There are three buildings here – although two are so similar they appear to be a single entity. Both the buildings on the right of the picture are thought to have been designed by James Cadham, a Winnipeg-based architect. (A hint to their likely geographic design origins are the Plains Indian heads carved into the building). The building furthest to the east is the Prentice Block from 1902; next door is the Greenshields block built in the same year for a dry goods wholesaler whose western headquarters were built in Winnipeg in 1903. Samuel Greenshields and Son had been established in Montreal by Samuel, a merchant from Glasgow, and his son, John, in 1833. By 1903 S Greenshields was run by grandson Edward Black Greenshields, who expanded the company’s trading activities across Canada. By 1907 the company was the country’s largest supplier of both imported and domestic dry goods. It handled cottons, woollens, carpets, household furnishings, dress goods, and notions such as gloves, hosiery, and laces.
The building contractor was J M McLuckie. The Prentice block was originally occupied by Kelly, Douglas and Company, a food processor and wholesaler, whose rapid expansion soon saw them building a much bigger structure nearby. Founded in 1896 by Robert Kelly and Frank Douglas, their Nabob coffee brand is still roasted by the company today. The brand also included tea and spices. We’re not sure who the Prentice Block was named for – most likely is William Prentice who was secretary of the BC Sugar Co and therefore able to finance an investment property. Prentice was a Scotsman, listed in the 1901 census as a bookkeeper.
To the west is the McLuckie block at 353 Water Street, a warehouse built by the same contractor as the other buildings (and many others on Water Street) – but here for himself, at a cost of $30,000. (Today it’s painted off-white). J M McLuckie claimed in the building permit to have designed his own building (as he did on other investment projects for himself – so that’s probably true). He initially leased the building to the W H Malkin company, a food wholesaler. That company also went on to build bigger warehouses for their own use a few years later.
By 1908 all three buildings had different firms in occupation: John W Peck, wholesale clothing occupied 337; Johnston Brothers, dry goods, were in 345 and 353 was vacant. In 1911 Peck and Johnston businesses were still here and 353 was Stewart & McDonald, and James Thomson & Sons.
John W Peck moved to Winnipeg in then early 1870s, representing eastern businesses, and in 1880 founded a clothing manufacturing company in partnership with A B Bethune and J D Carscaden, under the name of Carscaden and Peck. After Carscaden’s retirement, the firm carried on as John W Peck and Company. He lived at Winnipeg for many years before moving to Montreal where he established a large clothing factory. The third location for the business was Vancouver, which was a distribution warehouse, smaller than the impressive Winnipeg warehouse which dates from 1893.
Arthur W Johnston ran Johnston Bros and lived on Nelson Street, near Stanley Park. The company had taken over the interests of Greenshields in Vancouver, and Albert M Johnston was the other brother, living in the Hotel Vancouver in 1911. The brothers were from Ontario, and had been in Vancouver in 1901, living with their sister, Florence on Burrard Street. Albert Mortimer Johnston was previously a traveling salesman for Greenshields, while Arthur was the company’s manager.
Stewart & McDonald were another dry goods operation – described in 1911 as being ‘of Glasgow’. The originators of the business in 1826 were Mr. Robertson Buchanan Stewart and Mr. John McDonald, and an 1888 publication described their activities: “the departments represented in stock are thirty-three in number, comprising the following classes of goods : cloths, silks, cottons, flannels, linens, (Stewart & McDonald) ribbons, merinoes, prints, muslins, laces, handkerchiefs, haberdashery, yams, winceys, wove shawls, moleskins, carpets, tweeds, furs, hosiery, mantles, wool shawls, skirtings, fancy dresses, straw hats, millinery, flowers, white cottons, gloves, shirts, ready-made clothing, Bradford stuffs, stationery, and underclothing.” The company had three immense factories; one in Leeds for ready-made clothing; one at Strabane, Ireland, for shirts, collars, and ladies’ and children’s underclothing; and a third in Dunlop Street, Glasgow which manufactured other clothing.
James Thomson & Sons were yet another Wholesale Drygoods and Manufacturers, run by James B Thomson. A 1920 newspaper cutting gives a sense of the business, (and the difficulties of supply after the war): “The Canadian market cannot begin to fill the need and, curiously enough, its prices offer no relief. England’s mills are running to capacity, and the question is reversed from what it was a year ago. Then it was how much was the buyer willing to pay? Now it is: “Can they get the goods at any price?” Mr. A M Thomson, of James Thomson and Sons, Water Street wholesalers of clothing and dry goods, writes from England, where he is now on a buying trip, as follows: “I went to a dozen different mills in Leeds and as many more in Bradford, and nothing was to be had at any price. I found only one that was willing to consider orders. They offer 40 pieces at 6s. 9d a yard, but the cloth Is too heavy and high, and delivery can not be had before November.”
By 1927 when this Vancouver Public Library picture was taken, John W Peck were still in the Prentice building. J and C Eveleigh were also there selling wholesale bags and trunks with the Standard Silk Co. George H Hees were next door, wholesaling house furnishings, and J M McLuckie had his office in his building along with J Thomson & Sons, who were still trading in the McLuckie building.
Today the Prentice building is still in commercial use, although as offices over retail, as is the McLuckie building. The Greenshields building is one of the few residential conversions on Water Street, with 22 strata units in the refurbished building completed in 2004.