Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

The Oppenheimer Warehouse

September 13, 2018

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When out-of-towners arrive to stay I usually extract their room & board in kind by subjecting them to forced marches through some of the city's historic districts. Which is what brought us to Gastown earlier this week to view the Oppenheimer warehouse. The photo above was taken in 1898 (City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Bu P683); the building actually dates from a decade earlier.

In the aftermath of the Great Fire (1886) the Oppenheimer brothers constructed their brick warehouse on Powell Street at the corner of Columbia. They were in the wholesale grocery business and one of the brothers, David, was fast becoming one of the largest landowners in the city. He also served as mayor for four terms (1888-1891). Now the Oppenheimer Group, the company, which is credited with introducing mandarin oranges to BC, is still in business though it hasn't owned the warehouse for many, many years.

What gives the building added significance is that after the fire it served as City Hall while Oppenheimer was mayor. It is the city's oldest brick building. In the 1990s it was converted into a recording studio by musician Bryan Adams. Here it is as it looks today.

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August 15, 2018

Now that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has added her voice to the debate about the statue of Sir John A. I guess it's time for me to add mine.

Let's look at some of the language Minister McKenna, and lots of other people, use to frame the issue. First of all she says that the statue is being "torn down." No it isn't. It is being removed from its original site outside Victoria City Hall and...

August 11, 2018

I spent a morning recently clambering around the top of Mount Seymour in the company of Alex Douglas, the "mountain man." Alex curates a small museum on the mountain and leads walking tours of some of the historic cabin sites.

According to Alex's website, "If you lived in Vancouver, Mount Seymour is where you learnt to ski." This was certainly true in my own case. Back in the mid-1950s my parents drove myself and my siblings up the...

July 22, 2018

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One of the joys of noodling around in the history of one’s hometown – in my case Vancouver – is the threads of personal connection that, tugged upon, unravel something new about one’s own relationship with the place.

A case in point is Maude Sherman (1900-1976). Sherman was a founding member of the BC Art League, a group of Vancouver art lovers who banded together in the...

July 8, 2018

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As mentioned below, I gave an illustrated talk on the history of squatting in Burrard Inlet recently. (If you are interested, Vancouver Sun reporter Kevin Griffin wrote a nice piece about it.)

One of the most organized of the...

July 2, 2018

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The debate about revising the historical reputations of some of our "founding fathers" and the consequent removal of street names, statues, etc. is an important and complicated one. But sometimes it descends into farce.

A case in point is a stretch of highway outside of Courtenay on Vancouver Island. In 1996 Glen Clark's NDP government christened a part of the...

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