Hastings Street east from Granville

Here are two almost identical images of the same view, from 1888 (above) and 1896 (below). Over those few years the initial wooden plank road was replaced with a more robust surface, and a number of additional buildings had started to fill the gaps along Hastings. The building with the turret on the south-east corner of the street is called ‘Customs House’ on the 1889 Insurance map, although it also noted a grocer occupying the corner store. Next door was the Leland Hotel, with exterior balconies, and across the street was the hotel’s annex, built in 1887, probably by Ben Springer, with hotel rooms on the second and third floors. The Leland Hotel was owned by Simon Hirschberg. His arrival, with his wife, from Winnipeg was noted in the press in July 1886 as they were the first passengers off the first train to arrive at Port Moody in 1886. That was the initial ‘end of the line’, and Mrs Elmira Hirschberg, (who was the widowed Mrs Custer when she married Simon) was presented with a bouquet to mark the event. In Winnipeg they had run The Merchants Hotel and The Tecumseh Hotel, and in Vancouver they built the substantial wooden frame Leland. Elmira was from Maryland, and Simon was probably a German-born Jew. The hotel was one of the first with gas lighting, as James England, secretary of the Gas Company recalled to Major Matthews “My recollection of the first gas service is that the Leland Hotel, a large four-storey frame building on Hastings Street, was the first building lighted by gas in Vancouver. I know it was common talk among the employees that this was so. It may have been on the 24th of May, 1887; it certainly was before my time as I did not come here until July 1887. I have a distinct recollection that the Leland Hotel account was No. 11 on the register of customers, but it does not follow that it was the eleventh customer that lit up; there was some holiday or special reason for getting the Leland Hotel going, and it was common talk among the men of the special efforts put forward to get the gas sent up to that hotel.” Business, and family life were both strained, and seven months after arriving, the Times Colonist told the story of Simon’s demise.

“S . Hirschberg, the proprietor of the Leland house, Vancouver, roused his employees early yesterday morning, and then taking a stretcher went to the attic of the house. He was shortly after missed, and his wife hearing someone groaning, went up to the attic where she found her husband in a state of semiconsciousness. By his side was a vial labeled laudanum, showing that the unfortunate man had taken the poison. Medical help was at once summoned and every means used to restore him to life, but without avail and he died at noon.

He had taken enough laudanum to kill half a dozen people, and the causes which led him to end his life were business and domestic troubles. Several days previous he had expressed his intention to hang himself but his friends never anticipated that he would take his life. Hirschberg was well known in Winnipeg where he was a hotelkeeper. He came to Vancouver last July and built the Leland house.”

Other reports can be found suggesting that the 300 pound man hung himself, shot himself or slit his throat – but there’s no reason to question the accuracy of the contemporary news report. Similarly, a 1940s news story suggested his body never made it to the new cemetery at Mountain View, and was buried under the street at Fraser and 33rd, but his interment location is known in the earliest part of the cemetery. He was probably the first adult to be buried there.

Simon’s widow continued to run the business for a while, before selling up and eventually remarrying again in Seattle. F W Hart remembered her as “the first white lady to come across the Canadian Rockies and it was to her that I presented the bouquet of flowers by the order of Mayor MacLean. She came on the first C.P.R. train from the east.” George Upham also remembered her, and thought that the family took over the hotel, rather than developing it. He also noted about Mrs. Hirschberg; “Make any man commit suicide to have a wife like that; a hard old bat; she was hard,”

Next door to the east of the hotel, the Delbruck Block was developed in 1889 and completed early in 1890. This was Delbruck Block No. 2 – another had been developed a year earlier on Cordova. Both had the same architect, the ever-busy N S Hoffar. George Delbruck was French, and only 34 years old in 1891. For an investor in two buildings, he has almost no published record. He never appears in a street directory, despite having been listed in the census (when he was lodging). We think he was from Nice, and also a composer, like his younger brother Alfred, who was also in Vancouver briefly in the same period, and also a musician. In 1890 he was shows as ‘A Delbuck, capitalist’, lodging at the Hotel Vancouver.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives Str P127 and CVA 1477-641

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Posted May 30, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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