Mission House – 148 Alexander Street

Army & Navy Warehouse Alexander 1949

In 1912 Brown and Howey hired Braunton and Leibert to design a $50,000 5-storey brick apartment building for 148-156 Alexander Street. The builders were to be Egdell & Dixon. Seven months later the same owners and architects proposed a $16,000 two-storey brick warehouse. In fact, we think both buildings were completed – Brown and Howey’s feed warehouse was the two storey building on the right of the picture – the five storey building was entirely different.

Brown and Howey were William R Brown and Wesley Howey. Both apparently managed to evade the 1911 census, but fortunately Wesley was in Vancouver in 1901, so we know he was born in Ontario in 1868 with a father who had emigrated from Kilkenny in Ireland and a mother from Quebec. He was one of eleven children who scattered around North America. His sister Rebecca was in Minnesota, their older sister Margaret in Medicine Hat, Alberta, one brother in Brandon, Manitoba, another in Edmonton and his younger brother Dr Richard Howey in Toronto. His older brother George was a placer miner in Alaska who died in the shipwreck of the CPR Princess Sophia in 1918 . Wesley was described as a flour and feed merchant in 1901, staying as a lodger with William and Julia Soames and their family.

We despaired of chasing down William Brown – mainly because in 1911 there were 20 people in Vancouver whose parents thought William would be a fine name for their son. We know he was living on Davie Street, and fortunately in 1901 there were only ten William Browns in town, and so we know that he was born in New Brunswick, as was his wife, Jane, and his family background was Scottish.

The company only operated in their building for a few years. Next door the 5 storey apartment was altogether different. it was the Vancouver Rescue Mission, operated by the B.C. Protective Association. The heritage description notes “Designed to house 300 men per night, the Mission had a kitchen and dining hall. There were nightly gospel meetings. The charity offered by the mission was aimed at ‘neglected men’ – the working poor and the ‘derelict’ unemployed. The men who could afford to, paid for their accommodation, while those who could not paid with tickets issued by the City’s welfare department. The men were encouraged to try to find work through the Mission’s employment bureau and to help pay for their keep by working in the Mission’s scavenging business.”

By 1922 Gordon and Belyea were in the building as the base of their wholesale hardware supply company, and by 1949 when our VPL image was taken it was the warehouse for Army and Navy Stores. In 1982 it returned to residential use with just 16 apartments over commercial space (with an added sixth floor) designed by Tor Skjelvic in one of the earliest warehouse conversions in Gastown.

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