Henry McDowell initially started his working life as a school teacher and then learned the trade of a chemist in Milton, Ontario. He arrived in Vancouver aged 26 almost immediately after the fire had destroyed the new city in June 1886. He set up his store on Cordova Street and in 1891 moved to Granville by buying A W Draper’s business and partnering with Harry Watson, another Milton born Ontario pharmacist who had arrived in 1889. A Daily World souvenir publication from 1891 said “They have a large sale of patent medicines and are proprietors and manufactures of McDowell’s Syrup of Linseed and Hoarhound, McDowell’s Beef Iron and Wine, McDowell’s Embrocation and McDowell’s Extract of Sarsasparilla and Iodides.”
Henry McDowell was connected with the Vancouver Street Railway and Electric Light Co., the Union Steamship Co., the Vancouver City Foundry Co, and was a prominent member of the Board of Trade. In 1895 Atkins and Atkins, another Vancouver druggist merged with McDowell and Watson. The combined company, McDowell, Atkins & Watson, druggists, built this store and office building in 1899. They eventually had 11 stores including one at Hastings and Homer in Harvey’s Chambers.
Atkins and Atkins were Thomas and John Atkins who were from Truro, Nova Scotia. Thomas was a druggist in Londonderry, Nova Scotia, before setting up in Vancouver in 1889, initially in real estate and then six months later as a pharmacist. His brother joined him in 1892. In 1907 the partners sold out to the National Drug Company, and Thomas Atkins retired although Mr McDowell retained an active interest in the business. He retired in 1909, living at 1900 Barclay Street with his wife and three children. Harry Watson also continued with the firm – in 1910 he was President while also representing Vancouver as the MLA for Vancouver Centre. In 1913 he lived at 1230 Barclay Street with his wife and daughter.
For a while, while the National Drug Co were owners in the early 1900s, the building took its Cordova address. From 1904 to 1909 this became Stark’s Glasgow House, selling Dry Goods. In 1910 the property became the Hotel Carlton (with the Carlton Cafe downstairs), and in 1914 it had become the Carlton Hotel, a name it retained for many decades. Max Crowe was the proprietor in 1912. Today the building is the Cambie Hostel, but our 1900 image is from a publication called Vancouver Architecturally produced by five of the city’s architects including Parr and Fee, who claimed credit for the design of the building, although some sources suggest Samuel McClure designed it with J E Parr. The building is one of Parr’s first in the city (whether with or without Fee) and features a series of cast iron windows between brick piers. Unlike their later trademark centrally pivoted windows, this building had more traditional sash units.