By Eunice ROBINSON (nee HAMALOCK)
After World War II, tracts of land were set aside for the returning veterans under the government "Veterans Land Act". One of these was the Cora Brown Subdivision. The original 50 houses were built from Grauer Road to Ferguson on Myron and Abercrombie Drives. Each holding consisted of a small two-bedroom house (not much more than 800 square feet) and an acre of land. In early photos, all there was were these little wooden houses on a vast prairie of long grass.
The balance of the subdivision was also Veterans Land Act land but these people could build their own designs. Residents will recall the homes at the "top" of the subdivision near Grauer Road, such as Thomas', Elliott's, and the ones on Grauer, along Ferguson west of McDonald, and all the houses in the "lower" end of Cora Brown (surrounding the Cora Brown Park).
The first residents moved into their homes in 1946. This subdivision was like a small town and due to its physical location, quite isolated. Most of the men worked in Vancouver and commuted to their places of employment every day. The women worked hard to make homes out of these houses, amenities were not deluxe, but there were flush toilets, running water, electricity and coal or sawdust heaters, which were later converted into oil.
Originally, if the residents wanted to go to downtown Vancouver to shop, they had to walk down Grauer Road (about 2 1/2 miles), cross the Eburne Bridge and catch the bus in Marpole. For many, they would take the bus to Woodward's store (on Hastings Street) to purchase their groceries, then return home. Woodward's provided home delivery. Sometimes they would walk to Grauer's Store for some supplies too.
As the children came along, the women would share their receipes, expertise, baby clothes and babysitting with their neighbours. Having no school on the Island, the school age children would travel by school bus to Bridgeport School, located just across the Lulu Island Bridge. Once the Sea Island School was built, the children were bussed there.
We had a corner store, Butlers, located at the corner of Grauer Road and McDonald Road. This was a magnet for the children, who for a penny, could buy a Double Bubble Gum, or for a nickel a popsicle. It was a very sad day when the store closed.
Our next closest shopping was at Grauer's Store located right by the Marpole and Lulu Island bridges. They offered a wide variety of produce, dairy products, meat and packaged goods. But in order to get to Grauer's you would need a car or take the bus. Fortunately, Grauer's Store also offered a delivery service to the entire island, which was most appreciated by the residents.
We did have wonderful bus service for many years. Some people used the bus to commute to their jobs, thus leaving the car, if they had one, at home for their wives to use. That long haul from Grauer's Store to the subdivision was about 2 miles long, so you couldn' t or wouldn' t carry too many groceries with you otherwise.
Most people would go into Vancouver to do their grocery shopping at the Safeway on Granville Street and 70th Avenue (Marpole area). But as Richmond began to populate, Brighouse became the popular shopping location, especially after the Marpole Bridge was taken out of service. For many years, the only way off the island was over the Lulu Island bridge next to Grauer's Store. And if the bridge was open to allow a boat through, we even had a traffic line-up.
Many of the residents also travelled to the Marpole area to attend church and most of their other "cultural" activities. The children took swimming lessons at the Oak Pool.
The children from Cora Brown were bussed over to Sea Island School each day. It was quite an adventure. The bus stopped at regular bus stops along the way down Grauer, turned right on Myron, turned left on Ferguson, up Ferguson to Shannon Road, over to Miller Road to the school. The drive was long, but usually someone started to sing and soon the whole busload would be joining in. Who can ever forget a few rousing choruses of "Found a Peanut", and "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain". After dropping the elementary children off at Sea Island Elementary School, the bus would proceed over to Cambie High School.
When there were no longer children on Shannon Road and the west ends of Ferguson and Miller, the bus went down McDonald to Miller and to the school. When the children were attending the RCAF Annex School, a stop would be made in there and then back over to Sea Island School, and on to Cambie School.
The children made friends with the children from the Burkeville Subdivision and from the RCAF base, but due to the physical distance between the two subdivisions, many of these friendships were school-time ones. Once the children became more mobile, they would occasionally ride their bikes to their friends on the south side of the Island.
The Cora Brown children also travelled over to the "other" side of the island for Girl
Guides/Brownies, Cubs/Boy Scouts, Sunday School and Kindergarten. Most of these activities were held in the Community Centre. Once the Sea Island Church was built, most of these functions took place in the Church hall. Over the years, the Cora Brown residents planted lawns, trees and flowers. Some people planted most of their acre in potatoes or grass, while others planted an orchard or black currents or holly or playareas for their children and friends.
The soil was such wonderful stuff, that everything grew very well. Most of the neighbours grew some size of a vegetable garden and had a fruit tree or so in their yards. There was only about 3 feet down to the water table, so trying to tunnel anywhere wouldn't have been successful - hence no basements in the homes, no inground pools.
While many activities did take place on the Burkeville side of the Island, we did have some social life in Cora Brown. Some ladies formed bridge clubs in those early years. These were the highlight for their families as well, for this was the time that all the fancy foods made their appearance, and we got to taste.
