708 Cambie Street

708 Cambie

F W Hart had been in the city for nine years when this picture of his house was taken. He arrived in New Westminster in 1885, walking from Semiahmoo Bay. He was aged 28, unmarried, and he’d had an interesting earlier life. He was born in Illinois into a Swedish family (originally the Hjort family) and left home, joined the US Voluntary Army “fighting Kansas Indians” before running a livery stables (including work as a ‘bronco buster’. He worked for a furniture-maker and undertaker in Walla Walla, Washington before joining his brother who lived in Semiahmoo then heading north across the border.

In Granville he had premises near Maple Tree Square – in his reported words “I squatted on a piece of the shore between Carrall and Columbia Avenue, and built a store about 150 feet from the Maple Tree on the water side of Alexander Street”. He built a second store on the end of the block now occupied by the Hotel Europe, a warehouse and a furniture factory, only to lose it all in the 1886 fire (he estimated his losses at between $20 and $30,000 at the time).

As with most of the town, he started up straight away, buying and selling goods as well as building furniture and coffins – leading to him becoming the undertaker. He was heavily involved in supporting the election of Mayor McLean as the city’s first mayor, and had favoured the city remaining as Granville rather than Vancouver, which he thought would be confused with the Island and the American city of the same name. Mr. Hart acquired a roller skating rink that had been built originally in Port Moody. In the newly named city he added a stage to the ‘building’ (it only had a canvas roof), built bench seating and reassigned it as Hart’s Opera House. He brought opera companies north from Seattle as well as theatrical troupes. One engagement featured Katie Puton in “A Texas Steer or Money Makes the Mare Go”, written in 1890 by Charles H. Hoyt, an extremely successful dramatist. It included having a horse on stage – not something the stage had been designed for, leading to the horse falling through the boards.

In 1899 he married Josephine Crawford in the Presbyterian chapel on Richards Street (the church had yet to be built). It featured a brass band, and the sidewalk covered with red carpets. He built a new house for himself nearby on the corner of Georgia and Cambie in the same year (just before his June wedding) which is probably the smaller building on the right in the picture. Even five years later the street hadn’t been paved, and the planked sidewalk ran out. In 1893 Mr Hart started losing money as the economy collapsed. Up to that point he had been very successful – “my average net gain for 10 and one half years was over $1,000 a month for the entire time”. He said it was a $25,000 loss in the furniture factory that made him decide to leave, presumably selling his house at the same time, (although he does appear again briefly in 1896 at this address). His description to City Archivist Major Matthews many years later of what he did next gives a sense of the early pioneers.

“I left Vancouver in 1895 and went off down through the States and lost a lot of my money. I left with more money than any single man in Vancouver could muster at that time. I had it in a bank. I lost some in Utah, some more at other places, and then went to Rossland where I made some more, and then went up to Skagway and Dyea. Dyea is a town opposite Skagway, and arrival, just as Moodyville was a rival to Hastings Mill. I corralled the lumber output of the two sawmills up there, and built the whole town of Dyea in 90 days. There was a rush town of thirty thousand there, some in tents boarded up on the sides and canvas roof, you know what a mining rush is like. I built one three-storey hotel in three days, and turned it for double what it cost me. I had three clipper scows running backwards and forwards from Seattle bringing up lumber. I had $250,000, but a slump came along overnight and I lost it, but I had a cargo of goods which I had been packing over the hill going into Dawson all that winter, 1897-8, at the cost of 26¢ a pound for 26 miles.” Josephine Hart died, and aged 60 Frank remarried in 1917 in Vancouver to his late wife’s cousin, Amelia Ferguson, a widow eight years younger than Frank. Frank died in Prince Rupert in 1935 and Amelia in 1949 in Vancouver.

The larger house on the corner appeared in 1890. It was run as a boarding house, initially by Miss Anna Hart (probably Frank’s sister, who had been with him from at least the time of the fire), then in 1892 by Miss M McDonald and in 1894 by Miss Kate Donelly. In 1890 the tenants were two carpenters, a stonecutter, a teamster and RG Gordon (of Gordon and Robinson) who ran a business college, as well as Miss Ellen Hart. The 1894 image says the women in the picture were (left to right): lower verandah: Miss Annie Donnelly and Miss Kate Donnelly (Mrs. H.E. Campbell); upper balconies: Annie Mcallister and Margaret Donnelly (Mrs. D. Wilson); Photograph shows Frank W. Hart’s house to the right.

Today there’s the Sandman Hotel, built in 1976 and designed by Herwig Pimiskern Architect. (There’s a later Cambie Street addition that was designed (coincidentally in terms of his name) by Steven Hart Architecture.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P74.1

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Posted October 23, 2014 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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