Why Lower Lonsdale is buzzier (and maybe even friendlier) than it was in 1903

The Lower Mainland’s historical neighbourhoods have long been a draw for tourists and weekend warriors who flock to them for their historical charm (think Gastown’s cobblestone streets and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s historical trading post of Fort Langley). But with the world discovering the gem that is Vancouver, and urban sprawl the result, many of these areas are experiencing a re-revitalization.

And Lonsdale is no exception. Although it’s difficult to pin down the exact year Lonsdale Avenue was built, we know it began as a narrow, rough-surfaced logging road in the late 1800s. Later, its eventual streetcars and steam-ferry service connected North Shore residents to the City of Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet. Lower Lonsdale became a transportation hub, a place for shopping, family picnics on the shores of the Inlet and, even, the starting point of a day-trip to the original Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Today, Lower Lonsdale is one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland. While the Lonsdale Quay and boutiques dotting the slope to Upper Lonsdale have long established the area as a shopping destination, the slew of new condo developments, establishment of The Shipyards, a new skating rink and a new art gallery under construction are making it a desirable home base for young professionals and families who are leaving Vancouver’s city core in search of more affordable housing options.

Independently owned coffee shops, produce stores, restaurants and boutiques such as Mo’s General Store, where customers can pick up last minute gifts or grab a beverage from the coffee bar and leisurely browse homewares and knickknacks, are a further draw.

With its long communal table where regulars come to catch up with friends or work on their laptops, Mo’s General Store aims to maintain the same sense of community that McMillan’s General Store, which originally occupied the same space at the corner of Esplanade and Lonsdale, had back in 1903 when it was one of the essential services for stevedores, longshoremen and workers at Pioneer Mills and Wallace Shipyards. McMillan’s, depicted in a black and white floor-to-ceiling photo on Mo’s far wall, stocked everything a family could want: household goods, groceries, work-a-day and Sunday-best clothing, local farm produce supplied by nearby Tom Turner’s Orchard, and later, postal services.

 

Today, with its array of household essentials and gifts, from locally made perfume to French glassware, Mo’s is recreating the sense of familiarity so characteristic of McMillan’s simpler time. (Case in point: local residents have been known to drop off their keys for safekeeping when they go out of town).