The Vancouver Athletic Club was conveniently located across the street from the recreation ground known as the Cambie Street Ground. The Drill Hall was also on Beatty, so the city lot sized Ground served double duty. The Club also served multiple purposes as both a gymnasium and indoor sports hall. There’s a 1909 postcard of the interior showing the Jack Johnson vs. Victor McLaglen exhibition boxing match. Johnson was black and had just become world heavyweight champion; McLaglen was white. After the match the club’s resident trainer, George Paris, (who was black) had to offer Johnson and his female companion (who was white) a room in his house after all the hotels in town refused the couple a room. McLaglen went bon to become an actor; Johnson would open a Harlem jazz venue that evolved into the Cotton Club.
The building was erected in 1906 when this Vancouver Public Library image was shot. In 1905, Albert Larwill was listed in the street directory on the other side of Dunsmuir. Albert was keen to help the creation of the Athletic Club in 1906, although contemporary sources show he wasn’t a director of the club as some histories suggest. Those roles were held by businessmen in the city including Charles Woodward, presumably on the basis of their ability to raise the money needed to repay the $6,000 debt for the land, $12,000 for the building and $2,000 in fees and expenses. F R McD Russell was the President, and E O’Callaghan the Secretary in 1906 when the building was being constructed.
The Cambie Street Grounds were eventually named after Albert – the Canadian Pacific Railway initially cleared the land, and subsequently sold it to the Park Board in 1904. In 1946, in a complex land deal the site was leased as the bus depot, and more recently it has become a parking lot, curiously still known officially as Larwill Park (a name the Park Board eventually bestowed in 1943). If the Vancouver Art Gallery successfully find a way to develop on the site, the Larwill name association is probably likely to fade.
Albert’s 1911 obituary noted the thousands of youngsters he had coached in lacrosse, baseball, cricket and football. He was originally from Chatham, Ontario, and having arrived in 1886 he built a shack on a piece of land that became the Cambie Street Grounds, and lived there for 20 years, establishing in the process (the Daily World claimed) ‘squatter’s rights’. On taking control of the land the Park Board named him caretaker, and built a new home for him (and the associated changing rooms for the facility) in the same location his home had always been, in the corner of the grounds across the street. An Archives picture of the Cambie Street Grounds from 1897 show the Athletic Club site with nothing substantial constructed here, and one in the mid to late 1900s show a snow-covered construction site. According to the permit it was designed by an architect we’ve never come across before – A Clive.
There are no residents – or architects – called Clive that we can find; we’re thinking this is more likely to be Albert Cline, a builder who frequently called himself an architect and drew up plans for projects that were built by other contractors. For example there are several building permits for substantial buildings in 1911 in the same year that Albert, an American with a Canadian wife, described himself in the census as a carpenter. He was new in town in 1906, so it’s understandable that the newspaper might make a mistake with his name. He described himself in the street directory as a builder: there was one other person called Cline in town, William, who was a contractor. He didn’t get to build the Athletic Club: the contractor of the building was listed as W Twambly, and Alex McLean was responsible for the concrete work of the footings. William Twambly was a carpenter, and Alexander McLean was a mason.
Like the YMCA next door (to the west) the site today has the Amec office building – although where the Athletic Club stood is now mostly open space as the tunnel running under the site limits the ability of the location to take the weight of a significant structure.