Unusually, we know who designed this very early store, even though it was the contractor who built it who was responsible. It’s a building that was redeveloped in 1911 as Alfred Thompson’s rooming house and commercial space, designed by Sharp & Thompson. As Major Matthews’ typed note records, the building was built very soon after the fire (in 1886) and lasted less than 25 years. The Archives’ note says “Photograph shows Mrs. Alexander Straithie (Mrs. Emily Eldon) and an advertisement for “Charley’s Aunt” playing at the Lyric Theatre”.
Mrs Straithie (who was Mrs Eldon when she wrote a manuscript on her experiences of early Vancouver for Major Matthews in 1932) arrived in the town of Granville in March 1886, only to see it burned to the ground a few weeks later. She was married to a Scotsman, living in Winnipeg when they thought of coming to the town that would be Vancouver. They arrived in Victoria (via Chicago and Seattle), and stayed there until there seemed to be some possibility of development (and therefore work) in Vancouver. “Water Street was not a street at that time; it could hardly be termed a road for it dipped down to the contour of the old shore, and the two-plank sidewalk from the parsonage to the Deighton Hotel dipped with it.”
Alexander Strathie started up as a contractor, and built a house on Water Street on a leased lot opposite the Methodist Church. Mrs Strathie started a small business; “Before the fire people used to come over from New Westminster; it was a good long drive in a buggy, and sometimes they wanted a cup of tea and something light to eat. There was no place where such could be obtained in Granville; at the hotels there was a bar, and the dining room open at regular hours, or you could buy biscuits at the store, and munch them on the roadway, but there was no place where a person could get a cup of tea and a piece of cake or toast. People used to ask me, before “The Fire” to give them a cup of tea, which I did, at first doing it to oblige them, but it got to be a habit with the people, so I said to Mr. Strathie, who did not care very much for the idea, “I’m going to put in a couple of tables.” That was all the restaurant there was to it.”
The description of the fire that Mrs Eldon wrote was one of the most dramatic that Major Matthews recorded “I had just entered a bedroom, and was standing momentarily, when with astonishing suddenness, a great sheet of flame swept before my eyes down the narrow passageway between our home and the next house; for a moment I was bewildered; it was so startlingly sudden, and more or less mechanically, I suppose, I grasped my husband’s hat which lay on the dressing table, and as I slipped out of the room I had but a few seconds earlier entered, the windows crashed in; it was a remarkable experience.”
Mr. and Mrs. Straithie were able to escape the fire by heading to the water on a lumber raft thrown together without fastenings. With flames all around, and the raft sinking, they were saved by a steam pleasure yacht that had crossed Burrard Inlet from Moodyville. The entire episode has much more detail, and it’s well worth reading it in Major Matthews ‘Early Vancouver’, available as a download from the City of Vancouver Archives website.
Mrs. Straithie made hew way to Victoria to try to obtain some money and the start of a new household – including a stove. She was away a week. “Mr. Strathie was rebuilding when I arrived; a two-storey home, No. 118 Water Street, on our old leased lot on Water Street; the floor was down, the scantling of the frame was up, and part of the siding, perhaps three or four feet, but there was no roof. The Hastings Mill was but a small mill in those days; once every two months or so a sailing ship would come in, her cargo would be ready for her on arrival, and she took some time to load too, but when the great demand for lumber for rebuilding Vancouver was thrown upon them it was beyond their capacity to meet it, so that the lumber was apportioned out, and that was the reason so little progress had been made, during my seven days absence, in the construction of our house.”
“We remained on Water Street until 1889; we lived in the upper storey subsequently, and rented the lower to Mr. George Melven to use as a jewellery store. Then we moved to a new home “out in the clearing.” There were only two houses on Georgia Street, one belonged to Mr. Cambie the C.P.R. engineer—on the southeast corner of Thurlow and Georgia streets; ours was on our first sixty-six foot lot in the 1100 block further west, between Bute and Thurlow, south side; afterwards we acquired two more sixty-six foot lots adjoining; we had to cut our way through the brush, small trees, and stumps, to reach it. That would be in the summer of 1889.”
