We had to catch this ‘after’ picture in early spring – in summer the building almost disappears behind the greenery. Back in 1928 it was a brand new building built by Dominion Construction (the contractors led by Charles Bentall). The client was H H Stevens, a successful politician and businessman. Herbert Henry Stevens was born in Bristol, England, but arrived in Ontario with his family in 1887 at the age of nine. He made his way to the West Coast, working as a mine laborer and eventually became a small businessman. For a brief time in 1900, his travels took him to the newly annexed Philippines as part of a U.S. Army transport unit. He was also in the Pacific at the time of the Boxer Rebellion and participated as a volunteer civilian member of the U.S. Army in China.
These experiences can be associated with a number of Steven’s future positions; a confirmation of his Methodist teetotal background, (and active opposition to the availability of alcohol), support for organized labour (despite a staunchly Conservative political opinion on almost everything else) and a strong belief in the fundamental difference between western and Asian culture, which he believed should be removed from areas of western control (like Canada).
In 1901 he established a grocery business, and in 1910 the newspaper ‘The Western Call’ that supported Conservative views and included significant coverage of ‘the Chinatown problem’. Stevens never moderated his views on preventing any further incursions into the superior white world he imagined Canada should be. He was elected to Vancouver City Council in 1910, and then as a Conservative member of parliament, In 1911, in his maiden speech he called on the government to keep Canada “a white man’s country”. During the Great War he ensured that the ‘official photographers’ in Stanley Park, Fricke and Schenck, lost that contract because of their German lineage. In a 1922 speech he argued for exclusion of all Chinese, posing the question “shall Canada remain white, or shall Canada become multi-coloured?”. It’s unlikely he’d be particularly happy in Vancouver today. Stevens was Minister of Trade and Commerce in R.B. Bennett’s depression era Conservative government of 1930 to 1934, and was actively involved in the Komagata Maru incident, working with the head immigration officer to stop the ship’s Indian passengers from coming ashore.
Stevens undoubtedly chose Dominion Construction to undertake his investment because Charles Bentall was a staunch member of the Methodist church, and Dominion had in-house architects who could design their projects, acting as design-and-build contractors. More recently it was restored by designed Robert Ledingham when it became a 25 unit strata, and has a period lobby, carpets and lighting fixtures, with what is claimed to be the city’s last brass-gated bird cage elevator.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N261.1