“West End Memories Project: Growing Up in Vancouver’s West End”
This project initiated by three old classmates from the area aims to collect stories and letters from old West Enders – a history of the people and by the people rather than a more traditional historical piece. The result: a book about living and growing up in the West End, and an archive of stories and information about the area for researchers and the public.
Many stories and letters have been received from former students and residents dealing with events and relationships in the 1940’s and 1950’s, with a few coming from even earlier times – including colourful stories about bootlegging, gambling, sports, hangouts, school days, and the risks and adventure of living in and around the downtown core.
One particularly poignant story was written by Nadine Jones who grew up in the West End in the Depression Years. Hers is a tale of the struggles and joys of two sisters and their single-parent mother trying to survive in the most difficult circumstances. It is also an account of the kind of spirit that allowed two girls and their young mother to survive and go on to lead very productive lives.
– Gary Pennington
West End 1930s
I am now ninety years old so when I write of my memories of growing up in the West End I am going back seventy five years so please allow for omissions and mistakes.
There were three of us, my sister, Jackie and our mum, Helen Jones. We were dirt poor. In retrospect I realize my mother was a heroine. She had been raised as an English “lady” not being allowed to mix with the “common” folk and here she found herself living in dumpy rooms with two kids to support … and she survived! It was in the middle of the depression. Mum had a pittance of an income working as a stenographer in downtown Vancouver on Pender St., which she walked to and from twice every day.
Rental rooms were hard to find and nobody seemed to want to rent to people with kids. If a landlady (and they were a special brand of awful) allowed children, there were a hundred dos and don’ts posted in hallways. We walked on tiptoes so we didn’t bother anyone. “No music, no pets, no guests, no running in the hall”…
I don’t’ know why we moved so often but we seem to have lived in every attic and basement and on every street in the West End…..Davie, Robson, Thurlow, Bute, Denman, Bidwell, Pendrell, to name a few. When mum had a few dollars we used the Bay Transfer, who charged $2 a move, and who knew us well, to move us or we moved at the dead of night in a wheelbarrow.
My first memory of living in the West End was in Morton Lodge (long gone) on Morton Avenue just down from Sylvia Court with its blue Dine in the Sky neon sign. Morton Lodge was a comparative luxury, we had two rooms and only shared a bathroom with a few other people. There was a family called Legge living there with a son, Kenny and a daughter, Thelma. And in the suite below us was a family called Duda with two kids, Gerry and Olga.
Mr. Duda had an upholstering business in the basement of the Sylvia Hotel. The chesterfields and chairs from the hotel were sent down to him to fix and he allowed Olga and I to delve behind the cushions where we often pricked our fingers on pins and sharp things but also sometimes came up with nickels and dimes … it was always a treasure hunt. I remember particularly Mrs. Duda banging hard on our floor with a broom handle to stop my sister and I from noisily fighting and wrestling on the floor.
Three other memories from Morton Lodge. Someone always plugged the pay phone return cavity with paper and if you happened to get there first and retrieve the paper, a few nickels would sometimes tumble out.
The second memory is sharing the bathroom where people never seemed to hurry if you were late for school.
And the third is that I got my first kiss at aged fourteen. He was shorter than me and stood on the step above me to kiss me on the cheek. His name was Don York and he had very black straight eyelashes! I guess he’s dead of old age now!