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Tomahawk Memories

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by Sandra Scott

Kla-how-ya! I grew up in the fifties and spent the first five years of my life in North Vancouver. My Dad, Ed, did some work for Chick in those early years, installing floor tile, and remembers securing the old chrome stools to the flooring. Dad just passed away this month at the age of 81. Though we had relocated back to Edmonton, during Dad's lifetime the Tomahawk was a favorite family spot on numerous trips to Vancouver. One of his prized possessions was a wooden Tomahawk menu. He knew we'd have a hard time deciding which of the five children should inherit this priceless piece of family memorabilia and so directed it should go back to the restaurant. His wishes! Please contact me to arrange this.

by Kathy Manns

Oh the memories! Back in the day it was a real treat to be taken to the Tomahawk for breakfast. As a child I remember walking in there and just being in total awe of the surroundings, artifacts etc. A stroll down memory lane certainly does the heart good.

by Val Wolf & Rick Ashbee

I have memories of growing up in the capilano area and my parents would take us for breakfast, some of the best times of my life! I am now turning 50 this year and have a best friend that still shares an experience with her family as well. The best thing was a wishing well and the chief hats with the menu on them. I hope it comes back. Also, Rick who lives on pender island, came to visit, and chuck gave him some freshly ground cooffee beans to take back, what a nice guy.

by Jay

Brian Adams dipped in the mayo vat!!!! Bruce Allen was not impressed with Chuck's story. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!

by Ron Kelly

I remember going to the old Tomahawk Barbeque, before it burned down, with my Mother. My favorite burger was the Chief Mathias Joe, I think, which was mostly BBQ chicken. Later in life our favorite breakfast was the Yukon Breakfast , which was HUGE. I also remember a girl, Jennifer Darby, who, on a bet, ate a second Capilano Grill after polishing off the first one. They were even bigger than the Yukon Breakfast and I think were meant to serve two people. She wieghed about 110 pounds at the time.

by Lance Bishop

When I was a kid growing up in Princeton, my dad spent a few years working out of Vancouver for a trucking company. We would go to the coast on weekends to see him & it was always a guarantee that we would get to go out for dinner at a real nice place as a family. My mom would always vote for The Salmon House but dad, my brother & I would always outvote her & end up at the Tomahawk. I still remember the first time I had a Skookum burger. I thought my dad was playing a joke on me with the waitress. I am now a dad myself & cant wait to take my son to the restaurant & have his first Skookum burger. That is if my wife doesnt outvote me. Thanks for the great memories & see you next time we are in Vancouver. Lance, Cyndy & Jesse.

by Peter Speck

We moved to Norgate Park in 1950, and that's when I first visited the Tomahawk Barbecue. A little background: I was a skinny eleven-year old, frightened of the new neighbourhood, and not without reason. On the east of Norgate Park were about 750 'wartime houses', which were specifically built for the shipbuilders that had moved to B.C. to work in their trades at the booming shipworks such as Burrard Drydock and the related suppliers. Kids from here were tough: the war had been over for some time, the work was drying up, many new families had fallen apart and there were lots if what we now call 'social problems'. In those days, from a kids point of view, it meant drinking, gang wars, theft and bullying. Hot rods were status symbols, and the 'in' dress of the day for teenage males was pants which if memory serves were called 'drapes' or 'chinos', which had a narrow ankles, ballooning knees and double-buttoned flies with a great many buttons. If I saw someone wearing a pair of those and a wallet on a chain I got out of the way.

On the west of Norgate Park was (and is) the Indian Reserve. Only recently, when I read Chief Simon Baker's autobiography 'Khot-La-Cha', did I realize that his children – I remember Kenny, Peter and Pauline – were the first Indian children to attend B.C. public schools, at Simon's insistence (he paid their fees). Despite the familiarity that attending Capilano School created between us, there was a gulf between the Reserve and Norgate Park that was just as menacing as that between the housing development and the Wartime Houses. It was an equally scary place to me. Right in the middle was the Tomahawk Barbecue. On Marine Drive in those days, it nestled under tall broad-leaved trees where the Norgate Shopping Centre is now, only a few feet away from its present location on Phillip Avenue, just south of the Mercedes-Benz dealership. It was quite a place. I remember that it had a front and a back section, with those red round bar stools with a chrome band around the seats, and I remember that Chick Chamberlain, father of the present owner, presided over the restaurant with great patrician dignity. It had, as a modern concession, a drive-in section. The White Spot had recently opened at Park Royal, and cars were where it was at.