Mrs. Strathie later married George Eldon, City Park Ranger (or superintendent) for many years. Her former home at 118 Water Street was demolished in April 1910; the photograph shows her outside the building on the day it was demolished.
Image source, City of Vancouver Archives Str N17
Here are two buildings with remarkably similar design. That’s because they were designed by the same architects for different developers, about two years apart. The older building, closer to us, was completed in 1911, for Albert DesBrisay at a cost of $60,000 (although there was an initial $2,000 permit for the foundation as well). The other was for Dr Alfred Thompson, next to Winter’s Hotel. It was a rooming hotel, completed in 1913 and also designed by Sharp and Thompson; today it’s known as The Gastown Hotel. The historic statement for the building says it was called the Thompson Rooming House – although we can’t find any evidence of this. When it opened in 1914 it was called the Newton Rooms, and initially it was run by Martina Noten, and in 1921 by Mrs J W Bacher. In 1922 it changed to the Butler Hotel, run by Mrs. Charlotte Withyman.
As far as we can tell Dr Thompson wasn’t a Vancouver resident when it was built. There were Alfred Thompsons living in the city, but none likely to build a $65,000 hotel, and none were doctors. Instead we think he was the Alfred Thompson who was born in 1869 in Nine Mile River, Hants County, Nova Scotia. He was raised on a farm and worked as a clerk in his uncle’s store – but he was educated at a public school by private tutor and graduated from Dalhousie University with a degree of M.D.C.M. in 1898. He went to the Klondike in 1899 where he practiced medicine. In 1902, he was elected to the Yukon Council, and sat three times in the Canadian House of Commons, representing the federal constituency of the Yukon. A Conservative, he first sat in the House between 1904 and 1908, taking the seat away from his main rival, former Yukon Commissioner Frederick Tennyson Congdon. In 1908, Congdon won the seat back, but Thompson won it back in 1911, and was re-elected in 1917, remaining the MP for Yukon until 1921. In the mid 1920s Dr Thompson seems to have moved to Vancouver – there was a physician of that name here from 1925, and the former Yukon MP gave the Confederation Address in North Vancouver in 1927. Dr Thompson died in 1940.
We think Albert Desbrisay (or DesBrisay or Des Brisay, in some records) arrived in the area around 1889. Ralph Nickson, in conversation with Major Matthews, recalled that “Where the Canadian Bank of Commerce now stands at the corner of Granville and Hastings Street, there was a one-storey grocery store” (DesBrisay’s.). We’re not quite sure when that would have been, (and Mr. Nickson’s memory might have been playing him tricks): the corner of Hastings and Granville had a 2-storey building with a third storey turret already completed in 1888. In 1890 it was a grocer’s Berteaux & Co; Alex DesBrisay had a grocery store on the corner of 7th and Westminster (in Mount Pleasant) in 1890 and 1891, and from 1890 he was shown as also having a grocery store in New Westminster. In 1892 Alex was a clerk, and Albert DesBrisay was the owner of the New Westminster store, on Columbia Street.
In the 1891 census Janet Des Brisay was head of the household in New Westminster; born in New Brunswick, with her father born in Scotland. There are five children living with her including Alexander (but not Albert) and two Scottish lodgers, including a schoolteacher, Louise Walker. Janet was shown as being 60, and her youngest child, also Janet, was aged nine – ten years younger than the next daughter, Helena, who was a bookkeeper in a grocery. Alexander was listed as a ‘retail dealer in groceries’, and so was Percy, another son. If we go back to 1881 the family were still in New Brunswick; Solomon Des Brisay was head of the household aged 34, Janet was aged 50, and there were nine others in the family including two called Mary, Albert, Alexander and Merrill Des Brisay. Janet had been born in Miramichi, New Brunswick, and married Alexander DesBrisay in 1855. They had nine children before he died in 1873, in Dalhousie, N.B., from small-pox, aged 45.
Albert Des Brisay was the third child, born in 1859 in New Brunswick, married Margaret Paterson, and they had at least four sons (Albert G, Alexander C, Merrill and Harold A), and a daughter, Margaret. His son Alexander was born in Winnipeg in 1890, so that’s where we suspect the family were in the 1891 census. Harold was born in 1893 in New Westminster.
