East Pender and Columbia Street (1)

Columbia & Pender 1929

Here’s the three storey building on the north-east corner of East Pender and Columbia. It didn’t start life like this – it was a two storey building originally, and it was on the corner of Dupont Street (the previous name for this stretch of East Pender).

We’re not totally sure who designed it, or who developed it. It first shows up as the Avenue Hotel in 1896, and W S Cook was the proprietor in 1898. It was located in an interesting part of town that was partly Chinese (so the Hope Sun Co, tailors, were in a retail unit at 107 Dupont in 1898). However, the rest of the block was houses – housing the other main business activity that this part of Dupont was known for. Next door Mrs Laura Scott was resident, while at 115 Dupont Dora Reno was landlady, an American who a few years earlier had run a facility in Fairhaven, south of the border. They were by no means alone – the rest of this side of the block was occupied by young ladies including Pansy Moore, Frankie Preston and Florence Hastings.

In 1889 there had been a Chinese tenement, with Sam Lung’s laundry next door. By 1895 the site appears to be empty, and there were houses next door, occupied by Miss Mackenzie and Miss Jones. Miss Dora Reno was on the block then too, but at 131 Dupont. A year later this building, the Avenue Hotel was open, but the stores were still vacant. The ladies – or a number of ladies – were here (although only Frankie Preston and Dora Reno seem to be the long-term occupants of the block).

In 1901 Mr Cook was still proprietor of the hotel, and next door Laura Scott was landlady, with Dora Reno next door to her, then Miss Hill, Frankie Preston, Minnie Robertson, Hattie Stewart, Lottie Mansfield, Frankie Reid and Jennie Manning on the corner of Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street). The 1901 Insurance map shows the Avenue as a Chinese Hotel. The 1901 census confirms an observation from the 1891 census – while Miss Reno, Miss Preston and the other ladies on the street were usually listed as having the profession of lodging house keepers, there were generally three, four or five other ‘lodgers’ – all female, often listed as seamstresses, milliners or dressmakers. Most, but by no means all were from the USA, with others from a variety of European countries including England, Ireland, Germany, and France.

It’s likely that this version of the hotel was built by ‘Sam Kee’. He hired R T Perry to design a brick hotel costing $15,900 to build on Columbia Street in 1911, although the clerk recorded a street block on Pender. The Archives have a 1912 register for the Great Northern Hotel in the Sam Kee Company records. The Sam Kee business was on the opposite side of Dupont as early as 1889, and we know Sam Kee owned the hotel in 1915; he hired W H Chow to design alterations to 107 East Pender and he also carried out repairs to a club in the building in 1917. By that time it was no longer the Avenue Hotel – it was the Great Northern Hotel (it changed it’s name between 1906 and 1907). It was associated with the great Northern Railway who had their railway station across the street, with the tracks running in north on a trestle over False Creek. A few years later they built a magnificent new station on the False Creek Flats (demolished in 1965).

Even up to 1911 W S Cook was still proprietor, an amazingly long tenure in a city that generally saw a revolving door of hotel operators. William Cook hailed from Nova Scotia, and had been in the city in 1892 when he bought a lime-burning business based on Dupont street from Donald Menzies. While his family seems to have missed the 1901 census, in 1911 he’s head of a big household with a housekeeper, two married daughters (and their husbands), two sons aged 19 and 15 and a 10 year old daughter.

The club that Sam Kee repaired was the Oceanic Club, and by 1917 the Sam Kee store was next door to the hotel in a 1903 building designed by W T Whiteway for Chu Lai, a Victoria-based merchant. Technically there was no Sam Kee – that was a company run by Chang Toy, but the company name is almost always referred to as if there was a real person. By 1917 there were no ladies on the block – they’d been run off (mostly to Alexander Street) and all the businesses had Chinese names.

By 1929 when this image was shot, the hotel and the area was still almost completely Chinese. The hotel was no longer a hotel, and no names are associated with some of the business – just ‘Chinese’ and ‘Chinese Rooms’, although W Santien & Co were identified as being at 103 E Pender, Chinese dry goods merchants.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-2465

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