Powell and Gore Street – south west corner

This 1971 image photographed by Walter E Frost shows a number of buildings soon to be demolished to make room for a new lock-up. The new Provincial Courts were built on the other half of the block, and this site had a new remand centre completed in 1983. Designed by Richard Henriquez, the building was taken out of commission as it became unnecessary to hold enough prisoners on remand to warrant the cost of running the facility. In 2008 the bottom floors were converted to the Community Court, but the upper floors and their massive concrete pods remained unused. After a $21m makeover designed by Henriquez Partners, the building is now a 96 unit low cost and non-market housing project managed for B C Housing by the Bloom Group.

This block was still mostly undeveloped in 1906, with a few occupants at the western end, recorded as ‘Japanese’, with no further identification. By 1907 there were businesses at this end of the block; T S Maikawa, a fish dealer. K Higaki’s barber shop and the boarding house run by Asahiya & Co. were on the corner lot. John Wickham had obtained a permit for two houses on the lot in 1906, which we think were built just to the south, on the same legal lot but off the picture. He may therefore have developed the three storey building as well. There’s no sign of a John Wickham in the city around this time, although by 1911 John Wickham and his brother Alfred were running a restaurant not too far away on West Cordova. Mr. Wickham built a number of houses and apartments in the area, so his absence from the directories is odd. There was a successful accountant in the city called John Wickham-Barnes, and it’s possible he was the developer, but it looks more likely that he was a US restauranteur from Portland (born in England) who had a brief investment period in Vancouver.

Next door is a four storey building, constructed in two phases. The businesses here were almost always listed as ‘Japanese’, and the upper floor was “Jap Rooming House’, but the developers were Caucasian. Eligh and DePencier built the first phase in 1909, with ‘Bennett’ listed as architect. An additional two floors were added in 1911, costing the same as the first phase; $8,000. The Contract Record noted that the plans had been prepared – but not who drew them. ‘Eligh’ was probably Jacob Eligh, son of dairy owner William Eligh, both from Ontario. He was a policeman in the city in 1895, and later ran the family dairy business in South Vancouver. His brother, Hamilton died in 1894, and his father in 1901, so Jacob inherited the family wealth. His partner was almost certainly Henry DePencier, also from Ontario (from Burritts Rapids, Carleton County). He had been a lumber mill manager in Barnet, and would have known some of the residents of Japantown as half his workforce were Japanese. Henry was 52 in the 1901 census and his family roots were shown as German, but his wife Annie was Scottish, arriving in Canada in 1888. She was Henry’s second wife; his son, Theodore, an accountant, still lived with the family in 1901, ten years younger than Annie.

The 3 storey building to the west of the rooming house was developed by W Francey at a cost of $8,000 in 1909, and designed by A J Bird. It also appeared as ‘Japanese rooming house’. The only ‘W Francey’ in Canada was in Ontario, but Robert Francey, a Scottish civil engineer lived in Vancouver. He became the City Engineer a few years after the building was completed, and seems to have been the only person called Francey in British Columbia at the time the building was developed. The alternative is that it was William Francis, who was a real estate agent living in the city in 1909.

Before the war these were generally identified as occupied by (un-named) Japanese residents and businesses. Once the Japanese community were forced into internment camps some of the buildings in this area became an extension of Chinatown. However, the 4-storey rooming house became the Orange Rooms, run by Alfred Strom. Closer to us on the corner were the Ming Sun Reading Rooms, a reading room and social space for men from the Wong family clan who had immigrated to Canada from Hoi Ping (Kaiping) in China. By the 1950s the area was seriously run down. Many of the rooming houses had poor, mostly male, unemployed residents. The buildings were acquired by the Province, and cleared for the new court building in the 1970s, and subsequently the lock-up here.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-365


Posted 2 April 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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