Updated: Mar 19
I bought three spectacular slides of downtown Trail on eBay recently. The photographer is unknown, but with a little effort I was able to date them as 1957. I’ve annotated them below and taken modern pictures from approximately the same locations for comparison.
1300 block of Cedar Avenue, southwest side
1) I don’t know what the building at far left (1378 Bay) was at the time this photo was taken, but in 1953, J. White Ltd. clothes and shoes was listed at that location. As of 1963, it was the White Elephant second hand furniture store — no relation to the iconic and recently-closed Spokane surplus stores, I don’t think. But was J. White connected to the White Elephant, or was that coincidence?
The building is long gone, but I don’t know when it was torn down. Today it’s the fenced patio adjacent to the Arlington Hotel, which BC Assessment indicates has been there since 1987 (the patio, not the hotel, which was built in 1896).
2) Next, in the brick building at 1364 Bay we see Klip ’n’ Kurl Beauty Shop and Braemer’s Men’s Wear. In 1953, Braemer’s was a few doors down at 1308 Bay. Today 1364 is Bay Avenue Music. BC Assessment indicates the building dates to 1920.
3) 1346 Bay was the Salvation Army citadel, built in 1954 (also see note in the comments at bottom). It was still the Sally Ann as of 1963. For a long time it was the Trail Grocery, the last independent grocery downtown, which finally closed sometime in the 2010s. Today the building is Aria Hair Salon.
4) The vacant lot next door at 1344 Bay was listed in the 1953 directory as Harry’s Smoke Shop and the Trail Tobacco & Confectionery. But it must have been demolished around that time, for it appears vacant on the fire insurance map of the same year. A new building went up on the spot in 1963 that was initially home to De Luxe Fruit Stores. In more recent years, it has been a restaurant. It was once the Double Happiness, which has since moved over one block to 1420 Bay (more on that below). Later it was Bounce ’n’ Brew and today it is Ace of Taste.
Detail from 1953 fire insurance map
5) Next, at 1330 Bay, is the Trail Shoe Repair. As of 1953, it was also home to Tom Crannage’s barber shop. The building was replaced in 1962 with what was once a laundromat and is now Karen Siemens Notary Public.
6) Now we arrive at the most interesting business on the block at 1318 Bay. This was once the site of the Savoy Cafe, established by Lee Chiang Kai (aka Lee Sing) in partnership with his brother, uncle, and two Wong brothers. They also had three other cafes in Trail, but eventually sold the others, leaving just the Savoy.
In 1927, at age 37, Lee married Rhoda (Rose) Chow, 16, in Vancouver after they met through a matchmaker. They moved back to Trail, where Rose was reputedly the first Chinese-Canadian woman in the city. According to the book Trail of Memories, she “was very shy at the onset. However, with the kindness of neighbours who helped her in any way they could, especially with the language, she soon became part of the community.”
They lived in the Douglas Hotel for a few months until a small apartment was built for them above the rear of the Savoy Cafe. They had seven children between 1928 and 1941, although two died young. Their first child, Lillian, was said to be the first Chinese-Canadian baby born in Trail.
Rose started working in the cafe during World War II, and, according to a family history, proved “a natural businesswoman. Despite her lack of formal education and being totally illiterate, her business acumen and innate social skills were admirable.”
The Savoy was described as “haven for many of the lonely, single men in Trail” and “one of the more modern restaurants of its time.” But the Columbia River flood of 1948 dealt the business a fatal blow. Water filled the basement and sub-basement, destroying all the food in the walk-in fridge and freezer as well as the furnace.
The business was sold and reopened in 1950 as the Silver City Grill. The 1953 civic directory listed the proprietors as John, Look, and Frank Lee and Jack Chong. Lee Sing died in 1953 after a long struggle with diabetes. In his waning years, Rose worked at three jobs: at the Deluxe Food Store, Silver City Grill, and a butcher shop.
In late 1956, Rose took over the Silver City Grill and renamed it the Moonlight Cafe, which is as it appears in the photo.
Savoy Cafe butter dish. (Courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff)
Rose and her kids kept the Moonlight going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, closing to the general public only on Christmas Day when they served a seven-course turkey dinner to their most faithful customers. Rose worked especially hard: 18 hours a day, every day, for two and a half years. It took a toll on her, and in 1959 or 1960 she sold the business and moved to Vancouver. She died in 1999, age 88.
