Prior to the Jean Burns Building at the corner of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue sat the J.A. Irvine auto accessories and service store

Building history traced to garage

NANAIMO – Pre-dating Jean Burns building was automotive repair and service shop.

Anyone who ever had a drink or a get-together in the basement of Acme Food Co. probably wasn’t aware they were sitting in the grease pit of an old service station.

Before Jean Burns opened up her store in downtown Nanaimo, when Terminal Avenue was just an alley overlooking a sports field, James A. Irvine had an auto accessories and service store at the corner of what is now Terminal Avenue and Commercial Street.

Irvine, a former diamond driller from Manitoba, worked his way drilling rock across Canada and the U.S., before he settled in Nanaimo and opened the station in 1915.

Decades later the shop would become part of the Jean Burns Building, which burned March 30.

Isobel McDonald, Irvine’s granddaughter submitted a photo of the building to the News Bulletin recently after reading about the fire.

McDonald, now 88, grew up in Harewood and lived in Nanaimo until last year when she and her husband Ross moved to Coquitlam to be closer to their daughter.

“It was mostly car parts, vulcanizing – fixing flat tires,” McDonald said.

“There were big folding doors on Commercial Street … you can see the old Tin Lizzies on each side of the picture. They’d drive in and get their cars fixed or their tires or whatever and drive out the back because that was just an alley and it went to what was called the central sports ground. Now that’s Harbour Park.”

Harbour Park is now called Port Place shopping centre.

McDonald recalls the glass-topped gasoline pumps in front of the shop, the spare tires, tubes and cork head gaskets that hung on the walls inside and her grandparents giving her and her friends dimes so they could go see the movies and buy milkshakes when they walked past on Commercial Street.

“And he had a pit, so the mechanic could go down in the pit and work on the bottom of the car,” McDonald said.

She said Irvine sold the building to Burns in the 1930s when he retired.

‘He was still there when we were teenagers,” McDonald said. “We would always call it ‘grandpa’s store’ on the way to the show and the show was 10 cents. It was by the (Bastion Street) bridge, the Capitol Theatre.”

Burns had a chain of stores in Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Duncan and Courtenay and Port Alberni.

“Oh, she was a little Scottish lady and she worked her butt off. She had a beautiful store and a wonderful staff,” McDonald said.

Burns renovated the service station into the Jean Burns clothing store.

The Jean Burns Building, the portion that burned March 30, was designed by Thomas McArravy, a prominent local architect, and constructed in 1955, according to the City of Nanaimo Heritage Register.

A decision has not yet been made on whether the building will be rebuilt or torn down.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Opal Road was never dangerous until it was blocked off

Traffic calming is creating problems where none existed before, says letter writer

Nanaimo man hit with six-foot pole in dispute over off-leash dog

RCMP say no charges recommended at this time

Nanaimo RCMP looking for bicycle’s owner

Witness saw Marin road bike dumped in ditch and called police

VIU program to offer indigenous students chance to explore careers in trades

Vancouver Island University, Camosun College providing exploratory trades skills foundations courses

Off-duty Nanaimo Mountie takes down would-be ice cream thief

Incident happened Sunday at a Dairy Queen location in Nanaimo

Off-duty Nanaimo Mountie takes down would-be ice cream thief

Incident happened Sunday at a Dairy Queen location in Nanaimo

INFOGRAPHIC: See how fast your B.C. city grew in 2019

The province’s fastest-growing municipalities were located on Vancouver Island

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Mayor and council aren’t necessary

Instead of candidates, put municipal priorities on the ballot, says letter writer

Young musicians to gather in Nanaimo for West Coast Youth Fiddle Summit

Fiddlers from B.C., Alberta and the Yukon to participate in second annual event

Work has started on Malahat Skywalk, expected completion in 2021

$15-million project expected to open in spring, 2021

Pro wrestler Raven to re-live ECW, WCW, WWE days

Pro wrestler host a talk Jan. 31 at the Queen’s in Nanaimo

Baby Bear statue returned to be reunited with Mama and Papa in Island Secret Garden spot

Culprit left it near the Henry Road roundabout in Chemainus with a note attached

Was there a tornado on Vancouver Island Monday?

Suspected phone app glitch gives eerie warning

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Most Read