St Francis Hotel – West Cordova and Seymour (1)

The St Francis Hotel replaced the White Swan on the corner of Seymour and West Cordova at some time around 1906. The City Archives have a document supposedly dating to 1905 advertising “St. Francis Hotel : directly opposite C.P.R. Depot and one block only from dock”  with “100 Outside Rooms – European Plan – Fireproof – Best Location in the City – Modern – Substantially Furnished” However, in 1905 and 1906 the site held the ‘Revere House” – only in 1907 did the St Francis name appear in the street directory. This fits with a 1906 permit for E E Blackmore’s design of The St Francis Hotel for ‘Baron de Biddlecope’. The proprietor of the hotel from 1907 to 1909 is listed as Charles Hartney, who a year later owned the Cecil Hotel with D MacKay taking over the St Francis for several years. At some point the Quann Brothers, who also ran the Balmoral, were involved in the hotel.

There’s another permit for Baron Cope in 1912 with J S Pearce as the architect for $20,000 work on the St Francis Hotel. Looking closely at the windows on the top floor of this 1925 picture, they aren’t arranged as the floors below, showing that a floor was added in that year.

The Baron was also a Marquis – Marquis de Biddlecope (or Biddle Cope in some records). We can appreciate the level of the early investments the Marquis held from an 1896 Court of Appeal judgement (that he won). “The appellant, who resides in England, owns real estate in Vancouver which returns a gross rent of $3,400“. The court case established that is the net profit was under $1,500 then no income tax had to be paid. In 1896 the Marquis was only seeing a profit of $1,100, so he didn’t pay income tax in Canada. Presumably by the time the St Francis was built he had crossed the tax threshold. He bought property on West Cordova where the heritage statement says “Baron and Marquis James Canby Cyprian DeBiddle Cope (born 1852) lived in Shropshire, England and Verona, Italy, and was a Roman Marquis and a Baron of the Kingdom of Italy”. Cope acquired the site of 81 West Cordova as a holding property in 1890. He was also responsible for additions to the Yale hotel in 1909, so must have owned that too.

His attachment to his title was obviously considerable. The first reference to him in the Times Colonist was all the way back in 1886, when the Victoria paper reproduced a Philadelphia newspaper report of how an ordinance to allow him to lay a pipe on public property was nearly thrown out because of the ‘royalist’ title used by the Marquis. He got to lay the pipe, but only after the word Marquis was removed wherever it appeared in the document. One biography says “James Cyprian Canby Biddle-Cope was born in 1852 in Philadelphia, U.S.A., the second son of Alfred Cope the wealthy owner of a Liverpool shipping line. He earned a degree from the University of Pennsylvania before attending Worcester College, Oxford (B.A. 1878, M.A. 1881). In 1873 he married the American Marie Louise Saunders and the couple had six children. Biddle-Cope (a name he adopted) bought an estate in Gloucester and served as a lieutenant (later captain) in the York and Lancaster Regiment. The pope named him a marquis of the Holy See in 1883 and the king of Italy named him a baron in the kingdom of Italy in 1886 (presumably for his pro-Catholic views)”. Biddle-Cope wrote a handful of undistinguished novels (at least one of which, called ‘Mad’ is still in print).

The 1860 US Census lists him as James B Cope, and his mother’s name was Biddle so that part of his name seems to be genuine, as was the Canby, another family name. For a while in the 1880s he owned a stately home in England on the Hertfordshire and Shropshire border. His well-connected English family had been Quakers, moving to the US with William Penn in the 17th Century. By 1908 a publication reported that he had homes in Cornwall, England and Reno, Nevada. A notice in the Times Colonist in 1899 suggests that there may have been a period of financial instability within the family in connection to their British Columbia investments. We suspect his young son, John, who had moved to Victoria in 1895 as a deckhand, may have been the cause of the notice.

When he died in 1929, the Baron was living in Rome and using his Italian title – the New York times reporting “James Canby Biddle Cope, Baron Di Valromita, died on Tuesday at his home in Rome”. The Baron had a second family of five children from his time in Italy. We’ve see another part of the contemporary building before. 333 Seymour (once associated with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, an earlier tenant) is a chrome and black glass office tower from 1985. The architects were Tudor & Walters.

Image source, City of Vancouver Archives 1925 CVA Hot N45, Thanks too to Patrick Gunn at Heritage Vancouver.


%d bloggers like this: