In 1903 W L Tait, a prominent industrialist and sometime property investor, hired his favourite architects, Parr and Fee, to design a “frame terrace” of six houses built at a cost of $8,000. In 1909 he hired them again to spend an additional $7,000 to alter the building to create an unusual early mixed-use project. Once altered The Orillia, on Robson Street at Seymour, consisted of six rowhouses over a row of retail units.
Tait was associated with the delightfully named Rat Portage Lumber Co, and his business and property investments (including The Manhattan, further west on Robson) made him wealthy enough to build his new home, Glen Brae, on Matthews Avenue – these days the house is known as Canuck Place. The Rat Portage name is a name of a town in Ontario (today’s Kenora) and comes from “portage to the country of the muskrat”. There was a lumber concern back east with the Rat Portage name and the BC company was initially associated with it. The Vancouver mill was where the federal fish wharf is next to Granville Island and Tait had a small shingle mill in operation by 1888. This is where the Rat Portage mill was built in 1902, until it burned down in 1933.
The Orillia saw a number of tenants over the 80 years it stood, including ‘Sid Beech’s Tamale Parlour’ (with noted Mexican specialities Ravioli and Spaghetti on the menu!) and a pool hall that also sold cigars. Towards the final years of its existence the Orillia had both the Funland Arcade and Twiggy’s Discotheque where the pool hall had once been located. We’ve also been reminded to mention that the building was home to Faces – the gay bar that was home to the best Saturday-afternoon tea dances Vancouver boys have ever experienced, and just one of about a half dozen in the immediate neighbourhood.
In 1985 it was demolished, replaced in 1989 by a 16 floor office building designed by Hamilton Doyle and Associates, sometimes called Vancouver House, but more often just 605 Robson Street. Beyond the Orillia you can see BC Telephone’s William Farrell Building, already nearly 20 years old in this 1961 picture. Today the building is still there, but about 3 feet bigger with the installation of Canada’s first triple-skin insulation system in a ground-breaking energy-efficient design by Busby and Associates in 2000.