Wednesday, May 23, 2012

City neighbourhoods: Fraser Street and Commercial Drive

Photo: Frank holds a cup of coffee at the Calabria on Commercial Drive

My friend who is working overseas is in town for a few days. Yesterday we walked along Fraser Street -- first time in years.

Though the street has changed, Rokko Sarees and Fabrics, the source of silks, is still on the corner. I recognize a bank building that was once important, but little else. We pass a cafe that serves pulled-pork sandwiches, and another on the same block selling Halal meats.

"This is the new Commercial Drive," comments my friend. She always seems to have her finger on Vancouver's pulse, no matter how much time she spends away. Possibly it is that perspective of elsewhere that makes her see our beloved home city so clearly.

Her comment about Commercial Drive takes me back in time. When first I began to frequent this street in the early seventies, it was still an Italian neighbourhood. Settled after the war, it was full of well-established gardens full of tomatoes, peppers and even fig trees. And Italian coffee shops, of course.

Joe's, with its Portuguese proprietor, took the prize for best lattes -- still does, according to my friend. Then the Drive was the only place for Italian ice cream, lemon gelato being the fave.

The cake taker for atmosphere has always been the Calabria. It was smaller then, and located on the north side of First Avenue.  From a high basket chairs at one of the two round marble window tables that flanked the door, I loved to sip cappucinos and watch the world go by. I lived in the neighbourhood then, and would walk or bike over.

Off the main street in summer, neat garden patches groaned with tomatoes and peppers; well-kept trees were weighed down with black and green figs and Italian prune plums.

The area is different now -- more multicultural. And the Calabria, which moved years and years ago to a bigger building on the south side of First, is a different place, though still charming.

Frank's sons carry on the great tradition of playing Italian opera as they grind and make the coffee. A bit retro now, the Calabria is still the definitive set piece of Commercial Drive.

A few blocks away, along Fraser between 41st and 49th, India Town continues to grow and develop. The fabric stores carry every possible kind of material, including a variety of fancy silks in alluring colours.

Photo: Rokko Sarees and Fabrics, Fraser Street, Fair Tax coalition

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