Illustrated Vancouver Vol 11 – Rohan’s

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Rohan The Record Store, an advertisement illustrated by Rand Holmes
Rohan The Record Store, an advertisement illustrated by Rand Holmes

Rohan’s, the Record Store, an advert by Rand Holmes in the Georgia Straight, April 6, 1972. Rohan’s was located at 2865 West 4th Ave, Vancouver, a building which remarkably still exists today, now occupied by The House Gallery Boutique, which today specializes in some very fancy handmade gowns and dresses. But back in the 1970s, Rohan’s was a musical destination. By 1973 however, Rohan the Record Store had closed down, and in its place the musical venue Rohan’s Rockpile opened up just down the street at 2723 West 4th Avenue. BCBusinessOnline described the venue with the following caption recently: “In the 1970s, Fred Xavier’s club hosted eclectic hometown bands who performed for love instead of money. And then there was the night The Who came to play after an arena show.”

Why was Rohan’s such a destination? Perhaps these insights from Wikipedia can shed some light:

Because restrictive liquor laws forbade live music in ordinary bars, there was no long-standing popular music tradition of the kind associated with places with more liberal entertainment laws. During the 1960s when popular youth culture flourished (in spite of all restrictive laws), clubs such as the Retinal Circus on Davie Street in the West End and Rohan’s Rockpile in Kitsilano were the hubs of the hippie scene.

Some further reminiscing appears on the tribute page for Rohan’s Rockpile over at PNWBands.com. Here’s a few words from Roger Stopmerud:

Rohan’s was perhaps my favourite place for live music in Vancouver.  As far as I can remember, it was the very first local club that had it’s own sound system and lights. The place was tiny, no more than a storefront. Service was self-serve for the polite, and table service if you had patience to wait for your order.Fred Xavier ran the place. It was a favorite with local musicians, and Fred hired the most interesting of local scene. He also had acts from out of town/country.

I worked there as the sound man for my good friend Richard Stepp band Shakedown. After our first night Fred came up to me and said he
has never heard better sound there. But the praise was unneeded, as the clubs mixing board was exactly the same as ours. Easy…..

Local FM radio station CFRO (Co-Op Radio 102.7 broadcast a live hour or two every week there.

Some of the bands I remember seeing there include:

Alexis (Radlin) and her fantastic band of heavyweights
Rocket Norton Band
Bruce Miller Band
Foreman Young Band
Shakedown
Dave Paul & The Silver Dollar Band (featuring Lindsay Mitchell (Prism))
Danny Mac (MacInnis) and The Cement City Cowboys
Danny Tripper
…..and a whole bunch more……

Roger Stomperud, January 2008

I noticed on the same website that Gunnar Roger Stopmerud died on the 4th of July, 2008, so I’m glad he took a moment to preserve those fond memories!

A few more ads for Rohan’s, the Record Store appeared in the weeks after the advertisement above, including the ad below from the May 4th issue of the Georgia Straight. In true hippie fashion, the ad simply said: “Thank you”, and showed a caricature illustration of 3 employees of Rohan’s: Gordy, Thora, and Fred (Fred Xavier was the owner).

Rohan's advertisement, illustrated by Rand Holmes
Rohan’s advertisement, illustrated by Rand Holmes

I wasn’t certain how long the record store operated at 2865 West 4th Avenue so I checked the Criss Cross reverse directories from the era, and saw Rohan’s was listed in 1972, but it was not listed in 1971 or 1973. The 1972 directory also showed Mark Grady, The Inter-High Student Society, and The Oganookie Standard (an underground highschool newspaper) all had phone numbers at the same address. Once Rohan’s Rockpile had moved down the street, the house at 2865 had a host of tenants. Michael Kluckner recalls in 1974, it was used as the office of the West Broadway Citizens Committee, the most radical of the stop-development groups in Kitsilano which organized protests against high-rises, the loss of affordable housing, and the like. I’m told the storefront was also used as an orthopedic furniture store at some point, and by the mid-1980s, it had become The Heart and Soul Psychic Centre for a few years. It was in 1987 when the current tenant, the dressmaker The House Gallery Boutique moved in upstairs. Some 6 months later, she took over the ground floor, and she hasn’t looked back! Incidentally, she’s also the great granddaughter of legendary Vancouver photographer Philip Timms!

The fact that this modest storefront home at 2865 West 4th Avenue still stands today is fairly significant when you look at the encroaching development all around it. Be sure to take note of the building the next time you pass by 4th Ave West, and much like you should when you pass by the Smilin Buddha, pay your respects to Vancouver’s musical roots.