M DesBrisay & Co, manufacturer’s agents who initially operated from Cambie and Water were in the city on and off from 1900 to 1910, identified in the street directory as being initially based in Mission. Merrill DesBrisay (who had also operated in Nelson) lived in the city in West End from the early 1900s. Solomon Desbrisay arrived in 1903, selling clothing on Granville Street. In 1904 Alexander Desbrisay opened a grocer’s on Granville Street in 1904. His mother, listed in the street directory as Jeanette, lived on Davie (identified as also being the widow of Alexander C Des Brisay). In 1908 Alex Des Brisay was in partnership with Henry Owens as a commissioners agent, Merrill was president of the Unique Canning Co, and Solomon was still running his clothing store. Percy Des Brisay was working as a cruiser for the Rat Portage Lumber Co. In 1910 there were even more DesBrisays in the city: two Alberts (one in a rooming house on Westminster Avenue, the other, Albert G des Brisay in partnership with Alex as A & A Des Brisay, commissioners agents). Alex still had his partnership with Henry Owens, and both businesses were shown located at the same address on East Cordova. Albert had obviously arrived back in town as a successful businessman: he commissioned Sharp and Thompson to design a Shaughnessy Mansion in 1910, and later had a $13,000 house designed by Downing & Kayll in Point Grey in 1923.
The Des Brisay building had a rooming house upstairs from the date it was completed in 1914. They were initially called The Colonial Rooms – the name they still have today. The Des Brisay business was based here, but so too was Beaver Transfer and Hamill Bros. In 1915 the Great Western Telegraph Co shared the commercial part of the building with the Des Brisay company, along with Golden West Baking powder. The Des Brisay company finally disappeared from the building in the mid 1920s, although the Colonial Rooms were still operating. Janet (or Jeanette) DesBrisay died in Vancouver in 1914 (aged 83), and Albert in Penticton in 1932.
In 1942 when this Vancouver Public library picture was taken, Donaldson & Co (manufacturer’s agents) were operating in the commercial space under the Butler Hotel at 110 Water Street, as well as Gow Yuen and Rowntree & Co, wholesale confectionery. At 118 Canadian Transfer were in the commercial space along with Fire Master Fire Extinguishers, while the Colonial Rooms were upstairs at 122 Water St.
Here’s another of the single-room-occupancy hotels given a dramatic restoration by the Provincial housing agency, BC Housing, with their private sector partners. The Hotel Canada started life in 1913, according to the building permit, designed by Emil Guenther for T B Hyndman and costing $150,000 to build (by E J Ryan). We’ve seen buildings designed by Mr. Guenther before – he was in the city until 1906, then headed to San Francisco no doubt thinking the disastrous earthquake that year would lead to significant architectural opportunities. He returned to Vancouver in 1912, so this was one of his first jobs after he returned (along with the Hotel Regent on East Hastings).
Our image dates to 1974 when it had become the Marble Arch Hotel. In those days there were two other adjacent buildings. The oldest was the one to the south, designed by Parr and Fee (with their trademark centre pivot windows) in 1911 for S Ollison at a cost of $30,000. Who Mr. (or perhaps Mrs.) Ollison was is a complete mystery – there are no Ollison’s in the city around that period. The building next door (with the bay windows) is more of a mystery – it was owned by T B Hyndman in 1912 when he carried out $700 of repairs – (although it seems to have been missed on the 1912 insurance map); it was called the ‘Ideal Rooms’ in the street directory, run by Elizabeth Quigley, with the Ideal Café downstairs. The café, run by William Rosie, had been here longer, so perhaps Mr Hyndman added the rooms just before he built the hotel.
