After World War II, tracts of land were set aside for the returning veterans under the Veterans Land Act. One of these was the Cora Brown subdivision, located at the north end of Sea Island in Richmond, British Columbia.
The original fifty houses were built from Grauer Road to Ferguson Road on Myron and Abercrombie Drives. Each holding consisted of a small two-bedroom house (no more than 800 square feet) and an acre of land. In early photos, all there was were these little wooden houses on a vast prairie of long grass.
The balance of the subdivision was also Veterans Land Act land but these people could build their own designs. Residents will recall the homes at the "top" of the subdivision near Grauer Road, such as Thomas', Elliott's, and the ones on Grauer Road, along Ferguson Road, west of McDonald, and all the houses in the "lower" end of Cora Brown (surrounding the Cora Brown Park).
About 1960, another smaller subdivision was built to the west of Cora Brown on the other side of McDonald Road - this was the Tapp Road Subdivision. The lots were smaller, the houses were larger than the original Cora Brown subdivision houses. Some of the Cora Brown residents moved into homes on Tapp Road. So even though, Tapp Road was not built until several years later, the lives of the residents of this neighbourhood and those of Cora Brown are entwined.
While getting into technicalities, there were homes built further up Ferguson Road, on the west side of McDonald. Again, while not officially part of the Cora Brown original subdivision, we consider these homes as part of the Cora Brown family (26 to 198 McDonald Road). The same holds true for the homes along Grauer Road that were closest to the entrance of the subdivision (503 to 545 Grauer Road). There were 100 homes in the original plan with 12 additions.
Eventually, there was a need for larger education facilities as the number of children attending Sea Island School was stretching the limits of the classrooms. In 1962, the doors opened on Duncan McDonald School.
The first residents moved into their homes in 1946. The Cora Brown subdivision was like a small town, and due to its physical location, quite isolated. Most of the men worked in Vancouver and commuted to work every day. The women worked hard to make homes out of the original houses with some amenities like flush toilets, running water, electricity and coal or sawdust heaters, later converted to oil heaters.
Originally, if the residents wanted to go to downtown Vancouver to shop, they had to walk approximately 2-1/2 miles down Grauer Road, cross the Eburne Bridge and catch the bus into Marpole in south Vancouver. For many, they would take the bus to the Woodward's store on Hastings Street to purchase their groceries, then return home. Woodward's provided home delivery. Sometimes they would walk to the Grauer's store for some supplies.
We had a corner store, Butlers, located at the corner of Grauer Road and McDonald Road. This was a magnet for the children, who for a penny, could buy a Double Bubble Gum, or for a nickel a popsicle. It was a very sad day when the store closed.
The next closest shopping was at Grauer's Store located right by the Marpole and Lulu Island bridges. They offered a wide variety of produce, dairy products, meat and packaged goods. But in order to get to Grauer's you needed a car or you had to take the bus. Fortunately, Grauer's Store also offered a delivery service to the entire island, which was most appreciated by the residents.
We did have wonderful bus service for many years. Some people used the bus to commute to their jobs, thus leaving the car, if they had one, at home for their wives to use. That long haul from Grauer's Store to the subdivision was about 2 miles. Most people went to Vancouver to do their grocery shopping at the Safeway on Granville Street and 70th Avenue, in the Marpole area. As Richmond began to grow, Brighouse became the popular shopping location, especially after the Marpole Bridge was taken out of service.
For many years, the only way off the island was over the Lulu Island bridge next to Grauer's Store. And if the swing bridge was open to allow a boat through, we even had a traffic line-up.
The children from Cora Brown were bussed over to Sea Island School each day. It was quite an adventure. The bus stopped at regular bus stops along the way down Grauer, turned right on Myron, turned left on Ferguson, up Ferguson to Shannon Road, over to Miller Road to the school. The drive was long, but usually someone started to sing and soon the whole busload would be joining in. Who can ever forget a few rousing choruses of "Found a Peanut", and "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain".
After dropping the elementary children off at Sea Island Elementary School, the bus would proceed over to Cambie High School. When there were no longer children living on Shannon Road and the west ends of Ferguson and Miller, the bus went down McDonald to Miller and to the school. When the children were attending the RCAF Annex School, a stop would be made in there and then back over to Sea Island School, and on to Cambie School.
The children made friends with the children from the Burkeville subdivision and from the RCAF base, but due to the physical distance between the two subdivisions, many of these friendships were school-time ones. Once the children became more mobile, they would occasionally ride their bikes to their friends on the south side of the Island.
The Cora Brown children also travelled over to the "other" side of the island for Girl Guides/ Brownies, Cubs/Boy Scouts, Sunday School and Kindergarten. Most of these activities were held in the Community Centre. Once the Sea Island Church was built, most of these functions took place in the Church hall.
While many activities took pace on the Burkeville side, we did have a social life in Cora Brown. In the early years, some ladies formed bridge clubs. They were also the highlight for their families, especially when the fancy foods were brought out, and we got to taste.
