The Landing – 361 Water Street

Kelly Douglas

This huge warehouse was the home for many years of Kelly, Douglas & Co. This 1908 Vancouver Public Library image shows the building down the hill of Richards Street from Hastings, with a corner of the Bank of British North America just in the shot on the left. On the other side is Scougale’s Dry Goods, and at the bottom of the hill was the Bell-Irving block. Company history says Robert Kelly and Frank Douglas founded their wholesale grocery empire in 1896, leasing a warehouse in the 100 block of Water Street. Robert Kelly had been in the city for several years. He started out working in a store and telegraph office in Finch, Ontario, and from 1884 he was promoted to manager. In 1886 he moved to California and ran a general store business there and then came to Vancouver where he opened a general store with William McMillan in 1887. After that he became a traveler for Oppenheimer Brothers from 1889-1895.

His biography says that Mr. Kelly was short, stocky, brusque and outspoken. In 1895 he left Oppenheimer Brothers and joined William Braid to form Braid, Kelly and Company, wholesale grocers specializing in tea and coffee. That partnership lasted only a year; in 1896 Frank Douglas from Lachute, Quebec, arrived in Vancouver seeking investment opportunities. More easy going, but an experienced business man, he acted as managing director, while Robert Kelly travelled around the Province, using his experience and years of working for Oppenheimer’s to build their business.

The Kelly Douglas Company prospered supplying prospectors with provisions during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.  To meet the stiff competition of long established Seattle and Victoria merchants in the Yukon, Mr. Douglas decided to cover the gold mining centres himself.  Each summer he would travel north for several months. In August 1901, after two months in Dawson City, he started back to Vancouver with his order book full.  He sailed on the “islander’ and on August 15th, 1901, at 2:00am, six miles northwest of Juneau in Lynn Canal, the ship struck a submerged iceberg.  Forty of the passengers drowned including Frank Douglas.  Stories were current at the time of his death that between $50,000 and $60,000 was lost with him. It was related that he had secured the gold in his clothing before he drowned.  (This seems highly unlikely – that would have been 68 kilos at the prevailing price of gold. If true, it would explain why he drowned).

Robert Kelly ran the business for a while, then in 1904 he sold a 20% interest to Frank Douglas’s brother, Edward, from Chatham Township, Quebec. Edward was an older brother and had previously worked in the lumber business for many years, including running Weyerhauser’s interests in Minnesota.

The original five storey building to the east was built in 1905, designed by W T Whiteway. The Gault Brothers company moved in later; the building, and their name is just visible – (we can find nothing to substantiate a suggestion that Frank Burnett partnered with Kelly to build the first warehouse, although it’s possible given the death of Frank Douglas). Kelly, Douglas moved here from their previous location on Water Street, added another floor in 1906, and then proceeded in 1907 with a large-scale expansion by building the warehouse to the west, seen here, which when it was complete was the largest warehouse in Canada devoted exclusively to produce. The builder, J.M. McLuckie, proudly advertised the structure as “Vancouver’s first skyscraper”. It was tentatively slated to rise to nine storeys in height. Despite the use of 18 x 18 inch timbers at the base, tapering to 8 x 8’s on upper floors, the building stopped at seven floors.

The company obtained a permit in 1910 for another warehouse on Cordova Street, again designed by J M McLuckie, and costing $37,000. In 1911 Gardiner and Gardiner designed a further addition to this building, and in 1912 McLuckie obtained another permit for a $41,000 5-storey warehouse shown at 1106 Helmcken, although almost certainly it was 1106 Mainland Street. That building was used by the Kelly Confectionary Co, a further company created by Robert Kelly. In 1913 J M McLuckie designed a further $40,000 expansion to the Water Street warehouse, and in 1917 A Williams & Co were listed as designers of a further 2-storey addition costing $10,000. We’re not sure if that applied to a part of the building that can’t be seen, or it was never acted upon – clearly the larger building today has the same number of storeys as in 1908.

In 1988 Soren Rasmussen designed the conversion of the complex to office, retail and restaurant use, nowadays called ‘The Landing’.

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