This part of Main Street has changed a little since Walter E Frost shot the 1972 original. According to BC Assessment records the building on the corner was built in 1954, and its still there today. Several other buildings have been redeveloped to the north over the past 40 or so years. The only apparently significant old buildings on the block are on the far left of the picture at the north end; dating back to just after the turn of the 20th century. However, this 1912 image of track laying along the street suggests the building on the corner is actually much older – presumably getting a significant re-build in 1954.
The 1903 Building permits show James Main & Co. Hardware, building a $10,000 stone and brick store here, built and designed by J W Balmain, with the design submitted by John Walker. J W Balmain advertised as a civil engineer and architect based in North Vancouver (where he became City Engineer). In 1901 he was apparently lodging in Victoria, where he was described as Scottish, aged 61, and having arrived in Canada in 1889, and he was shown living in Vancouver in the 1891 census, also lodging. John Walker Balmain had been married in Bombay, India in November 1869 to Marion Watson, but there’s no mention of his wife in Canada. They had a son, Marion Watson Chalmers Balmain in 1870, and a daughter, Janet King Smith Balmain two years later, but they seem not to have moved to Canada. John died in 1910.
James Main was also Scottish, and confusingly for us there are two people called James Main in the city (fortunately both were Scottish, so that’s accurate). We think its likely to be the one identified as a merchant, aged 40 in 1911 and living in the West End at 1823 Comox Street with his brother, Alexander, (a grocer in 1911, but working with his brother the following year). There were also three sisters in the household, Janet, Anne (who was a nurse) and Margaret. James had arrived in 1890, while Alexander was most recently arrived in 1906 with Margaret, and the other sisters in 1902. James looks to have learned his trade with Thomas Dunn, working as a clerk in Dunn’s hardware store in the 1890s. (There’s another Alexander Main who was also a grocer on Commercial Drive).
In 1909 James was a director of a Vancouver-based company planning to introduce the Renard Road Train to Canada. Invented by a Frenchman and developed by Daimler in Britain, the system was sold to Australia, India and Egypt but we’re not sure that it was ever actually introduced into Canada. The carriages were linked and steered through interconnecting rods, and powered with a Daimler 16L engine that powered the middle wheel of each carriage.
The last time James Main was in the city was 1914, although Alexander and Janet were both still shown living on Comox Street for several more years. In 1915 the R L Brown Hardware Co replaced Mark Drummond Hardware, who had taken over the James Main business around 1910. That was the year that Westminster Avenue became Main Street – so there never was a Main on Main.
Image sources: City of Vancouver CVA 447-309 and part of SGN 1068.11