Beatty Street – 700 block

Two of the warehouse buildings seen in this 1981 image are still standing, and one has disappeared. At the far end is a 1914 building, designed by Dalton and Eveleigh for F T Cope. George Snider & Brethour built it at a cost of $75,000. In the middle is a building costing $140,000 for the National Drug Co, and also built by George Snider & Brethour a year earlier, designed by H S Griffith. Thomas Hooper was hired to make $1,500 of alterations in 1914. With replacement windows it looks much more recent, and since our 1981 image was taken it’s had a blue tile makeover.

The third warehouse was the most expensive. In 1912 a permit was issued for a building to cost $150,000. Designed by Parr, McKenzie & Day for John W Gibb it was to be occupied by The Canadian Fairbanks Company.

Cope & Sons were electrical suppliers. Frederick T Cope was company president, an Englishman (from Oxford) who emigrated to Manitoba at 19, and arrived in Vancouver in 1895 when he was 35, and established the business two years later. In 1914, when they built the new warehouse, Frank R Cope was company treasurer and Bert F Cope company secretary. In 1911 both were still at home with Fred and Marjory, their mother, who was born in Ontario, but had their own homes three years later.

The National Drug and Chemical Company of Canada started in business in 1905, initially in Montreal, then rapidly across the country through expansion and buying out other businesses. David Bole was already a successful drugstore operator from Manitoba, and established the national wholesaling and manufacturing business with six million dollars of capital. State-of-the-art factories were established for both pharmaceuticals (in Montreal) and by 1908 125 items, including cough syrup, skin cream, shampoo, and toothpaste were manufactured in Toronto. The Vancouver distribution centre was opened soon after Calgary and Regina. In 1920 National Drug reorganized its administrative structure, as business had increased by 250 per cent in the previous 10 years. The business still operated here in the 1950s, and is still in business today as Canada’s leading drug wholesaler (now part of US business McKesson).

The Canadian Fairbanks Company was created in 1905 by Henry Fuller, who bought out the Canadian interests of the US parent company, at the time the largest machinery and mill supply company in Canada. They immediately occupied a new warehouse on Water Street developed by McLennan & McFeely. They had a warehouse and machine shop in the building. Within ten years they were looking for larger premises, and moved into the Beatty Street warehouse.

The developer, John Gibb, was a broker with an office in the Rogers Building and a home in the West End. His father, David Gibb, was a retired contractor with an excellent reputation. A 1915 court case shows his son’s business scruples weren’t quite as pure. It referred back to the 1912 deal with Canadian Fairbanks to occupy the building, with lease payments of $242,000 over 10 years, (starting at $22,000 for each of the first 3 years).  The building had to be ready for 1 August 1913, and if delayed no rent was due. Walter Meuller was hired to build the warehouse for $106,000. It became clear in May 1913 that Mr. Gibb was suffering “financial embarrassment” (to quote the judge), and it also transpired that he did not own the land outright, as he had claimed, but rather held an equity stake. That meant banks wouldn’t advance him a loan to complete the building. Mr. Gibb actually needed over $200,000 to complete the building and obtain tiitle – he had a deal with Harvey Haddon to advance $106,000 on completion, but that wasn’t going to solve his problem. He was willing to sit back and seemed to think that, as the agreed rent was a bargain, he might get out of his predicament. Fairbanks weren’t willing to wait, and paid the contractors to finish the job, in October.

This was highly unusual, and as the judge noted “Failure of Gibb to satisfactorily carry on construction or to complete within the time specified did not entitle the plaintiff to enter on the premises and proceed with the work.” Trustees were appointed immediately after the 1 August date was passed, and the interest in the property was transferred to David Gibb, John’s father. A Fairbanks manager was initially a trustee, but his head office forced him to withdraw, and launched the case to try to obtain a significant sum that they had paid to complete the building. The judge didn’t agree, but imposed the $20 per day pre-agreed fine for missing the August 1st deadline, and another $800 because the building didn’t use equipment sold by Fairbanks in its construction, as the lease agreement stipulated. Fairbanks also received their costs.

Despite this rocky start, Canadian Fairbanks were still occupying the building in the 1950s. It was cleared to become the plaza in front of the BC Place stadium, constructed in the early 1980s, allowing new windows in the side of the National Drug Co building. The Terry Fox memorial, designed by Douglas Coupland, is located here. The other warehouses have been converted to office use; one is home to a private school.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E18.04

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