A Brief History of Purdys
Richard Carmon Purdy was born in London, Ontario in 1878. He began his career as a barber, but soon began dabbling with candy-making. He began experimenting in his kitchen, and by the time he moved west to B.C. he had assembled a pocketful of personal chocolate recipes.
In 1907, Purdy opened his first chocolate shop at 915 Robson Street, which was fast becoming the new heart of the downtown shopping district. He claimed that his stores were the first in Vancouver to introduce ordering by telephone. By the 1940s, his son Frank (who had taken over the business) needed to expand to a larger facility for the chocolatiers to work. He acquired a former cafeteria building on West 7th Avenue in Fairview Slopes in 1949. This plant stayed in operation until the early 1980s. The old building on West 7th is now a renovated private residence, while Choklit Park stands in recognition of more than 30 years of Purdys in the area.
The idea of Choklit Park was sparked in 1969 when Purdys ran into problems with its awkward loading facilities. Access to the building was by a narrow and steep driveway beside the factory. Truck drivers didn’t like backing down it because their unsecured loads would often tip over. If Purdy’s could create a circular driveway, where the trucks could drive down, swing out and back up to the factory loading bays, their problem would be solved.
The area around the factory on West 7th was a bleak mix of industry and residences, with no parks for local kids. Co-owner Charles Flavelle felt that the neighborhood children would benefit from a safe play area. If Purdys could build a new driveway on the city’s unused street end and add a park to the small wooded area next to the factory, the result would be a win for all. Charles’s request to lease the undeveloped site was approved by City Council, on condition that “Purdy’s shall be responsible for the creation of a children’s play area”.
Flavelle obtained an Opportunities for Youth grant of $5,000 from the federal government and hired “a gang of five hippies,” four men and a woman, to design and build the playground. Working with them, he supplied some of the materials, supplementing them with driftwood and scrap lumber that were imaginatively integrated into the play structures.The park was complete by the end of the summer of 1970 and soon became a huge draw for the neighbourhood and for people from many other parts of the city. The success of Choklit Park mirrored a similar park established at the street end of Carolina on the Mount Pleasant escarpment built around the same time. Both Fairview Slopes and Mount Pleasant were home to many single mothers with children, living in rooming houses with little access to play space.
When Purdys moved to its new West 7th factory, it was one of a handful of businesses to locate on the steeper blocks of Fairview Slopes, then part of the light-industrial zone around the south side of heavy-industrial False Creek. Most other businesses chose flatter sites north of Fourth Avenue west of Fir Street and in lower Mount Pleasant east of Cambie. Flavelle also managed to acquire a small brown-shingled house, built by architects Dalton & Eveleigh on the east side of the street end in 1914, to use as offices for his company. The street end at that time was just a patch of bush. (The house had been renovated and used as offices by Rhone & Iredale Architects, who moved to a larger house across the street; it has since been demolished. It was used for six months, in the period before Flavelle obtained it, as the office for the team of architects from Thompson Berwick & Pratt, headed by Paul Merrick, who were studying all the options for False Creek redevelopment.)
Purdys Chocolates moved to larger premises at the corner of Kingsway and Earles in 1982. For a while, Flavelle continued to visit and maintain the park, but the area was changing. Becoming part of the city’s park system, Choklit Park evolved into the passive design that remains today.
On July 16th, 2012 we celebrated Choklit Park’s history with the Flavelle family and many past and current employees who shared memories of the original Purdys factory site. See facebook album.
- Interviews with Charles Flavelle, Ray Spaxman and Ron Walkey
- Michael Kluckner. Vanishing Vancouver. p. 51
- Purdys website
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