When this apartment building was first completed it was known as the Mount Stephen Block. The architecture features the trademark brick patterning used by Townsend & Townsend, with one of the most flamboyant pressed metal cornice designs ever built in the city. ‘Exploring Vancouver also noted that ‘Two immodest female figures energetically support the heavy pediment’. The owner, and builder of the $60,000 project on the corner of Quebec St was W D Muir.
We’ve seen a number of the Townsend’s other projects in the city. Many had the Argyle checker pattern in red, on a buff background. They used the same design on warehouses and apartments throughout the city. Although published biographies suggest they were brothers, our research suggests they were father and son, probably from Manchester. They were only in the city from 1909 to 1913, but managed to design buildings worth over $800,000.
W D Muir was initially a grocer in Mount Pleasant; his premises were close to the flatiron where Main and Kingsway meet at 8th Avenue and he was a pioneer, establishing his grocery and bakery around 1896. He dropped the grocery, not only producing thousands of loaves, but in 1903 patenting the oven he used to bake them. In 1904 the ‘Mount Pleasant Advocate’ announced that he had added another oven, and could now turn out over 1,000 loaves of bread in an hour. In 1905, when flour prices increased by $1 a barrel, W D Muir announced that he had $3,000 of flour on hand, and so could continue to feed Vancouver for a while longer without raising prices.
In 1908 Wiliam is already listed as retired; he had sold the bakery business a year or two earlier to Hanbury Evans & Co. In 1909 he sold the large brick ‘Muir Block’ on the corner of Westminster (Main) and 8th, and he obtained the permit to build this apartment block in 1911, with completion a year later.
The 1901 census tells us Mr Muir was from Quebec, born in 1856, while his wife Jane was from Ontario and a year younger. Their six year old son, Thomas, had been born in British Columbia. The household was large – there were seven lodgers, two who presumably worked for William as they were bakers, and a domestic servant. Duncan Muir was one of the lodgers, aged 21, a teamster (as were two others). By 1911 he’s shown born in 1854, and while Jane is a year younger her birth date is shown as 1850, showing census clerks couldn’t necessarily calculate accurately. William is shown as retired, living on income (presumably from selling his business, and a little later from rent). Their domestic was shown as Florence Muir, who was 28, and James and Jennie Muir, William’s niece and nephew were also living in the family. Jennie was aged 14, but James was 53 and working in a bakery as a stableman.
The Mount Stephen Apaertments switched at some point in the 1950s to be an ‘apartment hotel and rooms’. It subsequently reverted to being a rental building that by 1979 was run down. The landlord of the day looked to add a massive rent increase, and the tenants fought it. With Federal financial support they formed a co-op and bought and renovated the building in 1980. The co-op later purchased the lot next door to add a yard, garden and parking space. With their new name, the Quebec Manor Co-op continues to offer 32 affordable rental apartments.
Image source: City of Vancouver archives CVA SGN 1028