22-28 Water Street

28-30 Water St

We looked at the Grand Hotel (with the arched windows in the centre of the picture) in an earlier post. That’s the red building, initially designed by N S Hoffar for Thomas Cyrs in 1889 and then extended in 1903 by architect R H Bracken for T J Roberts, (both owners were originally from New Brunswick). The published history would suggest that Roberts built the hotel in 1889, which would have made him an extraordinarily young entrepreneur; he was born in 1874, so would have been only 15. That sounded so unlikely that we checked the Census records for 1891, 1901 and 1911. Unlike many early Vancouver residents who seemed to need to shave a few years off their age as time progressed, Thomas J Roberts stuck to either 1874 or 1875 as his birth date, and was shown as aged 17 in 1891. In the census Thomas and his 12-year-old sister, Mary, were living with their uncle and his wife. The uncle was hotel keeper Thomas Cyrs, so we now think Thomas Cyrs built the Grand, and Thomas Roberts took over in 1897 (at a more reasonable age of 23) and completed the expansion of the hotel in 1903. (We’ve revised the Grand Hotel post to reflect this).

In 1901 Thomas Roberts was living in the Granville Hotel (the earlier name for The Grand), with over 30 boarders and the hotel’s staff. In 1911 he had moved to 1635 Barclay Street with his wife, Pauline (born in Ontario, and five years younger) and their two children, three-year-old Pauline and one-year-old Mary. The family had three domestics: Jennie Larson was 22 and from Sweden, Dorothy Parkes was 14, from England, and so was John Shepherd (aged 18).

TJ RobertsIn 1908 Roberts commissioned the Roberts block, a 3-storey commercial building on Pender Street. In 1911 he redeveloped the building next to the Grand Hotel (to the east). Hugh Braunton was the architect, and it cost $48,000. In 1913 Roberts was considered to be a legitimate businessman – which wasn’t true of all the hotel keepers in the city; he featured in ‘Northern Who’s Who and Why’ – a biographical volume.

When it was first opened the new building had the Vancouver Clothing Co as a tenant, along with A Waddington, who specialized in overalls, the poolroom of McEwen & Knox, Fredericks & Skatigno (who were barbers) and Jarus & Weinrobe (who sold clothing, and had another store at 56 Water St). In 1915 there were two barber’s shops – one was run by William Brown, the other by Vincent Lacolla. The other occupants in the building were the Van Pickle Co and Taisho Printing Co. Three years later there was one barber remaining, V Lacolla, a clothing store (H Cooper), and Beaver Interurban Auto Transfer occupied the rest of the building.

Thomas J Roberts was killed in a dramatic fashion in September 1918 while watching a card game. He was with seven others in what was described as a ‘gambling resort’ on Jervis Street when a masked armed robber attempted to rob the party. The ‘Daily World’ described it as ‘the most sensational holdup which has occurred in tbe city in recent years’. The ‘Times Colonist’ published a longer version of the story. “Thomas J. Roberts, proprietor of the Grand Hotel, and one of the best known of the city’s pioneers, was shot and killed on Saturday evening by a masked robber with whom he had grappled to avoid handing over a diamond ring which the bandit had demanded. The tragedy occurred shortly before 11o’clock at 1304 Jervis Street near the corner of Harwood, a fairly large residence, surrounded by a thick screen of trees.

A second victim of two of the robber’s six shots was Henry Eames, aged about 50, manager of an upcoast logging camp. He is so seriously wounded that slim hopes are entertained for his recovery.

The police have one suspect under arrest the most important evidence so far obtained is from A. Harradine, a taxi driver who conveyed a fare to Broughton Street; a block away from the scene of the murder, on Saturday night the man left the taxi with orders to await his return. He came back in ten minutes, became much agitated when the driver had difficulty in starting the car and finally was conveyed downtown, where he disappeared in the alleyway alongside the Alcazar Hotel, on Dunsmuir Street east of Homer.

The house where the shooting took place is occupied by Oscar Olesen, his housekeeper, Mrs. McLennon, and her children. Eight men were in the drawing-room when the robber’s unheralded arrival took place. Five or six members of the party were playing a card game. They and several neighborhood friends were in the habit of coming in once or twice a week to spend the evening at cards.

