1900 block West Georgia Street – north side

This image required a double-check that we were in the right spot for the ‘after’ image. Today there’s a park; Devonian Harbour Park; on the north side of Georgia, looking out over Burrard Inlet. We knew there had been earlier industry closer to Stanley Park, but hadn’t appreciated how the wall of commercial buildings totally blocked the view as recently as 1964.

On the corner is the Parkway Inn, which looks to have been developed in the late 1920s or 1930s. There was initially a house here developed by Miss Moorehouse in 1910. Next door, one of the 2-storey buildings may have dated back to 1909. J B Mathers of Baker & Mathers built stores and a dwelling house here. James B Mathers was a broker, from Ontario, and also developed a Mount Pleasant apartment building. To the east C D Smith was owner in 1913 when he built a frame stable. A year earlier William Turner built a 2-storey frame boat building. That could be the pitched roof just showing. The picture doesn’t really show the scale of the buildings here, which all stretched back a long way towards the water on reclaimed land.

The earliest development here dated back to the 1860s when it was settled by several Hawaiian families and consequently was known as Kanaka Ranch. They grew fruit and vegetables as well as fished and hunted to sustain their small community. They also sold coke, which they made from the local coal, to Hastings Mill, located near Gastown, where the men worked. The children trekked daily along a shore path to school at the Mill.

Further down the street were a series of buildings constructed over a number of years by the Hoffar Motor Boat Co. Named after Henry and James Hoffar (often called Jimmie), the boatyard here built over 20 wooden motor yachts, workboats and fishing vessels between 1911 and 1925. The brothers were the sons of noted Vancouver architect N S Hoffar. Henry Stonestreet Hoffar was born in Vancouver in 1888 and James Blaine Hoffar in 1890. The first buildings were down the street, constructed in 1909, and more were added over the next decade, expanding westwards. In 1907 Henry was working in a saw and planning mill, and James was still at school, but a year later they were both listed as boat builders. Their father died in the winter of 1907, and the brothers moved from Westminster Avenue with their mother to Robson Street. The Hoffar Motor Boat Co appeared that year with two other partners, C E Kendall and George E Lewis.

The Hoffar brothers built their first seaplane, the H-1, in 1914, using plans found in a magazine. James learned to fly it by trial and error, and in 1917 the Department of Lands commissioned a plane to support their forestry survey work. This 1917 image identifies the pilot as ‘Hoffman’, but it’s the Hoffar brothers plane.

A test flight in 1918 saw the plane crash land on the roof of a Bute Street home; the plane was destroyed; the house damaged, but the pilot survived with minor injuries. The Department dropped the idea of aerial surveying.

The company merged with the neighboring Beeching Boat Yard to become Hoffar-Beeching in 1925, continuing to build a variety of workboats. In 1929 the Seattle based Boeing Aircraft Co bought the company, building both boats and seaplanes here – it was Boeing’s first seaplane factory and test site. Henry Hoffar became General manager of the Boeing Aircraft of Canada, Ltd, and then president, and James ran a marine engine company, Hoffar’s Ltd and later Vancouver Shipyards.

Henry married Lillian Olsen who was from South Shields in  England in 1907, and they had a son, Norman, in 1911. Henry died in 1978 aged 89. James married Lovina Pethick born in Orillia, Simcoe, Ontario in 1916, and they had a daughter in 1918. James died in 1954, aged 63, and Lovina in 1980, aged 86.

In the early 1960s a New York developer acquired the land and in 1964, the year our picture was taken, sold it to a local development consortium who unveiled a plan for 15 apartment towers here. The project went nowhere, and in 1971 the Four Seasons hotel group bought the site and proposed a 3 tower hotel complex. The NPA of the day supported the idea against much opposition, including a squat by about 70 people who established ‘All Seasons Park, and lived here for nearly a year. Council announced a plebiscite to decide the future of the project, but set a 60% bar for rejection, so 51% voting against it still allowed it to proceed. In 1972 the federal government decided not to sell the water rights here, shutting the project down. Council bought the land in 1973, and it took over a decade to establish the park. The philanthropy of the Devonian Institute of Alberta, (and hence the name, Devonian Harbour Park), allowed the park to be completed in 1984.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-358 and Air P71

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Posted May 25, 2020 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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