Archive for August 2020

The Homer – 890 Homer Street

Edward Hobson developed this apartment building in 1909. To do so he removed a house that he had constructed here only three years earlier. The house in our 1960s image originally had a matching double to the west, replaced with the retail and apartments seen here. Originally there were just 8 apartments, so they were generously sized. A 1909 story in The Province explains: “Mr. Edward Hobson, a well known builder and realty operator, has planned a handsome three-story store and apartment building which he will I erect at the northeast corner of Smithe and Homer streets opposite the entrance to Recreation park. The building now on that corner will be removed to another location. Mr. Hobson has evolved a unique plan by which every room in the building will have outside windows.”

Mr. Hobson was listed as a contractor in the 1901 census, from England, aged 43, living with his Irish-born wife, Mary, who was 10 years younger. They had arrived in 1898, and Edward’s two Australian-born brothers-in-law, Thomas and William Reilly were living with them. In 1911 William Reilly was one of five lodgers living with Edward and Mary at 1772 Davie. Edward was shown as retired, (although street directories continued to show him working in real estate), and William was also in real estate. Two of the lodgers were shown as working as house work – which may mean they were part of the household rather than paying guests. The final record for the Hobsons living on Davie Street was in 1916, Edward died, aged 61 in January 1917. Sadly, the 1921 census found Mary listed as an imate of the BC Mental Hospital in New Westminster. Mary Jane Reilly Hobson, the daughter of John Reilly & Hannah Kincaid, born in Ireland, died in 1922 and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery.

Edward built a lot of property in the city over about 12 years. Mostly he built houses, and all the permit records show him as both architect and builder. Mostly he developed in the centre of the city, but in 1909 he was listed as developing a brick block in Kerrisdale. We think his wife’s relatives continued to manage his estate, as a 1918 permit for this building was issued to the Hobson Estate, with the work carried out by T Reilly. A 1919 judgement confirmed that seemed to be the case. Edward’s will bequeathed a total of $169,000, but his will was written when his property assets were valuable. When he died the value had dropped dramatically, and the property was only worth around $50,000. The first $50,000 of his estate went to his widow, followed by various $10,000 bequests to relatives (mostly living in England and New Zealand), and smaller sums to a variety of relatives and friends. The problem was that while these added up to $119,000, there was only $291 in assets to distribute. William Reilly was an executor of the will.

The Homer became a rooming house, and initially there was a dyeing business in the retail unit, (one that dyed cloth – not one struggling to survive!) and various businesses replaced it until in 1952 it became the Smithe Coffee Bar, and later Pauline’s Cafe, then Rose’s Coffee Shop and later Stratos Cafe. In 2011 the site was redeveloped as ‘The Beasley’, a 33 storey condo tower designed by GBL Architects. The Homer Apartments were completely renovated, with the original turrets (long missing) reinstated. Over the years the original 8 apartments had been divided up into 23 tiny shared-bathroom rental units. Those were renovated as 15 self-contained market rental units, and The Homer Café opened downstairs.



Posted 31 August 2020 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

Tagged with

874 – 880 East Georgia Street

There are three separate properties in this 1978 image, although two are clearly in the same ownership these days. Closest to us is a 1912 building. It was constructed by W J Cain, who designed and built it at a cost of $,3500. There are four units in here today, and it appears to have the original narrow lapped planks on the front. The middle building was the first of these three, constructed in 1911, and D Neale owned, designed and built it, according to the permit, for $4,000. It has some form of fibreboard, quite possibly asbestos board (which is fine if you don’t mess with it – and expensive to remove if you do). Finally the ‘brick’ block at 880 is the most expensive, a $5,000 1912 apartment building (which has 14 units today) built by and for W Sparks. The ‘bricks’ are printed on asphalt-backed sheets. Our 1978 image shows very little has changed in over 40 years.

William Sparks, a carpenter, lived at 880 Harris (the previous name for East Georgia). There were three William Sparks in Vancouver – and all three were carpenters. Fortunately he was in the 1911 census, so we know he was from Newfoundland, aged 38, as was his wife Jane who was 35. He was living in a house here in 1907 with another carpenter, John Sparks, (who we think was William John Sparks, a cousin). They had two children, a daughter aged 10 and a son who was 6.

There was no D Neale in the city, but there was a Daniel Kneale. He was a 31 year old contractor in 1911, so he’s likely to be the developer, perhaps helped by his father, Thomas, who was a bricklayer. The 1911 census found him living with his parents and two brothers; one a fireman (a hoseman from Firehall #2 who lived on East 9th), but the street directory had him living closer, at 426 East Pender for several years. The 1915 directory has him living here, but spells his name Kneal. Thomas Kneale had arrived from the Isle of Man in 1905, followed by two of his three sons in 1906, and finally his wife Mary, and their youngest son in 1910. A Vancouver Manx Society event that year listed both Daniel Kneale and Dan Kneale (from Ramsey) in attendance, along with several others with the same surname . An enthusiastic review said “Vancouver, B.C., claims to be “the Liverpool of the Pacific”; and this claim is substantiated by the fact that Vancouver has a larger Manx population probably, than any other city in the Dominion of Canada. The youthful Manx Society of Vancouver held its second annual re-union banquet in the Orange Hall, on New Year’s Night.”

Daniel Kneale married Ellen Ridout who was 32 and from England in 1913. They appear to have only one child, who died in 1921 two days after his birth.

The only W J Cain we can find is William J Cain, who lived on the same block as Daniel Kneale at 456 East Pender, and was a shoemaker. He was also from the Isle of Man, and had been in the city for many years. He also attended the 1910 New Year’s event. After the 1911 census rolled out he was living here; so he must be our developer. In the census he was aged 42 and living with his wife Sophia, sons William and John, who were 12 and 7, and two lodgers, Leonard Aldis and Francis Crowle. They were both English, and Leonard worked in real estate, while Francis was a blacksmith. William junior was injured in an attack in a Greek shop in New Westminster in 1912. Stivis Stephano tried to remove him from the store, kicking him so hard in the abdomen that he had to go to hospital. Within a week the magistrate had sent Stephano to jail for 6 months for the assault.

In 1920 William Cain, Daniel ‘Kneal’ and William Sparks were all living in the buildings they developed, and in addition there were retail units and several other apartments, so presumably their homes generated income rather than expenses. All three were still here five years later. W J Cain was in #1 874 E Georgia, and owned four other apartments; D Kneale was in #1 876 E Georgia and owned five more units, and William Sparks lived at the rear of 880 E Georgia and also had four other units. Exactly the same situation can be seen in 1930, so these were remarkably stable family investments. (D Neill has his name spelled differently – but that’s the only change, although out of the fifteen tenants only one name is the same over that five year period.) By 1935 Daniel Kneale had moved to Burnaby, and only William Cain was still here.

William Sparks died in 1934, and his wife Jane in 1964. Sophia Cain died in 1939, and William John Cain in 1961, both in Vancouver. Ellen Kneale died in Burnaby in 1968, and Daniel Kneale in 1974.


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

Tagged with , ,

West Georgia Street – 200 block, south side

We don’t know who built the row of cottages here, but it was before 1900. We do know who built the house round the corner on Hamilton Street, as that was in 1903, when we have building permits, The developer was W H Bentley, who also built an apartment building on the same street in the same year, (although we don’t know exactly where). William H Bentley lived on Harwood Street, and was listed in the street directory as ‘real estate’ in 1908. Fortunately he was still in the city for the 1911 census (the same year that he bought a new Hupmobile motor car). He was aged 45, from Ontario, as was his 30 year old wife, Mamie. They had a 7-year-old son, Kenneth Clinton Bentley, who had also been born in Ontario, so presumably that was where the family had been before headed west. His birth record tells us that his mother had been Mamie Young before she married.

We know very little more about the family. Mr. Bentley was a passenger on a ship that saw him entering the US through Ellis Island in 1910, and in 1920 the newspaper announced he and his wife were headed east for a trip and then spending the winter away. The last time Mr. Bentley appears at the Harwood address is 1923 – and then he disappears. Because we’re missing many records from the mid 1900s, it’s possible Mr. Bentley developed other investments and then lived comfortably off the proceeds for many years, without being particularly active in civic life (sufficiently to rate a mention in the newspaper).

