Vancouver History: Maxine’s

Comments 10 by Rebecca Bollwitt

Last summer Maxine’s Hideaway in the West End closed its doors to make room for a 21-storey apartment building that will be going in at Davie and Bidwell. While many recently knew it as a restaurant lounge (as Balthazar) or a cabaret, the small structure’s past has a big story to tell.

Maxine's Hideaway
Photo credit: Photocat62 on Flickr

Named after Madam Maxine McGillvary, the building on Bidwell was built in 1905 and soon after rumours of secret tunnels, rum running, a brothel and the gentlemen’s club tied together most of the West End.

Gabriola 1900s. Photographer: Philip Timms. VPL Accession Number: 7624

From Gabriola (the Rogers Mansion) at Nicola and Davie, down to Maxine’s on Bidwell, then over to English Bay. Buildings were rumoured to be linked by underground passageways, linking the men at Grabiola to the ladies at Maxine’s brothel just down the street. From Maxine’s, they could also access another tunnel that would get them their rum supply coming from ships in the bay during prohibition.1

I wrote a post a few years ago about the tunnels and haven’t found much evidence to support the rumour. It appears that the tunnel to English Bay was only closed up a few years ago, with its opening near the bath house and long underground stretch all the way up to Bidwell. Other ‘folklore’ about Maxine’s includes a tale about two FBI fugitives hiding out at the brothel only to have one caught by J Edgar Hoover himself2.

Maxine’s 1936. Photographer: Stuart Thomson. Vancouver Archives Item#: CVA 99-4477

Maxine’s 1936. Photographer: Stuart Thomson. Vancouver Archives Item#: CVA 99-4476

The building expanded in the 1930s and became home to a boarding house, beauty school, lounge and restaurant over the years. Those who knew the history of Maxine’s (and who simply didn’t want more tower expansion in the West End) even held a wake for the building this past summer. Geist Magazine also wrote a eulogy3:

“I told the people how sad it was that the city was going to destroy this place and that I was a tes­ta­ment to the draw these places have over peo­ple, and how nobody is ever going to move to Vancouver and look at that glass high­rise and say â “Boy, that place looks interest­ing. I bet there’s a lot of his­tory in that place.”

The passion that the West End Neighbours have for the preser­va­tion of heritage is admirable, but unfor­tu­nately their hope that the sto­ries and mem­o­ries and secrets that they feel are con­tained within the walls of 1215 Bidwell will be enough to save her is misdi­rected, because sadly these things are all gone, locked up in the hearts and minds of the peo­ple who expe­ri­enced them, and not behind the empty shell that still stands there wait­ing to be demolished.”

Alexandra taking over Maxine's in the West End
Photo credit: jmv on Flickr

It’s recognizable facade will be preserved by the new tower development and the mockups depict a glass tower with the yellow and red Mission Revival-style heritage structure at the front. While the North West corner of Davie and Bidwell is boarded up today, it will still be interesting to see how this all pans out. I can only imagine that Madam Maxine’s famed ghost will also be curious to see the outcome.

please leave quietly
Photo credit:sp_clarke on Flickr

1 Powerpoint presentation by West End Citizens
2 Powerpoint presentation by West End Citizens
3 Dan Post for Geist Magazine

10 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. gigglesThursday, January 13th, 2011 — 2:53pm PST

    I wonder if my deceased mother got her hairdressers license at Maxines Beauty school in 1941…Interesting history. Thanks for posting!

  2. SEO Company VancouverMonday, January 17th, 2011 — 5:53pm PST

    Was wondering if there is any of the secret tunnels left to explore? Thank you for ther artile very nice post!

  3. VictorSunday, May 1st, 2011 — 12:39pm PDT

    There have never been any tunnels from the Rogers House to Maxines.

  4. RetrophiliacTuesday, August 2nd, 2011 — 9:54am PDT

    The complete lack of respect for heritage sickens me. Again, these money hungry folk are just about the dense living situations and $$$. Sadness ensues.

  5. DCThursday, August 4th, 2011 — 10:25am PDT

    Thanks for the great post!! Very nice to inform the public of what this city is losing, it’s not just ‘an old building’.
    Too bad this city is being consumed with corporate greed 🙁

  6. Province Letters: Right to die, euthanasia, heritage Vancouver | The ProvinceTuesday, November 15th, 2011 — 10:16am PST

    […] latest example is the razing of Maxine’s, a 105-year-old heritage building on Bidwell Street. They left a single wall, propped up until […]

  7. John BlenkironTuesday, January 10th, 2012 — 12:37pm PST

    The demolition of Maxine’s in 2011 put the lie to the tunnel rumor. The foundations showed no signs of tunnel entrances to either the bathhouse direction nor “Gabriola” mansion on Davie Street The basement foundation of the now deserted Rogers Mansion also shows no signs of ever having a tunnel entrance.

    Regarding Maxine’s, I wonder where the brothel rumor ever sprang from.To my knowledge it does not appear to have its origin in local newspaper accounts. Is there a diary source?

  8. Vancouver and Housing AffordabilityMonday, July 9th, 2012 — 3:34pm PDT

    […]  Many residents are concerned about the rezoning, but are also upset about the demolition of Maxine’s (a heritage building), although the development preserves a façade on one side.   The average rental unit size is […]

  9. LisaMonday, September 3rd, 2012 — 10:00pm PDT

    I heard there was a ghost of the Madam in Maxine’s. I wonder if the new apartments will inherit her.

  10. Cabaret TorlageFriday, January 18th, 2013 — 5:19pm PST

    Hello! The Cabaret shows that were the essence of Maxine’s Hideaway are up and running again! Hope you can join us for Supper Club Sundays, every Sunday evening at the Legendary Penthouse Nightclub on Seymour Street at Nelson. We will also be entertaining the Forbidden Walking Tour crowd on Thursday, January 24th if you plan on attending that historic tour. We also have a fabulous Valentine’s Dinner Show all lined up for Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 7PM at the Penthouse. Buy your show tickets online. Life is a cabaret old chum, come to the cabaret!

    Thank you,

    Cabaret Torlage

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