Philadelphia Rosa Williams was probably born in 1832. She married a clergyman, Leigh Spencer, and they seem to have had five children. (Rev Spencer’s name was probably Oliph Leigh Spencer, but he was always recorded as Leigh). His family had founded All Souls College, Oxford, and there had been other members of the clergy over the years. Rosa Leigh Spencer, their daughter, was born in 1857 (or 1858) in Harpenden in Hertfordshire, England, and she had three older brothers including one called Oliph, born in 1852.
Leigh Spencer Building – Granville Street
Rosa’s father was the vicar of Renhold, Bedfordshire from 1859 to 1885. The family seems to have had additional financial resources as the Rev Spencer paid for the restoration of the church building. In 1881 the family who were living at home – her father, mother Philadelphia and sister Maude had three servants. (There were three sons not recorded as living at home). Her father died in 1886, and Miss Spencer found herself single, in her late twenties, and apparently comfortably off. She set off for Canada that year; it seems likely that she may have joined her brother. We are almost certain that the O L Spencer, barrister, who practiced in Vancouver from 1893 is Oliph Leigh Spencer. In 1891 he was in Ontario, although we have been unable to identify his sister in the census that year. In 1894 however she was certainly in the province, if not in the city, as she had an unfortunate (and expensive) incident in Nanaimo
In 1894 O L Spencer was a barrister with Armstrong and Spencer, living at 233 Dunlevy. A year later he was living on Comox Street, In 1898 he had rooms in the Badminton Hotel, and was the president of the Vancouver Bicycle Club. A year later he had rooms in the Metropole Hotel and in 1900 his office was in the Flack Block and he was living on Barclay Street (where he stayed for several years). That year, for the first time R L Leigh Spencer was listed (with an office but no home address) and a year later there was a home address – 872 Burrard.
In 1902 O L Spencer was elected as a Park Commissioner.
Their mother was still in London in 1889, acting as exectutor to Charlotte Sophia Campbell, Baroness Craignish, who died that year at the same address that Philadelphia Spencer lived (3, Welbeck Mansions, Cadogan Terrace). She must have joined either her son or daughter some time later as Philadelphia Rosa Leigh Spencer died in Vancouver in 1902 aged 72. In 1901 R Leigh Spencer was recorded in the census, born in England, arrived in 1886, in real estate, living alone, aged 37. (Actually, she was 43). Her brother doesn’t seem to have been recorded. In 1900 we found Miss Spencer involved in mining near Nelson. A Nelson Tribune article refers to Miss Spencer as ‘the only lady promoter in the province”. In 1902 she owned land in Cumberland, another mining district.
In 1901 we assume that the Miss L Spencer who built a $5,000 building designed by ‘Mr Grant’ on Granville Street was Rosa. The building was only 25 feet wide, and the pictures that exist for the early 1900s show a building which seems to have an unusual oval window on both the second and third floors. We’re assuming Mr Grant was G W Grant, a popular architect during this period. His design for the Ormidale Block (still standing on Hastings Street) a year earlier also features an oval window.
In 1904 O L Spencer was the secretary of the Vancouver Yacht Club, and then on the last day of 1905 the Times Colonist announced his sudden death from pneumonia while on a visit to San Francisco. This entirely unexpected turn of events appaently left his wife a widow. We have been able to confirm that this death, and therefore O L Spencer was almost certainly Rosa’s 54 year old brother, as the San Francisco funeral home registered the death of Oliph L Spencer in 1905. His wife was Annie (nee McDougall), and in 1884 Oliph Leigh Leigh Spencer was born in Toronto, so it appears he had at least one son (who died in Ganges on Saltspring Island in 1965), and two daughters, Dorothy and Vivian born in 1888 and 1889.
In 1909 Miss Spencer decided to replace her eight year old 3-storey building with an 8-storey steel office, designed by E W Houghton of Seattle. That’s it closer to the camera, next door to the Bower Building (built a year or so earlier). Known as the Leigh Spencer building it took a year to fill, but by 1913 had a variety of tenants, the Lock Tie Brick Co Ltd, Acme Manicring Parlors (on the fourth floor), several real estate offices, three barristers, Painter and Swales, the architects, the Vancouver Press Club on the seventh floor, and on the top floor “Leigh-Spencer, Miss”.
In 1910 Miss spencer built a $5,500 house at 2326 York designed by Cox & Thompson (who were generally builders).
She lived in Victoria for a year (posibly while her house was being built). At some point during her stay in Vancouver, in some reports and eventually on her death certificate Rosa had acquired an extra ‘Leigh’ (so recorded as Rosa Leigh Leigh-Spencer). She died in Vancouver in 1937, recorded as being aged 80, single.
Today there’s another office building on the site called the Bower Building covering the 75 foot width once occupied by the Leigh Spencer Building and the earlier Bower Building. The new building is 14 storeys, designed by Eng + Wright in 1995.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Str P424