We’ve recently looked at several houses on West Hastings (when it was called Seaton) but most of the West End was once residential in character, including West Georgia (which today is a major traffic arterial, but until the arrival of the Lion’s Gate Bridge was a dead end to Stanley Park). Indeed, that residential character continued for a surprisingly long time: this is a 1948 picture of a much older house. There’s another picture of the house, still standing in 1956. When it was photographed it was 1259 W Georgia, but when it was built it was numbered as 1219.
It’s identified in the Archives as R W Gordon’s house, and while that description isn’t wrong, the Scottish Mr Gordon wasn’t responsible for building it – that looks like it was the (probably) Welsh Owen Evan-Thomas. It was most likely built in 1891: Owen Grant Evan Thomas (recorded as English in the census that year, although we’re not sure we believe that given the Welsh name, his children’s names and the fact that he died in Wales in 1942), his wife Bessie and their newborn son Elystan were living here. (Five years later another son was born, Glodrydd – a Welsh prince, Elystan Glodrydd is said to have founded the fifth royal tribe of Wales, and died in 1010). Owen Evan-Thomas was an insurance agent with Wulffsohn & Bewicke, Anglo-German bankers and financial agents. His name appears many times in the Vancouver newspapers as an amateur actor and a talented singer. He organized a number of shows, leasing the Opera House for the proceedings.
By 1894 he was described as manager and leasee of the Opera House, booking touring shows (and a 1923 memoire recalled his management as very successful, citing his former involvement with Italian opera at Covent Garden). In 1891 he also played cricket in a team that included architect R McKay Fripp, although we don’t know if Fripp had anything to do with the design of the home. In 1896 it was announced that Mr O G Evan-Thomas was moving to England “where It Is understood he will enter upon a professional career on the stage.” We don’t know how successful he was, although in March 1896 the paper noted “O. G. Evan – Thomas, who Is at present In England, will return to New York in January to fill a six months’ engagement with the Carleton Opera Co., playing only in the large cities of the East.” By 1902 thee family were living in Kensington. We haven’t found out what happened to Bessie, but Mr Evan-Thomas appears to have married at least twice more, in 1914 and in 1922.
Robert William Gordon and his family were first shown living on West Georgia in 1898. The family had several prominent citizens for neighbours: two barristers, George DeWolf, a broker, and four doors down Baron de St Laurent, the French consul. In 1900 R W Gordon’s occupation was rather unusually being spelled out as “none”. He arrived in Canada in 1886 (aged about 42), having been born in Moffat in Scotland and a year later was Manager of the Vancouver San Juan Lime Co. Francis Carter-Cotton was born in Yorkshire and also arrived in Vancouver in 1886 (aged 40). At the time, Vancouver had two newspapers the Daily News and the Daily Advertiser. Carter-Cotton partnered with R W Gordon to purchase both and founded the Daily News-Advertiser in 1887. (Gordon ran the business; Carter Cotton edited). Cotton was also secretary of the Lime Co; Gordon was President and Manager. The lime was burned at the works on Carrall Street, and was mined in the San Juan Islands.
That relationship fell apart in a spectacular court case in 1894 – a letter to the Daily World (a rival newspaper) spells out just how unhappy Mr Gordon had become: “The following is the concluding portion of Mr R W Gordon’s exhaustive history of his case with Mr. Cotton, whom he charges with having, viper-like, stung the hand that fondled, aye and fed, him. I am no slanderer, I am not a false accuser, neither am I a blackmailer, but I am up-holding justice and truth. What I have said privately and by letter I now repeat publicly In a still more emphatic form. I imagine I have shown you conclusively that Francis L Carter – Cotton is AN INTRIGUER AND ADVENTURER, and, to put it mildly, is untruthful. He is A HYPOCRITE, because while I have proved him an intriguer and untruthful, he endeavors to pose as an honest and honorable man. He poses also as the friend of the workingman. He GAMBLES IN COMPANIES and SPECULATES BEYOND HIS MEANS, and forces his employes and others to sue him fur their just rights. He has splendid abilities, any amount of will-power, wariness and craft, but is evidently WITHOUT ANY MORAL GUIDING PRINCIPLE, and as any man possessing such a character is TOTALLY UN-WORTHY OF BELIEF, it is quite evident that any statements he makes must be verified by the most incontrovertible proof. The foregoing is a plain straightforward statement of facts without any embellishment or one-sided intention.”
The case seems to have concerned Mr Cotton’s pretending he knew nothing about some debts he had assumed, that Mr Gordon was then liable for. The case became quite complex, and ended up with an order to imprison Mr Cotton for refusing to answer ‘certain questions’. The court (or Mr Justice Walkem, at least) obviously thought more of Mr Gordon’s case than Mr Cotton’s silence, as he committed Cotton to jail. That was, as would be expected, appealed. Five years later similar accusations were leveled at Mr Cotton again – but this time he was in Government rather than a mere newspaper editor, so the consequences were greater.
In the 1890s R W Gordon was shown living on the 600 block of Richards Street. In 1896 R W Gordon junior was a clerk with the Telephone Co, and lived at home. By 1901 the census shows Robert William Gordon, aged 57 (although 58 if his death notice is to be believed) in the West Georgia house with his younger wife Julia (formerly Julia Ann Gardner) who had arrived in Canada in 1893, and six children, five from an earlier marriage to Esther Gibson aged between 17 and 28, including Jessie and Ann Mary, and six-year-old Dorothy (Julia’s child). Robert and Esther had married in Traquair, Peebles, Scotland in 1871. Jessie, who died in 1951, was born in Dumfries.
The school’s history tells us that Crofton House School was founded here in 1898 by the Gordon sisters, Miss Jessie Gordon and Miss Mary Gordon, in their father’s home on Georgia Street with just four girls. Three years later, in 1901, the school moved to the corner of Jervis and Nelson in the West End. Mr Gordon was the developer of the new school building, as we have him requesting a new street lamp outside (as young ladies would be attending classes in the evening).
While we’ve often noted that the 1911 census was often patchy in its coverage, for Robert Gordon it may be justified. While the 1911 street directory shows him resident at the West Georgia address, by 1912 he had gone. There’s less excuse for missing Jessie, who was still running Crofton House School on Jervis for many years after the census. We’re not quite sure where Robert had gone; (he doesn’t seem to feature in any newspaper cuttings after 1911, but his death (in Vancouver) wasn’t recorded until 1928 when he was aged 84, and widowed (Julia having died in 1918).
1259 West Georgia today is part of a private open space associated with a condo tower called Venus, designed by Howard Bingham Hill and completed in 1999.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N212