But what I remembered most of all was the stunningly enormous collection of Indian artifacts that Chick had collected over his years and years in the same location. It was truly the most impressive thing an eleven-year old could imagine. There were totems by the hundred, baskets by the dozen, spears, bows and arrows, stone implements, decorated paddles, and mask after mask after mask: hundreds and hundreds of items, hanging from the rafters and piled high on the shelves. There was the odd incongruous item: I remember an elephant gun, I think a muzzle loader, that seemed to be eight feet long.

It's only in recent years that I came to realize how far-sighted Mr. Chamberlain was to have realized the unique cultural values of the things he collected, and the originality and pride, he put into displaying them. It was a very 'odd' and wonderful thing to do in those days, when the 'culture' of the 1950's was about anything else than 'old' – it was about new cars, television, washing machines, and refrigerators. He had the courage to display his convictions, and his descendents continue that honorable and dignified tradition in the Tomahawk restaurant of today.

Mr. Chamberlain, I found out years later, earned over many years a reputation with the Band members as an honest, fair and kind buyer of Indian handicrafts and art. He could be relied upon in times of need, he advanced money on many occasions, and he always kept his word. I remember him as somewhat stern (hey, I was just a kid) but it just occurred to me that even when I was a child he knew my name, and used it. I thought nothing of it at the time, but I think a lot of it now.

Peter Speck is the former owner and publisher of the North Shore News.

by Murray Dykeman

I have fond memories of working with Chick and Jessie during the summer of 1952 when they decided car service was needed to compete with newly arrived White Spot. We car hopped from 9pm to 1am Fri, Sat and Sundays. Great people, great fun and great food then, as now, the Chamberlain family are winners. Very few, if any, food outlets have existed 75 years on their reputation of good food and service - No gimmicks, no alcohol. Who else could have done this?

I was going to UBC and working at Isaacs Pharmacy at the time, but I worked at the Tomahawk to earn money for a diamond ring in those "Good old Days".

Murray Dykeman is the former Mayor of North Vancouver

by Mrs. Jessie Stephens

"After all those years, I can still smell the hamburger patties cooking", says Mrs. Jessie Stephens. Jessie was married to Tomahawk owner Chick Chamberlain for 35 years.

She first met Chick when she was a customer and he was doing almost all of his own cooking at the Tomahawk's second location, when it used to operate where Burger King is located now. The first Tomahawk opened its doors in 1926 at Heywood Park.

After a year of dating Jessie married Chick, that was back in 1944 and without taking a breath she started spending every waking hour completely concerned with their business.

Jessie became known as the Tomahawk pie baker. She made everything from apple to lemon meringue and each piece sold for a nickel. Only using the freshest ingredients, the customers bought every piece of every pie and then some.

"Chick was very particular about shopping for all his own ingredients. He drove to a Lynn Valley farm to purchase fresh eggs and he had a favourite produce store where he hand picked every tomato and piece of lettuce," remembers Jessie.

Not long after they were married their landlady, Mrs. Wilkins told them they would have to find a new location. The original deal was to allow the restaurant to rent her property until Mrs. Wilkins died, but it seems the owners of IGA offered Mr. Wilkins more money that he could possible imagine and he convinced his wife to sell.

For close to a year the Chamberlain's lived on the groceries they took from the kitchen of the restaurant and hoped for the best. "It was such a terrible time, we had no money, we just bought a new house and we had lost the restaurant," said Jessie.

The building where the Tomahawk sits now, used to be a church and the elders offered to sell it to Chick. Chick went across the street to see his buddy the bank manager (also a Tomahawk regular) and he went out on a limb and loaned him the money.

When Chick's customers found out that the Tomahawk was going to open again they offered their skills, free of charge. The carpenters, plumbers and electrician all worked for nothing just to get the old place open again.

