Ashnola Apartments – 2152 Main Street

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When this building was constructed Main Street had just changed its name from Westminster Avenue. Located close to one of the city’s breweries, while today we think of it as a pub when it was built it was a retail building. Braunton and Leibert designed it, completed in 1913 for Dr. Israel Powell, one of the province’s important pioneers. He was born in 1837 in Port Colborne in Simcoe, Ontario, and drawn by the Cariboo Gold Rush reached Victoria in 1862 via the Panama Canal and San Francisco. He never went to look for gold, but like his father, Dr. Powell became involved in politics. He was elected to the House of Assembly of Vancouver Island in 1863, but failed to be re-elected in 1866 and 1868. He supported the merger of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, and later Confederation. Sir John A Macdonald was a family friend, and offered him the position of lieutenant governor of B C, or as a Senator. He declined both, but agreed to become Superintendent of Indian Affairs for British Columbia, a position he held for 18 years from 1872. He was surgeon for the Victoria fire department and also served in the militia, while building his medical practice. He was also instrumental in establishing the first Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge in British Columbia. From 1871 to 1875 he was the first grand master of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia, which brought together the lodges under English and Scottish jurisdictions, although later, in 1877, he severed his connections with the masons.

Although he lived in Victoria, he owned property in Vancouver from its inception, and was on the initial voter’s list. He was part of an early consortium with David Oppenheimer and others who bought land in 1886, and was also a shareholder in the Vancouver Improvement Company (a larger group with many of the same owners) who eventually owned 330 acres of Downtown land and helped ensure their increased value with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway into the city. At his death in 1915 he had investments in farms in the Fraser Valley, on Vancouver Island including the Hotel Wilson of Victoria, as well as in buildings and lots in Vancouver and North Vancouver. The names of several places in British Columbia, commemorate Dr. Powell, including Powell Street in Vancouver and Powell River.

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This building was completed only two years before his death when he was in his mid seventies, and cost $47,000 to build. As far as we can tell it represents Dr. Powell’s only investment in bricks and mortar in the area, but according to the Heritage Statement for the local plan, he had acquired and named the streets of most of the area we associate as Mount Pleasant (with Henry Edmonds). It states that it was Dr. Powell’s idea to name the streets after the Canadian Provinces, although Mount Pleasant was a name chosen by Edmonds.

Our 1940s image show the retail unit occupied by a Fur company, while in 1976 it was Royal City Antiques. Over the years the retail uses have changed many times – today it’s a bike store and a dounut shop.

Image sources CVA 1184-2758 and CVA 780-234

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