East Hastings Street from Columbia

Hastings from Columbia

Here’s a view of East Hastings Street, looking east from Columbia Street, taken in the late 1900s. It’s shot after Crowe & Wilson built their new block in 1906, but before the three much taller buildings were added to the east; the Balmoral,  the Washington and the Dawson Building, all in 1912.

The building on the right is sometimes identified as the McDonough Hall, (although it probably wasn’t actually called that, as our post clarifies) and this picture makes greater sense of the curious projecting corner window, which originally served as a porch over the doorway. On the left, the three-storey building behind the tram is identified on the insurance maps as the ‘Crowe and Wilson Building’. We’ve already seen buildings developed by the same partners, the Selkirk Building, Crowe & Wilson Chambers, and one by Wilson on his own on Granville Street. This was built in 1906, and while we haven’t been able to confirm an architect, we’re betting it was Dalton and Eveleigh who seem to have designed many of the other Crowe and Wilson buildings.

As well as creating a sizeable property empire, both men were elected aldermen on Vancouver City Council, and Crowe was appointed to the Senate. Sanford Johnson Crowe was born February 14, 1868 in Truro, NS, moved to Vancouver in 1888 and became a contractor. He retired in 1909 to enter politics (although his name stayed on the firm, which continued to be active as developers) and was elected an alderman on Council from 1909 until 1915. He lived on Pendrell Street in the West End, and was elected to the House of Commons in 1917 as a Liberal-Unionist. He was appointed to the Senate in 1921 where he sat until his death in 1931, aged 63. Crowe was important enough in the construction industry to represent the employers in a 1907 strike by carpenters. The employers meetings were held in the Crowe and Wilson Block.

Charles H Wilson arrived in Vancouver three weeks after the fire in 1886 from Wingham, Ontario and joined the real estate boom as both a contractor and real estate broker. He was successful enough to have an area called Wilson Heights named after him (and 41st Avenue was Wilson Avenue for a while). He was elected Alderman from 1902 to 1905, and lived in the West End on Nelson Street.

The area the building first appeared in changed. By 1947 the Western Sports Club were in the building, the year that 142 people were arrested for gambling. Seventeen men were charged as ‘gaming house keepers’ and the rest were charged as ‘inmates’. John Mackie at the Vancouver Sun recently reported the story: “It was the second-biggest raid of its kind in Vancouver history, and the police station wasn’t prepared for the flood of prisoners. Police headquarters was a scene of confusion and overcrowding today as the accused appeared in court,” said The Sun. “Prison cells were overflowing, corridors were jammed with prisoners and spectators.” The raid was conducted by 30 policemen, who found 15 gambling tables in operation, seized gambling paraphernalia and confiscated $400 in cash. “Under their provincial charter, card clubs are not allowed to take more than 10 cents an hour or 50 cents a day from each member,” The Sun explained. “The ‘house’ is not permitted to sell cards or take a cut from the ‘pot.’ At a trial of the Western Sport Club’s five owners in the fall of 1947, the club was reported to have taken in $163,290 in “general income” in 1946. A jury found the men guilty of operating a gaming house, and a judge imposed a fine of $100 each, or 30 days in jail.”

Up to the 1990s the building was used as a rooming house, last known as the West Inn. Since 2003, after extensive renovations to the building designed by S R McEwen Architects, Insite has operated from the building, the only legal supervised injection site in North America. Upstairs is Onsite, a drug treatment program managed, like Insite, by the Portland Hotel Society.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-649 1906, Philip Timms

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