Nelson Star column: What came before Nelson Commons?

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posted Dec 18, 2015 at 1:00 AM

I’ve been meaning to write about the history of the Nelson Commons site since February, when Mitzi Hufty phoned to share her memories. She worked across the street at the Civic Theatre in the late 1940s and early ’50s and couldn’t help but reminisce as the former Extra Foods building was demolished to make way for the new Kootenay Co-op and housing complex.

“When you see everything gone on the site, my mind goes back to the way it was years ago,” she said. “That’s when the memories get invoked.”

There were a few things in that block in those days, the most prominent of which was West Transfer, founded in 1899 by C.W. West, an early Willow Point settler. In 1903 he sold the company to George F. Morton, who ran it with his wife Margaret. After George’s death in 1931, his second wife Augusta and their son William continued to operate the business until 1965.

West Transfer built a brick warehouse at 723 Baker St. around 1910 (previously they’d been in the 600 block). They advertised themselves as “Distributing and forwarding agents/General teamsters and dealers in coal and wood/Agents for Imperial Oil” and later as “Local and long distance household goods movers/Storage, distributing and general transfer.”

Hufty recalled when West Transfer still kept horses and delivered milk by wagon. One of their more unusual jobs came in 1935 when a plane made an emergency landing in Rosemont. The plane’s wings were removed and West’s hauled it to the CPR station.

West Transfer is still around, of course, having traded in horses and wagons for trucks, but their beautiful brick warehouse on Baker St. was demolished in early 1966.

On July 5 of that year, the Nelson Daily News revealed: “Plans for construction of a new 16,000-square foot Super-Valu supermarket on Hendryx St., between Baker and Vernon streets, was announced yesterday by Kelly Douglas and Company Ltd. A company spokesman said the new store will incorporate all of the latest shopping facilities and customer conveniences. Included is provision for an 84-car parking lot. Tenders for the new building are now being called, and construction is scheduled to begin later this month with completion for January of next year.”

Super-Valu became Extra Foods sometime in the 1990s and operated until 2012.

Another noteworthy business in that block was Stevenson’s Machine Shop at 708-712 Vernon St., founded by Hazel Stevenson in 1924. It did blacksmithing and repair work, built mining and logging equipment, and made bodies for buses, tractors, and trucks.

Henry Stevenson, who died this year at 99, worked there alongside his father and took over the business when Hazen died in 1955. He moved it to the present brewery building on Latimer St. in 1965, and I assume the Vernon St. building was demolished ahead of Super-Valu’s construction. A dip in the sidewalk today indicates the spot where vehicles would drive in through the shop doors.

Henry’s granddaughter Cynthia kindly gave me a photo he took of the shop and its staff in 1939.

One old building in that block that has survived is the New China Restaurant, formerly the Shamrock Grill, formerly Grenfell’s Cafe. Hufty recalls the Armison family ran the Shamrock as well as the restaurant in the Greyhound bus station a block away at the corner of Hall and Baker.

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