasn’t reached the kind of frenzy that Robson Street endures, or Fourth Avenue for that matter. There are still homes surviving on Main Street, often in need of care, but you can tell this is a place for people to live and enjoy. The neighbourhoods’ behind Main Street on either side are full of older homes on large lots (some restored or modernised with great style). It isn’t cheap to live here. But the lots are big and you can tell it’s a great family place.

Reef Bar on Main
You’ll need half a million dollars for a half way decent hut, but you get the best array of café’s and small bars in town, a genuine lived in neighbourhood and proximity to the city. Who needs the suburbs? In fact, remind me again why people left? Everything is here, what exactly were the suburbs going to offer except long drives and sense of loss.
I met Bill, who was having difficulty in walking after some afternoon drinking. ‘It’s a community man, got to keep an eye on it, not let them build over it.’ Bill has lived here all his life and likes the idea that it hasn’t changed much. ‘Safer now’, he ventured, before moving off.

At the mouth of Main at Mt Pleasant, there are still some remaining and very solid apartment buildings erected about 90 odd years ago. I love these red brick apartments. Huge spaces, great roof overhangs and if respected and cared for, a better option than lofts. It is in fact the original neighbourhood with spectacular views. I’d say an investment. We’re going to miss the views when they’re all gone. You might want to discover The Whip (209 E.Sixth Street and Main) as well, a cool urban bistro with a lively menu and fair wine list.
It’s great that somehow Mt Pleasant and Main Street has survived without the usual city makeover. It now thrives as people learn to value these kind of places again.

© Sam North October 2002
(all Photos © Sam North 2002 )

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