This is one of the earliest houses built in the city, in the newly cleared CPR land one block off Granville Street where they were developing their hotel and office buildings to create their new city centre away from Gastown. We know a fair bit about it because the owner’s daughter gave a detailed interview to Major Matthews, who recorded it in the early City Archives.
The owner of the house was Lieutenant-Colonel Lacey R. Johnson, V.D., first Master Mechanic, Pacific Division, Canadian Pacific Railway. Mrs Evans, the daughter in question recalled “As Mother and my brother, now Col. R.E. Johnson of Montréal, and two sisters, Grace and Julia, were travelling westwards on the train, a telegram reached us from Father which read in part, ‘Vancouver in ashes’ (13 June 1886), “so we got off at Yale. We had closed up our home at Carlton Place, Ontario, so our furniture en route went to Vancouver. Whilst at Yale, we lived, first, in a furnished cottage belonging to Dan McDougall”
“We remained at Yale, and then came on to Vancouver in Father’s railway car, September 3rd , 1887, and lived in it for about ten days on a siding at the foot of Granville Street until our house, 455 Seymour Street, west side, close to Georgia Street, and now part of the site of the Hudson’s Bay store, was completed. Father had started to build before the Fire; the lumber was on the ground, but the fire destroyed the lumber; it had to be replaced.
“I recall that when we first went there, there were no buildings near; the view down the slope towards Water Street was unobstructed; then, later, the nearest building was the No. 2 Fire Hall, on the east side of Seymour, south of Georgie Street.”
“This photo of our first house, 455 Seymour Street; Father is on the steps with my brother Ernest, and I am looking out of the window. I remember it so well. Here is the Durham Block, on Granville Street, where Christ Church held the first service—in the evening—in one of the stores on the ground floor. You know that after Christ Church was built, the sheriff was going to seize the church for debt, and Mr. H.J. Ceperley, W.J. Salsbury, H.J. Cambie, and Father, four of them, contributed one thousand dollars each to ‘save it.’ I know that Father mortgaged our house to get his one thousand dollars. No, it was never returned to him.”
The family stayed in the house for three years, then moved to a new house on Beach Avenue. (Note that 455 later became 677 Seymour Street). The House stood until 1912, and must have been bought by the Hudson’s Bay Company as it is where they built the first phase of the existing building in 1913. (The first Hudson’s Bay store was in Gastown, and the second at Georgia and Granville. The expansion in 1913 was on Seymour, and then the second building was demolished and replaced to match the Seymour building in 1925. For a while both the 1893 building and the 1913 building stood side by side as the 1917 image on the right shows).
The architects were Burke, Horwood & White and the contractors Rourke, MacDonald & Moncreiff, and the first Seymour and Georgia phase of the construction cost $900,000. The architects were from Toronto, and specialised in designing large commercial buildings using historic styles but contemporary materials (favouring glazed terra-cotta, steel frames and fireproof construction methods). Although it was considered a new technique, the building had a reinforced concrete frame rather than steel (which had to be shipped from the east at considerable cost). Although a substantial building, at six storeys, the design included the possibility of an additional four storeys at a later date.
The design in part referenced Chicago architect Daniel Burnham’s store in London for American retailer Gordon Selfridge. This has been called a ‘decorated warehouse’ – which is in a sense what all the big departmental stores have been from that point on. The Vancouver design was deemed so successful other Hudson’s Bay stores were designed in the same style, starting with Calgary (which actually completed ahead of Vancouver) and Victoria.
Recent restoration of the terra-cotta, and the removal of a solid metal canopy with lightweight glazed weather protection have given the newly revitalised Bay building a new lease of life.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu P119 and CVA 260-1043