Oriental Hotel – 306 Water Street

Oriental 306 Water

The Oriental was an early wooden hotel quite a bit to the west of the main action of Maple Tree Square. It sold itself on its proximity to the railway terminus, and first appeared in 1888 with an addition built in the same year. It was a couple of doors down from the Regina Hotel – the only building that survived to fire of 1886. In 1889 it was numbered as 208 Water Street, and was run by John Crean and Richard Fleming (who had been a clerk at the Regina a year earlier). In 1890 they got the first big hotel omnibus. As Major Matthews recorded: “Prior to that most hotels had busses which met the C.P.R. trains and C.P.N. and U.S.S. Co. boats—then the only things to meet—but they were comparatively small, with a seat fore and aft along the side, and black canvas side and roof; the side flaps could be rolled up in fine weather. The Oriental Hotel had a big bus.”

William Edwards, who used to drive the bus told the Major: “We used to haul twenty-five persons in that bus; great big bus, make three trips down to the C.P.R. station; seventy-five from one C.P.R. train. There was not room at times in the house” (hotel) “to accommodate them, but we bunked all just the same. We had little cots, and we used to push the regulars out of their rooms into the hallways, set them up in cots, and keep them there until the rush was over, then let them go back to the rooms the transients had pushed them out of.

Gabriel’s Thomas’s son, also called Gabriel, talked to Major Matthews about the picture “This is the Oriental Hotel on Water Street; next door west, south side, to the old Regina Hotel which escaped the ‘fire,’ on the southwest corner of Cambie and Water Street. John Crean and Gabriel Thomas (that’s my father), proprietors. Father is on the balcony with his hand resting on the railing knob. John Crean is in front of the halyards of the flag pole. I don’t know who the man in the middle is.”

Jimmie’ Edwards drove the bus—horse-drawn bus. Met every C.P.R. train and boat, and also Evans, Coleman Evans to meet the Joan coming from Nanaimo. That was all the trains and boats there were to meet in those days. The bus used to be crowded sometimes and sometimes had to return for those they could not pick up the first trip. The first Oriental was the tall building in the middle with gable end roof; then it was extended to the west, but, on the east side, what appears to be an extension is actually only a store front—a blank wall for show. The lower part is the saloon, what we call beer parlour now.”

Richard Fleming sold his part share to Gabriel Thomas in 1891. That year’s St Patrick’s day saw a report of the dining facilities in the Daily World: “The fervent love of the ould sod, characteristic of Paddy’s boys, was never better evidenced than last evening, when the Ancient Order of Hibernians invited their brethren and sympathetic friends to a banquet at tho Oriental hotel. This hostelry has the reputation of being excelled by few in its cuisine, and the dinner, served at 9 o’clock, set before the large number of assembled guests fully sustained the reputation of the House.” The next day the hotel appeared again, in somewhat different circumstances “Only one case, that of a Chinaman charged with stealing underwear from a room in the Oriental hotel, was up in the Police Court this morning, He was dismissed.”

In 1892 we get confirmation that Gabriel Thomas lived at the hotel “Capt. Pittendrigh, coroner, came over from Westminster to – day, in the absence of Dr. McGuigan, and empannelled a jury to enquire into the circumstances surrounding the death of William Baylis, who was found dead in his room at the Oriental hotel yesterday with a bullet hole in his head. The only feature that was brought out beyond what was told in yesterday’s Woki.p was the statement of the young son of Mr. Thomas, one of the proprietors of the hotel, that he heard a pistol shot at about 4 o’clock in the morning. The jury brought in a verdict of suicide while temporarily insane.” This wasn’t the only death at the hotel that year. In November “Angus Fraser, C.P.R. section foreman at Cherry Creek, was found dead in bed at the Oriental hotel shortly before noon on Sunday. The deceased was well known throughout the Province, having been in the C.P.R. employ for the past nine years. He had been ailing for some time back of heart disease, his medical attendant being Dr. Tunstall.”

Crean and Thomas held the hotel until 1897, when Blanchfield and Grieves took over. An 1896 report suggested “The work on the construction of the new Oriental hotel, to be erected by Mr. Costello, on part of his lot, corner of Cambie and Hastings street, will be begun in a few days.” That new property never obtained the Oriental name – Gabriel Thomas ran the Commercial Hotel here. In 1898 John Meikeljohn owned the Oriental, with W E Fowler as manager. Mr Meikeljohn was reported to have sold the hotel after two years of ownership in November 1899, but Mr Fowler was still manager (and Richard Fleming was the clerk), and Mr Meikeljohn appears to still be the owner until June 1900 when it was sold at auction. In 1901 Mrs Caroline Norgood was the owner, and in 1902 the hotel is shown as ‘vacant’. It then became the Mission Evangelistic Science Hall to the east, although the Oriental Hotel name reappeared in 1906, with Mary Knight as proprietor. The Knight family lost two infant children while they ran the hotel; the funeral of their 4-month-old son was held at the hotel in November 1906. In 1910 Selby Baker was shown as the proprietor, and in 1911 the hotel had gone.

Paul Yee has published the details: “Sam Kee owned five hotel sites and buildings in central Vancouver and leased from German entrepreneur Edward Stolterfoht two sites on which it then constructed hotels for sub-leasing.  In managing its hotels, the firm dealt firmly with civic officials through its lawyers R. R. Parkes and W. A. Macdonald, K.C. In March 1911 the city health inspector condemned Sam Kee’s Oriental Hotel and ordered it demolished. The company, however, argued that its solicitor and architect had consulted earlier with two civic aldermen and the building inspector, and they had all agreed to let the building stand for another five years. Sam Kee ordered its lawyer to appeal the decision, but in vain.”

In 1911 W and E C Taylor hired Grant and Henderson to design a warehouse for their Empress Manufacturing Co, which dealt in imported coffee and locally produced jams and jellies. In 2003 it became a stratified residential building with 22 units designed by Acton Ostrey.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Hot P50

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Posted April 25, 2016 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Gone

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