This building was built in 1899 as The Burns Block, but became known later as the Buscombe Building. It has two similar facades – one to Water Street, and one on West Cordova. It was designed in the same year, and by the same architect as the Flack Block; William Blackmore was hired by John Burns to build a three storey stone building. It appears to be one of the last buildings Blackmore designed on his own – a year later his son Ted (E E Blackmore) was in partnership.
There were several people called John Burns living in Vancouver at the turn of the century. The electrician, musician and RCMP officer are unlikely candidates as developers of Water Street real estate, but there are two living in the West End who are both possible. One was John Burns Jnr., who moved to Barclay Street from Robson Street in 1902, and was a manufacturer’s agent with an office at 313 Water Street (across the street from this building). We wondered if John Burns Jnr might be the son of the other possible developer called John Burns, but although his father was indeed called John (hence the Jnr) he, and his father, were both born in Ontario. He would have been aged 37 when this building was first constructed. He moved to Vancouver in 1891 and initially lived on Hornby Street, and by 1894 had set up a business on Cordova Street as a manufacturers agent and was living at 1216 Robson Street. In 1902 he helped found the British Columbia Hardware Retail Dealer’s Association with Thomas Dunn and E G Prior of Victoria. He died, aged 91, at his Angus Drive home and his 1952 obituary does not seem to note any property development: “Mr. Burns was born in Toronto and educated in Upper Canada College. He moved to Winnipeg during the last Northwest Rebellion. In 1891 he came to Vancouver and was active as a hardware manufacturer’s agent until his retirement 10 years ago.”
The other John Burns also lived on Barclay Street, and there’s one connection that might make him more likely to be the developer of this warehouse. He was the father of Fred Burns of Boyd, Burns & Co, (who developed a warehouse on Columbia Street), and he had a Queen Anne style house built in 1900 designed by William Blackmore. It’s that fact that leads us to think he was the developer of the warehouse. He was a Scottish-born widower, and the 1901 Census said he had arrived in Canada in 1896, although only Fred is listed in the directory in 1896 and 1897. In 1899 when the building was commissioned he was aged 67 and was described as retired, with the phone number 100. In 1868 he had been living in Bridgeton, Lanarkshire when his wife Jane gave birth to their son, Frederick Fowle Burns; (Jane’s maiden name was Fowle). Twenty years later, in 1891 they were living in Eastwood, Renfrewshire.
In 1911 the Fred Burns family were still listed in the street directory, although they’re not obvious in the Census.
Whichever John Burns owned the building hired Grant and Henderson that year to add two additional floors at a cost of $13,500, which was executed in a grey Gulf Island stone matching the earlier phase of the building.
Our image shows the building when it was occupied by Buscombe & Co in 1938.
Image sources: Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver Architecturally, 1900