Arbutus Grocery

“Arbutus is one of the many tree-named streets in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano, a former hippie enclave that still boasts a beach, yoga studios on just about every block, health-food stores and the Naam, a café that’s been serving up brown rice with vegetable curries around the clock for 40 years. Much of the neighhourhood has gone upscale... but one place that seems apart from time is Arbutus Coffee, housed in a 1907 grocery store on Arbutus Street, up the hill from where Alice Munro lived as a newly-wed.” - Laura Robin, Ottawa Citizen

Plaque

The former Arbutus Grocery is the focus of Kitsilano’s historic Delamont Park neighbourhood. In the 1960s, the city bought it and houses on 5th and 6th for demolition along the proposed route of the Burrard-Arbutus Connector (an arterial roadway planned for the old interurban right-of-way that did not proceed). A simple gabled wooden building with a square “boom-town front,” the grocery store was built in 1907 by Thomas Frazer, who had lived next door since 1901.

History

The Arbutus Grocery

This grocery store turned coffee shop was built by Thomas Frazer in 1907 at 2200 Arbutus Street and was originally called the Eureka Confectionery. Frazer, one of the first settlers in the area, lived in a bungalow next door which he had built in 1901. The building is the oldest remaining grocery storefront in Vancouver and is listed as an ‘A’ category building on the Vancouver Heritage Register. It features an old-style western ‘boomtown’ front, a style developed in the California Gold Rush of 1849 era, when frontier merchants wanted to make their modest stores appear more imposing. (See also, the Scarlett Apartment Building from 1910 across the street, as well as Western Front Society.)

Kitsilano’s Historic Delamont 

Arbutus Coffee is the most identifiable landmark of Kitsilano’s historic Delamont Park, a micro-neighbourhood (named for Arthur Delamont, the founder of the Kitsilano Boy Band) containing what is now the oldest predominantly intact group of houses in eastern Kitsilano, the earliest of which were built in 1900-1901. Many of the homes retain original woodwork, bathtubs and design elements and 15 have been evaluated with Statements of Significance as having substantial heritage merit, both individually and as a grouping. This residential area emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, and development was stimulated by the opening of the 1905 B.C. Electric Railway interurban to Steveston.

Decades of Community Protection

In the 1930s, city planners identified the area as an ideal route for a highway connector from Broadway to Burrard. The plans were put on hold after backlash from residents upset with the proposed home demolitions and the disruption of their neighbourhood. By the late-1960s, eastern Kitsilano was aging, and many older homes were rented cheaply to groups of young people – including many artists drawn by low rents and Kitsilano’s then thriving hippie culture (whose unofficial crossroads was at nearby 4th and Arbutus). Meanwhile, the area had been rezoned, leading to the development of modern low-rise apartment buildings in the surrounding blocks. Around that time, the city began purchasing houses in Delamont with the intention of renewing their plan to build a highway connector. After their efforts were yet again blocked by citizen-led protests, they considered transforming the community into a park. They succeeded in developing a few lots into Delamont Park, but most of the century-old houses were spared.

“The City had purchased the houses in Delamont with the intention of demolishing them, but the failure to build the Burrard-Arbutus connector or to construct the larger Delamont Park ironically eventually led to their conservation as the oldest group of buildings in Kitsilano,” writes Bruce Macdonald, an expert on Delamont’s history. Macdonald says this mirrors the Mole Hill story – when the city acquired a block of West End houses to expand Nelson Park, but a backlash led to the homes being protected and rehabilitated instead. Macdonald said that Delamont’s involvement in community backlashes against “top-down city hall policies” played a historic role in the development of community planning in Canada. “Delamont and Strathcona’s 1969 citizen uprising against proposed demolition of whole city blocks of their homes for the construction of freeways caused the cancellation of nationwide funding for such projects.”

On August 19, 2012, we celebrated Arbutus Grocery (now Arbutus Coffee) history with a 1950s theme. See facebook album.

Sources

  • Vancouver building permit registers
  • A Plan for the City of Vancouver, Harland Bartholomew & Associates, 1928.
  • Derek Hayes. Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre2005, p. 122.
  • Michael Kluckner and John Atkin. Heritage Walks Around Vancouver. Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 1992
  • Michael Kluckner. Vancouver The Way It Was. Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 1993, p. 100
  • Bruce Macdonald. “Kitsilano’s Historic Delamont.” 2013.

Nearby Places That Matter

Media & Photos

Community Stories

I have great memories about this place as when I first moved back to Vancouver it was the first real coffee shop I went to. Whenever I go back to the place I still have the same memories I did so long ago. The style of the building is also very nice. It feels like a genuine coffee house like something a traveler would go to back in the 1950s. The atmosphere of the place is also quite homey and welcoming. The people that work there are always so friendly and there is always an open table to sit on. Overall the entire place has many memories and really resonates with me and I can't wait to visit it again.

2200 Arbutus St @ W. 6th Ave

Plaque is on the west side of Arbutus Coffee shop

Coordinates

49.26623, -123.152658

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