Our 1935 image shows the houses as they were being demolished. There’s a board out saying ‘Lumber For Sale’. The site was developed with yet another Downtown gas station, this one for Signal Oil, then Fred Boughen’s service garage. It was leased by K Young in 1955, and was known as the Larwell Service Station. In 1974 the new CBC Studios opened, designed by Paul Merrick with Thompson Berwick & Pratt. A new building was added in 2006, seen in this picture, designed by Walter Francl Architects. Radio studios are located on the upper floors over a restaurant and retail store.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-304


Posted 24 August 2020 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Tagged with

259 Powell Street

This rooming house has been on Powell Street for over 100 years. Designed by W M Dodd, and built by J J Frantz & Company for $30,000 the developer was Japanese businessman K Tsuchida in 1912. Press reports earlier that year initially suggested the building would be designed by Parr Mackenzie and Day, and would cost $40,000.

For such an apparently wealthy individual, who had been in the city for some time, there’s surprisingly little to find about Mr. Tsuchida. He ran a general store on Powell Street in 1911 a block to the east of here. He was here in 1907 when he built a house on Powell Street, and also claimed $225 chiefly for loss of business during eleven days he kept his store closed after the anti-Asiatic riots. As owner of both the store, and the building, he was questioned at the Inquiry as to why he stayed closed for so long, and replied that he expected another attack. He estimated that he did a business of $100 a day, of which $20 a day represented the profit.

He was still here in 1921 when he carried out some repairs to the building. and was living at 620 Alexander although he was no longer operating his Powell Street store. We can’t find him in either the 1911 or 1921 census records, and his last entry in the street directory is 1922. These were called the Crescent Rooms, with I Godo running them in 1923. The name changed in the late 1940s to the York Rooms, a name it still holds. It offered welfare rate housing for decades, although in later years to increasingly troubled tenants. A freedom of information request showed that in 19 months in 2008 and 2009 there were 101 police calls to the property, costing at least $25,000 in police time.

Several years ago new owners replaced the long-term tenants, charging much higher rents in what is now advertised as “a hip, artistic rental space for moderate-income residents”.


Posted 20 August 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

Tagged with ,

East Hastings Street – 200 block, north side

We looked at the history of the Empress Hotel, on the end, and the Phoenix Hotel, next door, in an earlier post. The Empress was built in 1913 for Lyle Leroy Mills, a hotelier born in Iowa, with a wife from Sweden. The architect, F N Bender was her brother, and was in Independence, Kansas, Next door the Phoenix (as it was called in 1981) had been built as the Empress Hotel in 1908 designed by H B Watson for V W Haywood. He was a policeman when the city was created in 1886, headed off to the Klondike and made a fortune on Bonanza Creek, and returned to a variety of business interests in the city.

More recently we’ve looked at the Afton Hotel (with the Ovaltine Café) on the right. It was designed b y S B Birds and developed as a Post Office and federal offices for R B Hamilton – who we can’t find in any other records. It became a rooming house quite soon after it was built, and the Ovaltine Café opened on the main floor in 1942.

We haven’t looked at The Belmont Hotel, the three storey building, third from left before; designed (according to the permit) by Blackmore and Son for John Spooner. He’s proved almost as difficult to pin down as R B Hamilton. The building’s Heritage Statement says he developed the building, but didn’t live here. It’s hard to find him living anywhere in Vancouver, or indeed BC in 1904. We assume he’s the same John Spooner who was owner of 10 East Hastings Street in 1886 (and as John Sponer in 1887), and John Spooner, a carpenter, was shown living at that street address in 1890. and John Sponer a house carpenter was boarding in the city in the 1891 census. The confusion with his name continues all the time; in 1899 John Sponer, a carpenter, was living at the rear of 12 E Hastings, in 1900 he was working for the Royal Columbia Planing Mill, and in 1901 John Sponer of 10 E Hastings was advertising that a 16 year old German girl was looking to find a position for general housework, although he doesn’t appear to have been found by the census that year.

John was probably Austrian, and we think that he mostly lived in Washington State. In 1891 John Spooner was putting a sawmill on his premises, two miles east of Blaine. In 1907 he was living in Whatcom and involved in litigation with a neighbour, Neils Neilson. John took the water from Spooner Creek, on his land, and diverted all of it into irrigation so that none ended up reaching his neighbour. He lost the case, and a subsequent appeal. In 1920 he was aged 65, retired and living in Blaine, Whatcom County, with his son Lewis (probably Louis), and it looks like he was born in Petersdorf in Austria. Assuming these records are all for the same person, in 1891 he was single  and a boarder in Vancouver, working as a carpenter. His son was born 6 years later in Austria, suggesting that he returned to Europe, started a family, and come back to North America in the early 1900s, with his son following in 1910.