After a couple of months the Tomahawk as we know it, opened its doors and to Jessie's amazement 50 customers were either standing in line or waiting in their cars at 8:00 in the morning.

"Within a year we paid back every penny of that loan, and to this day The Tomahawk is still cooking," remembers Jessie, the pie baker.

by Diljeet Dimock (Teja)

II worked as a waitress at the old Tomahawk Barbecue when it was close to Marine Drive. (Where Burger King is now) That was back in the late 40's early 50's. My sister Gormeet worked there too. We were paid 50 cents an hour in those days, that was minimum wage. I remember sometimes at night when Chick would go home for a nap, his wife Jessie would turn down the lights so no one could see in, put a slug in the juke box and teach my sister and I how to dance. Someone was always on the look out for a car approaching. There were only a couple of cars at night on Marine Drive in those days. After being alerted of an approaching customer we'd turn down the music, turn up the lights and it was business as usual. We never got caught having a dance lesson. Jessie also played cupid, she would let me know when that "special" customer came into the restaurant and I'd walk over looking all innocent. I married my customer Al and we've been together for 47 years. I remember those days with such fondness.

by Jack Loucks

Although I started teaching in North Vancouver in 1947, I didn't become acquainted with the Tomahawk Barbecue until 1950 when my wife and I built a home in North Vancouver. We hadn't been in our new home very long when we heard about this fabulous place where the food was great, the price was right and the service was hard to beat – the Tomahawk Barbecue.

Over many years my wife and I, and our children, enjoyed many meals at the Tomahawk. Besides the great food and good service, we also enjoyed the wonderful collection of Indian carvings and artifacts that Chick Chamberlain, the original owner, had collected over many years. It was always a special delight when we felt we recognized a new addition to Chick's collection.

Congratulations to the family of Chick Chamberlain for providing great food and friendly service to their many customers for 75 years.

Jack Loucks is the former Mayor of the City of North Vancouver.

by Terry B. Mulligan

In 1953, I had to have that "certain" car, so I took a second job as a car hop for Chick Chamberlain at the Tomahawk Barbecue. My hours were Sunday, 8:00 pm to 12 midnight, Mondays & Wednesdays, 9:00 pm to 1:00 am at $1.00 an hour.

The Tomahawk was located on a dirt and gravel lot on the south west corner of Marine Drive and Phillip Ave. It consisted of two rooms and an attached ivy-covered shed. The front had a counter with about a dozen fixed swivel back stools which faced a wood-burning fireplace at counter height. The centre stools were warm but it sure became colder as you moved to the outside stools. It was dark and the walls around the fireplace held all Chick's native carvings, etc. This front area was for the tourists.

The back room, nice and bright, had a counter with about six or eight stools facing a large sawdust-burning stove where Chick performed his magic beating the hamburger flipper in time to the juke box. This was for the regulars, like "old Dunc" who turned up every night after shift in his smelly old bone-dry covered in sawdust, riding his old bike with the large steel carrier.

The car hop spent most of his time in the attached shed (dripping when raining) making milkshakes, setting up trays and keeping the wood box and sawdust pails full. The drive-in area was poorly lighted and when you approached a car, you shuffled your feet on the gravel as many were with someone they shouldn't have been with or were "smooching". Tips were not a standard and once in a while you were handed a beer.

Chick used to have people take him up on his offer, "Eat Five Dagwood Hamburgers ($0.50 each) and the sixth one was free. He provided free bottles of Orange Crush to all the challengers and of course they became full on the pop. His wife, Jessie, a wonderful woman, made all those famous Tomahawk pies.

At the end of the evening, while we all cooked our own hamburgers, Chick would regale us with tales such as keeping a pot of pea soup all during the Depression, 5 cents a bowl or free, about lots for sale in Capilano for $200-300. (He had the city and/or district notices) and a large street plan for the future. It indicated the present Marine Drive as a one-way street, east to west. The second drive, west to east, was to be located to the south, right where the new Tomahawk Barbecue exists today.

Several years later, the likes of Murray Dykeman, Gordon Soderstrom, Bill Dench and myself became "regulars". I spotted a new female one day, ask the waitress, Gurmie Teja, to find out her name and telephone number. Joyce and I were married in 1955.