Wood, Vallance and Leggat – 8 to 12 West Cordova Street

Wood Vallance Leggat Cordova 1908

Thomas Dunn, born in Edinburgh, sold hardware in Scotland, and continued to do so when he moved to Canada in 1876. He arrived in Victoria in 1883, and in Vancouver in February 1886, four months before the new city burned to Dunn's 1898the ground. In 1889 he teamed up with postmaster and pioneer Jonathan Miller to build the Dunn-Miller block on Cordova Street, the pair hiring N S Hoffar to create a harmonious and heavily decorated brick facade, behind which a number of different businesses operated. In the bays furthest to the east, Dunn set up his hardware business. Here’s Dunn’s business in 1898, four years before he sold the business (but not his share in the building).  In the upper floors were a variety of public spaces and offices. The Vancouver Reading Room was here, and so were the offices of the Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Co (where Thomas Dunn was Vice President). In 1891 Vancouver’s first Jewish congregation celebrated the High Holy Days at the Knights of Pythias Hall, located on the second floor of the building. In the photo above you’ll see “Entrance K.P. Hall” over one of the doors.

The company that bought Thomas Dunn’s business was Wood, Vallance and Leggat. Andrew Wood was from Northern Ireland, and he was working in Toronto by 1846. By 1856 he was in Hamilton and running his own hardware business, and three years later he went into partnership with Matthew Leggat.

Leggat was a Scotsman who arrived in Canada in 1854. His wife, June, also arrived from Scotland six years later and while we don’t know when they married, they had at least three children, including a son John, and another three years younger, called Matthew like his father in 1871. They settled in Hamilton, and both Matthew senior and his son were still living in the same household in 1901 (with the help of a domestic staff of three). In 1880, as the Canadian Pacific worked its way westwards, the company set up in Winnipeg. Five years later they reorganized the business by bringing in two more special partners, William Valiance, manager at the head office, and Wood’s elder son, William Augustus, who had been with the firm since 1872. As Wood Vallance they became the largest wholesale hardware business in Canada. By buying in anticipation of sales and carrying huge inventories, the firm reduced its marketing risks. Its practice was to order by the carload: 10,000 kegs of nails from the Ontario Rolling Mills Company, 200 tons of wire from the Ontario Lead and Barb Wire Company, 40 tons of twine from the Brantford Cordage Company, and 1 million bolts from the Ontario Bolt Company.

When Thomas Dunn sold out to Wood Vallance, they seem to have turned to the younger Matthew Leggat to run the new business. In 1902, when he arrived in Vancouver, he lived at 1102 Seaton and was referred to as Matthew Hendry Leggat, treasurer and secretary of the company’s Vancouver operation. A year later he was at 1126 Seaton, and in 1909 at 27 West Hastings. (Our photograph shows the retail part of the company on Cordova Street in 1908) A year later he was listed as living on The Crescent in Shaughnessy. For some reason the 1911 census shows the family address as 1847 Barclay St, Matthew’s wife is called Anne and their son seems to have been called Hendrix – although Hendrie seems rather more likely, and later he was listed as Matthew, like his father and grandfather. The name Hendrie may have come from Matthew’s wife; the Hendrie family were another wealthy Hamilton industrial family, originally from Detroit. The Leggats are still shown living on The Crescent in 1930 – and Matthew Leggat’s son, Matthew, was living at home too, although the company had abandoned the Cordova location to the Sterling Hardware Company.

These days the Army and Navy store occupies the space, although only the first few metres of the store are original construction, the remainder of the structure having been rebuilt in the early 1970s.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu P500.2

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