Granville Street – 600 block, east side (2)

This 1889 picture shows the sporadic development of the newly established Granville Street – the Canadian Pacific Railway flagship street, designed to pull the centre of the new City of Vancouver onto their land and away from the earlier Granville Township near the waterfront to the east. Development here was either initiated by the railway company itself (like the Opera House and Hotel Vancouver, close to here), or by individual directors commissioning office buildings. The largest building here is the New York Block, designed by Bruce Price of New York. We assume the railway negotiated a collective deal for the directors, as he designed six buildings here, all in 1888, four of them for CPR Directors. The wooden Banff Springs Hotel, which was commissioned by the CPR had opened in 1888; the first of Price’s Canadian buildings to be completed. Price went on to design New York skyscrapers that were much bigger – for a while the American Surety Company building built in 1894 was the tallest in the city. His work for CPR continued with the iconic Château Frontenac in Quebec City.

His client here was Sir George Stephen, a founding member of the CP Rail backers, and a prominent Canadian businessman. He made his fortune in Montreal and was the first Canadian to be elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The ‘Canadian Builder and Architect’ identified him as the developer of the building. Born in Scotland, the son of a carpenter, he left school at the age of fourteen to work variously as a stable boy, shepherd and in a local hotel. He apprenticed as a draper, then moved to London. In 1850 he moved to Canada, joining his cousin’s wholesale dry goods business business in Montreal. He took over after his cousin’s death in 1862, and sold out in 1867 having started a successful wool-importing company and also investing in other textile businesses. In 1866 he partnered with Donald Smith, his first cousin, in a number of new business ventures. By 1873, he had become a director of the Bank of Montreal, and three years later he was elected president. In 1877, Donald Smith introduced him to Canadian railway promoter James Hill, which led to the creation of George Stephen & Associates, one of the most profitable partnerships in the history of North American railways. Having successfully reorganized and expanded the St Paul Railway, the company were selected to develop the coast-to-coast rail link for Canada: Stephen became the first president of Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881, and despite cost overruns from numerous unanticipated engineering, business and political problems, successfully completed the track laying in 1885, with the first train arriving in Vancouver in 1887.

This was not the first foray into Vancouver real estate; in 1887 the Lady Stephen Block had been completed on West Hastings Street, designed by T C Sorby. For many years it was hidden under a sheet steel facade, but it has been restored to its original appearance. The New York Block was described in somewhat over-the-top style by the Daily World as “certainly the grandest building of its kind yet erected here, or for that matter in the Dominion”. You can see that in 1889 even grand buildings still had plank sidewalks and uneven unpaved streets in front. The building lasted until the early 1910s; the 1912 Insurance map noting “to be torn down and new bldg. erected”. The economic downturn and war got in the way, and it was eventually replaced with the current Hudson’s Bay store in the early 1920s.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Str N96

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Posted February 28, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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