British Columbia

A time capsule in the floor: artists' cabin offers glimpse into Vancouver's past

Dozens of posters from early 20th century discovered during North Vancouver restoration project

Bethany Lindsay - CBC News

October 01, 2017

Canadian boxers Jackie Johnston and Vic Foley sparred several times in the 1920s. (CBC News)

Beneath the floorboards of a historic artists' cabin on the North Shore, a treasure trove of Vancouver memorabilia was just waiting to be uncovered.

The small wooden house known as the Blue Cabin is believed to have been built in the 1930s, and is probably best known as the home of artists Al Neil and Carole Itter. It once sat upon on a barge in Coal Harbour, but was later grounded next to Cates Park in North Vancouver.

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Now, a restoration of the cabin has turned up a time capsule of dozens of posters advertising Vancouver entertainment from the 1920s and even earlier.

Just one poster was lying face up when Jeremy Borsos discovered the stash. (CBC News)

Artist Jeremy Borsos discovered the the stash in the subfloor. At first, he noticed the only poster that was lying face up — an advertisement for "Richards: America's Greatest Magician and His Big Company" at the Orpheum.

"When we looked around and saw all these other posters, we were just beside ourselves, because, you know, it was history," Borsos told CBC News.

In all, there were about 30 placards, advertising everything from appearances by famous conductors like John Philip Sousa to plays and boxing matches. Long-lost Vancouver venues like the Pantages Theatre feature prominently.

Jeremy Borsos sifts through the posters he uncovered. (CBC News)

The cabin was originally part of a squatters' community known as the Maplewood Mudflats, according to Marlene Madison of Vancouver's grunt gallery.

"For a number of years, up until the early 70s, there were a great number of artists and hippies and people just wanting to live off the grid that populated that area," she said.

Sculptor Tom Burrows lived there for a time, as did writer Malcolm Lowry. But many of the other cabins were torched in 1972 by the District of North Vancouver.

In 2015, the land next to the site where the Blue Cabin rested for decades was purchased by a developer, and now Madison's gallery is spearheading a restoration project aimed at setting the home afloat once again.

The Blue Cabin is being restored, with the hope it will become a floating artists' studio. (CBC News)

The plan is to repair nearly a century's worth of damage and place the cabin on a barge, where it would serve as a studio for an artist living in a tiny house installed beside it.

"I think it's really important to preserve that cultural history," Madison said.

"It would be wonderful if it would float around to different communities, so we're looking at False Creek, perhaps Deep Cove, maybe the Fraser River."

As for the posters, the artists plan to place a few back under the floor once the restoration is complete, along with a some newspapers.

"And, well, the rest will be history," Borsos said.

About 30 posters from the 1920s and earlier were discovered in the floor of the Blue Cabin. (CBC News)
The posters included advertisements for plays. (CBC News)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay
Web writer

Bethany joined CBC in 2017 with 10 years of experience in print and web journalism. Reach her at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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