Vancouver neighbourhood Mountainview’s storied history, welcoming immigrants from Poles to Pinoys.
Years before Fraser Street was called “the new Main Street” and deemed a hip place to eat and drink, the street was important to Andre Matuszewski because it had a strong Polish community – delicatessens, a place to send packages back home and the Polish Friendship “Zgoda” Society.
“It was a place where I could meet my friends and speak my mother tongue,” said Matuszewski, who immigrated to Vancouver from Poland in 1979. “I became part of the society, which was like a close family.”
This historically low-income, working-class stretch of Fraser, encompassing the businesses between 16th and 28th, is at the border of Little Mountain, Mount Pleasant and Kensington—Cedar Cottage. The area is often called Mountainview, but recently, it’s been branded as “Fraserhood.”
Fraserhood is “Vancouver’s trendiest neighbourhood,” wrote real estate company Rennie on its website last year, with “a host of new restaurants, cafés and even ice cream spots, each more unique than the last.” Earnest Ice Cream opened its first brick-and-mortar location here in 2013.
Media on Fraserhood – sometimes called the Fraserhood – deem it an “up-and-coming” area. Vancouver Magazine said it was once “no-man’s land,” now a worthy stop for tourists.
But Mountainview’s history isn’t as blank as these descriptions imply.
Businesses opened soon after the streetcar came to Kingsway and Fraser in 1910; a drug store, a grocery, a confectionary, a meat shop and plumbers.
After the world wars, the Poles were the notable immigrant group in Mountainview, with a scattering of Germans and Austrians, according to local historian John Atkin. In the mid-1980s, they would share the neighbourhood with Vietnamese newcomers.
“We’d run across the street from the society to grab a coffee or sandwich from the Polish deli, then go next door to have a soup from the Vietnamese place!” Matuszewski recalled.
Not long after the Vietnamese, Filipinos began to move into the area.
“We’d shop there for groceries because your tongue would like delicacies,” said Demetrio Avendano, who immigrated to Vancouver from the Philippines in 1974.
Like the Poles, Vancouver’s Filipino community took comfort in being able to find their own cultural staples here, like dried fish, bitter melon leaves and duck eggs with embryos. Pinoys, like the Poles, also sent packages, and money, home at the local remittance business.
Today, there’s new real estate development alongside the rise of the Fraserhood brand. Entrepreneurs from high-end Vancouver restaurants have chosen to open new eateries here; among them, Italian restaurant Savio Volpe, Crowbar and Bells and Whistles. The latest census data shows richer residents live here than before.
But when historian Atkin first heard the name Fraserhood, he thought, “There we go again, another manufactured name to clean a neighbourhood up.” Hastings-Sunrise felt a controversial rebranding a few years ago when the local BIA tried to rebrand the area “East Village.”
However, Atkin acknowledges that it’s common for a new kind of commercial activity to transform a street’s identity.
“New retail is how this street has evolved,” he said, “but you kind of want them to accept the neighbourhood on its own terms.”
The Mountainview name for the area has historic precedence, nodding to the 131-year-old Mountain View Cemetery and, of course, the neighbourhood’s view of the North Shore Mountains.
At the Polish society, Matuszewski is the president today.
He has the challenge of connecting three generations at the society and passing on Polish culture, but also making sense of his society’s role in the transforming neighbourhood, now home to a Starbucks and a No Frills supermarket, which hurt the independent Filipino grocers when it opened.
He noticed more families in the area, but fewer immigrant ones. A Filipino church used to worship in the Polish society’s Fraser Street building, but now, it’s one of Tenth Church’s three locations in the city (Tenth is one of Vancouver’s most popular churches).
The street had a Central European flavour, then a Southeast Flavour. “Now,” said Matuszewski, “we see Canadian flavour.”