In 1932, Frances (Frank) Whitten, an immigrant from Ireland, married Clara Latham, who had moved to B.C. from Ontario with her family. Frank worked at the mill in Barnet, so the Whitten’s made their first home in a float house there.
They decided to move the float house to a small bay across the entrance to Indian Arm at the foot of Keith Road (now Mt. Seymour Parkway) and Harris Avenue. They got a fishing boat to tow it across but hadn’t counted on the strong currents that began pulling the house towards the Second Narrows Bridge.
Clara W. managed to tie the boat to a piling, but she didn’t take into account the tide going out and the rope not being able to slide with the tide on the piling. The tide changed, but before disaster struck, Clara W.’s mother managed to get a tugboat, got the house tied to the tug and moved to the bay in the middle of the night.
The Whitten’s lived for some years in the float house, Clara’s brothers, Charlie and Eddy, and sister Pat were all born during that time. But with knowledge that Clara was on the way, her mother must have thought it too small for her growing family.
The home of Jim and Daisy Hicks at 201 (now 4436) Strathcona became available; Daisy was Frank’s sister. In March of 1940, Clara W. bought the Hick’s house without telling Frank she was pregnant with Clara. If he had known another child was on the way he likely wouldn’t have agreed to the purchase which included the house and three lots.
The selling price was $1,000 so Clara W. used her silver dollar collection to make the down payment and then paid him $15 per month. She could not pay more than that because Jim had suffered a shrapnel injury during the Second World War and was living on a pension; receiving more income would have caused his pension to be dragged back. That house is still there beneath renovations made over the years.
Frank was now working on the Dollarton shore at the Dollar Mill. Clara W. would walk from the float house to Percy Cummins (located just past the Dollar Shopping Centre on Dollarton Highway) store for groceries and mail. She would then take Frank his lunch at the mill (located in what is now Cates Park) and had to walk out on the booms. But apparently the men in the office would stop work every day to watch her walking the booms, so she was asked to stop that because as well as carrying Frank’s lunch, she was also carrying her small son on her shoulders.
One time Clara W. caught people stealing boom chains and had to walk to Gillis’ Store (on Harris) which had the only telephone to call the police and all the while she held the thieves down with a shotgun.
Clara was born, and three more siblings followed – Vickie, Westley and Bill – bringing the total to seven kids. As well as raising her brood, Clara W. was active in the PTA and helped at the school.
Clara was in Grade 1 the first year Burrard View School opened; her best friends were Diane Alexander and Diane McKenzie. Times were different then and she remembers they would ride their bicycles all the way to John Lawson Park in West Vancouver and no one ever worried about them.
Originally Burrard View School consisted of six rooms. Two years later there was an addition that included a drop wall between two rooms. When the wall was down the now double-sized room was used for assemblies and events. In later years another two-storey addition was added that included classrooms on the second floor and a cafeteria beneath and some time after Clara had gone on to high school, a gym was added on.
Clara remembers that she babysat a lot after she turned 11; she figures she babysat pretty much every kid in the Cove at one time or other, and still remembers them all.
She also volunteered at the school when her siblings were young, helping with teaching knitting, arts and drawing. She loved sports and recalled around 1951, that she and her friend Florence loved Sports Day and all the races including the sack race, egg-and-spoon and the three-legged. Points were awarded to the winners of the various races, the two were tied, each winning four blue ribbons, but when the winners were announced only Florence’s name was called. When she realized Clara’s name had not been called she asked the teacher why and insisted that they both be awarded cups.
Clara remembers in the summer the kids would walk from their home on Strathcona daily to Panorama Beach to swim, walk back home for lunch, and back again to the beach. Then you didn’t go home until everybody else went home. She remembered the Cove also had a roller rink on Myrtle (Banbury) near Second Street (Gallant) behind the Log Cabin Inn.
In those early 1950s the roads out here were not paved, and Clara remembers when the highway was tarred and gravelled to keep the dust down. Everyone had tar on their feet and shoes.
As a teen, Cove kids drove to Wally’s Drive-In on Fraser. A Kik Cola and fries cost a quarter. It was the hangout teens went to show off their cars. During that time, Clara joined the 103 Squadron North Vancouver Air Cadets.
Clara married Stan Bliss in January 1957. They moved to Lynn Valley for five months, then to Mrs. Jean Campbell’s attic on Caledonia in 1960 where they lived until moving to a rental house on Myrtle (now Banbury) in March 1960.
Clara said Myrtle was a great place to bring up kids. There were about 25 kids living between the Myrtle stairs and the Cove. Like her mother, Clara had a large family: Kim, Brenda, Anita and Lisa and her son Jay.
They bought their home on Burns Avenue (now Panorama) Nov. 1, 1964. Always a working mom, Clara had various jobs in the Cove including washing floors at Huxham’s Central Market (now Deep Cove Pharmacy).
Clara remembers she was washing floors at Huxham’s on that historic day of July 20, 1969, when man landed on the moon. Mrs. Huxham called her to the back suite to witness the landing. Clara said they watched while sipping gin slushes that Mrs. Huxham had made. The recipe was pink lemonade and gin mixed in a pan and frozen and then stirred to make a slush.
Clara was a waitress and cook at the Cove Inn, and the Amble Inn (which is now the Raven). She worked for the Raven Pub from 1972 to 1989, starting as dishwasher and moved up to manager.
Clara has definitely been a fixture in this area since birth. She took another step in 2017, selling her Panorama Drive house and moving up to Raven Woods. She is still in the Seymour area and loving the spectacular views of the Vancouver harbour which are such an important part of her life. ■