446 Union Street

This house is unusual, both in Strathcona, where it’s located, and in the whole of Vancouver. That’s because it was built of brick, in 1930, and seen here in 1985. The developer was a local longshoreman called Adamo Piovesan. He was Italian, according to his death certificate, born in 1890, and he arrived in Vancouver in 1919, having first travelled to New York in 1913, aged 23, (in Third Class), heading for Guelph. (Elizabetta and Antonio Piovesan were on the same voyage, bound for Vancouver).

In 1919 Adamo was on a French owned ship that departed from New York, and berthed in Seattle. He was listed as heading to join his brother, Antonio, who lived at 433 Prior Street in Vancouver. In the 1921 Census, Adam and Mary Piovesan were shown living at 467 Prior St. Mary (who was Maria Biasetto from Treviso) was six years younger than her husband, and had only arrived from Italy in 1920.

There was an earlier house on this lot, but it was built on the lane, rather than the street, probably in 1905 Victor Tiverton had lived in it in the 1910s, but by 1921 the street address had disappeared, only to reappear after this house was built in 1930. The move in was pretty easy – the Piovesan’s had lived on the 400 block of Prior Street for a decade, so they just had to cross the lane to get to their new house.

Eve Lazarus has told the story of the house in two books. She notes that “like dozens of Italian families in the area, the Piovesans bootlegged their way through the Depression. The family made beer and wine in the European tradition and bought rum from the government-run liquor store which they then resold in shots. Drinks sold for a dime, while a glass of bucaro, a wine usually made from raisins and the mash of a better wine, sold for a nickel. Once the Piovesan’s were raided and Maria had to pay a $300 fine—a massive amount of money that forced the family to bootleg more liquor to pay it.

There’s no reason to think the story is inaccurate – although there’s no record of the charge being reported in the press – but compared to larger bootlegging operations the family’s activities were normal practice for the neighbourhood. As a longtime resident in the area’s Italian community noted “everybody did it, it was no big deal. Guys came in from the camps and rented rooms. My grandmother cooked dinner for the roomies and guest and charged for the shots. It was a way of making a bit of extra cash. And of course, the wine was traded, and sold…”.

Times would have been hard for a longshoreman with a family of four daughters at home. In 1935 the dock workers were locked out by the owners, and ‘scab’ labour brought in to replace them. On June 18, several weeks after the original lockout, around 1,000 dockers and their supporters marched through Vancouver towards Ballantyne Pier. “The strikers were met at the pier by several hundred armed policeman. Attempting to force their way through, the dockers soon found themselves under attack from the police lines. Many marchers were clubbed as they tried to run to safety, while many others tried hopelessly to fight back, using whatever weapons they could find. Aided by Mounties who had been posted nearby, the police continued to viciously attack the strikers.” The union hall was attacked and tear gas was used against members of the women’s auxiliary who had set up a first aid station inside. The battle continued for three hours. The strike dragged on until December, when the dockers returned to work, and it took another two years before an independent union was recognized by the dock owners.

Early in 1944 the family advertised “For Sale by owner; Immediate Possession” and moved to a larger home on Franklin Street. Their daughters were still at home; Evelina (‘Bebe’) worked for Boeing in 1944, and was then an elevator operator at Vancouver General Hospital, Gilda was a representative for Mend-U Shop and Leonora (‘Nora’) was a saleswoman at Spencer’s Department Store. Two years later she had left home, marrying Emilio Girone, but her sister Roma was then working as a mender for Woodwards Hosiery Mending. Adamo Piovesan was 79 when he died in 1970.

The new owners of the house in 1944 were William Wallace and his wife, Nellie. William ran a transfer business – a moving company – and the couple had lived in the area for several years. Although there were at least twenty William Wallaces in the city, we were able to find our man from his 1965 death certificate. That said he was born in Kansas, in 1913, and was married to Nellie Maida (who was four years younger). In 1938 he lived at 522 Union and a year later at 563 Union, joined in 1939 by his wife. (Before that it’s most likely that he was the William Wallace delivering coal and wood from an East Hastings address).

Nellie (christened Neldina in 1917) and her older brother, Cecil, (born in 1915) had lived in the area for many years. In 1929 their mother, Clorenda, was killed when the cab she was travelling in overturned in Ladner. She was with two men who lived at the Cobalt Hotel, where one was the night clerk. The taxi driver was initially charged in relation to her death. Her address was published in the news reports as 643 Union, but the family actually had lived at 343 Union from 1925. Her husband, Joe, (Guiseppe) was a labourer.

