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.

Just Posted

Council adopts whistleblower policy for City of Nanaimo

Policy designed to protect staff members who wish to report potential wrongdoing

City, Crime Stoppers, 529 Garage combat Nanaimo bike thefts

Dozens of 529 Garage app signs installed on trails to inform cyclists about anti-theft program

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Machleary proposal would alter Old City

Density of proposed development very different from what’s currently allowed, notes letter writer

Man who crushed Nanaimo RCMP cars with stolen truck gets more jail time

Majore Jackson, 34, sentenced to two more years in jail in provincial court in Nanaimo

Nanaimo council decides not to take away free long-term parking for disability permit holders

Councillors agree to rescind motion that had called for changes to 1993 parking bylaw

Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Julia Lamb has been the lead plaintiff in a legal battle to ease restrictions on Canada’s assisted dying laws

Nanaimo Search and Rescue to build a long-term base in Harewood

Group will sign 25-year co-management agreement for Fourth Street rec centre

NDP, Liberals promise more spending, while Tories promise spending cuts

Making life more affordable for Canadians a focus in the 2019 election

UPDATE: Police probe third threat against a Kamloops high school in eight days

Police have not released any further details into what the threat includes

Charges dropped against Mountie involved in shooting death of Surrey man

‘I feel like I’ve lost Hudson all over again,’ says mom

B.C. Interior caribou protection area big enough, minister says

Proposals sparked protest in Kootenays, Williams Lake region

Two B.C. women selected to compete on ABC’s The Bachelor

Mykenna Dorn and Alexis Thind will compete for bachelor Peter Weber’s heart

Break out the tiki torches: Open fires allowed again in B.C.’s coastal region

All open fires allowed effective at noon on Sept. 18

Vaping-related illness confirmed in Ontario believed to be first in Canada

Middlesex-London Health Unit had no further details about the case — believed to be the first confirmed in Canada

Most Read