327 West Hastings Street

Hastings post office

Here’s a small wooden building, built very quickly after the 1886 fire, serving an important purpose as the recovering city’s Post Office on a very new stretch of Hastings Street. Actually this was the second location for the post-fire city post office, a shack on Carrall Street served the purpose while this building was going up in 1886 when the picture was taken. It was a bit off the beaten path – or rather the lumber path.

This is one of the better pictures in the City Archives that show how the streets of the city were surveyed to be graded level, but reality took a little longer to come about. The distance from the sidewalk to the street was enough to ensure a broken leg, or worse, and crossing the street at this point was not an easy undertaking. Until some time later the only night lighting on the street was by carrying a lantern. Jonathan Miller was postmaster, and the citizens arranged a petition to complain about the inconvenience of reaching the location, it being so far out of town. That’s Burrard Inlet in the background, with no buildings blocking the view of the beach.

A year later the Post Office had moved again (a block further west), and Bailey Brothers photographers had moved in. William Bailey joined his brother Charles who was responsible for many of the best images of the young city. He recalled the building in conversation with Major Matthews, “when I came here in 1890, there was nothing near that building, just vacant lots, a blankness. Right back of it was where Jonathan Miller, the first postmaster had lived, and a raised platform connected his dwelling to the post office at the time it was used as such. He must have lived there quite a time; a year or more after the fire; until the stone building in the next block up the street was built and in shape for occupancy.” The 1888 picture below shows Charles Bailey in the doorway. You can see the street hasn’t been completely filled in, even four years later.

Bailey Bros Hastings

By 1890 another photographer and stationery store run by Norman Caple had taken over the building, and there was a dyeworks in a shed at the back. It’s not completely clear how long the building lasted. The Mahon Block, designed by W T Dalton was built next door to the west in 1902, and that forms two thirds of the building now occupied by Dressew. If you look closely you can see the brickwork doesn’t quite match on 327, and almost certainly this was built in 1913 by builder W Hepburn for Thomson Brothers, another stationery company, (and designed by W F Gardiner) but we can’t be completely sure as the numbering on this stretch of the street has been changed several times. The buildings have both been altered a lot too – assuming they are the original early 1900 structures (which they certainly appear to be inside) they’ve had completely replaced facades over the years; Dalton’s original building had a far more ornate design.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu P13

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