Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

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Local model train shop Central Hobbies for sale as owner retires

Go-to destination for train enthusiasts from all over B.C. and beyond


Kathy and Hal at Central Hobbies are looking forward to retirement. Photo by Paul Reid
Kathy and Hal at Central Hobbies are looking forward to retirement. Photo by Paul Reid

“Every train has a caboose,” quipped a customer, in reference to Hal’s upcoming retirement.

“Now that’s something I’ll miss,” says Hal to me, ”all the little fun remarks just like that.”

Yes, the caboose is here for Central Hobbies (located at 2825 Grandview Highway and Renfrew). Hal will surely miss his long-time customers, and they, him. For the past 35 years, Hal and his Central Hobbies have been the go-to destination for train enthusiasts from all over British Columbia and beyond.

You see, Central Hobbies is like a mecca for train-heads. Take Calvin, who alerted us to the store’s closing in his online post:

“I managed to find some downtime to make the pilgrimage into Vancouver to visit Central Hobbies, which is slated to close in June 2023.

“Where I live, there isn’t a model train-focused hobby shop, so you can imagine dropping me into the midst of a store the size of Central Hobbies would be much like shooting me into space. I spent over two hours browsing the store … I even had to step outside one time to collect myself – the selection was just THAT wild! I felt like a kid again.”

Every now and then a celebrity
comes to Central Hobbies - Kathy and Rod Stewart. August 2014 Central Hobbies News
Every now and then a celebrity
comes to the store – Kathy and Rod Stewart. August 2014 Central Hobbies News

So I met with Hal and yes, it’s true. “Body says it’s time,” he tells me. So, this spring, Hal and his gang (Kathy and Bill) will be preparing to wrap things up. For Hal, the owner, this means he has put Central Hobbies up for sale. Know anybody? How about that gent talking to Kathy in this photo here? He might have some cash.

Kathy has been with Hal at Central Hobbies for about 25 years. “When she started, she knew nothing. Now, she runs the store.” Hal and Kathy definitely will retire whether the store sells or not. Bill, well, I hear Hal might throw him in with the deal.

The price? That too you can iron out with Hal, but you might be looking at somewhere around a million dollars, as that is about the value of the current stock. The buyer would also receive the excellent reputation and connections that Hal and the gang have been building all these years.

And the return on investment. Fugget about it. I’ll leave that to you and Hal to discuss, but with sales booming more than ever right across North America, it sounds like the new owner will stand to pull in a fairly pretty penny.

Hal had always loved trains – ever since he was a young boy. So, later on in his life, when the opportunity to buy Gary’s Train Centre (on Broadway) presented itself, Hal jumped at the chance. Actually, he was hesitant at first, but with the encouragement of a friend, Hal went all aboard, bought Gary’s, and soon, Central Hobbies was to be born here in Renfrew-Collingwood.

So that’s the latest news from Central Hobbies. Hal, Kathy, Bill – wishing you all the best! To our readers, keep your ear to the track when it comes to a new owner.

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Solving a 90-year-old family mystery


Nellie Grandpa's First Wife Feb 1919

Nellie Williams: mystery woman, 1919. Photo courtesy of Loretta Houben

Growing up I would sometimes hear stories about Nellie, my Grandpa John Williams’ first wife. She had died in 1926 out on the barren Saskatchewan prairies of a broken heart.

An old photo of Nellie taken in 1919 intrigued me. She was young and pretty wearing a large Edwardian style hat, but looked quite sad and mysterious. What was her real name and her maiden name? Where had she come from? How did my grandpa meet her?

I love genealogy, the study of family history. For years these questions had perplexed me, and after solving other family mysteries recently I felt it was time to discover more about Nellie. On the 1921 Canadian census I discovered her real name was Ellen (see the February 2014 RCC News article “1921 Canadian Census Tips”). I searched for a few years for her surname but the fee from Saskatchewan Vital Statistics was too pricey for me to track down her marriage certificate.

However, taking my own advice, I joined the Saskatchewan Genealogy Network on Facebook, and began asking questions about family research in Naicam, Saskatchewan, the place where Nellie had died.

I was advised to join the Naicam Homecoming group. The very day that I asked for help regarding Nellie and her maiden name and how to search further for her marriage certificate, a researcher at the Naicam Museum Facebook messaged me her death certificate! I had never thought to look for a maiden name on that type of certificate, but there it was; her father’s name, Edward Egerton!

Also included was Nellie’s date of birth and birth country, her length of residence in Canada, her address, her husband’s signature, her date of death and her cause of death; croupous pneumonia due to low vitality; in other words, a broken heart. This was because her young son, Edward, had died in 1925.

Now I had facts to help me in my search for further clues to Nellie’s past life, and I quickly found the dates of her voyage to Canada on the ship’s passenger lists online, but this presented another mystery, as she had lived in Toronto for four years, returned home to Wales for a time, then took another sea voyage in 1918 with the destination of Three Hills Alberta, where my grandpa was residing. No one would go to such a tiny town without a purpose, so I believe she was headed there to marry John.

Did they meet back in Wales and keep up a correspondence since 1910, when John had immigrated to Canada? It’s just another mystery to solve. Now on to the next one, and have fun with yours!

Loretta Houben is a long-time resident of the Collingwood area and enjoys poking around on Facebook in her spare time, always on the lookout for new family clues.

