BC Hydro Building – Burrard Street


Today it’s called The Electra, and it’s a mix of condo residential and commercial units. It was converted from an office building in 1995, and had to have a new skin as offices generally don’t have opening windows, but that’s a requirement for residential space. The building was completed in 1957 as BC Electric’s new headquarters. The office was stunning in its setting when it was developed; over 20 storeys, every window lit up every night, surrounded by low-rise commercial buildings and decades old wooden houses. Built by John Laing, it was designed by Ned Pratt with Ron Thom of Thompson, Berwick, Pratt, and the flattened lozenge shape was a result of the client’s requirement that desks should be no more than 15 feet from a window, for natural light as well as the view.

Leslie Sheraton’s picture was shot in 1958, when the buildings on Burrard Street included a car dealership; Sherwood Motors, offering Willys 4-wheel-drive and jeep, as well as English Rover, Humber, Nash and Hillman cars. There was also a White Spot, still owned at the time by Nat Bailey, and offering the latest innovation – ‘Take Home Chicken Dinners – just Heat and Serve”.

Artist B.C. Binning’s blue, green and black mosaic tiles were an integral part of the building’s design, and were carefully preserved when the conversion to residential and office condos was carried out, designed by Paul Merrick Architects. During that conversion the Hornby Street side of the building was given a far more animated façade.

Todat Peter Busby’s Wall Centre tower is much taller, behind the Electra from this angle, and Electric Avenue is in front, a 456 unit condo building designed by Rafii architects and completed in 2005. The complex also has a multi-scree Cineplex movie theatre and retail stores (mostly restaurants). The White Spot was replaced in 1983 with a 71 unit condo building designed by Eng and Wright. Tucked in behind the street trees, the two storey 1938 car dealership is still there, repurposed as a Denny’s restaurant and retail uses decades ago.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 2008-022.045

Firehall #1 – Water Street


This 1895 image shows the first location of the city’s first fire hall. The City of Vancouver owned the site because before the 1886 fire the police house was located here, with the jail alongside and set back from the street. Some years after this picture, when the replacement fire hall was built on Cordova Street, the name went with it (so it retained the name Firehall #1, in a different location).

The first engine was manufactured in Brussels, Ontario, with the name plate ‘M A MacLean,’ the name of the city’s first mayor, on the engine when it arrived. Among the people posing in 1895 were the fire chief, Chief Carlisle and William McGirr. The brand new City of Vancouver were only too aware of the threat of fire to their newly established city. There were were discussions in Council at the first meeting in May 1886 about equipping the fire brigade, and telegrams had been exchanged with Mr. Ronald, a manufacturer of fire equipment in Ontario, but the confirmation to purchase was only made at the first Council meeting eight days after the fire, on 22nd June 1886.

The order was for a 5,000 pound Ronald steam pumper with four hose reels and 2,500 feet of 2 and 1/2 – inch hose that cost the city $6, 905. It arrived in Port Moody in July 1886, where the rail line ended at the time, and it was dragged by a team of horses through the forest to Vancouver. That’s the engine on the right with its steam powered pump. The engine was eventually pulled by a team of horses, but those weren’t acquired for eight or nine months, and initially the firemen had to manhandle it to a fire, which was slow, and meant that the first serious blaze at Spratt’s oilery, a barge previously used to process fish for oil, had burned before they could get the pump into position (although they did ensure sparks from the fire didn’t catch anything else alight).

If the Council had the funds to purchase a fire engine, how was it that they couldn’t afford the horses to pull it? The answer is that they didn’t pay for the fire engine. In an early form of vehicle leasing, the Council Minutes of August 6th 1886 recorded “That this Council do accept the Fire Engine, Hose etc from John D. Ronald as Complete and according to agreement. And that this Council do agree to hand over to Messrs. McIntosh and McTaggart Brussels Ont. Our City Debentures for the sum of sixty nine hundred and five dollars payable in ten years and bearing interest at seven per cent, as soon as same are issued and we agree to issue the paid debentures as soon as this can be legally done. And that the City Clerk be instructed to give Mr. Ronald a Certified Copy of this resolution and that the City seal be attached thereto.”

For the Firehall needed to house the shiny new engine, more money had to be raised – but not nearly as much as it took to buy the engine. On July 26th 1886 it was agreed that “a Fire Hall be at once erected 24 x 30, 2 stories high, the 1st story to be 12 ft Clear and the 2nd 10 feet with a tower 55 feet high and 6 feet square on top and that the City Engineer be instructed to prepare plans and specifications so that tenders may be asked for at once. We would also recommend that a Fire Bell be purchased at once the cost not to exceed one hundred dollars”. On August 30th Council agreed to accept the tender of A.D. McKenzie to build the hall for $743.00.

