A Port Haney cafe that caused a massive fire in the 1930’s – destroying a section of the historic town’s main drag – has recently come to light at the Maple Ridge Museum.
This past fall, Dr. Shea Henry, the new executive director of the Maple Ridge Museum, started researching the cafe after someone called and asked about it as part of a family history research project.
“I know that I had seen all the old photos of old Port Haney and that cafe sign is kind of there but we didn’t have any information on it,” said Henry.
So, she started looking around and pouring over old newspaper articles.
Henry learned through an old Gazette article that the cafe was opened in 1925 and was located along River Road, along what was considered the town’s main street.
The cafe was to replace a restaurant, owned by W.A. Knox that was situated on the southeast corner of the Pacific Berry Growers building, wrote Henry in a Maple Ridge Historical Society newsletter, that was known, until then, as a simple, good place to get a bite to eat.
“Mr. W.A. Knox was satisfied with conducting a good restaurant, but is now determined on having a veritable City Café,” Henry attributed to the Gazette article.
She said the article detailed specifics as to what people could expect from the new, modern cafe to be known as Knox Cafe including: gold leaf printed signs; columns that resembled marble; finished ceilings; beautifully designed linoleum floors; and counter-tops made of the finest mahogany.
The cafe received extensive newspaper coverage, added Henry, encouraging women to visit the cafe with their “women’s groups”, and encouraging women to settle in Maple Ridge.
The cafe also boasted bright and flashy lighting fixtures on the latest electrical lines, a gramophone, radio, refrigerator unit and a soda fountain – all of things that residents would have previously had to travel to New Westminster or Vancouver to experience, said Henry.
Over the next several years the cafe changed hands numerous times.
“It looks like it had owners for a few years at a time as people came and went. It was a new community so it was fairly transient for people to come and go,” noted Henry, who had already completed her research request, but couldn’t stop looking into the history of this cafe.
However, on Nov. 30, 1932, at around 3 a.m., the owner of the Knox Cafe was woken by and explosion and the smell of smoke, Henry said.
“The refrigerator motor caught on fire and half the town went with it,” said Henry, including the cafe, the doctor’s office, the pool room, the barber shop, the post office, a private home, a freight shed, and the C.P.R. train station.
The fire ultimately caused $25,000 in damage at that time – about $500,000 today – but, thankfully, said Henry, nobody was hurt.
Furniture store Fuller-Watson, that opened in 1922, moved up the hill to Lougheed Highway, along with some other businesses, when the new road was completed one year before the fire, in 1931.
The fire, added Henry, was what made the rest of the businesses move too.
“It was kind of the final nail on the coffin that pushed Haney up the hill to where it is now,” said Henry, adding that she found it most interesting that it was an attempt at modernization and progression that ended up being the downfall of Port Haney.