520 West Cordova Street

This is a ‘blink and you miss it’ photograph. There’s just one year that the company appears in a street directory to confirm this location – 1892. The image is labelled as 1891, and assuming that’s correct it was probably towards the end of the year. The Directory lists the business as “The Jno Doty Enging co, Tor. That’s the John Doty Engine Co of Toronto – manufacturers of (among other equipment), marine engines. The manager was O P St John, George W Roland was the porter and W C Ditmars the book-keeper. Mr. Ditmars was standing in the middle of the doorway. The building looks like it was on stilts, but the appearance is because of the street levelling that took place in the first few years of the city, in part to make it easier to operate the electric streetcars. Initially the wooden sidewalks were built level, and buildings were constructed to meet them. Later the streets were filled in, or lowered as needed, to match.

The building appears to have been developed in late 1888. It’s shown on the 1889 insurance map, but there’s an 1888 image showing the site as still undeveloped. The John Doty Engine Co was a somewhat inaccurate name. Founded in 1881 by a Niagara county, New York native, born in 1822, the former machinist’s business manufactured almost any type of machinery. In 1889 the business occupied a huge new plant at the foot of Bathurst Street in Toronto. Two years later John Doty and Sons started building ships, including a fleet of steam powered ferry boats, lit by electric lights, described by the Toronto Telegram as “universally considered the finest ferry steamers to be found between Hudson’s Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.” With his sons, Doty ran and operated the Toronto Harbour ferries for about five years, also owning ‘Doty’s Island Theatre’, opened in 1886. Over-extended financially, In late 1892, the Doty Engine Works and shipyard were sold to its major creditors George and John Bertram, and Doty ‘retired’ and moved to Goderich. Presumably the new owners were unimpressed with the idea of a Vancouver outpost.

The main floor of the building stayed vacant for several years, but by 1898 the Toronto Type Foundry had moved in. The company sold printing presses and other equipment to printers. They weren’t here for long either; by 1901 Hardie and Thompson had moved in. They were ‘Marine and General Consulting Mechanical Engineers’. They in turn were replaced in a few years by a manufacturer’s agent, and then at the end of the 1900s David Spencer acquired the buildings and redeveloped them into his ever-expanding dry goods empire that would within a few years become a departmental store that occupied the entire city block. His 1910 replacement building can be seen in an earlier post. In 1976 the store was repurposed into the Harbour Centre, anchored at the time with a Sears department store. The Cordova side was almost completely replace with a rather brutal concrete structure, which at this point has a stair entrance to the retail mall inside, and access to the Simon Fraser University complex above.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P250

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Posted May 7, 2020 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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