The bridge group from the Myron Drive and Ferguson Road area was started in about 1950 and was still active in 1996. However, now, instead of evenings, the ladies get together in the afternoons.
Among the early members of the Myron Drive and Ferguson bridge group are: Mrs. Bess Hamalock, Mrs. Isabelle McClellan, Mrs. Jean Steele, Mrs. Midge Hammell, Mrs. Marge Kerr, Mrs. Ruth Robertson, Mrs. Eileen Richardson, Mrs. Sadie Grieves, Mrs. Irene Henderson, Mrs. Mary O' Reilly, Mrs. Peggy Keetley, Mrs. Iris Roine and Mrs. Dorothy Applegath.
Another bridge group formed at the far end of Abercrombie Drive and Edgington Road. Among this club were Mrs. Jean Whitaker, Mrs. Cleo Taylor, Mrs. Muriel Clendenning, Mrs. Norma McIntyre, Mrs. Elsie Turecki and Mrs. Joan Anderson.
Another aspect of life in Cora Brown, were the sports teams. One of the few sports that was available for the girls of Cora Brown was softball. Some of the coaches were: Mrs. Marg Miller, Mrs. Dot Edinger, Mrs. Bess Hamalock, Mrs. Cleo Taylor, Mrs. Dot Bolton, Mr. Herb Charlton, Mr. Mike Anderson, Mr. Al Diel, Mrs. Audrey Wipp, Mr. Chris Hamblin, Mr. Harold Hammell, Sue Hammell, Eunice Hamalock, Lauretta Hamalock and Yvonne Meneice.
The oldest eligible girls were members of the Sea Island Slicers and for several years (1964 to 1970) were the league champions for all of Richmond.
Many exciting games were played at the Cora Brown park. The residents would come out in full force to cheer on whichever team was playing that night.
The girls started at age 9 and could play up to age 17. For the boys, was hardball, and a couple of their coaches were Mr.Jack Bolton and Mr. Lloyd Glibbery.
But after the baseball season came the summer holidays! We were fortunate kids to live in such freedom. We had lots of space to run around, friends to play with, forts to build, roads to ride our bikes. We lived off-the-beaten-track where we could play on the road without encountering any vehicles until people returned from work.
There were evenings of "kick the can", " hide and seek", or just taking a walk around the neighbourhood. Then there was "the River". The North Arm of the Fraser River flowed to the north end of our neighbourhood. The river was fast running and cold but residents would flock to the beach during the summer months and laze about on the soft grey sand, soaking up the rays.
When you got too hot, you jumped in the river - no crowds, no long drives to the city beaches, no parking problems. Many of us learned to swim in the river, and probably do not swim underwater with our eyes open even now. After all, what was there to see!
The river provided opportunities to build and float on rafts. No one could afford a boat, so a couple of logs together became our ships. Some of the more adventurous walked on the log booms. There was so much wood on the beach that you could have wonderful beach fires in the evenings and toast marshmallows.
For the most part, the original residents stayed for many years. Strong bonds developed between the families. Everyone looked out for each other. But woe betide any of the children caught by an adult doing something they were not supposed to be doing. You knew that if you were caught by another parent, your parents would know within the hour. You also knew that if you needed help, your neighbours would come to your assistance. If you should have a problem with your car along the Grauer Road stretch, someone would come along and give assistance or a lift.
When all the talk of expropriation started, the residents of Cora Brown became very worried. What will happen? When will it happen? Where will we go?
For so many of us who grew up with the same people our whole lives, things were about to be turned upside down. Meetings were held to try and avoid the inevitable. Tears were shed, but in the end, we had to move. The destruction of the Cora Brown community to make way for "progress" left its mark on many of us.
The final chapter was written on the Cora Brown subdivision. In August 1995, the Vancouver Airport Authority cleared the land south of the new Grauer Road, which now runs along where Ferguson Road was. Every tree, stump and blade of grass was removed so all that was left was a pile of dirt, and finally the third airport runway - the reason for the removal of Cora Brown.
Over the years, the road has been paved, and a new walking trail – the Cora Brown Trail – has been constructed. The south side of Grauer and Ferguson Road is now built up with businesses such as Fedex and a new Canada Post facility.
So while we might not be able to go back to the houses that we grew up in and point out the trees that we climbed to our children and grandchildren, we still have some wonderful memories.
It is a testament to this community that rose out of the fields of grass in 1946, that since 1978, the residents of Cora Brown have had 11 very successful reunions. A wonderful chance for old friends and neighbours to get together and catch up.
We can no longer walk the old roads, but we are left with memories of a much happier time!
(1) City of Richmond Archives, 1954, Richmond, item no. 1984 17 21, Eburne and Marpole bridges [digital image]. Retrieved from City of Richmond Archives on November 19, 2017.
Sea Island Heritage Society
4191 Ferguson Road, Richmond, British Columbia
Canada V7B 1P3