In 1939 The Vancouver Sun reported “The marriage of Nellie Maida and William Wallace was solemnized Jan. 9 at Sacred Heart Church, by Rev. Father Bordignon. Mr. J. Maida gave his daughter in marriage. Miss Tosca Spatari was the maid of honor and Mr. Cecil Maida, the best man. The bride was gowned in white satin with sweetheart neckline and sleeves puffed at the shoulders and pointing over the hands. A train swept from the waistline in the back and a long veil gathered atop the head, fell from a coronet of orange blossoms and pearls. The bride carried a bouquet of pink roses and narcissi. Miss Spatari was frocked in yellow georgette and wore a matching bouquet. She carried yellow and mauve carnations. A reception was held at the bride’s home where she cut a decorated wedding cake and received the felicitations of large numbers of friends. The bride changed to a three-piece rust suit and coat with accessories en tone when leaving on a wedding trip. Mr. and Mrs. Wallace will live in Vancouver.

Eve Lazarus says that William was known (as many people called Wallace appear to have been), as ‘Wally’, and that like the Piovesan’s, he supplied alcohol without worrying about details like a licence. “Wally was a neighbourhood hero, dodging the cops in his bootlegging operation by night and teaching the kids to box in the basement of his house during the day. He operated a thriving distribution centre from the garage just off a lane at the back of the house, and ran Wallace Transfer out of an old Union Street garage.” The Union Garage was on Union at the corner of Princess. She also interviewed local policeman Bernie ‘Whistling’ Smith, who recalled arresting ‘Blondie’ Wallace for posession of liquor and confiscating his brand new Chrysler car, which was then driven by the warden of Oakalla jail where Wallace was sentenced to three months detention. (There’s some confusion here, as ‘Blondie Wallace’ was usually a reference to ‘Pete’ Wallace who was a professional gambler during the same period, implicated in the bribing of senior police officers in the 1950s.)

There are bits and pieces of supporting evidence, although not of William heading to jail in the 1950s. A William Wallace was given a six month sentence in Oakalla for liquor offences in 1935, and although we can’t be certain it’s the same William Wallace, it seems likely, as his sentence was reduced when an offer of employment for ‘the boy’ was made. In the 1940s, when the Wallace family were living at 563 Union, liquor was seized at their address twice in 1940, on at least 12 occasions in 1941 and in five separate raids in 1943.

Nellie was step-sister to Chuck Schillman, a confectioner who lived at 522 Union before her marriage. Charles Frank Schillman was born in Islington in 1914, moved to Vancouver when he was seven, and died in VGH in 1943. His death notice in the newspaper said he was a sawdust truck driver living at 563 Union. In 1937 he had been manager of the Loggers Cigar Stand, living on Abbott Street.

When he was 20 he was sent to Oakalla jail for liquor offences, (a short time before William Wallace faced a similar sentence), and in 1940 he pleaded guilty in police court to a charge of dangerous driving and was fined $25 or ten days by Magistrate Mackenzie Matheson, who also ordered his driving license suspended for ten days. The family must have been close, as Nellie and Wally placed a memorial notice in the newspaper every year on the anniversary of his death for many years.

In 1950 Provincial records show liquor was found here, at 446 Union – but as in the 1940s when the Wallaces were at 563 Union, relatively small amounts (the most was 13 bottles on one occasion). (Luigi Genovese, who lived across the lane on Prior Street was raided far more often). John Tonick, who apparently lived at the Wallace’s address, had been caught visiting the block in 1948: “Officers, in a two and a half hour vigil on premises in the 400 block Prior early Sunday. After their lengthy watch, they raided the premises and seized 54 bottles of liquor and four dozen beer. Later, John Tonick, 446 Union, was charged with keeping liquor for sale. Police said he had visited the premises several times during their vigil.” (Six years later, Tonick, who was a longshoreman born in Nelson, was sitting watching television in his home on Parker Street when he was shot in the head and killed. His step-daughter’s boyfriend, 21-year old Robert Hoodley was sentenced to hang for the crime. The step-daughter was called Patricia Wallace, so it would seem that the Tonicks and the Wallaces may have been related.)

Wallace Transfer was registered with a capitalization of $35,000 in 1949. That year the company operated from the 700 block of East Georgia, with William Wallace as president.

In 1951 Nellie Wallace was charged jointly with keeping liquor for sale with cab driver Frank Devlin. ‘Officers seized 12 bottles of liquor‘. In 1957 Nellie was again one of 13 people charged with selling liquor, and in 1959 the Vancouver Sun reported “Charges Dropped; Two charges of illegally selling liquor against William Wallace, 46, of 446 Union, were dismissed by Magistrate Gordon Scott today.” (We know Nellie’s father, Guiseppe Maida was living with the family at 446 Union in 1956, because he had his hat stolen. The thief, with 14 previous conviction, got a sentence of 6 months.)

Giuseppe Maida died in 1962, aged 79, and his son-in-law, William Wallace was 52 when he died in 1965. Nellie and William had three children, William (Bill), Danny and Gina. Nellie remarried to Melvin Spotswood, who had been born in Saskatchewan in 1922, but he was also only 52 when he died in 1974. Cecil Maida was 84 when he died in 1999 and his sister Nellie was 89 when she died in 2006.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-0698


Posted 22 November 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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