West Cordova Street – east from Cambie (1)

Cordova east from Cambie

The ‘after’ shot in this image was taken a couple of years ago, but nothing much has changed here recently. The ‘before’ was dated as 1899 and the Savoy Hotel is down the street on the left, and Stark’s Glasgow House is on the right. Closer to the camera, on the left (behind the tram) was the Whetham Block, developed by Dr Whetham who also built the Arlington Block that we’ve caught a glimpse of on the opposite side of both streets. This building came a year after the Arlington, so was built in 1888, and was designed by N S Hoffar.

Whetham, like many early Vancouver developers, came from Ontario. His father had been a flax and hemp manufacturer in England, who moved to Canada, established himself as a general merchant and then died, leaving a widow and three young children. His son, James Whetham is said in an early biography to have taught, then headed west, farming in Manitoba in 1878. Somehow he managed to study medicine (his biography says ‘in winter’) in Toronto and then Portland, Oregon, while living in Spokane Falls. He only practiced medicine very briefly before moving on to develop real estate, initially in Spokane Falls and then in 1887 in Vancouver.

By 1889 James Whetham had the sixth largest land holdings in the city, was on the board of trade and was a city alderman. He was boarder in the Hotel Vancouver. That year he founded Whetham College on Granville Street with backing from David Oppenheimer, Henry Cambie of the CPR and James G Keith, manager of the Bank of British Columbia. James’s brother, Charles, had married in 1886 when he was Modern Language Master at Upper Canada College, Toronto after two years at Johns Hopkins University became the headmaster. (He had actually moved to Vancouver before 1889 and opened a real estate office in the Whetham Block). The recession of 1893 saw the college’s demise, the first post-secondary teaching institute in British Columbia. Charles moved back to become a fellow in the French Department of the University of Toronto, but returned in the mid 1890s to a farm he had bought in Whonnock. Dr James Whetham died in 1891, aged only 37, of what was diagnosed as typhoid fever.

In 1969 the almost windowless building that replaced Whetham’s was the first of only two buildings completed for Project 200, a massive redevelopment plan that would have seen the entire waterfront of Gastown bulldozed to create a row of towers over a waterfront freeway. This rather more modest structure was home to CNCP Telecommunications – perhaps the first serious hi-tech investment in the city, designed by Francis Donaldson and developed by Grosvenor Estates. CNCP was created as a joint venture between the CP and CN in 1967, replacing the different networks used by the two railway companies. The company became an early telecom business, was bought by Rogers in the 1980s and renamed Unitel and was later acquired by AT&T Canada (now called Allstream).

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Str P209

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Posted March 17, 2014 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Gone

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