Unsolved Photo Mystery


A scan of a Stuart Thomson print showing what appears to be a restaurant/lounge space. n.d. Author’s image.

I recently purchased the print from which the above scan was produced. It was made by one of my favourite early Vancouver professional photographers, Stuart Thomson. The photo seems to have been taken in a commercial food/drink establishment, somewhere in Vancouver I’m assuming. There is no year on the print, but I’m guessing it was a fairly early Thomson image, made in the 1920s, perhaps.

After buying the print, I did quite a lot of hunting for a similar image. I didn’t have much success.

The closest I came in my search was the interior shot shown below of the Peter Pan Cafe also made by Thomson (in 1929). I thought the space shown in my print might have been an earlier incarnation of the Peter Pan at 1138 Granville Street.

VPL 8927 Interior of Peter Pan Cafe (1138 Granville St) 1929 Stuart Thomson Cafe

VPL 8927 Interior of Peter Pan Cafe (1138 Granville St). 1929. Stuart Thomson photo.

This image has some features in common with the space shown in my print, but there are a number of differences, too (not least, that the space in the print appears to be wider than in the Peter Pan). At the end of the day, however, I eliminated the Peter Pan space as a possible contender by the fact that there is no evidence that it was ever a restaurant prior to it becoming the Peter Pan.*

Researchers tend to be optimistic. I continue to hope that I or someone else will eventually find a matching photo and/or some other clinching piece of evidence as to the location of the Thomson print. Perhaps not this month or this year. But eventually.

If it turns out that you figure out the location of the image, I’d appreciate hearing from you!


*B.C. Electric and Vancouver Gas Co. appear to have been occupants of the space for several years prior to it becoming the Peter Pan Cafe.

**It is called Opening Doors: Vancouver’s East End. Part of the Sound Heritage series (Vol VIII, Nos. 1 & 2). n.d. (c1980).

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10 Responses to Unsolved Photo Mystery

  1. Fascinating post…And this sentence resonated: “Researchers tend to be optimistic.” 🙂

  2. Nancy (Haiines) Nelson says:

    What serendipity! I was scrounging around looking for something else and just happened to see ‘Mystery Photo’ — I didn’t recognize the first photo (your mystery) but the moment I scrolled onto the next photo I thought, OH! that looks like the Peter Pan!! I was born in 1935 at St. Paul’s — my father was a music teacher at 603 W. Hastings and knew the owner of the Peter Pan (I think HIS first name was Peter, right?) and several times before my Dad died in 1944 – we went there to eat — as I recall we use to eat upstairs? Thank you for providing a pleasurable memory for me! I haven’t lived in Canada since 1958 — but, sometimes like to dig around finding places in ‘old Vancouver’ that I remember as a child. I wish you fortune with your mystery photo.

    • mdm says:

      I’m pleased that you happened across my site! Yes, the owner of the Peter Pan Cafe was a nephew of Alexander Pantages (of Pantages Theatre fame), Peter Pantages. For more about Alexander and Peter see here:

      Thanks for commenting.

      • Nancy (Haines) Nelson says:

        How interesting — so Peter Pantages was the nephew of the original owner of the cafe. As a child, I just stood there — with all the grown up talking over my head – and never understood relationships or of what they were speaking. I was interested in the information on the Polar Bears Club — I do remember my father taking me to English Bay every year – and he would hoist me on his shoulders (because there were so many people there watching) being careful not to step backwards into the little shower wells outside the bath house. I appreciate the information. I recently discovered I could get pictures from somewhere in Vancouver on-line — and printed off copies of Holly Lodge, Blenheim Court and the Windermere Apartments in the West End — all important to the history of my family during the 30s to 50s. Now — if you could just remind me of the name of the ‘club’ on Davie just west of Granville — where my g-father would go to play ??poker, pinochle or canasta in the basement — I think there might have been a dance hall upstairs. I want to say ‘the Embassy — but haven’t run it down yet. Does that mean anything to you? It was a wonderful time in history – where a young girl could play outside her home alone, or walk downtown all over Vancouver to go to a movie in the evening — and back —without being accosted in any negative way. Anyway, thanks for exchanging words with me on this — alas, everyone else from that time is long gone — and at 80 1/2 — I’m just let with memories!!!

      • mdm says:

        I think the spot you’re remembering wasn just west of Burrard. The address of the Embassy ballroom was 1024 Davie. I don’t know what would be the name of the place where your father played cards. In the very early years, the Embassy was known as Lester Court. I wrote a post about Lester Court earlier this year. You can read that here, if interested:

        Where do you call home these days?

        Hope that helps!

  3. Ron Cutler says:

    As soon as I saw the picture, I recognized it as the basement area below the Peter Pan on Granville. They used to rent it out for catered parties in the earl 1960’s. I think it was owned by Peter Pantages.

    • mdm says:

      Really?! That would be good news. The trouble is that there are a number of cafes, restaurants, and lounges in Vancouver in the 1930s+ that are of a similar design to the image by Stuart Thomson.

  4. A place called “The Commodore Cafe” which stood where the Commodore Ballroom is today, and is, in fact, where the Commodore gets its name is perhaps one suspect. Descriptions of what that place used to be like are not unlike what is shown in this mystery photo–but information is so scant about that place, it might be impossible to say one way or the other.

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