There appears to be more to the development of the hotel than the permit suggests. A 1915 ‘Daily world’ article, under the headline “CANADA HOTEL SOLD” reported “Mr. T. B. Hindman is Purchaser From Assignee. By order of Mr. Justice Macdonald the assignee of Mr. Charles G. Muller, former proprietor of the Canada hotel, is authorized to accept the offer of Mr. T. B. Hindman to purchase the property. Mr. C. B. Macneill, K. C, representing Mr. Lockyer, manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company, strenuously opposed acceptance of the offer on the ground that there would be nothing in it for the unsecured creditors. Mr. J. G. Hay, for the assignee, stated that it was the best offer that could be obtained and that the preferred creditors would be paid in full by the proceeds of the sale, which was the utmost to be expected In these times. Mr. J. E. Bird appeared for Mr. Hindman and Mr. T. B. Shoebotham for Mr. Muller.” The first year the hotel appears in the street directory, 1914, Charles G Muller is listed as proprietor. By 1916 it’s shown as T B Hyndman, proprietor and J A Hyndman, manager and by 1922 J E Secord was managing the hotel.
We’ve come across Mr Muller before in the context of the Palace Hotel on West Hastings. We thought Emil Guenther might have designed that hotel too, so the two knew each other before the architect tried his luck in California. In 1899 Henry Hyndman of 1075 Burnaby St and Anna Maria Hyndman (wife of Thomas Hyndman) had bought 320 acres of CPR land at $3.00 an acre. In 1901 Thomas B Hyndman and John A Hyndman were both living on East Hastings, and Thomas was working for R G Buchanan Co who sold crockery on Westminster Avenue. Thomas was recorded in the 1901 census as a merchant. In 1908 Thomas was in real estate, and he and Anna lived at 1075 Burnaby. Thomas Hyndman in 1911 was aged 61, shown as retired and living at 1220 Barclay Street with his wife Anna, and their 29 year old son, John. A 64 year old English gardener, Richard Buckle, and a Swedish servant, Hilda Friedstrum completed the household. Both parents were born in Ontario and John was born in Manitoba.
We can’t work out exactly what the business arrangement was that saw Thomas Hyndman obtain a permit for a big new hotel (when the economy was slowing down significantly). It appears that an established hotelier, Charles Muller, took the development on, only to see it revert to Mr. Hyndman within a very few years. No doubt the economy, the war and Mr. Muller’s nationality might all have had a part in the situation. Once the war was over, the Lock Financial Corporation were owners of the hotel, managed by T H Lock. In 1930 the name had been switched – the Hotel Canada was run by J Wyard.
Over the years the hotel changed names at least twice more, from 1937 it became the Merritt Gordon Hotel, and from 1941 the Marble Arch. Merritt Gordon was previously the owner of the Invermay Hotel, where we looked at his history. As the Marble Arch, the hotel became increasingly run-down, with the beer parlour one of many in the city that added strippers to bring in clients (said to be at the lower end of the ‘class’ scale). The hotel even got a name check in 1987 when Mötley Crüe named it in its hair-metal anthem “Girls Girls Girls”. Tommy Lee and Vince Neil are said to have spent some time in the bar during the Crüe’s platinum years (our image was probably taken around that time, when the Ollison Block had been demolished). The bar became associated with biker gangs, and a drug deal in the hotel led to successful prosecution of the dealers. A new owner closed the bar in 2002, and by 2013 there were more structural code problems identified with the hotel than any other building in the city. With the recent multi-million dollar structural renovation, and a switch to an earlier name, the building has a much more promising future.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-372.
This huge warehouse was the home for many years of Kelly, Douglas & Co. This 1908 Vancouver Public Library image shows the building down the hill of Richards Street from Hastings, with a corner of the Bank of British North America just in the shot on the left. On the other side is Scougale’s Dry Goods, and at the bottom of the hill was the Bell-Irving block. Company history says Robert Kelly and Frank Douglas founded their wholesale grocery empire in 1896, leasing a warehouse in the 100 block of Water Street. Robert Kelly had been in the city for several years. He started out working in a store and telegraph office in Finch, Ontario, and from 1884 he was promoted to manager. In 1886 he moved to California and ran a general store business there and then came to Vancouver where he opened a general store with William McMillan in 1887. After that he became a traveler for Oppenheimer Brothers from 1889-1895.
His biography says that Mr. Kelly was short, stocky, brusque and outspoken. In 1895 he left Oppenheimer Brothers and joined William Braid to form Braid, Kelly and Company, wholesale grocers specializing in tea and coffee. That partnership lasted only a year; in 1896 Frank Douglas from Lachute, Quebec, arrived in Vancouver seeking investment opportunities. More easy going, but an experienced business man, he acted as managing director, while Robert Kelly travelled around the Province, using his experience and years of working for Oppenheimer’s to build their business.
