Development pressures and soaring city taxes forces iconic auto repair shop’s move out of Vancouver

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Chief Tremblay took over the Ever-Ready Garage and Service Garage at 4th and MacDonald in 1934 which became a west-side Vancouver institution. Handout, Driving

The Tremblay family servicing cars in Vancouver dates back 90 years. Alfred Tremblay, known as ‘Chief’, and his brother Alex opened their first auto repair service garage on downtown Keefer Street in 1928.

The brothers were successful and started Alex’s Service at 20th and Main in 1933. The following year Alfred, the Chief, moved into the Ever-Ready Garage and Service Company which became Tremblay & Sons Ltd. at 4th and MacDonald in the city’s Kitsilano area.

In the early days, the Tremblays sold new Austin A40 cars and later became a Standard oil service station which earned them the distinction of running the oldest Standard-Chevron station in Canada.

Chief ran the repair shop with his four sons until his youngest son Fred branched out to operate his own Chevron station at 16th and MacDonald. A decade later, one of the Chief’s grandsons, Sam Tremblay, moved Tremblay Motors to Vancouver’s False Creek area where it continues to operate.

Brothers Steve and Ron Tremblay with Ron’s sons Kevin and Jeff who have operated The Garage at 20th and MacDonald St. on Vancouver’s west side for 35 years. Alyn Edwards, Driving

Brothers Steve and Ron Tremblay with Ron’s sons Kevin and Jeff who have operated The Garage at 20th and MacDonald St. on Vancouver’s west side for 35 years. Alyn Edwards, Driving

Today, there are two iconic Vancouver car repair shops operated by grandsons of the Chief: Tremblay Motors at the entrance to Granville Island by Sam and son Brad and The Garage at 4066 MacDonald Street started by Fred, now passed on to his son Ron who runs the shop with sons Jeff, Graeme and Kevin. The Garage has been a west side Vancouver institution since 1983.

Fred Tremblay was one of Vancouver’s true characters. He spent his days making deals and ordering parts with a telephone receiver in each ear. His son Ron recalls that they used to spread the used motor oil from the week in the laneway behind the shop. “The neighbors loved us for that. After all, the City of Vancouver did the same thing to keep dust down,” he says.

“We had what we called the Back Forty with dozens of cars waiting for repair,” Ron Tremblay recalls from his earliest days working with his father in the business. “One of the mechanics would go from car to car determining what was wrong and the parts needed. When the parts came in, a mechanic would dig the car out from behind others and do the repairs. Cars were a lot simpler back then.”

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He says the auto repair business of his father’s time fostered strong relationships. The man who would become his brother-in-law was driven by The Garage by his parents as an infant on the way home from Vancouver General Hospital. They wanted to introduce their new baby to Fred and his staff.

Fred taught sons Steve and Ron to put customers first and, in the early days, they honored patrons heading home Christmas Eve by serving shots of whiskey at the pumps. Gas jockeys stashed their lit cigarettes on top of the pumps while they gassed up vehicles. It was a much different time.

Fred Tremblay waves from his 1914 Model T Ford which he mounted on the roof to advertise the opening of The Garage on Vancouver’s west side. Handout, Driving

Fred Tremblay waves from his 1914 Model T Ford which he mounted on the roof to advertise the opening of The Garage on Vancouver’s west side.
Handout, Driving

When Fred Tremblay first opened The Garage in 1984, to draw attention to the new location of The Garage at 24th and MacDonald, he had his red 1914 Ford Model T roadster mounted on the roof. The old Model T, which he had discovered in a private Vancouver garage, spent two years high on the roof before he brought it down in 1986, got it running again and put it back on the road as a hobby car.

Set to retire in 1995, Fred redeveloped the service station at 4066 McDonald Street by expanding it from two to six repair bays.

The old location at 16th and MacDonald was closed on a Friday and merged with The Garage to re-open on the Monday. “The move was done by 100 volunteers over a weekend,” says his son Ron who now operates the business. “There was a lineup of pickup trucks and trailers going back and forth all weekend. It had been an amazing five months while we operated both businesses a few blocks apart on MacDonald Street

Thirty-five years has passed with The Garage serving loyal customers, some who have dealt with the Tremblays all their adult lives. With land values and city taxes soaring, it’s moving time again. But this move will see Ron Tremblay and his sons leaving Vancouver.20180111072141887_0007

The Garage is relocating to Burnaby. The Tremblays hope to take many of the customers with them. They have come up with a unique plan for a shuttle service to move the cars they service and their owners back and forth between Kerrisdale and Burnaby.

Proprietor Ron Tremblay also serves as board chairman of the 1,000-member Automotive Retailers Association. In this role, he’s deeply concerned about the future of the aftermarket industry engaged in repair, recycling and recovery services.

“Repair shops in Vancouver have seen their property taxes triple in the past few years along with other costs,” he says. “There is so much financial pressure that many traditional automotive businesses are closing up or moving out of Vancouver.”

At the same time, vehicles have become much more complex requiring even more significant costs to repair. The investment in tools, training and educating technicians combined with pressure from staggering real estate costs, soaring taxes, rent and overhead is unprecedented.tremblay-010

This, at a time when career opportunities in the automotive industry are massive with the anticipated retirement of more than 40 per cent of those currently involved in the industry over the next five to eight years.

Ron Tremblay and brother Steve carry on the family’s love affair with the automobile with Ron keeping their father’s 1914 Ford Model T roadster on the road and Steve driving his modified 1976 Chevrolet El Camino while the Tremblay Garage continues operation in Vancouver’s False Creek area and The Garage is putting Vancouver in the rear-view mirror for a new location in Burnaby. For more information go to thegarage.ca

Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. aedwards@peakco.com