Robson Street – 1100 block, south side (1)

Here’s the south side of the 1100 block of Robson in a 1939 Vancouver Public Library image. Today the stores offer clothing to a broad group of shoppers from around the region, and beyond, but in the 1930s they were more likely to be local, looking for a haircut, and food from Safeway. (Both of those can still be found a few blocks down the street). Today, Aritzia, a locally based clothing chain have several stores here, including their Downtown flagship store. The company operates 84 stores, each individually designed, throughout Canada and the US.

In 1939 there were far more small businesses, with a grocery store on the corner of Thurlow, just out of the picture, then the Glaz-O-Nut Doughnut store at 1102-and-a-half Robson, Woodall’s Hand Knitting Shop and on the left of the picture, F B Patterson’s barber salon. The Cookie Crock bakery was to the west, then P B Dean’s delicatessen, the Egg Basket selling butter, cheese and eggs, and then Safeway’s grocery store. The New Coleen Confectionery store was at 1116, with Edmund Daem, a CPR porter and his wife, and daughter Josie, a stenographer lived upstairs. The rival Silver Star confectioners were next door, and then Moore’s cleaning and dyeing business.

The Safeway store and several other buildings revealed their origins as a residential rather than retail street. Safeway’s 1110 Robson had been a house in 1901, 1106 Robson. It was occupied by Henry Vaughan, a clerk, with Frank Filion, a grocer living in a house to the east and Thomas Bradbury, a contractor to the west. Frank designed a new house himself, in 1902, and had P Dermes build the stone foundation. (He had previously been a hotel-keeper in Gastown, before moving to the West End). The future Safeway store was owned by Yorkshire & Canadian Trust Co in 1919. It was apparently still a residential building in 1936, when Mrs. E M Jenkins, a dressmaker lived there, but a year later it was the Safeway store.

Beyond it, the two storey building two doors to the west was designed for Gillingham & Korner for D M Hourigan in 1920, and cost $4,000 to build. In 1921 Daniel Hourigan was 51 and from Ontario, and seems to have owned at least two of the buildings here. He was married to Alice, a 53 year old American, and seemed to be living on the income from his investments. In 1911 they were living in Toronto, where a daughter was still living with them. Daniel died in 1944, and in 1949 The Medicine Hat News reported that Alice, and her daughter, Mrs. Moyer (who lived in Medicine Hat) had driven 2,000 miles for her to visit her native Illinois for the first time in 38 years, at the age of 82. Their daughter, Mary, had been born in Illinois.

The three storey building to the west is still standing today. It was built in 1912 for Esther P Buchanan, who hired W P White to design it. Allan Brothers built the $35,000 ‘Apartment/rooms; three-storey brick store and apartment’. Esther knew the site well, as she lived here, in a house, before it was developed. She was wife of Richard G Buchanan, and in 1911 she was aged 32 and from Quebec. (He was 12 years older, and from Ireland, arriving in Canada as a boy in 1880. He sold china and glassware on Granville Street, and before that on Westminster Avenue). There were three boys, aged 10, 6 and 4. The family moved to Haro Street when the new building was developed, and Richard’s china shop moved to the main floor. In early December 1913 there was a 25% sale in the china store; an unusual time of year for such an event. The advertisements explained that ” In order to close the estate of the late R. G. Buchanan we must have $15,000 in 30 days”. Presumably things worked out for the business: in the next few years Mrs R G Buchanan was running the business, and she lived in one of the apartments above the store. In 1917 Stephen Ira DeBou (a 33 year old unmarried contractor, from New Brunswick) married Esther Permelia Buchanan, a 39 year old widow, daughter of Thomas B Hyndman of Ottawa. In 1921 they were living on Nelson Street; there were three of Stephen’s stepsons still at home; Esther’s fourth son, Richard was born around 1912. Her father, Thomas, was also living with them. We’ve see Mr. Hyndman’s work in the city in an earlier post. He developed some houses on Robson Street, and had worked for R G Buchanan before becoming vice-president of Woodwards Stores, and then running a real estate business. Esther died, aged 61, in 1940, and Stephen in 1964.

There was a Piggly Wiggly store next door in the building in 1928, and upstairs the rooms became the Hotel Biltmore. The grocery store closed very quickly, reopening as the Leong Market. In 1955 Safeway and the Biltmore Hotel were still in operation, but the food store was now Tom’s Market.

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