First Posted: February 2016
There was a nightclub on Seymour Street in the 1930s popularly known by those who went there as “Nigger Jean’s”. The proprietress (a black lady, originally from Texas) was known locally as Jean or Jeannie Fuller (ca1897 – ?); her full formal name, however, was Imogene. Ivan Ackery, in his memoirs, Fifty Years on Theatre Row (1980), had this to say about Jean’s club:
Jeannie’s place was full of well-known people. It was THE place to go and all the well-to-do met there. A lot of them used to get drunk and stay overnight. When you’d go in she’d whisper, “Don’t make too much noise now… I’ve got General So-and-So or Governor So-and-So asleep upstairs.” Jeannie sang the blues in the club and she used to bring in black entertainers – girls whom she’d find work for in various clubs around town. (Ackery, 120)
I’ve tracked down the location of the club (and Jean’s home). It was at 1124 Seymour Street (from 1933-40, in the name of Miss J. Fuller; and from 1941-50 in the name of Don Flynn). It was located south of Helmcken, near the apartment block known today as Brookland Court (what was known in Jean Fuller’s day as Hollywood Apartments). Today, the location of Jean’s home/club is near the northern end of Emery Barnes Park.
Jean married Don Flynn (1900-1948) in 1940, although they were probably a couple for years before that. The two seem to have been a mixed race couple.
Don was born in Mountain Station, ON and lived for some of his early years in Calgary. He tried to enlist in the Canadian armed forces in 1916, but was quickly discharged for lying about his age (he claimed he was born in 1897). He identified his occupation as early as age 16 as “musician”; he played piano. It isn’t clear to me what Don was doing between 1916 and
1922, but he was in Vancouver by 1922. An ad in an issue of the Vancouver Daily World indicates that Don was playing that year (along with “Don Flynn’s Novelty Orchestra”) at the Patricia Dansant – a dancing joint attached to the Patricia Hotel in East Vancouver. The 1927 Vancouver Directory indicates Don spent at least part of that year as a musician playing for the Empress Theatre. But there is no mention of Don in directories again until 1935, when it was noted that he was playing for the Commodore Cabaret. In the late 1940s, I gather he was playing piano for the CPR Orchestra (this was the reported occupation on his death certificate).
Don died very early and tragically in November 1948. His death certificate indicates he died by “misadventure”; the principal cause of death was poisoning by methyl alcohol. He was buried in Mountain View Cemetery.
It hasn’t been possible, so far, to locate a photo of Jean Fuller. The cropped image shown below, however, may be of Don Flynn playing piano with the Commodore Cabaret Orchestra.
Jean gave up her club at some point (when that was, isn’t clear). According to Ackery, she ended her career in Vancouver as “Aunt Jemima” at the PNE and, finally, as a women’s room attendant at a local cabaret. He noted that she returned to “her home” in the States (to Texas, presumably) where she later died. (Ackery, 120).