The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive to 1999 by Jak King
Reviewed by Vanessa Colantonio
Cafes, pasta and pizza restaurants, very affordable produce markets, carnivalesque community events, and grassroots political demonstrations: all of these are the kaleidoscope one envisions when picturing the East side Vancouver neighbourhood of Grandview. The retail and social artery of that neighbourhood has been for well over a century (despite all of the changes over that time) the busy thoroughfare of Commercial Drive, specifically between the major east-west streets Venables, to the north, and Broadway, to the south.
In 2011, author and long-time resident of “the Drive,” Jak King, published the first book in his series of very local histories about the neighbourhood, The Drive: A Retail, Social and Political History of Commercial Drive, Vancouver to 1956. Very well-received by BC and local historians, The Drive was like a fascinating walking tour of the street filled with stories and anecdotes about places and events, through good times and bad.
Earlier this year, King followed up with a second volume, this one a reference book, The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive to 1999. Less an easy walk down memory lane than a practical research tool, the Encyclopedia fills in the fine details about each of the residents and business owners (roughly 15,000 in total) who lived and worked on that street during most of the last hundred years. King gathered the information for the 10,000 plus alphabetical entries by using a wide variety of local newspapers as well as such historical business and residential directories as Henderson’s and the once popular library resource, Criss-Cross. For many entries (e.g. Boulton’s Grocery or most of the residential listings), he finds scant information, while for many others (e.g. Frank E. Frost and his business Frost’s Dry Goods), his annotations are mini-biographies. In both cases, King draws from the anecdotes of the first book, from articles from the now defunct neighbourhood newspaper, The Highland Echo, and from the recollections of other long-time residents and local historians.
In his introduction, King points out that “there is no historical narrative or analysis here; just data about a very specific place and time period” (p.4). True enough, but between both of King’s books, particularly the Encyclopedia, one can easily see a valuable research source for creating feature articles, documentaries, or even historical fiction or film treatments. This is an all-purpose resource that will benefit many in the years to come.
The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive to 1999
By Jak King
Vancouver: The Drive Press, 2012 584pp, $40.00
BC Studies, no. 176, Winter 2012/13.