In 1905, the Belmont Building became the offices of W.A. Brown plumber; he remained in that location until the 1920s. The site then became a confectionery – Home Confectionary – a use that continued until the 1970s. The building’s upper floors were the Belmont Rooms, and were closed down for 20 years, with the China Cereals and Oils Corporation operating from the entire building (as they were in this 1978 image). The residential floors re-opened as a renovated privately owned shared bathroom residential property in 2005. A 2011 proposal to add a Chinese senior’s tower at the back of the lot has not been pursued.


Posted 17 August 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

Tagged with ,

313 Alexander Street

This wood-frame apartment building dates back to 1906, when Yonekishi Aoki developed it. It only cost $3,600 to build, and was sandwiched between the Mainland Iron Foundry (which became Benson’s Pattern and Machine Works) and the City’s Waterworks Yard.

The 1901 census says Yonekichi Aoki was born in 1861 and immigrated in 1889, and allowed to remain in Canada in 1896.  He married his wife Suye two years later and they had a son, Tameo, born in 1904, who married Kiyo in 1929. (He went to get his bride in Japan and brought her back to Canada). She was probably the ‘Kivo Aoki’ shown running the boarding house here in 1936, before the forced expulsion of all Japanese Canadians from the Coast in 1942. Suye died in 1931, and Yonekichi in 1940.

The tenement building was typical of those built by early Japanese settlers in Vancouver. Aoki worked at the Hastings Sawmill on Burrard Inlet at the foot of Dunlevy, and started logging in 1895 along Indian Arm, with as many 45 workers at one point. It’s quite likely this building was constructed by a carpenter, using Hastings Lumber materials, and with no architect involved. Much of the original 1906 building still remains including fir floors, tongue and groove panelling in the hallway. There are ghost lines of many alterations, and there were probably once many more than the 24 rooms that now exist.

The property was confiscated, like all Japanese owned property, in 1942, and in 1945 O Mah was running the rooming house, and in 1950 Peter Kashubu, who lived on Hamilton Street. Charles Haynes, a retired West Vancouver architect, bought the building in 2006 and renovated the 24 rooms into Single Room Accommodation as a tribute to his son Ross, 19, who died from a drug overdose in 2000. Tenants in the building were on fixed term leases that they didn’t necessarily understand, and the press reported that rents in the renovated building were higher, double welfare rates. The owner explained that they made no profit even with these higher rental costs.

The building is still operating modestly priced accommodation today, having been bought for $3.8 million in 2019 by the City of Vancouver with money raised entirely by Vancouver’s empty homes tax. The building will be turned into social housing, with a focus that differentiates it from any of the other 800 units of non-market housing owned by the city. These will be homes primarily for those who identify as transgender or two-spirit, a group that is overrepresented in the homeless population and faces especially daunting barriers to housing.


Posted 13 August 2020 by ChangingCity in East End

Tagged with

362 Alexander Street

The Empress Rooms were developed by Grier Starratt in 1911. He spent $20,000 and hired W T Whiteway to design his investment property. He came to British Columbia from Nova Scotia in 1886, with his father J J Starratt, and mother Janet. John Starratt in the 1891 census was a house carpenter, and ‘Greer’ (who had been christened Swithin, but always used his middle name) was a mill hand.

In 1892 Grier returned to Nova Scotia to marry Annie Johnstone, and a year later started working in Vancouver for the New England Fish Co, organizing halibut fishing, with a fleet based in Vancouver, and then shipping the processed fish in refrigerated rail cars back to New York and Boston (the company’s home). Grier and Annie had two children, Arthur (as the 1901 census recorded him, although he was christened Artemas) and Muriel.

The shipping of ‘Canadian’ fish (actually caught in international waters, but landed in Canada) by an American company was always controversial. The company used Vancouver because the Canadian Pacific Railroad allowed fish cars to be coupled to passenger trains, but the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, based in Tacoma, would not. The fishing fleet had American captains, but a crew of Scandinavian and Canadian fishermen, mostly from the east coast. Over the years the fish became smaller and total catch weight decreased. In 1907 NEFCO started catching halibut in Alaska, and also had a salmon processing plant there.

