West Hastings and Richards – nw corner

Here’s the north west corner of Hastings and Richards, up the hill from Cordova. Today it’s the library of the SFU Harbour Centre at main floor level, and offices and meeting spaces above, behind the facade of McCarter and Nairne’s 1926 building for David Spencer’s department store.

Back in 1907 when this image was taken it was one of C O Wickenden’s rustic stone faced buildings from the first boom in city-building – in this case the Bank of British North America, an established Canadian institution from 1835. The Bank, having confirmed that Vancouver really was a serious opportunity for business and not just an overnight railway town, built their new building in 1892 between the CPR station and the more established Gastown. In 1908 Wickenden designed an extension to the building.

In 1918 the Bank of Montreal took over operations, and continued in the building until 1925 when David Spencer’s new store was built. A Welshman, who had operated a store in Victoria from 1873 (and before that a private library), Spencer expanded his operations in Victoria and later Nanaimo. Spencer himself give up control of the company to his five sons, who quickly moved to establish a store in Vancouver in 1905 and a significant expansion in 1907.

The company continued to grow, taking over the Standard Furniture Company and their premises in 1911 to create a store that equalled or exceeded Woodwards.  David Spencer died in 1920, but his name lived on in the even grander new 1926 store. Eaton’s took over Spencers in 1948, and then moved on to Granville Street in 1972, leaving the building to be incorporated into the Harbour Centre redevelopment by Webb Zerafa Menkes Housden including a Simpsons-Sears store which closed in 1987 and the arrival of SFU’s Downtown campus in 1989.

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