Hankey Block, 367 East Hastings Street

It’s surprising that we’ve missed telling the story of any of the 1900s hotels on East Hastings, but here’s another. The four-storey Hankey block was designed by Thornton & Jones in 1911, and built by Purdy & Lonegan at a cost of $33,000. When it opened it became the Holborn Rooms.

G A Hankey developed the block – but he wasn’t in Vancouver. Gerald Cramer Alers Hankey ran a Vernon company where he was a ‘Notary Public, Financial, Land, Insurance and General Agent Mining Broker and Agent’. He was 41 when he developed the hotel. He arrived from England in 1891; his wife Mary was also English but had arrived in Canada in 1885. In 1911 they had three sons and a daughter (who died soon afterwards) in their Vernon home. The company also owned the Hotel Russell in New Westminster.

A biography says “G. Alers-Hankey was born in 1869 in Bexley, Kent and was educated in England. (misprinted as Dexley). He emigrated from there in 1891 and arrived in Vernon in 1892 to open the city’s first bank, a branch of Wulffson and Bewicke, a private bank. After the Bank of Montreal opened the following year, Mr. Hankey went into the real estate business for himself under the name of G.A. Hankey & Co. In 1913, he sold the business to A. Waring Giles, but retained wide business interests at the coast which he managed until his death in 1943” 

This misses a few additional details. Initially, on leaving England, Gerald became a rancher in Argentina as an 18 year old, working there for 4 years. He briefly returned to England before coming to British Columbia. The bank that he initially worked for controlled the Okanogan Land and Development Co. of Vernon, owning most of the building lots in the townsite. Hankey was to be their local manager, with the bank as a profitable sideline dealing mainly in mortgages, and the discounting of  cash orders.

The arrival of a branch of the Bank of Montreal saw the banking arm of the business dropped within a year of his arrival. Other business interests included being a director of Okanogan Telephone Co., Ltd.; of Imperial Underwriters Corporation; and of White Valley Irrigation & Power Co. Ltd. and of the Point Grey Land & Investment Company. He was a member of the Board of Vernon Jubilee Hospital; Mayor of Vernon in 1902 for one term and Alderman for one term. He considered opening a steam laundry in 1911, but seems to have developed his Vancouver investment building instead.

He sold his business to A. Waring Giles in 1913, but retained wide business interests locally and in Vancouver and New Westminster. A fourth son was born in 1914, but his wife was in England at the time. The 1921 census shows him retired, and living on his own in the Hotel Russell in New Westminster, but a year later he had an English address in Bexley Heath. Gerald managed his business interests until his death in 1943 at the Jubilee Hospital in Vernon.

The Holborn Hotel remains a privately owned rooming house, with a reputation as one of the best run in the Downtown Eastside. Owned by the Woo family, it had a half million dollar makeover in 2012, with restoration of the ornate façade partly funded from a rare federal government grant. Internally the bathrooms were restored, and the building got new windows as well. The MPA Society offer support to the tenants on weekdays, assisting tenants with referrals to mental health/ healthcare agencies, educational and employment resources, as well as any other supports that are identified by the tenants.

Mary Alers Hanley, Gerald’s widow, continued to live in Vernon. She was 101 when she passed away in 1979, a year after our photo was taken.

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Posted 27 July 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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