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Tomahawk History

The Tomahawk story is the life of Chick Chamberlain, its founder and owner since it opened in 1926. Even before 1926, Chamberlain was in the restaurant business on the north shore. It all started in the early 1920s

when Chick and his brother opened a small coffee shop in cabins-to-rent operation in what is now Heywood Park in North Vancouver.

Next came Chamberlain’s own restaurant on Marine Drive where the Norgate Shopping Centre is now located. This was the original Tomahawk Barbecue, opened in 1926. It was Vancouver’s first drive in restaurant. Cars would drive up to the front, Chick would come out to get the order, go back in the restaurant to cook it, then deliver it to the car.

"He admitted that it didn’t really work out to well because it was dusty in those days as most of the roads and parking spots in the area were not paved."

But the drive-in aspect of the restaurant wasn’t the main business anyways. Business inside was pretty good, considering the great depression had arrived in the late 1920’s. Chick was usually busy keeping the customers in his 14 stools happy. The original 14 stools have been recovered since those days, and are now at the counter in the present location. The stools were arranged in horseshoe fashion, and the grill was in the middle. Customers could see exactly what Chick was doing, and there was always lots of conversation. Before the days of the Lions Gate Bridge, the Tomahawk was the place everybody met on the North Shore. If there was a school dance you could find a bunch of kids there when the dance was over.

Chick admitted, quite frankly, that he really didn’t know how to cook in the beginning. But he learned. He grew his own mushrooms, made his own pickles, his own syrup for milkshakes, and raised his own chickens. And get these prices! A barbecued beef sandwich, 10 cents, and barbecued chicken sandwich, 10 cents. What a deal!

The Tradition Continues

Welcome to our house. The Tomahawk Restaurant, established in 1926, has endured and succeeded in preserving its fine quality and family dining. Mostly in part due to Chuck Chamberlain and his staff. 6:30am you will find Mr. Chamberlain making the first pot of Tomahawk special brand coffee and setting up the outdoor patio adorning the entrance with its beautifully carved Totem Poles. Next thing you know, the grill will have a mass of sizzling Yukon style bacon sending a delicious aroma throughout the kitchen. Behind the scenes of the kitchen is the undeniable detail to quality and authentic down-home cooking. Whether it be preparing soups made from the Tomahawk’s own recipes, or making his own dressings for salads, Chuck Chamberlain can, no doubt, take great pride in his achievements of maintaining a standard that no other establishment can even come close to.

"The Tomahawk signature pies, made from recipes that mom would be proud of, have a flavour and texture that has endured in order that they remain yours to savour."

The preparation of each item is amazing. Roasting whole turkeys in the oven for sandwiches, slicing fresh whole mushrooms, cutting loaves of bread into cubes to make croutons for salads, mincing certified organic groud beef, for his Tomahawk hamburgers, straining large vats to make cheese sauce, or perhaps creating a new dish, freshness, quality and authenticity remain a constant.

The addition of new items on the menu has further enhanced Mr. Chamberlain’s culinary art of bringing to you the Tomahawk Tradition. A tradition that Chuck Chamberlain and his staff can take great pleasure and pride in.

Main Attractions

One of the main attractions at the Tomahawk Barbecue is the outstanding collection of North Shore and West Coast Indian artifacts. The original Tomahawk owner, Chick Chamberlain, began collecting interesting hand-crafted artifacts from the Indians themselves about 80 years ago, when most people thought they were worthless. Now they are indeed of great historical value.

During the Great Depression when many families, white and non-white, had little money, Chick often exchanged the curios for food or at the nominal amount. Included in the collection were hand made pots, drums, cooking utensils, large and small totem poles, masks and other beautifully carved objects.

Tomahawk’s famous hamburgers are named after some of the Indian chiefs Chick had known over the years, a sort of memorial to his friends: Skookum Chief, Chief Capilano, Chief Raven, Chief Dominic Charlie, Chief August Jack.

This Tlinit Tribal Totem, also known as the Frog Woman Totem, depicts the legend of the creation of the Salmon.

"One version tells how the Raven, a supernatural being, became lost in a dense fog while fishing. Suddenly, a beautiful woman appeared, and, taking Raven’s spruceroot hat, caused the fog to disappear into it. Enchanted by her beauty and mystic power, Raven married her."

One day, when Raven was away, Salmon Woman told a slave to get some water in Raven’s hat and when he did so he was astonished to see a bright fish swimming in it. This was the first salmon.

Raven was eager to learn how Salmon Woman had done this. She told him to build a large smokehouse, wait four days and then look for Salmon. The Raven did so and, true enough, on the fourth day, the waters teemed with fish. Smoking and storing the Salmon, Raven became wealthy, but he soon forgot he owed his good fortune to his wife. She ended up running away from him. Raven tried to catch her, but she eluded his grasp, like a wisp of fog and drifted out over the waters, never to return. Hearing a strange noise, Raven turned around. His dried fish had come alive. Swarming down to the water, they swam away and Raven was as poor as before. But Salmon had been created and have remained to this day.

The word “Totem” is derived from “ototeman” of the Ojibwa tongue, which means, “his brothersister kin”. The origination of the totem pole is shrouded in mystery. Each carved figure denotes either a family or a tribal history. The totem carver was a gifted man and his ability to translate a cedar tree, with spacing, form and symmetrical lines, into a three dimensional carving was an artistic effort of the highest degree. These towering totems, often reaching a hundred feet into the sky, are found only on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Shown here is the Thunderbird and the Grizzly bear with a human figure grasped between the bear’s paws. Indians believed that the Thunderbird was powerful, enormous, and lived on mountain tops. Storms were the result of his displeasure with them. Lighting was caused by his eyes flashing, and the flapping of his wings created thunder. The meaning of the human figure grasped by the bear is lost through the mist of time. These monumental efforts of another age are truly arresting and whatever their significance, they are bright beacons of the past that cast their beams on us today.