One such group, from the Myron Drive and Ferguson Road area, was started in about 1950 and continues on today (1996). However, now, instead of evenings, the ladies get together in the afternoons. Among the early members of this group are: Mrs. Bess Hamalock, Mrs. Isabelle McClellan, Mrs. Jean Steele, Mrs. Midge Hammell, Mrs. Marge Kerr, Mrs. Ruth Robertson, Mrs. Eileen Richardson, Mrs. Sadie Grieves, Mrs. Irene Henderson, Mrs. Mary O' Reilly, Mrs. Peggy Keetley, Mrs. Iris Roine and Mrs. Dorothy Applegath. My Mum's bridge group still do meet and as I mentioned, in the afternoons now. As far as I recall, Mrs. Bess Hamalock, Mrs. Dorothy Applegath, Mrs. Ruth Robertson, Mrs. Eileen Richardson, Mrs. Eve Stephenson (sometimes) still meet to play bridge (1999). Mrs. Hammell and Mrs. Steele passed away in the last couple of years.
Another group formed at the far end of Abercrombie Drive and Edgington Road. Among this club were Mrs. Jean Whitaker, Mrs. Cleo Taylor, Mrs. Muriel Clendenning, Mrs. Norma McIntyre, Mrs. Elsie Turecki and Mrs. Joan Anderson. This group is also still meeting quite regularly.
About 1960, another smaller subdivision was built to the west of Cora Brown on the other side of McDonald Road - this was the Tapp Road Subdivision. The lots were smaller, the houses were larger than the original Cora Brown Subdivision. Some of the Cora Brown residents moved into homes on Tapp Road. So even though, Tapp Road was not built until several years later, the lives of the residents of this neighbourhood and those of Cora Brown are entwined.
Eventually, there was a need for larger education facilities as the number of children attending Sea Island School was stretching the limits of the classrooms. In 1962, the doors opened on Duncan McDonald School.
While getting into technicalities, there were homes built further up Ferguson Road, on the west side of McDonald. Again, while not officially part of the Cora Brown original subdivision, we consider these homes as part of the Cora Brown family (26 to 198 McDonald Road). The same holds true for the homes along Grauer Road that were closest to the entrance of the subdivision (503 to 545 Grauer Road). There were 100 homes in the original plan with 12 additions.
Another aspect of life in Cora Brown, were the sports teams. One of the few sports that was available for the girls of Cora Brown was softball. Some of the coaches were: Mrs. Marg Miller, Mrs. Dot Edinger, Mrs. Bess Hamalock, Mrs. Cleo Taylor, Mrs. Dot Bolton, Mr. Herb Charlton, Mr. Mike Anderson, Mr. Chris Hamblin, Mr. Harold Hammell, Sue Hammell, Eunice Hamalock, Lauretta Hamalock and Yvonne Meneice. The oldest eligible girls were members of the Sea Island Slicers and for several years (1964 to 1970) were the league champions for all of Richmond.
Many exciting games were played at Cora Brown park. The residents would come out in full force to cheer on whichever team was playing that night. The girls started at age 9 and could play up to age 17.
For the boys, was hardball, and some of their coaches were Mr. Jack Bolton, (will have to gather more information on this).
But after the baseball season, was the summer holidays. We were particularly fortunate kids to live in such freedom. We had lots of space to run around, friends to play with, forts to build, roads to ride our bikes. Due to our location off the beaten track, children could play on the road without encountering any vehicles, until people returned from work. There were evenings of "kick the can", " hide and seek", or just taking a walk around the neighbourhood.
Then there was "The River". The North arm of the Fraser River flowed to the north end of our neighbourhood. The river at this point is fast running and cold. But residents would flock to the "beach" during the summer months and laze about on the soft grey sand soaking up the rays. When you got too hot, jump in the river. No crowds, no long drives to the city beaches, no parking problems. Many of us learned to swim in the river, and probably don't swim underwater with our eyes open even now. After all, what was there to see!
The river provided opportunities to build and float on rafts. No one could afford a boat, so a couple of logs together became our ship. Some of the more adventureous, walked on the log booms - a dangerous practice, but we were fortunate there were no accidents. There was so much wood on the beach, that you could have wonderful beach fires in the evenings and toast marshmallows.
In the fall, the smell of burning brush, leaves and branches would waft in the air. We could grab our bikes, pick some apples from the trees and go off on a picnic down to Iona Island.
Halloween was always tremendous fun. The way the streets were laid out, divided the subdivision into 3 mini-neighbourhoods - with McCutcheon and Ferguson Roads being the dividers. When you were younger, you only went to the houses in your mini-area, but as you got older, you could canvass the entire subdivision for treats. These, of course, were the days when people could still give out carmel apples (Mrs. Blanchard) and homemade popcorn balls (Mrs. Hamalock), not to mention all the other wonderful sweets.
