Bathhouse English Bay 1931 (Large Giclee Canvas)
Artist: Croft, Brian
Bathhouse English Bay 1931 (Large Giclee Canvas)
Click to enlarge

  • Limited Edition Giclee Canvas
  • Image Size: 32" x 20"
  • Edition Size: 95 S/N
Keyword: Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver, Beach, Trolley, Car, Local

Vancouver's English Bay or First Beach as it was once known is a beautiful waterfront. As late as 1911, much of the beachfront was privately owned. Maps dating back to 1887 clearly show subdivided lots extending onto the beach and these, of course, had become prime sites for private cottages, bathing and boathouses. Such was the popularity of English Bay that in 1898 the BCER, introduced the Davie Streetcar service, connecting downtown with the beachfront.

Fortuitously, in1905, the beach had come under Parks Board's influence. Initial work included the clearing of rocks and expanding beach accessibility. Over the ensuing years, the privately held lots on Beach Avenue were gradually acquired and returned to public use and the result is the magnificent beach that we enjoy today.

My painting, Bathhouse on English Bay -1931 captures the beachfront at a time of growing popularity and public pride. Let me walk you through the painting. Dominating the beach is the white-concrete bathhouse built in 1909, a grand replacement for the original private boathouses. After 30 years of use, the bathhouse was eventually converted, in 1939, into a public Aquarium and eventually torn down in 1955. Behind the bathhouse, on the left, Turret Cigarettes, originally produced by Ogdens of Liverpool advertises out into the bay. Next door, on the corner of Denman and Davie is the impressive Simpson Apartment Block with its intricate brickwork and architectural accents. It was built in 1919 to accommodate both apartments and commercial outlets, and by 1931 its sidewalk tenants included Safeway and English Bay Drugs. The two BCER streetcars negotiating the corner at Denman and Davie both sport #2 route signs which operated to capacity on sunny weekends. Rocky Roads ice cream can be found at the popular Dreyers. The eclectic jumble of restaurants and cafes lining Denman and Beach Avenue add a beach-promenade atmosphere. At the far right, The Princess Pat Tea Rooms advertises "meals at all hours" and "pacific skinless wieners used", a fine beachside eatery indeed.

The horizon is interrupted twice; the spire of St John's Presbyterian Church is on the northwest corner of Broughten and Comox and further away appears the roof of the new Hotel Vancouver. The hotel's roof has just been completed but paradoxically most construction will be halted for the next 7 years while the Great Depression runs its course.

I populated the scene with Vancouverites, sun seekers, young and old. I painted folks sunning, swimming, playing and gawking. I included a local Mafia dude, one of many that frequented the location, catering to the smuggling and business opportunities arising from Prohibition in the USA. To clothe them correctly, I researched ladies beach wear in 1931 and this revealed surprisingly modern swimwear, much of which was produced by Jantzen Knitting Mills of Canada. Some men actually appear on the beach in full business suits but most were dressed in the new topless trunk style.

Despite the depression, English Bay was a great place to be in 1931. A short streetcar ride from the city, this picture-perfect day-retreat could be afforded and enjoyed by most and for a day at least the worries of the times could be forgotten. After all, that's why we have beaches, isn't it?

- Brian Croft

Willowbrook Art Gallery specializes in a large selection of limited edition prints and posters along with gift items as Franz Porcelain and Bradford Exchange. We offer the highest quality of custom framing in the Vancouver region, all of it done in house at our Langley location.