“Free Meat.”

This is what captured the attention of locals over 100 years ago, and what drew them to North Vancouver for an annual picnic at the turn of last century. The venue for this event was the Hotel North Vancouver owned by Peter Larson, which stood in the general area of the current day John Brathwaite Community Centre. The Swedish-born Larson was a sailor by trade before ending up in Vancouver where he operated a hotel on Cordova Street. He would move to North Vancouver in 1901 and had his own hotel constructed by 1902. Standing on the North side of Esplanade (which was merely a simple boardwalk at the time), West of Lonsdale between Rogers Street and Chesterfield Avenue, it was to become the social hub of the new community of North Vancouver.

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The butchers of Vancouver chose Larson’s Hotel and grounds as venue for their first picnic on August 15, 1900. 300 butchers and their families took the steamer North Vancouver across Burrard Inlet to partake in races, watersports, baseball and soccer before the dinner. By 1903, with an open invite to all citizens, a second ship was required to transport the crowds of hungry picnickers. The barbeque typically included three beef and five mutton carcasses roasted on spits over coals.

In 1906 between 3,000 and 6,000 people made their way to North Vancouver for the free spread of meat, bread and lemonade. These picnics always concluded with dancing at Larson’s Pavillion beside the hotel, where bands would play and waltz contests would be waged. The last annual Butcher’s Picnic was held August 25, 1910 as it had become far too popular to continue as a free event. A mere 600 people attended the final picnic after it was announced there would be an admission charge.

In 1909, Larson would expand his reach on the North Shore and built the Canyon View Hotel near where the present-day Cleveland Dam stands

Peter Larson’s Pavillion at the Hotel North Vancouver remained a popular spot for dances, concerts and political rallies. The hotel bar was one of the most popular meeting places on the North Shore and in 1909 the Pavillion was the site of North Vancouver’s first motion picture theatre. In 1910 a room at the hotel cost $2 per day or $10 per week. By 1915 with prohibition on the horizon, Larson decided to sell the hotel and retire. The North Vancouver Hotel would eventually be destroyed by fire in 1929. As late as 1997, the South retaining wall of the hotel was still visible along the North side of Esplanade.

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Next time you’re strolling along Esplanade on the way to a movie, or working out at Brathwaite, imagine back to one hundred years in the past. On that very spot someone may have enjoyed a nice free steak dinner on the lawn or won a waltz dance contest to the delight of their friends.


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