Balmoral Hotel – East Hastings Street

Today the Balmoral Hotel is closed, slowly being restored after the City of Vancouver finally tired of trying to get its owners to meet basic standards for the SRO housing rooms in the 1912 former hotel. When it opened it was a smart addition to the booming new city, although completed just before a serious bump in Vancouver’s economic road. An economic boom that had lasted from the mid 1900s to 1912 suddenly went into reverse, made no better for several years as the First World War saw thousands of men leave the city.

In a September 1912 announcement of the official opening of the Balmoral Hotel, the journal Architect, Builder, and Engineer noted that construction of this first-class hotel “will relieve some of the former congestion in hotel circles of the day“. It appears that this was a bigger building than originally planned, and with a different use. In mid 1911 the Contract Journal reported “Plans being prepared for office building (Hastings street). Owner, J. K Sutherland, 1901 Barclay street, Vancouver; architect, Parr & Fee, 570 Granville street, Vancouver; 6 storeys, store and offices. Tenders for excavation have been called. Supplementary report later.” A few weeks later it was reported that Hawley and McMillan had won the excavation tender for $5,000 of work, but the other details remained unchanged. There’s no further mention of the building in that publication. In September the building was described in the Daily World as ‘six-storey, apartments over stores‘. On completion the Province newspaper, referred to it as the Sutherland Block. It was built by J J Dissette and the building permit was for apartments, with the whole construction estimated at $140,000. It was built next to George Munro’s rather more modest two storey building that had appeared in 1903. Two doors to the east was a building that became the Crystal Theatre, designed in 1904 by A Pare for Thomas Storey. In the early 1950s it became the 24 hour Common Gold Café.

Mr Sutherland took a hand-on role in the construction of his project – which faced an initial problem with drainage; The Daily World in November 1911 reported “The dissatisfied – with – the – sewers brigade was well represented at yesterday’s session of the board. One delegation, headed by Mr. Cross, made an emphatic protest against the condition of things in the sewerage facilities of that portion of Lansdowne street between Quebec and Ontario streets. There was a four – foot sewer being put in along there, but it was neither big enough nor deep enough to drain the bottoms of their basements, for which excavations had already been made in connection with several new buildings that were being erected there. They wanted a seven – foot sewer at least, as under present conditions with a four – foot sewer at the present level they would have to install a pump to keep their basements from filling up. The board recognized the urgency of their case and will try to make conditions satisfactory there. Mr. J. K. Sutherland had an almost similar complaint to make in connection with the lack of a suitable basement drain for Hastings street, between Columbia and Main streets. He, too, was promised relief if within the power of the board.”

From the building’s completion it was never occupied as either an office or apartment building: ‘The Balmoral Hotel; Fiddes & Thomson, proprietors’ was the first entry in the 1913 street directory. However, it immediately had many permanent residents who listed the hotel as their home address. Robert Fiddes and James Thomson continued to run the establishment for several years, which is generally not true of hotels in this era, when proprietors changed frequently. In the early 1920s the hotel had a manager, E R Hunter. In the 1940s the neon sign was hung on the front of the building, designed by Neon Products, a local company, which by the 1950s was one of the biggest neon sign producers in the world. Our image shows the block in 1985.

J K Sutherland was a pharmacist, born in Ontario in 1870. He arrived in Vancouver in 1892, living with his parents; his father was a tax collector. He initially worked for a druggist on Cordova Street, and established his own store on Westminster Avenue by 1895. Several rival druggists merged their interests to form the Nelson, Macpherson, Sutherland Drug Co in 1901, with seven stores. By 1903 the partnership had been dissolved, and John Sutherland continued on his own, although by 1910 he was described as ‘retired’, and his 1911 census entry confirms this, with John aged 41, his wife Lily five years younger, their children aged six and four, and two domestic servants, both from England. A year later he built the East Hastings building, and in 1913 he also owned the Clarence Hotel, where he had repairs completed.

The Sutherlands lived in the West End for many years. John’s death notice in 1937 read “John Knox Sutherland, in his sixty-eighth year. Mr. Sutherland, retired druggist, leaves his wife at home, one son, John Burton Sutherland, city; one daughter, Mrs. Robert L. Cold, London, England; one sister, Miss Jessie B. Sutherland, city, to mourn his passing.” His wife had married John in 1904 in Montreal and died in Vancouver in 1960.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-1912

Advertisements

Posted November 2, 2017 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

Tagged with ,

%d bloggers like this: