Lady Stephen Block – 411 West Hastings

Here’s a good news story. The Lady Stephen Block (sometimes it’s written as Lady Stephen’s) is one of the earliest buildings in the city. It dates back to 1887, just a year after the fire that wiped out the newly named city of Vancouver. It was designed by T C Sorby for Lady Stephen (nominally, at any rate – although more likely it was for her husband) and was built in brick at a cost of $15,000. Sir George Stephen, who had his own block in the city which cost $25,000, was the Montreal based president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and like his fellow directors, not averse to a little property development on the side. In 1888 it became the Post Office, and also home to Ross and Ceperley who were one of the most active real estate promoters in the city. In 1901 the owners at the time, Martin & Robertson, spent $7,000 on a brick and stone addition designed by W T Dalton. On that basis, we wondered if it was possible that the top floor was an addition, but the 1888 image (below right) shows it started life as a 3-storey building. The 1912 Insurance Map names it (with the building to the east) as the Jones Building. During the 1960s the stretch of Hastings Street that the buildings sits on saw some unfortunate ‘modernization’. The Lady Stephen block was lost beneath a layer of metal cladding as Reitman’s store tried to attract shoppers.

Then, around 2006, without any fanfare or heritage bonuses, a Lady Stephen Block reappeared. As this 1944 image (on the left) shows, the window treatment on the second floor used to be a little more complex, but what’s been put back today is in fact a recreation of the original design – the 1944 version was already embellished, as this earlier 1888 image (on the right) shows. The recreation of a heritage facade is a minor miracle that deserves recognition – and congratulations to Don Stuart Architects for their diligence  in finding the original look of the building and then restoring it.


%d bloggers like this: