McLennan and McFeely – East Cordova Street

McLennan & McFeely

McLennan, McFeely and Company Limited were the city’s most successful importer of hardware and building supplies at the turn of the 20th century. In 1906 they built themselves a massive new warehouse on the corner of Columbia and East Cordova,  hiring E E  Blackmore to design it; (the son of William Blackmore who designed the adjacent Commercial Block).

Both McLennan and McFeely were in the city before the 1886 fire: Robert Purves McLennan was from Pictou, Nova Scotia and had run a hardware store in River John before moving to Winnipeg in 1882 aged 21. Edward John McFeely was from Lindsay, Ontario, was two years younger than McLennan and also sought his fortune in Winnipeg in 1882. The future partners met there and worked together, but the boom ended quickly (his biography calls it ‘the real estate reaction’) and he headed to Minneapolis. McLennan had gone to Victoria in 1884, establishing an ornamental ironwork and tin cornice company that expanded rapidly. He invited McFeely to join him in business and they bought a lot on Powell Street in Vancouver to build a warehouse. The frame was up when the fire destroyed the town, but apparently the lumber it was built from was still wet, having been floated in a raft, so it didn’t burn and they were able to complete it quickly (covering it with corrugated iron) and cash in on the building frenzy that followed. During the 1890s the firm’s focus shifter from roofing and tinsmithing to wholesaling. In 1891 McLennan had 13 people working with him in Victoria and McFeely 17 in Vancouver.

McLennan & McFeely 1905Further buildings followed; in 1889 their business ‘stoves, tinsmiths and plumbers’ was in a 3 storey building designed for them in 1887 by Elmer Fisher, on the 100 block of Cordova, the main business street of the day. It was apparently extensively covered with the company’s own decorative metal trim,and the city’s library was for a while in a rented room upstairs. In 1900 GW Grant designed a new warehouse on Pender, and in 1905 E E Blackmore and W T Whiteway designed a new warehouse on Water Street that was completed, but never occupied by the company. Hardware and Merchandising magazine explained “McLennan, McFeely Company, Vancouver, have leased the block that Contractor J. McLuckie is erecting on the corner of Water and Abbott streets to the Fairbanks Company. The block will be three stories high, and the estimated cost is $30,000. It will have a private siding from the C. P. R. and, being right on the waterfront, is well located.” Instead they commissioned this massive (150,000 square feet) warehouse on Cordova at Columbia in 1906. In fact, they commissioned two buildings for this site – Parr and Fee designed the building on the left for Cordova and Columbia at some time before 1900 – as far as we know it was never built.

Our top image shows the building in 1910; the one below shows it in 1920. Both McLennan and McFeely became important members of the city’s business establishment. Both were associated with the Board of Trade, and Robert McLennan was also on the School Board, a member of the Board of Governors of UBC and President of the Bank of Vancouver. Edward McFeely owned a motor yacht, the ‘Jolly Mac’ in which he cruised the BC Coast. Robert McLellan owed a 330 acre farm on Gambier Island with extensive orchards and a prize dairy herd. McFeely was mostly responsible for running the Vancouver operation; McLellan supervised the Yukon operations for five years from 1898, his family joining him every summer. He even became mayor of Dawson for a year in 1903 (having sold the retail side of the business in 1902), but in 1904 the remaining operations were sold and McLennan returned to Vancouver. A third partner, E G Prior, was added in the late 1920s to create  McLennan, McFeely and Prior Limited as the company continued to expand after Robert McLennan’s death.

Edward McFeely was married in Victoria in 1889 and there were six children. Robert McLennan married in Nova Scotia in 1887 and had ten children, including one born in Dawson City in the Yukon. McLennan died in 1927, and McFeely in 1928, one month after retiring.

McLennan McFeely 2

In the 1970s the Koret clothing company from San Francisco occupied the building, and the residential conversion completed in 2006 still bears their name. The Koret Lofts has 118 live-work units with an extra floor added to the building with the conversion and restoration designed by Simon Bonnettemaker at Gower Yeung and Associates.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives Str P419 and CVA 99 – 3275

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