Gold was discovered in the Klondike river area of the Yukon, in Canada (but not initially in Alaska) is 1896, when Vancouver was just 10 years old and still a modest, although fast-growing town. Thousands headed west and north from the US and eastern and central Canada to join the gold rush, and all the established ports cashed in on fitting them out. Nanaimo, Victoria, New Westminster and Vancouver all offered prospectors everything they might need, or could be persuaded to take with them. Every seaworthy ship was pressed into service to take the men and their newly purchased supplies northwards.
By September 1897 over 20,000 men were said to have headed to the gold fields, among them a Nanaimo resident, Thomas Flack. Flack hit paydirt at Eldorado Creek with William Sloan (an American who had staked his claim in 1896 very soon after gold was found) and John Wilkinson, a Weardale born coal miner also from Nanaimo. They were working in permafrost in almost permanent darkness, so although they found valuable gold, ($5 a pan or $2.50 a shovelful!), they also missed a fortune in the gravel they rejected. Flack’s partners sold out for $50,000 and $55,000 respectively – Flack turned down an offer of $50,000 and instead cashed in his first $6,000 worth of gold ‘for expenses’ in San Francisco.
Clearly he made good on his claim, as in 1898 he commissioned a significant building in a prominent corner where Hastings meets Cambie, designed by William Blackmore who had designed the adjacent building a few years earlier. In 1899 Mr. Flack has a house in a newly developed part of town, 1206 Haro Street, and is described as a mine owner.
The Flack Block was an important building, with some interesting tenants, including a vegetarian restaurant, the Bank of Vancouver’s head office (in 1912) and the Dorchester System of Physical Culture (in 1920), as well as barristers and medical offices. For a while there was a Turkish Bath said to be ‘a comfortable place to spend the night’.
Between this 1923 photograph and 2009 the block lost its entrance, shop fronts were replaced with stucco and the buildings services were in a bad way. The building has recently undergone a massive restoration by Acton Ostry, with seismic upgrades, restored stonework, a replica hand carved stone entrance and new retail frontages recreated to match the 1900 original, and the addition of a fifth floor set back from the parapet. The building won both LEED Gold certification and City and Provincial Heritage Awards.