The fire brigade moved to their new hall on Cordova Street around 1907, and for a while it looks as if their old premises were re-purposed for retail uses. In 1908 Jacob Cohen had a clothing business where the firehall had been, in a block that had several other Jewish merchants including Maurice Goldberg’s clothing store next door and Zebulon Frank’s secondhand store a little further up the street. The address disappears by 1914, and we suspect the site was cleared. In 1930 the Nagle Brothers Garage was built here, designed by McCarter & Nairne. It was developed by Ed Baynes of builders Baynes and Horie, and was probably the city’s first parking garage.

In 1972, the Garage became one of the first rehabilitation and adaptive re-use projects in Gastown, converted to retail and office space by architect H Tanner. An inner courtyard was created, surrounded by balconies and trees. Redeveloped again in 2009 as ‘Garage’ – one of four building restored and added to by Acton Ostry Architects for the Salient Group. Garage was the youngest of the buildings and the redevelopment added three extra residential storeys, with no setback (because of the poured-in-place construction of the original building) but with a clear delineation of the original cornice.

Posted October 24, 2016 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Gone

Ashnola Apartments – 2152 Main Street


When this building was constructed Main Street had just changed its name from Westminster Avenue. Located close to one of the city’s breweries, while today we think of it as a pub when it was built it was a retail building. Braunton and Leibert designed it, completed in 1913 for Dr. Israel Powell, one of the province’s important pioneers. He was born in 1837 in Port Colborne in Simcoe, Ontario, and drawn by the Cariboo Gold Rush reached Victoria in 1862 via the Panama Canal and San Francisco. He never went to look for gold, but like his father, Dr. Powell became involved in politics. He was elected to the House of Assembly of Vancouver Island in 1863, but failed to be re-elected in 1866 and 1868. He supported the merger of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, and later Confederation. Sir John A Macdonald was a family friend, and offered him the position of lieutenant governor of B C, or as a Senator. He declined both, but agreed to become Superintendent of Indian Affairs for British Columbia, a position he held for 18 years from 1872. He was surgeon for the Victoria fire department and also served in the militia, while building his medical practice. He was also instrumental in establishing the first Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge in British Columbia. From 1871 to 1875 he was the first grand master of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia, which brought together the lodges under English and Scottish jurisdictions, although later, in 1877, he severed his connections with the masons.

Although he lived in Victoria, he owned property in Vancouver from its inception, and was on the initial voter’s list. He was part of an early consortium with David Oppenheimer and others who bought land in 1886, and was also a shareholder in the Vancouver Improvement Company (a larger group with many of the same owners) who eventually owned 330 acres of Downtown land and helped ensure their increased value with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway into the city. At his death in 1915 he had investments in farms in the Fraser Valley, on Vancouver Island including the Hotel Wilson of Victoria, as well as in buildings and lots in Vancouver and North Vancouver. The names of several places in British Columbia, commemorate Dr. Powell, including Powell Street in Vancouver and Powell River.


This building was completed only two years before his death when he was in his mid seventies, and cost $47,000 to build. As far as we can tell it represents Dr. Powell’s only investment in bricks and mortar in the area, but according to the Heritage Statement for the local plan, he had acquired and named the streets of most of the area we associate as Mount Pleasant (with Henry Edmonds). It states that it was Dr. Powell’s idea to name the streets after the Canadian Provinces, although Mount Pleasant was a name chosen by Edmonds.

Our 1940s image show the retail unit occupied by a Fur company, while in 1976 it was Royal City Antiques. Over the years the retail uses have changed many times – today it’s a bike store and a dounut shop.

Image sources CVA 1184-2758 and CVA 780-234

Capitola Apartments – Davie and Thurlow


The upper floors of building haven’t really changed much since it was built in 1909. According to the building permit it cost $20,000 and was designed by A J Bird for J Seabold. (The Contract Record said Seabold and Roberts were the developers. We haven’t successfully identified who John Seabold’s development partner was.) In 1991 four dwelling units were converted to retail use, so there are now just 10 apartments in the building, but there were more in this 1924 image. The Daily World, in announcing the development, said “the design will be of classic character”.

John A Seabold developed a number of other apartment buildings around the city, including the Empire Hotel on East Hastings, our first post on this blog. He started out building houses, then apartments, and eventually was in partnership as Seabold and Roberts, building significant buildings for the day including Blenheim Court two blocks further along Davie Street.

seabold-1909seabold-1917Seabold was an American, and the source of his success was explained in a story published in an Indiana newspaper in November 1909; the Jasper Weekly Courier, published in Jasper, Dubois County. He was quoted saying that Western real estate “is better than a gold mine”. In 1913 he acquired the Clarence Hotel on West Pender Street. However, Mr. Seabold’s perspective changed quite quickly. Vancouver changed significantly from the city that only a few years earlier had elected a Jewish German mayor with a noticeable accent, David Oppenheimer.

