We looked at 712 Richards Street – the larger building – in an earlier post. It was developed in 1910 by E E Hewson, a Nova Scotia businessman, designed by Dalton and Eveleigh and built by Baynes and Horie. When it was built, and for over a decade after, there was a house to the south (shown in the earlier post). It was occupied by the Murchie family; John, who ran the Orient Tea Co, based initially (in Vancouver) on Cordova, and later on Pender Street (where Douglas and James Murchie were both clerks with the tea company). The company history says John Murchie immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1894 and founded Murchie’s Tea & Coffee in New Westminster, BC. It also says that long before that, John had started his career in the tea industry with Melrose’s of Scotland, a prestigious tea import merchant in Britain.
John was first shown in Vancouver selling tea on Cordova in 1896. In 1901 some of his family were working with him at that address, John was managing with Grant and John R Murchie both clerks. They were living on W 2nd and the Census that year shows John was aged 45, his wife Sarah was 34. The census return suggests a different early history than the Murchie’s website – John had arrived in Canada in 1879 and Sarah and their older children were shown being born in New Brunswick. That ties in with a John Murchie of the right age living in Bathurst, Gloucester, New Brunswick in 1881; a clerk living as a lodger in the Grant household. He was shown as being a Bible Christian; in 1901 he was described as Brethren. In 1901 the children were Grant, aged 17; John R, 15 and Catherine, 12 – they were all born in New Brunswick. Gertrude who was 11, Archibald, 9; James, 7; Helena, 4; Hedley, 3 and Nicolas 2 months were all born in BC.
In 1911 all of the family were still at home, which was shown as 722 Richards. The clerk who recorded the family had horrible spidery handwriting, and some strange changes to the names. John’s wife is Annie, and their eldest daughter is shown as Chatrien. Nicolas is shown as Ninian, (and his birth certificate shows he was Nicolas Ninian Murchie) and there’s a final addition to the family; Douglas.
From August 1923 the street directory showed the Murchie family living at 720 Richards, and the Tea Company having moved to 722. That suggested to us that the building was developed by John earlier that year, and indeed there was a building permit in March 1923 for F. T. Sherborne to build a $6,000 store/office for him. Mr. Sherborne was a building contractor with an office on Granville Street and a home on Nicola Street, and we assume he designed the building as no architect was listed. In 1928 the insurance map shows the tea company occupying the main floor with a dwelling above. By 1930 the family had moved to 714 Homer, but the tea company was still at 720 Richards. A decade later Sarah A Murchie, widow of John lived at 720 Homer with James (proprietor of Orient tea) and Gertrude. John R Murchie had a rival business, Eureka Tea, on Dunsmuir Street. The family were once again ‘living over the shop’ – Orient Tea was also based at 720 Homer. By 1950 James D Murchie was running Murchie’s Tea Co on Robson Street, But John D Murchie was shown running the Orient Tea Co on Homer. That year 722 Richards was home to The Steak House; in 1940 it had been Jordan’s Café.
By 1981, as our image shows, 722 Richards had become the William Tell restaurant. The restaurant opened in 1964, run by Swiss-born Erwin Doebeli. The building was said to have been abandoned and mice-infested when he took it over, but became a success after initially struggling. In 2004 Doebeli reminisced with the Georgia Straight The first menu featured Prince Rupert shrimp cocktail or B.C. smoked salmon for a buck. “And, naturally, consommés, which is very European,” he says. Salad – then considered rabbit food – came with Roquefort or French dressing. You could have tournedos Rossini ($4.50, and someone claimed his prices were expensive) and pick Calona Crackling Rosé or real French Beaujolais off the wine list. Behind the scenes, tempers were uncorked too. Doebeli went through chefs like a hot knife through butter, 14 in the first eight months, until, he says, he became smart enough to realize that chefly pride needed to make its own mark on the menu.
The William Tell introduced Vancouverites (or at least those who hadn’t travelled to Europe) to the cheese fondue – it featured on the business’s postcards (where you can get an idea of the décor as well). The William Tell continued in business for more than 40 years, transferring across to Beatty Street in 1983, and closing in 2010, (when a review said the fondue was the only meatless item on the dinner menu.)
Today it’s a parking lot for a car hire company – waiting for the developer owner to finally take the plunge and build a commercial building that fits the Central Business District Zoning.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E09.35