50 West Cordova Street

This is the Hildon Hotel in 1985, and today – almost unchanged over 30 plus years. We’re not sure if the 1955 street directory entry was a typo, or whether the hotel really changed it’s name from the Manitoba Hotel (which it was from when it opened until 1954) to the Hilton Hotel, but it’s been the Hildon for many decades. The pub was, and is, a typical eastside bar, but briefly in the mid 1980s it added ‘exotic dancing’ and entertainment to the 50 Bourbon Street pub just at the point that strippers were starting to be replaced in other bars in the city. Today it’s still ‘The Bourbon’, which claims to be unlike any bar in the city. “Its rich history can be felt as soon as you walk through the doors. Established in 1937, The Bourbon has been many things…a strip club, a biker bar, a live venue, and until recently Vancouver’s first country bar.”

The ‘official’ heritage statement says the building was designed in 1909 by W T Whiteway. We can’t find any reference to substantiate that attribution, and the building’s design, using white glazed bricks is much more reminiscent of Parr and Fee’s work. They used bricks like this extensively on other hotel buildings in the early 1910s, especially on Granville Street. They obtained two building permits for this address, both in 1909. The first was in April, for Evans, Coleman & Evans, Ltd who commissioned $25,000 of alterations to the William Block. Two months later another $7,000 permit for the same address, with the same architects, was approved for further alterations. Both projects were built by Baynes & Horie. The expenditure suggests something substantial in the way of alteration, so there may be part of the structure underneath that pre-dates the 1909 construction, but the street directory identifies a ‘new building’ here in 1909.

Evans Coleman and Evans also owned the hotels across the street, as well as many other business interests in the city. When the hotel opened (as the Hotel Manitoba) in 1910 it was run by J H Quann. John Henry (Jack) Quann had lived on the site before, as his father, Thomas Quann (from New Brunswick) had run the Central Hotel here in the 1890s, and in 1896 Jack and his brother Billy had taken over before moving on to other hotels, including the Balmoral, then the Ranier which they built in 1905, as well as the Rose and Maple Leaf theatres. Once the earlier hotel had closed this location was briefly home in 1902 to the Electric Theatre – Canada’s first permanent cinema (before this movies were shown as travelling shows run by people like the Electric’s founder, John Schuberg). Schuberg sold the Electric and moved to Winnipeg in 1903. Jack Quann died in 1911, and the hotel was then run by Jay D Pierce, and as with other hotels of the day there were a number of long-term tenants as well as visitors staying in the premises.

One strange story recently came to light involving the hotel bar. In 1963 Henry Gourley claimed to be drinking there with two friends, when he told Bellingham police that they overheard a conversation from a nearby table. Three men, he said, declared that if Kennedy were to ever go to Dallas “he would never leave there alive.” The men said they were headed to Cuba afterwards and one, who he suggested was named Lee and wearing a grey suit and brown shirt, said his uncle owned “a foreign rifle.” Gourley told the police that he recognized one of the men from a photo shown on a TV program that was “talking about the rifle.” The FBI investigated the claim, as the conversation supposedly took place about three weeks before the death of JFK. Gourley was found to be an unreliable witness, and his friends didn’t back the story up.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-2138

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: