Vancouver 125: Spotlight on Renfrew-Collingwood

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      Jackie McHugh’s house sits on a rise at the south side of Church Street facing north toward Vanness Avenue seven blocks away. From her porch, SkyTrain wagons can be seen zipping east and west on their elevated tracks, while new high-rise condo buildings reach up to compete for the skyline view.

      Born in the 1930s, McHugh has lived all her life in the Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood, and she has seen a lot in this East Vancouver community that started and continues to be a major gateway in the city.

      “At one time, there was no freeway; there was nothing,” McHugh told the Georgia Straight in an interview at her home east of Joyce Street. “The only way into Vancouver proper, to go downtown into Vancouver, you have to come along Kingsway. Kingsway was the main artery road into Vancouver, and that’s why if you go back years, that’s why there was so many auto courts.”

      Only the 2400 Motel is left of these auto courts, and development pressures may yet soon claim this remnant of an older time.

      McHugh’s father, John Finlayson, arrived as a young boy with his family in Renfrew-Collingwood less than two decades after the earliest European settler, George Wales, came to the area. According to the City of Vancouver’s historical account, Wales bought a vast track of land bounded on the north by Kingsway in 1878.

      The young Finlayson attended an elementary school built in 1896, as did his children and their children’s children. All in all, four generations of this family went to Sir Guy Carleton elementary school, the oldest surviving school in the city, which as recent as last year faced the risk of closure because of lack of provincial education funds.

      Noel Allan-Hughes is about half the age of McHugh, and he’s equally proud of his family’s deep roots in the culturally-diverse community bounded by Boundary Road to the east, Nanaimo Street to the west, Broadway and the Lougheed Highway on the north, and 41st Avenue and Kingsway on the south.

      Allan-Hughes is a third-generation resident in the neighbourhood that was once part of the now-defunct Municipality of South Vancouver, which amalgamated with rest of the city in 1929.

      “People came to this district because it was cheap land,” Allan-Hughes told the Straight in an interview at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, where he volunteers as an IT expert.

      According to him, many early residents were also attracted to the community because it offered mass-transit opportunities, like the streetcars on Kingsway and the interurban train that ran on basically the same path as the present-day SkyTrain.

      “We were like right smack in the middle,” Allan-Hughes said of the interurban station that sat roughly where the current Joyce SkyTrain station is located, and from which point took travellers to New Westminster and all the way to Chilliwack. “It was the perfect area.”

      McHugh remembered the many rides she had with the streetcars and the interurban, and although these are long gone now, she still has easy access to buses and the SkyTrain to take her to other parts of the city and outside.

      “If you don’t have a car or you don’t want to drive a car, it is a very central location,” she said. “It’s only seven miles to downtown proper.”

      According to McHugh, there may be fancier neighbourhoods elsewhere in the city, but Renfrew-Collingwood is home. Across the street from her home on Church Street lives one of her two sons. Her other son is also on the same street, and so is McHugh’s sister.



      Noel H. J. Allan-Hughes

      Apr 1, 2011 at 10:58am

      An absolutely beautiful and well conceived article. Quite challenging, given the need to distill 125 years of rich and colourful heritage and history into just a few encapsulating paragraphs.

      Excellent work!

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