1100 block Homer Street

1100 Homer north

This 1970 Archives image shows how little this part of Yaletown has changed in nearly 50 years – at least physically. There are far fewer added street trees on this side of Homer Street, so you can still see the buildings. That’s not true of the west side or many other nearby streets, especially to the west of here in Downtown South; (the area realtors like to call Yaletown, or sometimes New Yaletown).

We looked at the history of 1138 Homer, the Frank Darling Block, in the previous post. That’s the three storey building to the left of the telegraph pole in the centre of the picture. Next door is a 2 storey building that also dates from 1913 and like its neighbor cost $40,000 according to the Building Permit. It was built by R & F Watson for Adamson & Main, who claimed to be the architects. The same developers, Adamson & Main, were also responsible for the adjacent five storey white brick building at 1180 Homer developed in 1910 and designed by architects Campbell & Bennett, costing $35,000. (Only four storeys are visible in the picture, and there is also an additional storey on all of these buildings on Mainland Street where the other façade of this block is a full storey lower).

Adamson & Main are a mystery. The only reference to any partnership under this name in contemporary sources is for the permit for this building. There are only a few possible people called Adamson in the city between 1910 and 1914; one possibility is Robert Adamson who was the accountant for the BC Sugar Refinery; the only other well paid Adamson was J Adamson who was Chief Engineer on the Empress of Russia (and in the 1900s on the Empress of India). He seems more likely to be the developer partner, as James Adamson hired the same R & F Watson to design and build a $15,000 apartment building on Oak Street in 1914. James Adamson had been first chief engineer since the Empress service was started in 1891, and he would have been well paid. His appearance in the street directories (but with no home address) suggests Vancouver was his home base. J Adamson had Parr and Fee design a $2,000 house on Burrard Street in 1903, although nobody called Adamson appears to have lived there. J Adamson appears in the 1901 census, but apparently aboard ship (as most of the members of the recorded ‘household’ are ship’s crew, including the Head of Household who was the First Mate). Apart from identifying his job as Chief Engineer, and that he was of English origin, all other details are missing. The ship would have been The Empress of India. Adamson was Chief Engineer on the Empress of Russia from her maiden voyage in 1913 when she broke the record for crossing the Pacific in an easterly direction by 28 hours. He ended his career in 1919 as Chief Engineer on the Empress of Asia.

Main could have been James Main, a hardware merchant, but David Main, is a much more likely candidate. A 1914 biography said: “for many years he has been engaged in the building trade but now practically spends his time in looking after his valuable realty holdings.” He was from Nairn, in Scotland. His father was a sea captain who “at the age of seventy-three years died suddenly of apoplexy, passing away after four hours of illness.” David Main trained as a carpenter, arriving in Philadelphia in 1887 where he worked as head carpenter on a training ship before moving to Vancouver in 1891. For a few years around 1900 he worked in Atlin in Northern BC, where he shipped lumber to White Horse and built the hospital and the Presbyterian church. On his return to Vancouver in 1902 he briefly worked as a carpenter before running a building materials company with T G McBride before retiring to manage his property interests in 1911.

The taller, narrower white brick building is known as the McMaster Building these days, and was turned into condos ten years ago. The original plan was to renovate the building, but it was in such poor shape that it had to be completely rebuilt with the façade retained and tied into the new structure. The original tenants in the building were William J McMaster and Sons. William was from Northern Ireland as was his wife Elizabeth and they had at least five sons, four of whom were shown in the census living at home in Toronto in 1901. It appears that for a while William also lived in Vancouver: he was shown on Georgia Street in 1901 and Haro Street in 1904. James was shown living in the city as early as 1899, and W J appeared in 1897, living at the Mountain View Hotel and a year later in the Leland Hotel. In using Census records we quite often note that someone resident in the city according to the street directories was missed by the census. In this unique example, William, James and Edward McMaster are shown living at home in Toronto and also lodging in Vancouver in the 1901 Census.

The Vancouver directors were James and Edward McMaster. Edward had been born in Montreal and attended Trinity University; a 1914 biography says he worked as a travelling salesman for the family company before taking on the sales manager’s role in the newly established Vancouver location in 1906. Actually he was already resident in Vancouver in 1901, and married here in 1904 to Mary Stewart, from Glasgow. He was elected an alderman in 1911 and was a Director of the Vancouver Exhibition Association. His brother James was also in Vancouver in 1901, marrying Lena who was from Ontario.

The company was a clothing wholesaler, and street directories show that their earlier premises were on Cordova, operating as Manufacturer’s Agents, specializing in Gloves and ready-to-wear. They lasted a very short time as W J McMaster & Sons – but they continued to operate from the property. In 1916 the BC Shirt and Overall Manufacturing Co were here: James torryMcMaster was the foreman and Edward the manager. A January 1916 edition of ‘Industrial Canada’ noted that “McMasters Ltd., manufacturers of shirts and overalls, Vancouver, have sold their undertaking to the B. C. Shirt and Overall Manufacturing Co., Ltd.” The Manufacturing Co was a new operation, incorporated that year and capitalized at $25,000. There had been a severe depression of the economy before the war, and in many cases businesses already in existence carried out a re-arrangement of business to avoid bankruptcy. This doesn’t seem to have helped the McMaster operations: both 1176 and 1180 Homer were vacant in 1917. By 1919 the Ives Modern Bedstead Co were in 1176 Homer and Torry-Lee storage in 1180. James McMaster had a job as an accountant with Fleck Brothers, a job he retained for several years. Edward’s employment isn’t noted in 1919, but in the early 1920s he was a manufacturer’s agent.

James L Torry was an importer, and the Homer Street facility was his warehouse with the storage and distribution business offered as an adjunct. By the mid 1920s another firm moved in, Pioneer Envelopes Ltd. Envelopes were obviously the thing on Homer Street. Pioneer were here right through to World War Two, and the company still exists in Richmond and Langley. They were replaced in the 1950s by the Norfolk Paper Co. The McMaster name was still used for the building.

The shorter building to the north also saw variation in tenants and change over the years, with, among others, an upholsterer, an outdoor advertiser and De Laval Co Ltd, dairy supplies (who were in the building for several decades). Closest to us is the Smith Davidson & Wright warehouse , also selling stationery, designed by Ted Blackmore in 1909 and completed in 1911.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1135-54

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Posted May 19, 2016 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, Yaletown

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