We saw the southern end of this block in a previous post, and looked at the history of the Vancouver Block, a city landmark for over a century in that post. Off in the foggy distance, across West Georgia Street in this 1922 image was the 1897 Hudson’s Bay Company store (their second location on the city) which would be replaced a few years later. Across Georgia, the large office building was the Birks Building, built in 1912 and tragically demolished in the 1970s.
In between there’s a lower structure that illustrates the saw-tooth pattern of buildings so often found in Vancouver (sometimes to allow light into the flank windows of adjacent taller buildings). Like the Birks Building it was built in 1912. (The Vancouver Block was given a building permit in 1911). It was designed by Grant and Henderson for J West at a cost of only $15,000 by Smith & Sherborne. (The Vancouver Block cost $400,000 and Birks $550,000). Luckily, there was only one J West likely to have built this investment, John West. (Jack West was a cook at the Gus Goodes restaurant, so not really in the running).
As far as we can tell he arrived in the city 1912, but he was obviously arriving with wealth as he had Grant, Henderson & Cook design a mansion for him at Granville and 17th. He was still in the city in 1922, when he was the proprietor of the Rainier Hotel. (There were five people called John West in the city by then; fortunately for us, he was still living in his mansion). His death record from 1936 tells us he was born in Cooke County, Illinois, and that his Danish-born wife Margaret was still alive. The 1921 census shows that they had a son, Cecil, and curiously describes him as a farmer, which, if true, suggests he had property and farming as an income source. The death record describes him as a hotel keeper, and that he had been in Canada for 45 years, but only 40 years in BC. This suggests that he was elsewhere in the province before he arrived in 1912 – but we haven’t found where that was.
The building became home to the Mission Confectionery, who carried out repairs in 1915 and added a bakery costing $1,000 in 1919. There’s another $1,000 repair in 1916 for Thomas H Laslett, who had both a real estate business and was owner of Mission Confectionery in the building. We don’t know if he bought the building, or was a tenant who paid for his own improvements (although that seems less likely). Mr. Laslett ran the business until the 1920s – here’s another 1922 image of the store, shared with Brown Brothers florists, Dr Peele and Doctor Thomas, a physician and a dentist, and Mr. Laslett’s real estate office as well.
He had been a witness to a murder in 1921, reported by the Daily World. “Mr. William F. Salsbury. Jr., aged 43 years, chief accountant of Balfour, Guthrie & Co., was done to death at 8:50 o’clock last night, when he was presumably set upon by two holdup men near the intersection of Georgia and Burrard streets. The victim of the shooting died within a few minutes, the bullet passing close to the heart. At police headquarters this afternoon 14 suspects connected with the murder were lined up, but although thirteen people who had been in the vicinity at the time of the tragedy were asked to identify the men, none of them could do so. They explained that it was so dark at the time that no accurate description of them could be obtained. One of the thirteen witnesses stated that he had seen two men shortly before the shooting, one short and the other tall, the latter with long black hair, and each showing evidence of having taken cocaine. The inquest on the body will be held on Thursday, according to present arrangements. At 4 o’clock this afternoon the jury is being empanelled by Coroner T. W. Jeffs, MD.. and the body viewed. The jury will then adjourn to meet on Thursday. This step is being taken on request of relatives. The condition of Mr. William F. Salsbury, Sr., who In 75 years of age, is causing some anxiety and it is for this reason that arrangements will be made to hold the funeral an soon as possible. During the night a posse consisting of practically every detective and patrolman on the police force, was combing the city in an endeavor to effect the arrest of the murderers, but so far none of the wore of suspects brought in have been connected with the crime. Working on a poor description of the murderers furnished by Mr. and Mrs. T. H. Laslett of the Mission Confectionery, who were passing on the opposite side of the street when the shooting took place, the police have made many arrests at random, but it is highly improbable that the case will be cleared up for some time”.
The newspaper was correct, but through some impressive detective work, matching a scrap of cloth found near the scene to a pair of pants retrieved in an entirely different case some weeks later, Alexander ‘Frenchie’ Paulson was arrested and confessed. He identified his accomplice (who was tracked down in Oakalla prison serving a four-month sentence for Vagrancy), as Allan ‘Slim’ Robinson. Paulson explained how they had rejected a number of possible victims to hold up before Salsbury had been picked at random and was ordered, at gun point, to turn over his wallet. Extraordinarily, L D Taylor (newspaperman and sometime mayor) had been stopped and asked for money by the same pair minutes earlier, but had said he had none, and walked off. Salsbury resisted, attacking Robinson with his umbrella, and Robinson then shot him before the two would-be robbers ran off empty handed. Following their trial, both men were hung in 1922.
Image Source, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 371-824 and CVA 371-885