Robson and Chilco Streets

Robson & Chilco

In 1910 this was a brand new home. This was just one house, the property of J A Russell that had been completed a year earlier at a cost of $5,000 to the design of W H Milner. Mr Milner became a distinguished architect, but not in Vancouver. He appears to have been responsible for only one other design in the city, but it was a really important one, the $45,000 Vancouver Horse Show building on West Georgia Street, built in the same year as this house. His main practice was in Seattle, although he also briefly had a joint partnership with John R Wilson in Victoria.

The huge house was the home of a small family, just father (Joseph), mother (Jessie) and Flora, their 23 year old daughter. The rest of the household consisted of Mary Depford, a nurse, the Domestics, Annie and Fito, and the labourers, John and Frank (Annie’s husband). This clearly wealthy household was the home of one of the city’s most important lawyers, partner with his brother (and other partners at various times) in what appears to have been the most successful law firm of the day.

Joseph Russell was born in New Brunswick in 1866, was called to the bar there in 1887 and headed to Vancouver a year later. As with many of the most successful Vancouver residents, Mr Russell did not limit his interests to his profession. A 1914 biography extensively described his activities “For nine years Mr. Russell filled the position of police magistrate of the growing city of Vancouver, and aside from duties thus directly connected with law practice, he has had other business interests, being heavily interested in the salmon canning industry for several years. For a long time he has been interested in timber, holding substantial interests in two large lumber companies, and he is now interested in other industries, including the Vancouver Ship Yard, Ltd., and the Burton-Shaw Manufacturing Company, Ltd. He owns claims and is very active in coast mining for gold and copper, and the keen analytical power and ready discernment of the lawyer are also effective forces in recognizing the possibilities of a business situation and the utilization of these possibilities in the attainment of success. Mr. Russell was one of those who conceived the idea of establishing the Vancouver Horse Show and became one of the founders and active promoters of the association, of which he has been a director and an exhibitor from its inception.”

“In the field of sports Mr. Russell is well-known, and for many years was president and captain of the Vancouver Rowing Club. He stroked the crew for four years without a single loss. He is a member of the Vancouver Tennis Club, Vancouver Athletic Club, and was for some time president of the Pacific Northwest Amateur Athletic Association. He likewise belongs to the Brockton Point Athletic Club, has been master of the Vancouver Hunt Club since its inception in 1886, and is a member of the Canadian, Vancouver, Jericho Country and Minoru Clubs. He is a recognized leader in political circles and deeply interested in civic affairs of the city and province, but owing to his extensive practice and many private interests he has not found time to become openly identified with these.”

The collapse of the property market saved the house – in 1913 H B Watson was hired to design a six storey apartment building here, but it appears it was never built; Joseph Russell was still living here in 1920, and the family remained here until 1937. His legal practice was unusual because he represented many Chinese clients, and challenged many of the prejudices of the day. More on this aspect of Mr. Russell’s history can be seen here.

The building that replaced the house is perhaps older that it looks. Chilco Towers was built in 1957 and designed by Kenneth A Gardner. Gardner was born in South Africa in 1919 but emigrated in 1953, and established a successful practice in Vancouver designing two of the first ‘self-owned apartments’ in the city – including this one. These pre-date the legislation that created strata ownership, so they were described as ‘tenant-owned apartments’ and were built by ‘Self-Owned Apartments Ltd’. They cost from $17,000 for a 1-bedroom to $38,000 for 3-bedrooms. The modernist building had (and partly still has) fabulous views – but no balconies.

Image source; City of Vancouver Archives CVA M-11-59


Posted 15 July 2013 by ChangingCity in Gone, West End

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