The winter would come complete with rain. But if we had a freeze, after all that moisture, then we had wonderful skating ponds either at the river or in the farmers' fields. There were some winters when we had great snowfalls, but without any hills to slide down, we made do with snowforts, snowmen and snowball fights.
Jobs were scarce for the children, after all just how many paper boys do you need? The biggest employer that came to the Cora Brown area when I was a teenager was Garth and Dave Musto and their bean fields. They hired many of the local kids to come and pick beans for them - at $1.00 per sack. A lot of work, but boy if you got to it, you could make about $5.00 to $10.00 per day. Some of the kids went to Lulu Island to pick strawberries and raspberries as well, but jobs were hard to find.
If you needed a babysitter though, our neighbourhood was a gold mine. You might be lucky enough to have a babysitter who, when she or he got too old, had a younger sister or brother who was interested, or knew of another friend or neighbour willing to sit.
Once we got a bit older, and we had access to a car, then we could go hit the bright lights of Brighouse - go to a movie, go to Chipper's Drive-In, go to the A&W or go to the Delta Drive-In on No. 5 Road on Lulu Island. Some of us even ventured into Vancouver, to Kerrisdale Skating Arena, the White Spot Drive-In, and maybe even Downtown to shop at the big department stores.
I remember the opening of the Iona Island Sewage Treatment Plant. What an occasion! A whole troop of us biked up and took the conducted tour of the facility. A highlight in our lives, at the time.
For the most part, the original residents stayed for many years so there were strong bonds between the families. Everyone looked out for each other. But woe betide any of the children caught by an adult doing something they weren't supposed to be doing. You knew that if you were caught by another parent, your parents would know within the hour. You also knew that if you needed help, your neighbours would come to your assistance. If you should have a problem with your car along the Grauer Road stretch, someone would come along and give you assistance or a lift.
When all the talk of expropriation started, we became very worried. What will happen? When will it happen? Where will we go? For so many of us, who grew up with the same people our whole lives, things were about to be turned upsidedown. Meetings were held to try and avoid the inevitable. Tears were shed, but in the end, we had to move. The destruction of this community to make way for "progress" has left it's mark on many of us.
So while we might not be able to go back to the houses that we grew up in and point out the trees that we climbed to our children and grandchildren, we still have some wonderful memories. It is a testament to this community that rose out of the fields of grass in 1946, that since 1978, the residents of Cora Brown have had 5 very successful reunions, the last being in May 1995. A chance for old friends and neighbours to get together and catch up on what has been happening in their lives.
The final chapter has been written on the subdivision, however, as in August 1995, the Vancouver Airport Authority cleared the land south of the new Grauer Road, which now runs along where Ferguson Road was. They removed every tree, stump and blade of grass so all that is left now is a pile of dirt, and finally the 3rd runway - the reason for our removal. You can still walk the old roads on the north of the new Grauer Road, such as it is, around the Cora Brown park and enjoy the peace and quiet, but all that is left are memories of a much happier time.
The Golden Days of Cora Brown
Touch me, Oh Muse that I may flee
Into the realm of fantasy
Turn back the clock to Yesteryear,
To golden memories so dear,
A community called Cora Brown
Veterans' acres, six hundred down,
The answer to a youthful dream
Farmlands lush and gardens green.
In 'forty-eight, men fought the flood,
Stuffed sandbags till their hands drew blood.
Caring friends lend helping hands
For emergencies and life's demands.
The trees we planted on grassy fields
For spring time blossoms and harvest yields
Of hazel-nuts, apples, cherries and more
To put away for winter' store.
Jams and jellies from the vine
Veggies fresh, and rhubarb wine,
Raspberries sweet and strawberry patch
Our own produce, there is no match.
Tulips, daffodils and roses red
Profusion of colour in flower beds
Planted cedars firs and silver birch,
Migrating birds find their nesting perch.
Privet, laurel and greenery hedges,
Cattails, grasses and marshland sedges.
The laughter and our children's smiles
Enchanting ways our heart beguiles,
Bridge parties, recipes.
Check Dr. Spock!
For raising children, he was our rock,
Picnic lunches on the river beach
While overhead, the seagulls screech.
Baseball games and church raising "Bees"
Two positives for fellowship needs.
Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, sport days at the park
Many hands of volunteers make everything work
Skating parties on ponds of ice
Wienie roasts a spice of life.
For winter hearths, our week end chores?
To gather wood from Fraser's shore.
Vibrant sunsets and salty breezes
Canada geese in graceful; "vees",
Vine maples and sumac ablaze,
Indian summer's and shortening days.
The tapestry of a thousand tales,
Some tragedy and sorrow
The Power of the Spirit wins
Gives promise for tomorrow
Two decades slipped so swiftly by
A priceless life-style, destined to die.
What gracious "Hand of Fate" bestowed
Upon a chosen few, this precious road?
Now in fantasy to relive
Those days of our lives,
Sapphires and rubies
In the jewel box of life.