These days 514 Alexander is dressed a little like one of San Francisco’s ‘Painted ladies’ – which is not inappropriate, given its early history. Miss Alice Bernard was the first owner back in 1912, when a surprising number of houses were built on Alexander Street. The names of several of the owners appear in the Street Directory a year earlier in an entirely different location, on the 100 block of Harris Street – Miss Bernard among them.
If her census entry is correct, Miss Bernard had arrived from France in 1890. We thought her first appearance in Vancouver was in 1901, when she was resident at 11 Dupont Street. She’s recorded in the 1901 Census as Alice Bernhardt, aged 31, single and living alone. Quong On Chong Co were operating from the same address – Miss Bernard presumably lived upstairs. About half the buildings on the unit and 100 blocks of Dupont street were Chinese businesses – the other half were ladies, including Dolly Jones, Hattie Stewart, Miss Frankie Preston and Dora Reno. Dora, who had probably arrived from Fairhaven in 1889 (where she owned the best of the 21 establishments that catered to the needs of visiting sailors) had retired by 1904 when she was prosecuted for owning a house used for prostitution – 140 Dupont, one of four she owned on the street. Her lawyer successfully persuaded the court that the by-law wasn’t legally within the purview of the city authorities.
More recently we’ve noted that while Alice Barnard isn’t in town until 1901, Miss Nellie Burnard was occupying one of the new Dupont Street residences (at 152 Dupont) as early as 1891, although she isn’t listed again for a number of years. (In the 1890s some street directories chose to mark the city’s brothels as ‘inhabited’ with no details of who you could visit – even the addresses were omitted for a few years).
Despite this setback the authorities found other ways of moving the ladies from Dupont, and by 1910 they had scattered to several locations including Park Street and Harris Street. The 100 block of Harris was a small spur to the west of Main Street, and by 1910 all the owners of property were women, including Alice Barnard who is recorded as altering a house at 112 Harris in 1909 and in 1910 (as Alice Bernard) hiring H B Watson to design a $14,000 rooming house. In 1911 the census recorded Alice Barnard (now born in 1873 and therefore only 38 years old) living on Shore Street (the name now attached to the spur of Harris Street). Alice (whose employment was listed as landlady) was not alone – she was head of a household of eight – her lodgers (all of whom had no identified employment) were 34 year old Blanche La Livre, Blusta Driand (29), Carmen Wilson (26) and Monet DeLoue aged 30 (all from France), Lena, Dachamp (31) and Ruth Scurry (26) from Quebec and Violet Desmond aged 25 from the US.
Clearly the Shore Street / Harris Street location caused the authorities a problem – despite the significant investment that Alice had made in her new property, in 1912 she was building the 514 Alexander Street property (listed at the time as 538 Alexander) designed and built byW McMullen at a cost of $14,500 as apartment/rooming house. A month later Woolridge & McMullen carried out significant repairs to a house at 620 Alexander for Miss Bernard, whose name is recorded at both addresses in the 1912 Street Directory.
A year later Alice has disappeared. The Alexander Street houses continued to be exclusively occupied by women for a few more years, but Alice Bernard (or Barnard, or Bernhardt) seems to have died or left town. At the end of 1912 she hired A C Howard to carry out alterations to a store at 634 Granville Street, but there’s no sign of her there either in 1913. By 1915 almost all the houses on the 500 and 600 blocks of Alexander were vacant – only four were occupied by women and a year later only two were left (and most of the women seem to have left the city). By 1920 the block was exclusively occupied by Japanese – none of the ladies remain.
Our 1978 image shows the building lived on as a rooming house, as it had for at least 50 years. Today the Lookout Society operate the Jeffrey Ross Annex (in association with the 1993 building next door) for residents whose home community is the Downtown Eastside and who live with a disability, although able to live independently with appropriate supports.