By 1964, Jim Mah was proprietor of the Moonlight Cafe when it was gutted by fire. The restaurant was rebuilt (at some point the second storey was extended to the front of the building). Benny Chong took it over in 1970 and it became the Canton Cafe. Incredibly, Benny and wife Ursula ran it until 2023, when they retired and sold the building.
So 1318 Bay has been front and centre in Trail’s Chinese-Canadian community for just a few years short of a century. But for how much longer? It’s unknown who the buyer is or what their plans are for the building.
Southwest side of the 1300 block of Bay, ca. 1940s, perhaps a decade before the slide was taken. By 1953, the building at left, home to the H.S. Gamble tobacco shop, had been demolished. The two buildings on the corner still have their parapets in this picture, but they were soon removed. (Camera Crafts photo)
7) Further down the street, at 1302 Bay, we have a taxi stand, listed in the 1953 directory as both Trail Taxi and Number 9 Taxi. The Kodak ad is for Brothers Studio, at 1308 Bay, operated by Ted and Muriel Brothers. Today Evergreen Sports and Physical Therapy is on this site. BC Assessment claims the current building dates to 1920, but if so, it has been completely overhauled and replaced with a brick facade. It doesn’t resemble the building of 1957 in the slightest.
8) Over on the next block, at 1298 Bay, we see the Doukhobor Block, built in 1919 by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. It had the CM&S Company Store on its ground floor from 1919-25. Alex Reibin, a former CCUB member, bought the building in 1937 and sold it to Annunziato Lerose and Al Merlo in 1946. It had many different businesses over the years.
As of 1953, the Bay Avenue storefront was home to the Club Cafe, and it was still a snack bar of some sort by the time the photo was taken, but it also bears ads for Monarch Life insurance and Buckingham cigarettes.
The Doukhobor Block was demolished in 1978. The following year CIBC built a much less imposing one-storey branch on the site, which is still in business.
1300 block of Bay Avenue, April 2021
Trail Grocery at 1346 Bay, October 2000
Bounce ’n’ Brew and the Trail Grocery, March 2011
Canton Cafe, April 2021
1400 block of Cedar Avenue, southwest side
1) Starting on the right, we see Cumming’s Insurance at 1410 Bay. Glen G. Cumming was the namesake proprietor. BC Assessment says this building was erected in 1928. As of 1953, it was known as the J. Kemp Building. Jesse Kemp had his real estate and insurance office there. It’s now Kootenay Columbia Financial. The blue tile seen in the photo on the ground floor is still there.
2) Next, Bailey’s Ladies Wear at 1420 Bay, W.J. Fred Bailey, proprietor, and 3) Allan’s Fruit store at 1430 Bay and Mary’s Fashion Centre at 1432 Bay. I don’t know who Mary was, but Allan was was Al Tognotti, well known city alderman and founder of Al’s Underwear Band, a musical booster club for the Trail Smoke Eaters.
You can see Al (and the store) in action here, in this clip from the 1975 National Film Board documentary Where You Goin’ Company Town?
The lens used in these photos made all of the buildings seem narrower than they really are. At 1420 Bay today is the Double Happiness Restaurant, but the facade seems much wider than the one seen on Bailey’s above. McEwan Law Corp. is now at 1432 Bay.
4) The next building over is the Trail Credit Union at 1440 Bay. It was still brand new, having been built in 1955. Today it’s Grant Thornton LLP (formerly L. Soligo & Associates).
5) At 1456 Bay, we see what was then an appliance shop known as Bay Electric. BC Assessment says it was built in 1939. It was formerly known as the Bergeron Block and home to George Bergeron’s insurance business. It’s been a few things in recent years, including the Brew Shop Too, Trail Youth Action Network, and, since 2015, the Community Inclusion Centre.
6) At 1474-84 Bay are two connected buildings, then home to Kline’s Furniture. BC Assessment pegs their construction as 1925. A sign on the side reads “The home of comfort, beauty, quality.” The third storey of the far building was removed at some point. These buildings are now home to Canadian 2 for 1 Pizza (formerly Sound West) and a laundromat.
7) At 1498 Bay is the Bank of Montreal, built in 1926. Today, it’s still the Bank of Montreal.
