We’re on the north-west corner of Georgia and Granville, and the Johnston-Howe block stood here for over 70 years until it was replaced with one of the dark towers of the Pacific Centre Mall in 1972. It was completed in 1900 on the site of the CPR’s park (across the street from the first Hotel Vancouver) Our 1970 image was shot pretty much at the end of the building’s existence. There’s another view of the buildings in an earlier post
There was always a pharmacy in the building – when it first opened J R Seymour, druggist operated there; in the 1920s Darling’s Pharmacy was on the northern end of the Granville side, and when it closed London Drugs were occupying the corner. In the 1920’s the corner store was a ‘Don’t Argue’ (Don’t argue: Con Jones sells fresh tobacco).
We know (from the water hookup) that G W Grant designed the building, and in 1914 S L Howe hired Grant, Henderson and Cook to design repairs for 693 Granville. Grant had remodelled the Lord Strathcona block nearby a couple of years earlier. Johnston was Benjamin B Johnston, a real estate promoter who was in partnership with Howe, and had developed his office building on Hastings Street, designed by G W Grant in 1899. Johnston was born in Toronto, where he initially published ‘The Mercantile Agency’ before moving to Emerson, Manitoba and starting a career in real estate from 1881 to 1889. In Vancouver he partnered with Charles S Douglas. Their firm was described in 1891 as “amongst the heaviest dealers in real estate in Vancouver. They do a general real estate business, buy and sell property, rent houses and negotiate loans on real estate securities for residents and non residents in England, Eastern Canada and the United States“. He was living in New Westminster in 1891, and in Vancouver in 1901 with his wife Emily and children Edna, Norquay, twins Douglas and Sholto and his 88 year-old father, James.
Together in 1902 Johnston and Howe promoted the remote, undeveloped widerness of Kitimat as “the coming northern metropolis of Canada.” The lots soon sold for significantly more than they cost to acquire, and Johnston and Howe’s advertisments claimed “Steamships running from Kitimat will have the shortest and most direct route to the Orient, whose millions of consumers are to be the customers of the products from Canada’s vast resources”. Unfortunately for Kitimat the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway instead headed to the water by buying land at $1 an acre and created Prince Rupert. By then Johnston and Howe no longer had to worry – they had made their money already.
S L Howe was Samuel Lyness Howe, an Ontario-born businessman who lived on Nelson Street in 1911 with his family and two domestic servants. He later entered provincial politics as a Conservative and was Provincial Secretary in 1930. Initially the building stood quite isolated – although the Hudson’s Bay store was on the other side of Granville.
Mr Seymour recalled the early days of the building in a conversation with City Archivist Major Matthews. “I paid him seventy-five dollars a month rent for the first year, gradually rising to ninety dollars for the last year, 1904. My first drug store was on the corner of Seymour Street and Hastings, my second as above, exactly the same store as now, the Georgia Pharmacy. I sold both my stores in 1904 to Messrs. McDowell, Atkins and Watson, at that time the big drug firm of Vancouver, for $25,000. Of course, there was not much business at Georgia and Granville in 1900, when I first went there. There were plenty of vacant lots on Granville Street between Robson and the C.P.R. Depot.”
The proprietor of the Georgia Pharmacy thought that Mr Howe had sold the building in 1928 (before the stock exchange crash) for $825,000. Mr Howe had some expensive hobbies: in 1910 he won second prize at the Portland Horse Show (the one in Oregon) for his pair of geldings over 15 hands, Brigham Pearl and Highland Laddie. His daughter also won a prize at the same show, so the entire family, and horses, must have made the trip south.
These days an office known as 701 West Georgia, part of the Pacific Centre Mall, sits on the site. The shorter cousin of the TD Tower, it was known as the IBM Tower for twenty years.
Image source – second photo, City of Vancouver Archives Str P76