Copyright (c) 2016 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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Coming full circle at Nootka Elementary – Celebrate school’s 50th Golden Anniversary, Saturday, May 3, 10:00-3:00, 3375 Nootka St. & Renfrew


Lord Beaconsfield Annex before it expanded and became Nootka Elementary

Lord Beaconsfield Annex before it expanded and became Nootka Elementary. Photos courtesy of Susan Wong

The Nootka Rose, a rare native plant, can be found at Renfrew-Collingwood’s Still Creek just a few steps from the busy bustling sounds of Grandview Highway. A few blocks south you will also find another treasure in our community, Nootka Elementary.

This year Nootka will celebrate its 50th golden anniversary. Nootka is a small but vibrant school located on Renfrew and 17th Avenue, just north of the soft trees and tranquil ravine of the Renfrew Park Community Centre. Originally known as Lord Beaconsfield Annex in 1959, the school expanded and became Nootka Elementary a few years later.

Today the school is comprised of almost 500 students. Nootka is unique in that it holds three programs in one school: Thrive for students with special needs, the classic and the fine arts, programs that have attracted many families in the immediate area and from all corners of the city.

Student from first graduation class gives back
With more than 50 years of history, Nootka’s evolution has truly come full circle. Former student Randy Schisler was one of the original students of the first grade 7 graduation class in 1966. Randy is not only a Nootka alumni but also currently a dedicated volunteer for the school’s One to One literacy program! Most Wednesday and Thursday mornings you will find Randy in the school’s library reading books with the students.

Glenn Dennis and Randy Schisler

Glenn Dennis and Randy Schisler, two students from the first graduating class of 1966, remember the good ol’ days at Nootka Elementary. Above them is the war canoe carved by Mr. Krisky.

Randy, currently retired, picked Nootka as his first choice to spend his invaluable volunteer hours. How lucky for those at Nootka to have such a wonderful and caring volunteer and with such a real connection to Nootka’s history and the Renfrew-Collingwood community where he grew up.

As Randy takes a stroll down the halls of his childhood school, he arrives at the entrance of the teachers’ staff room which was the original part of Lord Beaconsfield Annex. He looks at the staffroom door and chuckles, “You see this room, I will never go in, even now. It’s totally off limits and I don’t care how old I am!”

Lord Beaconsfield Annex originally only taught grades 1 to 3. The school only consisted of the east-facing side of the school that runs along Nootka. The north wing wasn’t added until 1963/64, which is when it became Nootka Elementary. During the years while the addition was being built, students had to temporarily branch off to other schools in the area such as Lord Beaconsfield, Renfrew and Graham Bruce. Not until approximately 1999 was the south wing finally completed.

One of the first graduating classes at Nootka, 1966. Second row from the bottom, fourth student from the left is Glenn Dennis.

One of the first graduating classes at Nootka, 1966. Second row from the bottom, fourth student from the left is Glenn Dennis.

School to new generations
And speaking of coming full circle, Glenn Dennis, also a former classmate of Randy’s, is now residing in Renfrew-Collingwood where his daughter Jessica is also student at Nootka! Like Randy, Glenn is a student from the graduating class of 1966. Glenn sentimentally points out how his first classroom was also the same room Jessica began her journey at Nootka. It is the furthest classroom at the south end of the hallway just down from the office.

Although a relatively “young” school Nootka is rich in history and culture. A visually enticing mural welcomes you as you approach the school’s front entrance. The multi-coloured mural was a collaboration of the Nootka’s Fine Arts students with Langara College.

Inside, located to the right of the main entrance are the original display cases, which proudly showcase many of the students’ wonderful creations. Above the display cases you will find the Nootka War Canoe originally hand carved in 1966 by Mr. Krisky, a parent of one of the students graduating in 1966. The graduating class presented it at the graduation ceremony as a gift to the school and to honour the area’s native heritage.

Grade 1 class, 1959. Front row centre is Randy Schisler.

Grade 1 class, 1959. Front row centre is Randy Schisler.

As Randy and Glenn go over the many old school photos of fellow classmates and adored teachers, a rush of memories come back and for a second it really felt like it was just yesterday. Nostalgia was high as names, dates and events are reminisced and maybe even missed. And as life should have it, there were probably ups and downs but it seems like only the good memories resonated in the two gentlemen minds. All in all, sounds like they had lots of fun.

And just like the good ol’ days, there’s always something fun and interesting happening at Nootka. The school’s events are beautifully coordinated and planned. Parents, teachers, students and even secondary school volunteers all collaborate together to ensure a wonderful and successful experience for all.

Last year Nootka held their first Earth Day, where the all the students spent a full day in workshops and activities learning about sustainability and Mother Earth. In the fall and winter, the Fine Arts students display their wonderful creations at the Children’s Art Exhibition held at the Vandusen Botanical Garden. And to welcome the Lunar New Year a Lion Dance Celebration is held annually to wish Nootka a happy and healthy new year!

So as the students, teachers, parent advisory committee and families of Nootka Elementary roll up their sleeves again to plan and carry out their Spring Carnival, we invite you, your friends and family members to come join us Saturday, May 3, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm at our beloved school, 3375 Nootka Street near Renfrew Street. Come celebrate and commemorate our 50th Golden Anniversary together. It will no doubt be fun, eventful, lively, creative, rich in history and all about community.

Copyright (c) 2014 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News