In its day the Dunsmuir Hotel was a prestigious hotel – and a large one too. It was intended as more of an apartment hotel, with the possibility of combining up to four rooms into a suite. It was designed by Parr and Fee, and there’s some confusion over it’s date of construction. While most sources cite 1908 (as did the advertisements the hotel published), the Biography of Architects say it wasn’t completed until 1913. That was the same year Grossman and Son hired Russell, Babcock and Rice to design a store in the building, so that may be where the confusion comes from. The brochure shows the hotel offering the European Plan, but the words ‘American Plan’ are struck out, so presumably the hotel management changed their mind about offering three meals a day.
It was built by David Gibb and Son, a company skilled in building brick and stone buildings. David Gibb senior left Glasgow for New York in 1879, spent some time in Chicago, and arrived in Vancouver in 1889. He was involved in the construction of several significant buildings. By 1925 when this photograph was taken it was one of number of hotels in the area competing for custom; the Dunsmuir (which for a time switched the order to Hotel Dunsmuir) went after the tourist trade. A 1920 brochure advertised ‘Take Our Large, New, Electric Buss Free’.
By the Second World War it wasn’t doing so well, and in 1947 it was taken over as part of the effort to house returning War Veterans, run by the Citizens’ Rehabilitation Council of Greater Vancouver. A few years later the Salvation Army turned it into Dunsmuir House, their shelter and social services centre. At some point the main floor rooms lost their retail use – a situation which remains to this day. In 2004 the Salvation Army moved to new premises nearby, and the shelter became a hotel aimed at International Students. More recently it was sold to the owners of the Bay parkade, who in time will pursue a redevelopment of much of the block which should see the Hotel given a seismic and heritage restoration. In the meantime BC Housing have taken the property on a lease and have paid for replumbing and roofing to maintain the structure.