Vancouver historian taps thousands of names for Commercial Drive book

Neighbourhood tome covers 15,000 people and businesses

Commercial Drive fascinates Jak King.

Its home to a relatively unchanged streetscape and such an eclectic mix of people that he never knows who or what hes going to encounter when he ventures out. Every day is different, said King, whos been a resident of the area for 21 years.

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A self-described quiet historian and retired marketing director who emigrated to Canada from England 35 years ago, King is so captivated by the history of the Drive that he recently published the second of four books he has planned on the neighbourhood. The latest, The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive, is more than 550 pages listing everyone whos lived or worked on the Drive in the last century. It includes more than 10,500 entries that King collated from the Highland/Vancouver Echo newspaper and city directories and covers 15,000 people and businesses. Its intended to be a resource for historians, genealogists, relatives and friends.

The encyclopedia follows The Drive: A Retail, Social and Political History of Commercial Drive, Vancouver, to 1956, which he published last April and presented to the Vancouver Historical Society last month.

King was keen to learn the history of Commercial Drive when he moved there from the West End in 1991, but he discovered a dearth of material.

He started researching the stretch between Venables and East Seventh Avenue almost right away, focusing full-time since he retired a few years ago.

King argues in The Drive that the construction of the First Avenue viaduct in 1938 created todays bustling atmosphere.

Without it, we would have had no Drive, he said. That was a visionary idea and it was that idea that essentially created the modern Commercial Drive, without which we wouldnt have traffic here and we could have disappeared as a suburb, frankly.

He adds his first volume ends in 1956 for a reason.

Prior to that time, it was a very Anglo-Scottish suburb. There were a few Italians here because this Francis of Assisi parish church came in the 20s and there were lots of Chinese and Japanese, until internment, but basically we were an Anglo commercial district right up until the middle 50s when waves of Italians swept in and made it their own, he said. From that point on, weve had whole waves of immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds, different sexualities, different cultures and theyve all left their patina on the Drive, and thats what makes it so fascinating here.

Hes not sure what hell publish next. It could be a biography of the buildings along the Drive or the history of the area until 1999.

One of the problems with the earlier book was that there was no one alive to talk to, King said. But he has a long, varied list of local characters to consult on the road ahead.

Both books are available at Peoples Co-op Books on Commercial Drive and online.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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