A 1917 article in another Indiana newspaper, the Bluffton Chronicle, clarifies a point we’ve noted about several other Vancouver residents during the First World War. If there was any suggestion of German family origins it was wise to change your name or move south. The 1911 Census said that John was from a German family, but had been born in the USA. He was married to Louise, also born in the USA into a German family and they had a son, Ralph aged nine. John and Louise Schwartz were married in Michigan in 1900. They were shown having arrived in Canada in the same year, and appeared as John and Louisa Seabold in the 1901 census, lodging with Minnie Matthias. At that time John was a waiter, while in 1911 he was shown as a builder.

The 1917 news story explains that Mr. Seabold had tried to sell his property, but ‘found this impossible’. That wasn’t necessarily anything to do with Mr. Seabold’s origins – the economy of the city hit the skids around 1913, and the war didn’t improve things.

The main reason for heading to the USA was being drafted into the Canadian forces, which would have potentially have seen Mr. Seabold (who was aged 40 when the war broke out), expected to fight in Europe. The newspaper reported that some of Mr. Seabold’s property had been confiscated, presumably as a result of his decision to leave the country.

In 1944 Ralph Seabold was married in Los Angeles,  and John and Louise were living there in both the 1930 and in 1940 US Census records. They moved south to California in the 1930s; in 1920 they were living in Seattle where John was working as a contractor.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N324.

Posted October 17, 2016 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, West End

Tagged with ,

Main Street – 500 block east side


This part of Main Street has changed a little since Walter E Frost shot the 1972 original. According to BC Assessment records the building on the corner was built in 1954, and its still there today. laying-tracks-main-st-1912Several other buildings have been redeveloped to the north over the past 40 or so years. The only apparently significant old buildings on the block are on the far left of the picture at the north end; dating back to just after the turn of the 20th century. However, this 1912 image of track laying along the street suggests the building on the corner is actually much older – presumably getting a significant re-build in 1954.

The 1903 Building permits show James Main & Co. Hardware, building a $10,000 stone and brick store here, built and designed by J W Balmain, with the design submitted by John Walker. J W Balmain advertised as a civil engineer and architect based in North Vancouver (where he became City Engineer). In 1901 he was apparently lodging in Victoria, where he was described as Scottish, aged 61, and having arrived in Canada in 1889, and he was shown living in Vancouver in the 1891 census, also lodging. John Walker Balmain had been married in Bombay, India in November 1869 to Marion Watson, but there’s no mention of his wife in Canada. They had a son, Marion Watson Chalmers Balmain in 1870, and a daughter, Janet King Smith Balmain two years later, but they seem not to have moved to Canada. John died in 1910.

James Main was also Scottish, and confusingly for us there are two people called James Main in the city (fortunately both were Scottish, so that’s accurate). We think its likely to be the one identified as a merchant, aged 40 in 1911 and living in the West End at 1823 Comox Street with his brother, Alexander, (a grocer in 1911, but working with his brother the following year). There were also three sisters in the household, Janet, Anne (who was a nurse) and Margaret. James had arrived in 1890, while Alexander was most recently arrived in 1906 with Margaret, and the other sisters in 1902. James looks to have learned his trade with Thomas Dunn, working as a clerk in Dunn’s hardware store in the 1890s. (There’s another Alexander Main who was also a grocer on Commercial Drive).

renardIn 1909 James was a director of a Vancouver-based company planning to introduce the Renard Road Train to Canada. Invented by a Frenchman and developed by Daimler in Britain, the system was sold to Australia, India and Egypt but we’re not sure that it was ever actually introduced into Canada. The carriages were linked and steered through interconnecting rods, and powered with a Daimler 16L engine that powered the middle wheel of each carriage.

The last time James Main was in the city was 1914, although Alexander and Janet were both still shown living on Comox Street for several more years. In 1915 the R L Brown Hardware Co replaced Mark Drummond Hardware, who had taken over the James Main business around 1910. That was the year that Westminster Avenue became Main Street – so there never was a Main on Main.

Image sources: City of Vancouver CVA 447-309 and part of SGN 1068.11

Posted October 13, 2016 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

Tagged with ,

Main Street and 2nd Avenue


It’s not often that we feature our own image for both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images, and even less often that the ‘before’ is less than a decade ago, but the dramatic transformation of South East False Creek warrants a look. We took the initial image in 2007, long before the BC Place stadium got its new roof. We calculate that there are over 1,100 new apartments in the contemporary image, including 129 in ‘First Place’ the non-market housing building across the lane from the gas station.

The picture will change a little more as Concert Properties are developing around 600 apartments beyond the sites that have already been built – one tower crane is just showing on the left. One detail that you can’t make out at the resolution we post these images: in 2007 gas was 108.9c per litre; when we took the current shot (back in April) it was 111.9c.

