This house stood here for at least 35 years. This image dates from around 1900 and the Vancouver Public Library notes: “Japanese man and horse and buggy on boulevard”. We had no idea who the Japanese man might be, but the house was built by, and for Dr John A Mills five years earlier. He arrived from Ontario, and practiced in the city from 1890 until he died in 1920. The Vancouver Daily World published the news on the front page under the headline “Well-known Doctor is Called by Death”.
In 1901 the household consisted of Dr. Mills, his wife, their four-year-old son, Lennox, and a 21-year-old domestic, George Kanaka. That’s who we’re guessing is in the picture. Curiously, the 1901 census identifies his wife as Marguarite, from Nova Scotia, ten years younger at aged 30, while the 1911 census says she’s called Maud and a year older than the doctor (but still born in Nova Scotia). We’re pretty certain this was an error – as is often the case with 1911 records. There’s no mention of the doctor having remarried in a biography published in 1913, or in his death notice in 1920. Margarite Merchie from Nova Scotia was a boarder aged 22 in the 1891 census, and many members of her family were still in New Westminster, where her father, David, was an undertaker.
Dr. Mills was born in Woodstock, Ontario, and came from a family of high achievers – one brother was a barrister, and another Bishop of Ontario. He qualified in Toronto, but in the year he qualified as a doctor he moved to Vancouver. He was married in 1894 to Marguerite Murchie, which might explain the decision to build a new house, The couple had two sons; the older, Lennox Mills, was admitted to McGill at the age of 14 in 1911, the youngest student ever to be admitted up to that time. He joined the 1916 class of the University of British Columbia – the first year it admitted students – and finished the year top of the class. Lennox was a Rhodes Scholar, moving to the United States in 1928 and becoming a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and a Guggenheim Fellow. As with many of the city’s professional men, Dr. Mills was a Freemason.
The house remained Dr. Mills surgery until he gave up practicing a short time before his death, but the family moved out in 1912, and for a year or two Dr. Mills practice moved to Granville Street, and his former house was described as being a ‘Private Home for Children’ for a year or two before it was once more a private home and then the Vancouver home of the Canadian Conservatory of Music.
The 1988 two-storey replacement probably won’t remain for too many more years: it’s one of the remaining obvious assemblies for redevelopment Downtown, and as our image shows, was recently sold. When it was first rebuilt, John Casablanca’s Fashion Career Institute occupied the upper floor. It’s very likely that there’s an earlier 1930s building frame underneath here: the Bible Society occupied a similarly scaled building on this corner in the early 1980s.