In many of the images we publish the contemporary view is of street trees, added over recent years, that makes seeing the buildings behind more difficult. That’s not the case on Burrard Street – back in 1923 the street foliage was every bit as lush as it is today (if not more so). Burrard was really a wide boulevard residential street then – it didn’t really go anywhere to the south; (the Burrard Bridge wasn’t built until 1930). We’re standing in the middle of Burrard at Nelson Street, so that’s the First Baptist church on the left, built in 1911, and houses in the 900 block of Burrard Street on the right.
Unlike the houses on the 700 block, (a couple of blocks down the hill, on the right) we do know who designed and built the houses on this block – or at least, several of them (even if you can’t really see them for the trees!) Thomas Fee, architect partner to John Parr, designed and built four of the houses – presumably as investments. During his career as well as designing dozens of buildings for clients throughout the city T A Fee would build projects for himself costing tens of thousands of dollars. These houses were early investments, and more modest. They were among an impressive list of houses built by Fee in the West End – he seems to have bought several blocks of land and then built houses from at least 1901 to 1904. We don’t have records currently available before 1901, but it seems likely that there were earlier dwellings also built by Fee on the eastern (right) side here.
This 1914 detail from an aerial view from the second Hotel Vancouver shows the back of the houses. In 1904 J H Field had the double lot on the corner of Nelson Street, (on the far right of the main picture, towards the left of the aerial shot) and added a second house at a cost of $950. The large house, four blocks up at 970 Burrard was a Fee investment, built in 1901 at a cost of $2,500. Further up the street at 940 and 946 Fee built two houses in 1901, one of them costing $3,000, while next door at 932 he built an even larger home – the foundation stonework cost $2,000 in 1902. Most of the houses closer to Nelson were built a few years before 1901; it was likely to be a popular location as the Dawson Public School was just a block to the south, across from St Paul’s Hospital.
The building down the hill on the left is Irwinton Court – still standing today and built by C N Davidson in 1912 to Braunton and Leibert’s design at a cost of $132,000. The two apparently vacant areas of land on the left before the apartments are the gardens of Hillside Hall (a private hospital in 1906, although by 1923 a rooming house) on the south side of Barclay Street, and the playing area of the Aberdeen School (built in 1912 for $135,000) on the north side. Behind the trees on the 800 block, beyond that, were more houses, all built before 1900, on both sides of Burrard Street.
Today, on the left is the newly restored YMCA facade with the Patina condo tower behind, the Sutton Place Hotel, and off in the distance the towers of the Royal Centre. To the east is the Dal Grauer electrical Substation with the Scotiabank cinema and Electric Avenue condos above and beyond that 800 and 850 Burrard, a 1980s condo and office development designed by Eng and Wright with two distinctly different elements on a single lot.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Str N181; extract from William Moore panoramic photo, CVA PAN N218