Ellesmere Rooms – West Pender and Homer

The Ellesmere Rooms were unusual because they weren’t clad in fireproof materials, even in the 1940s, although that was the what the fire by-law generally required. The Ellesmere had been around a long time – the name was on the 1912 insurance maps, but it was noted as ‘formerly Douglas House’ in the Archives, and in 1901 it was shown as ‘Elesmere – Boarding’ and was three storeys on Pender and two behind.

The Ellesmere Rooms were described in J. S. Matthews Early Vancouver (Vol. I), 1932 as ”a tall wooden building…which is now used for cheap stores and offices. It was the first large ‘boarding house.” In 1889 it was Douglas House, run by Mrs. J M Douglas. The census shows that Mrs. J M Douglas was a 45-year-old widow in 1891, born in the USA, but not long after that entry she seems to have disappeared from the city. In the 1891 census there are a series of names associated with 439 Homer, headed by F Yorke, Stevedore. There’s a picture from 1890 (or thereabouts) that shows Mr. Yorke on the porch of the premises, on the hill of Homer Street. (He’s third from left, wearing the derby hat). He wasn’t just a stevedore, he ran a stevedoring company in Moodyville, across the inlet. By 1901 he had married, had moved to Victoria, and was a master mariner, with a tugboat business.

The other residents of the building had a variety of jobs, including clerks, a real estate agent, the manager of the BC Iron Works and Monsignor L’Abbe LaChasse. Alterations were carried out to the premises around this period, designed by N S Hoffar.

In 1894 it has become Elsmere House, and in 1896 Elesmere House, shown as being run by  Mrs. L Walsh. A year later it is listed as the Ellesmere, which is how the spelling stays, run by Mrs. Welsh. In the 1901 census Mrs. Loirisa Welsh was aged 60, a widow, still running the Ellesmere rooms with her daughter, Florence, who was 20. Mrs. Welsh had arrived in Canada in 1888, but her daughter arrived 5 years later; both were born in England. Mrs. Welsh had ten lodgers, including Emma Shand, a photographer and Stanley Kirby, a rancher.

At some point after the 1890 picture the entire building was lifted up so that retail stores could be inserted along Homer and Pender Streets. This looks to have been done in the later 1920s, although there seem to have been addresses here in office use earlier than that period.

This image is said to have been shot in 1948. On the corner you could leave your films for processing at the newsagents and tobacconist that had been Bert’s Cigar Box since the early 1930s. There was a watchmaker next door, on West Pender, and a laundry to the north, along Homer Street. In between was a locksmith, ‘Garry’s Lockeyist Shop’, while to the north was the Hollywood Café, and Lacey’s Sign Works. Those businesses were located here in the 1930s, and were here in 1940, but rapidly closed during the war. The Ellesmere Rooms name disappeared after 1938 when it was listed as vacant, and from the look of the building, and the window boxes, we think this was more likely taken in 1938, not 1948. In 1943 it was reported that a city inspector had condemned the building as a boarding house. The shops were still occupied in the building in 1950, though you can see a for sale sign on the building in a Walter Frost image taken that year, and the boarding house looks to be in a pretty poor state. There was a parking lot here for many years once the building was removed, and then in 1993 Central City Lodge was built, offering 112 rooms of supportive housing with 24 hour care and a meal service.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P642 and Bu P141

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Posted November 5, 2018 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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