Monday, May 19, 2014

Geography of the Past remembered

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Recently, visiting the Gourmet Warehouse with a friend got me thinking about the past. There we chatted with a retired owner-chef formerly of the wonderful but defunct Cafe Madeleine, formerly at the bottom of Tenth near Alma. Of course it served delightful madeleines.

Years ago, I spent many hours there in retreat from the world, drinking then-still-exotic cafe au lait, eating home made soups, salads and pastries, reading and writing.

So did many others. Its ambiance and its proximity to UBC made it an ideal study place for students, as well as a rendezvous to enjoy quiet conversations. This was long before restaurants installed the now almost ubiquitous TV screens.

Fond memories of the Cafe Madeleine got me thinking about other changing geographies of the city's past. On the corner of Broadway and Clark across the street from the Gourmet Warehouse, for many years stood a restaurant called the Greek Village. There, more years ago than I care to count, I went with my brother to sample the food and witness the celebrations of Greek sailors ashore, as they danced and smashed their glasses into the fireplace after downing their ouzo.

Many years after that, I took an elderly friend to the nearby home branch of the Fishermen's Credit Union, which she and Tom had joined as a young couple working on fish boats. As we drove by the Greek Village, she slid her eye over it.

"That was the first Greek restaurant in Vancouver," she said. "Tom knew the guy who started it, when they came back from the war (World War II)." Now the old Greek Village a trendy new eatery with an eminently forgettable name.

Another historic place on that corner was the West Coast Woollen Mills, where I once got a great price on a bolt of Macbeth tartan. In those days, sewing was a way to get good clothing and save money, rather than an expensive hobby that requires more patience than many contemporaries have. Now the once thriving store has been reduced to a footnote in the Vancouver City Archives.

Still further west along Hastings, Only Sea Foods served fish fresh off the boats. In this small cafe, a family business, the food was wonderful, and the prices great. Its trademark neon sign, shaped like a sea horse, was removed when the place finally closed in 2009. Another city landmark gone, lost relic of a departed era.

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