The Kelly Douglas Company prospered supplying prospectors with provisions during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. To meet the stiff competition of long established Seattle and Victoria merchants in the Yukon, Mr. Douglas decided to cover the gold mining centres himself. Each summer he would travel north for several months. In August 1901, after two months in Dawson City, he started back to Vancouver with his order book full. He sailed on the “islander’ and on August 15th, 1901, at 2:00am, six miles northwest of Juneau in Lynn Canal, the ship struck a submerged iceberg. Forty of the passengers drowned including Frank Douglas. Stories were current at the time of his death that between $50,000 and $60,000 was lost with him. It was related that he had secured the gold in his clothing before he drowned. Robert Kelly ran the business for a while, then in 1904 he sold a 20% interest to Frank Douglas’s brother, Edward, from Chatham Township, Quebec. Edward was an older brother and had previously worked in the lumber business for many years, including running Weyerhauser’s interests in Minnesota.
The original five storey building to the east was built in 1905, designed by W T Whiteway. The Gault Brothers company moved in later; the building, and their name is just visible – (we can find nothing to substantiate a suggestion that Frank Burnett partnered with Kelly to build the first warehouse, although it’s possible given the death of Frank Douglas). Kelly, Douglas moved here from their previous location on Water Street, added another floor in 1906, and then proceeded in 1907 with a large-scale expansion by building the warehouse to the west, seen here, which when it was complete was the largest warehouse in Canada devoted exclusively to produce. The builder, J.M. McLuckie, proudly advertised the structure as “Vancouver’s first skyscraper”. It was tentatively slated to rise to nine storeys in height. Despite the use of 18 x 18 inch timbers at the base, tapering to 8 x 8’s on upper floors, the building stopped at seven floors.
The company obtained a permit in 1910 for another warehouse on Cordova Street, again designed by J M McLuckie, and costing $37,000. In 1911 Gardiner and Gardiner designed a further addition to this building, and in 1912 McLuckie obtained another permit for a $41,000 5-storey warehouse shown at 1106 Helmcken, although almost certainly it was 1106 Mainland Street. That building was used by the Kelly Confectionary Co, a further company created by Robert Kelly. In 1913 J M McLuckie designed a further $40,000 expansion to the Water Street warehouse, and in 1917 A Williams & Co were listed as designers of a further 2-storey addition costing $10,000. We’re not sure if that applied to a part of the building that can’t be seen, or it was never acted upon – clearly the larger building today has the same number of storeys as in 1908.
In 1988 Soren Rasmussen designed the conversion of the complex to office, retail and restaurant use, nowadays called ‘The Landing’.
There are three buildings here – although two are so similar they appear to be a single entity. Both the buildings on the right of the picture are thought to have been designed by James Cadham, a Winnipeg-based architect. (A hint to their likely geographic design origins are the Plains Indian heads carved into the building). The building furthest to the east is the Prentice Block from 1902; next door is the Greenshields block built in the same year for a dry goods wholesaler whose western headquarters were built in Winnipeg in 1903. Samuel Greenshields and Son had been established in Montreal by Samuel, a merchant from Glasgow, and his son, John, in 1833. By 1903 S Greenshields was run by grandson Edward Black Greenshields, who expanded the company’s trading activities across Canada. By 1907 the company was the country’s largest supplier of both imported and domestic dry goods. It handled cottons, woollens, carpets, household furnishings, dress goods, and notions such as gloves, hosiery, and laces.
The building contractor was J M McLuckie. The Prentice block was originally occupied by Kelly, Douglas and Company, a food processor and wholesaler, whose rapid expansion soon saw them building a much bigger structure nearby. Founded in 1896 by Robert Kelly and Frank Douglas, their Nabob coffee brand is still roasted by the company today. The brand also included tea and spices. We’re not sure who the Prentice Block was named for – most likely is William Prentice who was secretary of the BC Sugar Co and therefore able to finance an investment property. Prentice was a Scotsman, listed in the 1901 census as a bookkeeper.
