837 West Hastings Street

Ferguson home 815 W Hastings

We featured an office building erected on this lot in an earlier post. Here’s the house it replaced that dated back to late 1886, built by and for real estate pioneer A G Ferguson. The reason that it’s so difficult to compare the image with what’s there today is that the house was built on the sloping lot on top of a cliff, with a commanding view out over the beach towards the forests on the North Shore of Burrard Inlet. Today the site has been leveled, the cliff is no longer apparent, and the forest that remains starts a lot further up the mountains. This was numbered as 815 Hastings when it was built, but the numbers have shifted and we’ve referenced the contemporary address.

On almost every document and publication that mention him he was referred to as A G Ferguson; his first name – Alfred – is never used. He was an American, born (according to his marriage certificate) in New York in 1843, and married to Marion Dixon of Michigan in Pottawattamie, Iowa, in November, 1869. He appears in the 1891 Canadian Census as Alfred Graham Fergusson, born in 1844 in the US to an English born mother and American father. In the 1901 census he was listed as Arthur, but that census collector spelled his wife’s name incorrectly, and recorded him as Fergusson.  The 1901 household was completed by Elizabeth Orange, a companion, and Mabel Williams, a 24 year old domestic with James Williams, also a domestic aged 20 years.

A G Ferguson came to British Columbia as a tunnel builder. He was in charge of the Cherry Creek Tunnel work about 13 miles west of Kamloops in 1884. He almost certainly arrived in Granville in 1885; he doesn’t appear in the 1885 Street Directory, but his wooden building was definitely standing at the corner of Carrall and Powell Streets in the spring of 1886, and Frank W Hart in a 1933 conversation recalled “Even in 1885, A.G. Ferguson was noted for being a C.P.R. tunnel contractor, and wealthy; a very nice man to boot. He built the Ferguson Block at the southeast corner of Carrall and Powell streets—burned down in the fire shortly afterwards”. In June 1886, within days of the fire, Mr. Ferguson confirmed he would build a ‘cottage’ high on the bluff on Hastings Street. W T Whiteway designed the replacement of his burned down office investment at Carrall and Powell; he may have designed this house as well, although as an engineer Mr. Ferguson could also have designed his own home. In 1887 he’s listed as a Civil Engineer, living on Hastings Street. By 1888 his description has changed to ‘capitalist’.

When the CPR sold off land, A G Ferguson was at the front of the line. It perhaps didn’t hurt that the sale took place in the Ferguson Block, or that the CPR’s Vancouver executive, Harry Abbott, lived next door. Walter Graveley in conversation with Major Matthews in 1935 recalled the sale; “Ferguson had his hand on the handle of the door; Ferguson was first; Dr. LeFevre was second; F.C. Innes was third; then came R.G. Tatlow; C.D. Rand was next, and I was behind C.D. Rand. The first three, Ferguson, Dr. LeFevre, and Innes had sat up all night in Ferguson’s office in the same block; the Ferguson Block was the wooden block on the corner of Carrall and Powell streets, where the C.P.R. had their first offices in Vancouver; we were waiting for the C.P.R. office to open; that was why we were there; there was no rush; we just walked in when the office opened that morning; Ferguson was first; he had his hand on the handle of the door.” The speed of growth of A G’s investments can be seen in the assessed value of his property. In 1887 it was $20,000, in 1889 it was $100,000 and in 1891 it was $140,000. In that year his holdings were the sixth largest in the city. He built a series of buildings that had his name associated with them, all somewhat confusingly called ‘the Ferguson Block’ as well as the Boulder Hotel on Cordova.

A G Ferguson enjoyed an active social life as well as his business and civic duties. He was an extraordinarily hands-on chair of the Parks Board, helped design the grades of the roads, and funding the Board’s works out of his own pocket when funds ran out. He was the first president of the newly formed Terminal City Club in 1899 (although the city’s merchants had been meeting together from 1892 as the Metropolitan Club). He had a luxury steam yacht, the Nagasaki (probably built in Japan). He fell ill in 1902, and died in San Francisco in 1903. Appropriately enough, today the site is home to the Terminal City Club. Perhaps the city’s most mixed-use building, it combines the club, retail uses, office space, a hotel and strata apartments in a 30 storey building designed by James Cheng and Musson Cattell Mackey completed in 1998.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives SGN 67

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Posted June 30, 2016 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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