Updated: Sep 18
At first blush, the intersection of Davies Street and Seventh Street in Nelson’s Fairview neighbourhood is completely unremarkable. It’s a quiet residential spot a few blocks from the high school, with homes on all four corners — three older ones and a newer multi-unit complex.
But from 1950 until perhaps the mid-1970s, this was a busy commercial crossroads with businesses on all four corners, although they didn’t necessarily all operate at the same time.
Before that, this location had another modest claim to fame: in 1937 it became home to the city’s rock crushing and gravel screening plant. I’m guessing it was on the southeast corner. This was despite the fact it was outside city limits at the time.
What I find especially intriguing is that it was built with lumber from the old Hall Mines skating rink, which had recently been demolished. That was the rink the Patrick family had a large part in building and operating during their few years in Nelson.
I don’t know how long the plant was there, but it was at least through 1943. After that the trail goes cold.
On Nov. 15, 1950, the first business at Davies and Seventh opened, the newly-constructed Harry’s Store on the northwest corner at 921 Davies, T.H. (Harry) Hulls and A. Nicholson, proprietors.
Nelson Daily News, Nov. 15, 1950
The following year, the woman who would become synonymous with the business moved to Nelson from Fruitvale. Violet E. (Vi) Graves took over in 1951 or early 1952 and the store was renamed Vi’s Grocery. She and her kids also lived on the premises.
The store had a coffee shop and on Feb. 1, 1952 it became home to Nelson’s No. 3 sub-post office. Violet was postmistress from then until she resigned in 1964. By then the store had been on the market for several years. As of 1963 its proprietors were Doris and Graham Walls, who kept the name.
Photos and ephemera from Vi’s Grocery. (Courtesy Fay Wheeler)
When the post office re-opened in 1964 with William H. Johnston in charge, the store became Bill’s Grocery. The next proprietor-postmaster was Chester M. Langille who arrived in 1968 with wife Georgine and they renamed the store C&G Variety after themselves.
Mike Jordan became postmaster in 1970 and with wife Agnes operated what was called Jordan’s Variety. It was still going as of 1976. The Jordans still lived there as of 1984, but by then it was no longer a store or post office.
The building still stands and is home to several apartments.
In May 1953, a gas station opened on the southeast corner at 1004 Davies (possibly where the rock crusher had been) called Ross Allen’s Motor Service. Allen was a former Cuthbert Motors employee striking out on his own. In 1959, Allen and partner Ole LaPlate renovated and became a British American station, adding the familiar BA roof line, and at the same time, a Fiat dealer.
Nelson Daily News, May 1, 1959
Vi’s Grocery was among the businesses taking out ads congratulating them.
In March 1962, the business was renamed Upper Fairview Motors with LaPlante as sole owner-manager.
Nelson Daily News, March 1, 1962
Upper Fairview Motors was last listed in the phone book in 1973. As of 1977 it was Nelson Auto Body, but after that I don’t know what happened to the property until 1989 when it was a used car lot called Davies Street Car Corner. (Around 1992 it moved to 708 Highway 3A, where Main Jet Motorsports is now, yet continued to use the same now-inaccurate name.)
After that? Not sure. I have no memory of a garage or a car dealership being there, but that just betrays my ignorance. Can anyone tell me when it ceased to exist?
By 2007, a seven-unit housing complex was on the site. When it was converted into a strata that year, city councillor Ian Mason noted: “It wasn’t long ago that this little corner of our city was a blight upon it. I appreciate the efforts of the developer to turn a neighbourhood eyesore into affordable housing.”
If he elaborated further on the blight, it wasn’t reported.
The housing development now has a sign dubbing it “Amoroso’s Corner.” The explanation for that can be found in the comments at bottom.
At the northeast corner, 1001 Davies, is a house that BC Assessment says was built in 1950.
From 1960 onward, this was home to Harry and Charlotte Wade and also to the office of Selkirk Crane Service Ltd., of which Harry was president. The business was listed in the phone book through 1987, the year Harry died at age 77. Charlotte continued to live there at least another decade.
In April 1956, Mike Hlookoff opened what claimed to be the first health food store in the Kootenays out of his house at 924 Davies, on the southwest corner. It was simply called the Health Food Centre. He’d been selling Rawleigh’s vitamin supplements from the same location less formally since at least 1951. The store operated there until it moved to 659 Baker (where Zinnia Textiles is now) around 1965. The house, which BC Assessment says dates to 1913, still stands.
Nelson Daily News, April 14, 1956
The question I haven’t yet addressed is what accounted for all of this commercial activity in a residential neighbourhood in those days besides a lack of zoning?
I was initially perplexed because a number of things that might have explained it didn’t yet exist, although they no doubt were later good for business.
• Notre Dame College (later university, now Selkirk College), although established in 1950, didn’t start building on its Fairview campus until about 1953.
• L.V. Rogers high school didn’t open until 1956. The old Nelson High School was on Latimer Street, where South Nelson Elementary is now.
• The bridge across Kootenay Lake wasn’t built until 1957 (it wouldn’t become the Big Orange Bridge for another dozen years after that).
In fact, it was another development that kick-started things. The Nelson Daily News of Dec. 30, 1950 provided the answer:
And speaking of openings, the big one of the year for Nelson was the opening of Mount St. Francis, which although it had taken most of 1949 to raise, had the finishing touches put on in the early part of this year. The half-million [dollar] infirmary also “opened” Fairview Heights, a rapidly developing residential area. A new cabin rental and woodworking undertaking has also opened in this section.
I presume turning at Davies and Seventh was one of the most direct routes to the new hospital, but I don’t know the exact state of the street grid in those days. Some blocks might not yet have been throughways, so you might have been forced to turn there.
A few other comments: the cabin rental was probably on Gordon Road. I don’t know about the woodworker. This is also the earliest mention of Fairview Heights by name. It appears to have been interchangeable with Upper Fairview, although I’m not certain.
Fairview Heights eventually went dormant as a place name only to be resurrected in 2003 when a new subdivision was created in the former Nelson Ready Mix gravel pit at the top of Davies Street. Did the developer know the name was actually a throwback?
Updated on Sept. 17, 2023 to add the photos and ephemera from Vi’s Grocery.