To the west is the McLuckie block at 353 Water Street, a warehouse built by the same contractor as the other buildings (and many others on Water Street) – but here for himself, at a cost of $30,000. (Today it’s painted off-white). J M McLuckie claimed in the building permit to have designed his own building (as he did on other investment projects for himself – so that’s probably true). He initially leased the building to the W H Malkin company, a food wholesaler. That company also went on to build bigger warehouses for their own use a few years later.
By 1908 all three buildings had different firms in occupation: John W Peck, wholesale clothing occupied 337; Johnston Brothers, dry goods, were in 345 and 353 was vacant. In 1911 Peck and Johnston businesses were still here and 353 was Stewart & McDonald, and James Thomson & Sons.
John W Peck moved to Winnipeg in then early 1870s, representing eastern businesses, and in 1880 founded a clothing manufacturing company in partnership with A B Bethune and J D Carscaden, under the name of Carscaden and Peck. After Carscaden’s retirement, the firm carried on as John W Peck and Company. He lived at Winnipeg for many years before moving to Montreal where he established a large clothing factory. The third location for the business was Vancouver, which was a distribution warehouse, smaller than the impressive Winnipeg warehouse which dates from 1893.
Arthur W Johnston ran Johnston Bros and lived on Nelson Street, near Stanley Park. The company had taken over the interests of Greenshields in Vancouver, and Albert M Johnston was the other brother, living in the Hotel Vancouver in 1911. The brothers were from Ontario, and had been in Vancouver in 1901, living with their sister, Florence on Burrard Street. Albert Mortimer Johnston was previously a traveling salesman for Greenshields, while Arthur was the company’s manager.
Stewart & McDonald were another dry goods operation – described in 1911 as being ‘of Glasgow’. The originators of the business in 1826 were Mr. Robertson Buchanan Stewart and Mr. John McDonald, and an 1888 publication described their activities: “the departments represented in stock are thirty-three in number, comprising the following classes of goods : cloths, silks, cottons, flannels, linens, (Stewart & McDonald) ribbons, merinoes, prints, muslins, laces, handkerchiefs, haberdashery, yams, winceys, wove shawls, moleskins, carpets, tweeds, furs, hosiery, mantles, wool shawls, skirtings, fancy dresses, straw hats, millinery, flowers, white cottons, gloves, shirts, ready-made clothing, Bradford stuffs, stationery, and underclothing.” The company had three immense factories; one in Leeds for ready-made clothing; one at Strabane, Ireland, for shirts, collars, and ladies’ and children’s underclothing; and a third in Dunlop Street, Glasgow which manufactured other clothing.
James Thomson & Sons were yet another Wholesale Drygoods and Manufacturers, run by James B Thomson. A 1920 newspaper cutting gives a sense of the business, (and the difficulties of supply after the war): “The Canadian market cannot begin to fill the need and, curiously enough, its prices offer no relief. England’s mills are running to capacity, and the question is reversed from what it was a year ago. Then it was how much was the buyer willing to pay? Now it is: “Can they get the goods at any price?” Mr. A M Thomson, of James Thomson and Sons, Water Street wholesalers of clothing and dry goods, writes from England, where he is now on a buying trip, as follows: “I went to a dozen different mills in Leeds and as many more in Bradford, and nothing was to be had at any price. I found only one that was willing to consider orders. They offer 40 pieces at 6s. 9d a yard, but the cloth Is too heavy and high, and delivery can not be had before November.”
By 1927 when this Vancouver Public Library picture was taken, John W Peck were still in the Prentice building. J and C Eveleigh were also there selling wholesale bags and trunks with the Standard Silk Co. George H Hees were next door, wholesaling house furnishings, and J M McLuckie had his office in his building along with J Thomson & Sons, who were still trading in the McLuckie building.
Today the Prentice building is still in commercial use, although as offices over retail, as is the McLuckie building. The Greenshields building is one of the few residential conversions on Water Street, with 22 strata units in the refurbished building completed in 2004.