8) On the next block over is a terrifically interesting structure, known as the McPhee Building or the Dolan Hall, built in 1896. (The latter’s namesake was presumably Martin B. Dolan, a realtor and alderman.)
In 1901, the post office moved into this narrow building and remained there for the next 28 years. This slide is the only colour photo I’ve ever seen of the Dolan Hall.
The McPhee Block as pictured in A Commercial History of Trail (1897), with caption from Cominco magazine, January 1944.
By 1958, the building was home to the Union Peters sewing machine store and a few other shops. (Union Peters relocated to 1342 Cedar, where it lasted into the 1990s as an electronics shop with a ghastly awning that obscured the whole building. As a kid, I thought it was called Union Peter’s, and run by a particularly labour-friendly guy named Peter. The actual namesakes were Carl and Gerda Peters.)
Union Peters, ca. early 1980s. (Courtesy Robert Inwood)
Joe Simone sold the Dolan Hall in 1958 to Ferraro’s Ltd., who demolished it to make way for a parking lot to serve their Super-Valu across the street (the latter later became the Eagles hall and is now the site of the Trail Riverfront Centre). Too bad. Photos of the demolition, seen below, suggest it retained its original character to the end. In 1993, a government building went up on the site, now home to Service BC.
Trail Daily Times, June 7 and 14, 1958
1400 block of Bay Avenue, April 2021
1410-1412 Bay in April 2021, showing the same blue tile and glass blocks as in the 1957 slide.
Looking southwest up Spokane Street
The building at left was then the Canadian Bank of Commerce and is now home to Whitlock Insurance Services and the Commercial Apartments, among other things. The back of the Crown Point Hotel is at right (recently revamped as the Crown Columbia). At the time Bill and Helen Armson ran the restaurant there, known as the Garden Room. (They also ran a restaurant in the Nelson Greyhound depot on Baker Street called the Round Up Room.)
The brick building at the southwest corner of the intersection, 1402 Bay, intrigues me. BC Assessment says it was built in 1915. I don’t know what it was originally, but it’s an under-appreciated gem. After 1918, it shows up on a fire insurance plan as a meat market, yet it is not indicated as a brick building. In 1953, it was David’s clothing and dry goods. In 1963, it was Doherty Roadhouse and McCuaig Brothers stock brokers. Today it’s William Westcott, barrister and solicitor. From 1963 until 2020, a barber shop existed on the Spokane Street side.
There’s another interesting building further up the street, at the intersection of Spokane and Cedar. The Meakin Hotel was built in 1896 by Mary Ann Meakin, and by some accounts it became the site of the first wedding in Trail the following year, between school principal Don Dewar and Edith Ellis.
Mrs. Meakin was described in one account as a “short, plump woman [who] wore a black lace bonnet and resembled Queen Victoria.” She previously operated hotels in Vancouver and Vernon. She died in 1901, but her namesake hotel outlived her by more than 50 years. The hotel was demolished in October 1957, which means this is one of the last photos of it, and the only one I’ve ever seen in colour, although we only glimpse a bit of it.
A month after the hotel’s demolition, S.S. Kresge Co. Ltd. bought the property and some neighbouring lots and soon built a new department store, famous for its lunch counter. The Kresge’s chain went out of business in Canada in 1994, after Walmart bought the Woolco chain. The Trail location was reborn as a couple of different discount stores, then sat vacant for a long time. It’s now Silver City CrossFit.
Looking up Spokane Street from the Crown Columbia parking lot, April 2021
1410-1412 and 1402 Bay, April 2021
Spokane Street side of 1402 Bay, showing Dale’s Barbershop, February 2020
While I don’t know who took these slides, I’d like to shake their hand (post-Covid, of course). It’s a good reminder to take pictures of everything. Every building, new or old, humble or pretentious, inside or out, will be eventually be interesting to look at, even if it doesn’t seem that way now. Things get torn down or renovated or repainted all the time. Businesses come and go. If we’re lucky, photos will be left to remind us what they once looked like. Otherwise we’ll just be left wondering.
It inspired me to go for a walk and take pictures of streetscapes, buildings, and other things I might normally overlook or ignore. I’m trying to pay it forward. Someday, some historian of the 21st century will be thankful for these photos, the same way I am grateful for these slides.
Updated on March 19, 2023 to note the sale of the Canton Cafe.