Posted October 10, 2016 by ChangingCity in False Creek, Gone

1014 Granville Street


Arthur Griffith and his son Malcolm were carpenters. Arthur arrived in the city before 1894, and lived on Richards Street. His son Malcolm shows up in the street directory at the same address in 1898. Arthur was still shown as a carpenter in the 1901 census, aged 64, and Malcolm was a contractor. There were two lodgers living in the household as well in 1901, Annie Montgomery and Mary Neil. The family also had a live-in servant.

In 1902 Malcolm Griffith married Annie Jeannie McKenzie Montgomery, who was born in Peebles, Scotland. Malcolm was born in South Durham, Quebec. His father, Arthur, was also from Quebec and still head of the household in 1911, aged 74, and living on his investments. Malcolm was shown as a contractor, aged 40, married to Annie, and living with his two-year-old son, John and his sister, also called Annie, who was born in Prince Edward Island.

The year before Malcolm had built this hotel; the Glenaird Hotel for himself at a cost of $55,000. An experienced contractor, he also built one of the other hotels on the same block, but this one was for himself, as were twenty houses, most in the West End. Altogether we’ve tracked over $350,000 of work he was responsible for building, including several Shaughnessy mansions, including one for his family in 1911. He hired Parr and Fee who gave him a version of their standard white glazed brick product with centre-pivoting windows – one of three on this block.

In 1906 the family were involved in the tragic wreck of the Valencia; a liner involved in the Seattle to San Francisco route that struck a reef off Vancouver Island with the loss of over 100 passengers and crew. “M.C. Griffith of Vancouver enquired as to his brother-in-law, John Montgomery. Mr. Griffith described him as 5 feet 10 inches in height and 175 lbs. in weight, smooth-shaven, with heavy shoulders, and having tattooed arms and scars on his chest and temple. 

Victoria’s Daily Colonist for February 6, 1906, reported that the tug Lorne had returned from the search the previous day with the bodies of 9 men and 3 women. Four bodies had been definitely identified and two tentatively. One of the latter was likely that of quartermaster John Montgomery. The description was similar to that given by Mr. Griffith: ‘Male – 5 feet 8 inches, long hair, features unrecognizable: no clothing. On left arm a British and Danish shield tattooed in blue and red, also a star with blue border tattooed on same arm. On right arm, three cross fishes tattooed in blue.’ Montgomery’s naval record showed his actual height to be 5 feet 7 inches which is very close to the description of the recovered body. The most distinguishing feature, however, is that of the tattoo showing three crossed fish. This unusual feature is actually the coat of arms for the Town of Peebles, Scotland where John was born and raised. This evidence strongly implies that the body was indeed that of John Montgomery”.

mcarthurs-window-1910sOur 1926 image by Stuart Thomson  shows the main floor occupied by William Thomas McArthur’s hardware store. He was born in New Brunswick, and sold an eclectic mix of ranges, furnaces and children’s cycles and tricycles (seen in the upper windows of this more detailed image). The company occupied this space in 1920, replacing Cunningham’s hardware store, who had occupied the space since the building had been completed. W T McArthur came to Vancouver in 1907 as the representative for Fisher Bros. Foundry (makers of Enterprise stoves and furnaces) in Sackville, New Brunswick. He had a warehouse on Homer street as well as this retail store. In addition to business interests in Vancouver, He purchased land in Pitt Meadows and established a large herd of Ayrshire dairy cattle which became the basis of a commercial dairy business in Vancouver, Meadowvale Creameries Ltd. He was the chairman of the Dairy Products Marketing Board, and a prominent member of the Liberal Party.

In 1921 he was identified as part of a group of Liberal Party members controlling liquor licences, and the public accounts committee heard from a failed licence seeker “I went to see McArthur, and he asked, ‘What pull do you think you have to get a licence over me?’ I replied that I had the promises of four Cabinet Ministers. McArthur replied, ‘I don’t give a _____ for all the Cabinet Ministers in Victoria. I’m running Vancouver and will see who gets licences.’ McArthur denied everything and the Conservatives couldn’t prove anything, but a few years later Henry Reifel gave evidence to a commission into smuggling. In December 1926 he stated that over the previous eighteen months he had made nearly $100,000 in political contributions, including $40,000 to Liberal bagman William McArthur in Vancouver; some of the payments were “in the nature of loans and donations to fight prohibition.” The Liberals lost the 1928 election, in part because of the scandals over liquor. McArthur died of pneumonia in 1940 after crashing into a water-filled ditch in Pitt Meadows.

Today the Glenaird Rooms have become the Samesun Backpacker’s Hostel, converted in 1999. In the conversion rooms were converted to bathrooms, which were necessary because there are an advertised 220 beds available in the property.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-1434 and CVA 99-5415

Posted October 6, 2016 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

Tagged with , ,