This significant heavy wood-frame warehouse was one of the first in this part of Water Street. Built in 1894, it was designed by C O Wickenden for the Hudson’s Bay Company with three floors whose function included the storage of furs and liquor. In less than a decade it was too small, and Dalton & Eveleigh were hired to add $8,000 of additional space on two further floors in 1903. (Dalton had designed the additional floors on both the warehouses to the east as well). Both the original design and the addition utilized the Romanesque Revival, with curved brick arches ending up appearing on alternate floors.
This 1941 Vancouver Public Library image shows the Bay continued to use the warehouse over many years, until the early 1950s. It was the company’s general office in the city in 1912, but reverted to warehouse use later. In the 1950s J F Mussenden took over the building as a shoe warehouse. The top floors were gutted by fire in the early 1970s, and the building was rebuilt with Werner Forster supervising the renovation. Renamed Hudson House, it is now used as commercial office space over retail and restaurant uses (like most of Water Street).
Here’s the McClary Manufacturing block on the corner, and next door at 311 Water is the Martin and Robertson warehouse built a year later and completed in 1898. It started life as a 4 storey building, and each floor had a different style. It started with a rustic stone base, a square second floor with paired sash windows on either side, Romanesque arches on the third floor and six sash widows on the top floor. W T Dalton was the architect, and as he featured in a brochure, we even know all the suppliers of materials – from Thomas Dunn for the glass to Geo H Hinton for the electrical fittings. As this 1900 photo from the brochure shows, the Canada Paint Co were in the building in 1900, but Martin and Robertson who developed the building were here too. Although described in some descriptions as ‘Klondike Outfitters’ they were importers and suppliers of dried foodstuffs – not just to would-be miners heading north. In 1903 W T Dalton (who had added the extra floor on McLary’s a year earlier) designed the $4,500 2-storey addition to the building for Mr Martin, built by ‘Horrobin’ – (contractor Theodore Horrobin).
Martin was Robert Martin, born in 1851 and Robertson was Arthur Robertson, who we think was seven years younger. Robert Martin was from Ontario, his wife Lydia was English, ten years, younger, and in 1901 they had four children aged seven, six and five as well as a 9-month-old baby. The household was completed by a ‘lady’s help’, Caroline Watson, and Jin, the domestic. Scotsman Arthur Robertson was looking after the company’s other warehouse, in Victoria. Both partners were interested in other investment opportunities; in 1903 the Times Colonist reported: “anticipating the boom that is likely to strike Port Simpson on the commencement of the building of the Grand Trunk Pacific enterprise, speculators are hastening to ‘get in on the ground floor’. Robert Martin of Vancouver and Arthur Robertson of Victoria are applying at Ottawa for a grant of foreshore rights at Port Simpson”. Whether they obtained the rights or not we’re don’t know – they might have been better off being turned down, as the railway terminated in Prince Rupert instead.
In 1908 a new 6-storey building was designed for the company by Parr and Fee (although we’re not sure where it was located), although Martin and Robertson were still in this original building in 1910. They were described then as ‘manufacturer’s agents’, and Duncan Gavin was the manager. They moved to new premises in 1911 to a warehouse they developed with John Burns at 329 Railway Street. That could be the Parr and Fee building – although the building permit, taken out in 1910, suggested that they had designed it themselves (which seems unlikely). This building was used by the Northern Electric and Manufacturing Co, who hired Thomas Hooper to design $1,500 of changes in 1911. Their name was truncated to Nortel many years later. The company started life in the 1890s as the manufacturing subsidiary of Bell Telephone of Canada.
Martin & Robertson advertised in ‘Canadian Grocer’ in 1918 in their Railway Street premises as Rice Millers, Importers and Manufacturers Agents. They distributed Japan, China and Siam Rices, as well as “BEANS, PEAS, SPLIT PEAS, TAPIOCA AND SAGO, SPICES, TEAS AND COFFEES, PINEAPPLES, DESICCATED COCOA-NUT, CURRANTS, DATES, FIGS, NUTS, SHELLED AND UNSHELLED, RAISINS, Etc., Etc. Representatives in all distributing centres throughout the Dominion”.
The 1907 Vancouver Public Library image above shows pretty much the same set of buildings that can still be seen today, as they can in our 1970s slide below. The biggest change is that the Martin & Robertson warehouse wasn’t red forty years ago, while the other buildings on the block were.