Saturday, June 16, 2012

The brolley brigade

 Photo by

We're having a lot of rain for the time of year. I carry an umbrella in the car and keep one in my office, though I can't recall when I last used either. Even so, besides my husband's golf umbrella, for use in the soccer field, we have several. Not entirely sure where they came from. I didn't buy any of them.

My non-use of umbrellas goes way back. It was a conscious decision I made when first I moved to this rainy city. A hooded jacket worked well if the rainfall was heavy; otherwise, I told myself, a little water never hurt anyone. Walking in the rain was poetic and romantic, and made my hair curlier.

In April, when I was packing for London, another city famous for rain and umbrellas, I debated about whether to pack a small folding one my daughter had left behind. In the end I didn't, figuring if I could negotiate Vancouver brolleyless, London shouldn't be a problem. Luckily, I did take along a transparent plastic poncho with a hood -- left over from my days as a Girl Guider.

During the three weeks I spent in London, it rained nearly every day. Still, I stubbornly resisted buying an umbrella I would have to either abandon in London or carry home to add to my collection. In the end, I did buy a water-resistant rain jacket with a hood, but that's another story.

My decision not to join the brolley brigade is nothing against umbrellas. I love the Impressionist paintings of wet Paris streets teeming with umbrellas as much as the next person. I love the image of a the London brolley brigade too, though now it seems more of a memory than a reality. In today's London, City men in suits often get their gelled hair and the shoulders of their jackets damp as they dash for the Tube or the bus.

Still, I have a certain fondness for The Umbrella Shop on West Broadway. When I arrived in Vancouver in 1967, it was still downtown on Pender Street - a whole store dedicated to umbrellas.

At the time, I had no idea that Vancouver Umbrellas, as it was called then, was established in 1935 by the patriarch of a family of European emigrants who started in Toronto, then moved to Vancouver upon hearing this city had more rain. Written here by Cory Flader, the history of Vancouver's first and only business devoted strictly to brolleys reads like a social history of the city and the century.

Today, The Umbrella Shop has an online catalogue and four branches. In 2010, it was invited by the City of Vancouver to participate in a green initiative. The factory, likely the last of its kind in North America, is located above the store. It still manufactures 15% of the umbrellas sold, and also does reasonably priced repairs -- by post for those who do not live in Vancouver.

Personally, I hope this shop, a piece of Vancouver history, carries on for a long time to come, sheltered from economic and social storms, even while its local products shelter the buyers from the climatic storms that are bound to come soon. After all, as the saying goes, this is the Wet Coast.

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