Story of Shooting

The robber first demanded a ring from O. Jay, who handed over a three-stone ruby which encircled one of his fingers. Then the robber turned to Roberts with: “Now, hand over that ring,” motioning to a large solitaire which the hotel man wore on the third finger of his left hand. It happened that this ring fitted very tightly Mr. Roberts made an effort —real or assumed—to remove the ring and failed. Then he held out his hand with the words: “Here, take it off yourself, if you want it so badly.” Suiting the action to the words, which were the last he uttered, Mr. Roberts stepped towards the highwayman.

The robber reached forward and in a fraction of a second the men had grappled and the robber began to shoot. Cartridges found later showed the weapon to be a .33 calibre automatic. At least five probably six shots were fired. The first went wild across the room and crashed a window. Another went through the floor. Another struck Mr. Roberts head just in front of the ear and he slipped to the floor. A fourth shot pierced the opposite wall near the ceiling and two others struck Eames.

Mr. Roberts was one of the most familiar figures amongst the younger business men of the city. He was 47 years of age; coming to Vancouver from New Brunswick thirty years ago. He has been continuously with the hotel of which in recent years he was proprietor. He leaves a wife and two daughters of 10 and 8. His brother, Harry Roberts, is proprietor of the Beaver Transfer Company. Two sisters live in British Columbia, Mrs. T. Mambrick, of Comox and Mrs. Roy W. Brown. Mr. Roberts death is the first break in a family of thirteen.

J.F. McCabe, held as a suspect in the Jervis Street murder case, appeared before the magistrate today and was remanded until September 16, McCabe was in court on August 14 last, when according to the police records, he was fined $26 and costs for having morphine in his possession.”

The ‘Coquitlamite’ blog has extensive details of the crime. The main suspect in the crime was soon identified “Known now to the Vancouver police as George Layton or George Leaf, the man was arrested here and convicted under the latter name, with a number of aliases, in November, 1914, on a charge of stealing $40 from John Oleson; and with being in possession of instruments for housebreaking. He served a six months term and, the local records show, subsequently he was convicted at Calgary of theft and was sentenced to two years In the penitentiary, from which institution he could have been released only a comparatively short time ago.”

Police combed the Pitt River area where he was reported to have been seen, but he wasn’t found. In October 1919 the Victoria press reported that he had died in Los Angeles. “Last week at Los Angeles In a running gun fight with police officers a burglar was wounded. To avoid capture he deliberately shot himself with his own revolver, and was dead when the pursuing policemen reached his side. The desperado was known in Los Angeles under the name of Nyland, but has been identified as Lehtenen or Leaf. The identification was accomplished through photo and finger prints of Leaf as supplied to the Vancouver police by the Victoria authorities shortly after the Vancouver gambling house murder. 

Leaf, alias Samson, alias Anderson, alias Necthern, alias Lehtenen, was arrested here on November 17, 1914, for theft of $40 from the person of John Olson. He was dismissed on that charge, but upon the charge of being in possession of burglar’s tools he was sentenced to six months. The next heard of him was at Calgary, where he was sentenced for theft. 

Leaf’s photo and finger prints were taken when he was sentenced here, and when the Vancouver police were searching for him for his alleged participation in the shooting of Roberts and Eamen, the Victoria records were supplied. Circulars bearing his photo and finger print classification were circulated far and near, and it was by that means that the Los Angeles police made their identification of the desperado Nyland.”

In 1920 Vincent Lacolla was still cutting hair, and we suspect that C H Jones had already moved from a  warehouse on Alexander Street – although the street numbering gets a bit confused in the directory. In 1928 when our Vancouver Public Library image was taken, C H Jones were definitely in the building. They made sails and other canvas goods, and they stayed until 1930 when the Canada Western Cordage Company moved in. The made rope and twine, and retained an office here until the early 1970s. Their occupation explains the name that condominiums were given when they were built in 2009 ‘ Cordage’, designed by Acton Ostry Architects.


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