Desrosiers Block – 6 East Hastings Street

Rainbow (Pennsylvania)

Here’s the unit block of East Hastings Street. The building in the middle is the Pennsylvania Hotel (today), although it started life as the Woods Hotel, and in our image from about 25 years ago, it was the Rainbow Hotel. On the left is the Holden Block, today a residential building, but for a while the City Hall. The Desrosiers Block is the small building in the middle, identified in the Heritage Statement of Significance as being built by Michael Desrosiers in 1901. As with many of those statements, the details are not quite correct. He was really Magloire Desrosiers, and the building was constructed at least a year earlier.

The 1901 Census tells us that Magloire, a merchant, was aged 38 and born in Quebec into a French family. His wife, (shown as Mary, but really the former Marie Caroline Boer), was shown as nine years younger, born in Belgium and had arrived in Canada eighteen years earlier. They had five children aged between nine and one: somewhat confusingly (for the girls, at least), they were identified as Arch., Mary C., O. J. (a boy), Mary U. and Wilfred. The street directory that year tells us the family lived ‘over the shop’, in the building in the picture (with his name on), and the store sold tinware and stoves. (However, we think they probably weren’t really living here.)

Magloire arrived in the city in 1888; In 1889 the first mention of him was as “Mich Desrosiers” – a foreman for McLennan & McFeely (gas fitters and cornice installers); a year later he was a cornice maker living on Pender with a workshop at 162 Water St. A year later there are two Desrosiers; John, a plumber and M, a foreman living on Trounce Alley.

In 1892 Mike Desrosiers was a foreman tinsmith living on Richards. In 1894 he was still living there, but had his own business on Granville, tinning, plumbing and sheet metal work. The Daily World carried a profile of his new enterprise which he had initially set up in 1892. It lists some of the buildings he had created the cornices for including the Vancouver Club and the Vermilyea block. As well as having “all the latest improved machinery and machine tools known to the trade” he also specialized in installing hot air furnaces, mostly in houses.

His business premises remained on Granville for a couple of years; then in 1897 M Desrosiers was listed as a galvanizing iron worker. He’d moved his business from Granville, was now working on Carrall and living on Helmcken. In 1899 Desrosiers & Slaterthere are two M Desrosiers listed – one, Michael is a plumber at 214 Carrall, living on Hastings at Heatley, and M Desrosiers a galvanizing iron worker also resident at 214 Carrall was living on Helmcken. We’re betting there was only really one – but he’d moved again, to this building, and had ended up with two entries. In 1901 he’s shown both living and working at 6 East Hastings, but the street directory also identifies McGuire Desrosiers, a tinner, as living at 528 Helmcken, so we think the family never really left their home on Helmcken at all, and the name ‘Magloire’ was heard, and recorded as, McGuire. The business remained in the new East Hastings store – from 1903 to 1904 he had a partner, H A Slater. The home address remained 526 (or 528) Helmcken, until 1904. In 1905 the family moved to 1060 Granville Street, and in 1906 M. Desrosiers is no longer associated with the stove store, which continued to be run for a while by H A Slater. In 1908 the family moved again, to a house on Seymour Street, and Magloire is show as being retired (aged 45). Harry Slater (who was really called Henry) gave up the stove store and went on to being a sheet metal worker, with a works on Beatty Street and a home on Barclay Street (with his wife Fannie and son Melvin in 1911, along with their cook Wong Chang. The Slater’s were from Britain, and Melvin worked for his father as a tinsmith).

We can track the Desrosiers family in 1911, although not without some difficulty as he’s recorded as M Des Rosser, living at 1063 Seymour. Now he’s shown (almost certainly inaccurately) as only being aged 40, his wife MG was born the same year, and his children are identified as AJ (son, 19), H (son, 15) MF (daughter, 12), WE (son, 11) MC (daughter, 8) MA (son, 7) and MC (daughter, 4). With a successful business career and seven children at home it’s not surprising that there’s a servant as well, 20-year-old M Simpson who had arrived from England the year before. Like the street directory, he’s also listed in the census as ‘retired’. We think he was probably older (as the 1901 census suggests) and he was probably the Magloire Desrosiers who was born in Joliette, Québec in 1862, and who was listed as a ‘voyageur’ in the 1881 census.

After the war the family were still living on Seymour Street: there’s a Magloire Desrosiers in real estate with an office on Granville between 7th and 8th Avenues; (we aren’t certain, but this might be his son who was also called Magloire). A daughter, Cecilia lived at home, as did Florida, a stenographer and Wilfred who worked in Goodyear’s tire warehouse. In the early 1920s Magloire moved to W 13th Avenue, but Joseph O Desrosiers, a millwright, continued to live at 1063 Seymour Street.

Marie, Magloire’s wife died in 1934, and he died in 1936. As far as we can tell they had nine children over more than 20 years – all the girls were Marie: Arthur Joseph in 1892, Marie Luce, Homer Joseph, Marie Florida, Wilfred Ferdinand, Marie Cecilia, Magloire Avila, Marie Eveline, and Clarence Pierre in 1914. Magloire’s obituary mentions his brother, ‘John’ was still living in Princeton.

We don’t know who designed or built the block that M. Desrosiers developed. The Historic Statement says it was contractor P. J. Donahue – the problem is that Patrick J Donohoe (who was an architect in the US in 1901) was only briefly in the city in 1911 – so that seems unlikely. He was responsible for designing some repairs, costing $900, in the year he was in the city. Almost certainly M Desrosiers designed and built the cornice on his building, and no doubt he would be deeply unhappy to see how badly it has been maintained to the point that it’s probably beyond repair and would have to be rebuilt completely if the building is ever refurbished, rather than lost (which is a very real possibility). (Post update; the cornice was extensively repaired and in part replaced in a restoration a few years after this post).


Posted 20 July 2015 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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