Malkin Warehouse – 55 Water Street

Malkin Water St

This is the Malkin Warehouse on Water Street, and if you had any doubt about what W H Malkin traded in, they added a huge sign to make sure you knew they were wholesale grocers (very obvious in this 1929 Vancouver Public Library image).

William Malkin arrived in Canada from Burslem in Staffordshire in 1884, joining his brother James in Grenfell, Saskatchewan. Not doing well as wheat farmers, William went to work with a hardware importer, and after selling their homestead, James went off to work in Lethbridge, Alberta. A few years later they both ended up in Vancouver, James moving independently first, then William with the wholesaler he was working for, listed in the street directory as ‘O Percy Skrine’ who acquired premises on Water Street. In 1891, Osmund Percie Skrine was a farmer and general store owner in Grenfell; (the Archives have a photograph of his sheep farm), who had previously managed a tea estate in Ceylon. A third brother, John, joined them, also working for Mr. Skrine.

In 1897 W H Malkin bought out the Skrine business, (the owner was no longer living in Vancouver in 1898, and doesn’t appear in the 1901 Census. He settled in Bradford upon Avon in England in 1905, and died there in 1924.) The name of the company was changed to W H Malkin & Co, with both his older and younger brother joining the company. The Malkins built a 5-storey warehouse at 137 Water Street in 1897 (where the Skrine warehouse had been located), and in 1903 moved to a new bigger warehouse at 353 Water Street, built by J McLuckie. Finally, growing even more to meet demand from the mining boom in the Kootenays and the Klondike Gold Rush, they built this building in 1907 and extended it eastwards in 1912. The first building was designed by Parr and Fee; its twin’s design was claimed by the owners and built by J M McLuckie at a cost of $55,000. It’s unclear what Parr & Fee thought about their design being replicated without receiving payment, (if that was the case), but it wasn’t exactly a complicated project in the first place – certainly far less advanced than the warehouse on the same block that they designed, completed in 1909. It’s a huge structure constructed on the tried and true ‘brick and stick’ basis, with huge structural timbers making the frame (decreasing in size, and weight, the further up the building you go) and a brick skin, often barely attached to the frame.

Like many of the successful merchants the family were involved in civic and professional organisations. W H was a Director of both the British Columbia Permanent Loan Co and the Pacific Coast Fire Insurance Co. He was President of the Board of Trade in 1902 and 1903 and was a member of the royal commission on provincial assessment and taxation in 1910 and 1911. He was very involved in the Methodist Church, and also a Freemason.

malkin labelsThe company grew significantly, and specialised in importing grocery from England. They were the importers for Peek Freans biscuits, Chivers of Cambridge and Cadburys of York. Their 1897 premises were 5,000 square feet in size – with the addition to their 1907 warehouse in 1912 they had 116,000 square feet of space. The company sold a comprehensive line of spices, jams and tinned goods, some as ‘Malkin’s Best’ and some under the ‘Malko’ brand.

In 1929 W H Malkin became mayor, partly on a platform of reform to clear up what was seen as a corrupt police force (a perennial Vancouver issue, but on this occasion with some justification) and partly on a return to prohibition, backed by the Christian Vigilance League. Curiously, although as a staunch Methodist, W H Malkin was in favour of prohibition, (and donated $1,000 to the cause), his company were accused of selling ‘Malkins Best’ extract as an alcohol substitute during prohibition in the early 1920s.

He ran a city that had added 50% to its population overnight, as South Vancouver and Point Grey merged that year into Vancouver. It was a difficult time for the city, as the economy faced a huge downturn after the Stock Exchange crash and unemployment rose sharply. While he laid the foundation stone for the Marine Building, started construction of important infrastructure for the city like sewers and the CPR tunnel from Coal Harbour to False Creek, Mayor Malkin also faced the occupation of the relief office by the unemployed and by year’s end 7,000 were receiving assistance, with no help from Victoria. W H Malkin lost the 1931 election to the east side supported L D Taylor (who had been mayor before 1929 as well) – although his regime was no better able to respond to a collapsed economy than Mayor Malkin had been.

James (Fred) Malkin died in 1950, in his 90s. He had been the first family member to propose moving to Canada, had ridden the Hope-Princeton trail on horseback, driven a model T Ford to New York from Vancouver, and enjoyed blowing up stumps on his Bowen Island property. He had married the much younger Julia, ‘the prettiest girl in Vancouver’

John (Philip) Malkin died in 1952, the youngest and most gregarious of the brothers who travelled widely in the service of the company. He was president of Neon Products of Western Canada (so indirectly associated with the highpoint of Vancouver’s illuminated past). He was a member of the Terminal City Club, a keen, (but self proclaimed ‘rotten’) golfer and listed his hobby in earlier years as yachting. He had come out of retirement during the war to work as director of purchases in the Department of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa. He had four children.

W H died in 1959 – a successful businessman who had been elected mayor, helped create the Burrard Bridge, taken on the role of ‘Colonel Malkin’ as the head of the BC Regiment and become a generous philanthropist who had funded the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, was the first Chair of the BC Cancer Foundation and funded the outdoor pavilion that would be called the Malkin Bowl in memory of his wife, Marion. He listed his hobbies as riding, driving and motoring (an interesting distinction).

The warehouse was successfully converted to live-work rental units in 2002, designed by Paul Merrick. The Old Spaghetti Factory, which has operated here since 1970, was not affected. Next door was a remarkable site – fifty feet of prime development potential on the city’s first street, that stood undeveloped until 2005. Reliance Holdings, who also carried out the conversion of the Malkin Building (as it is now known), got Bruce Carscadden Architects to design a contemporary but sympathetically designed new rental residential building, with 58 units over retail in a 10 storey structure.


Posted 21 April 2016 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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