In 1908 Grier became general manager of the newly created Canadian Fish & Cold Storage Co., (CANFISCO) based in Prince Rupert, a rival to NEFCO. Capitalized with one and half million dollars, the Canadian company claimed their expenses would be 20% lower by using Prince Rupert as a base, and fish would be delivered to the Great Lakes in the time it would take their rival’s steamer to make port in Vancouver or Seattle. CANFISCO were so successful that they were acquired by NEFCO, although by then Greir Starratt had retired. (The Canadian company returned to local control in 1984 when it was bought by Jimmy Pattison from the trustees of a bankrupt NEFCO). Grier died in 1944, and Annie two years later.

The Empress Rooms were in the heart of Japantown, and were initially managed by Kaminishi & Takahashi; the Empress was presumably the Empress of Japan. Once the Japanese were forced to leave the city in 1942, the name was dropped; there were two other Empress Rooms in the city anyway. E C Thomson managed them in 1945, and they were just ‘Rooms’. In the 1950s they got a new name, the Alexander Rooms. Like many of the shared bathroom rooming houses, the building went downhill, despite an optimistic (and somewhat inaccurate) new name; ‘Seaview’. Drug dealers controlled the building, and young tenants overdosed. The privately owned building brought in Atira Women’s Resource Society in 2013 to manage the building; they restored the interior of the building with funds from BC Housing, adding alarms and security. Renamed back to The Empress Rooms the facility now offers safe housing for 35 vulnerable Vancouver women.


Posted 10 August 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

Tagged with ,

561 East Hastings Street

Here’s another of the SRO hotels built as a rooming house. It was developed by Gordon R Baird, who ran a hardware store on Granville Street. He hired Braunton & Leibert to design the building in 1912, and F J Kelby built it at a cost of $33,000. It opened as The Spokane Rooms, although by our 1978 image it was known as the Francis Faye Hotel, and today it’s the Patrick Anthony Residence, managed by Atira following a renovation. It was badly needed, as in 2012 it was one of the worst 10 rental buildings, with 133 issues identified by inspectors as needing attention.

Gordon Baird was only 26 when he developed this building. He was from New Brunswick, (probably Saint John), his wife Jennie was an American, and the same age, and they had a son, Winston, who was only seven months old in 1911. Jennie had arrived in Canada when she was five, and despite their relative youth the family had an English domestic servant, who was two years older than Jennie. Their wedding was reported in the Vancouver Sun in 1908 “Word has been received from Long Beach, Cal., of the marriage there of two well-known and popular young Vancouverites. The groom was Mr. Gordon Baird, hardware merchant of Granville street and the bride Miss Jennie Pearl Sherdahl, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S. Sherdahl, of Rosehill, Mount Pleasant. Mr. and Mrs. Baird are wintering amid the frosts and snows of “sunny Southern California.” Mr. S Sherdahl was Sven, whose history we noted in connection to the Dominion Hotel on Water Street, which he developed.

The Baird family moved to Long Beach in the 1920s. In 1921 Gordon was manager of the Mount Pleasant Hardware Co, but by 1930 he was living in California, and as well as Winston there was a second son Lloyd, born in 1918. That record tells us Jennie had been born in Kansas, and that both Gordon and Winston were working as salesmen selling hardware. Gordon was still in Long Beach in 1940, but he was living alone, recorded as single, the owner of a second hand store.


Posted 6 August 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

Tagged with ,

Downtown from Above (2)

We looked at a similar angle of Downtown in a 2002 image. This is all the way back to 1987, and the ‘after’ shot was taken in 2018 from the Global TV helicopter by Trish Jewison.

Thirty three years ago Downtown South (to the east of Granville Street) was still all low-rise, mostly commercial buildings, that had replaced the residential neighbourhood that developed from the early 1900s. We’ve seen many posts that show how that area has been transformed in recent years. In the 1986 census, just before the photo was taken, there were 37,000 people living in the West End (to the west of Burrard and south of Georgia), and only 5,910 in the whole of the rest of the Downtown peninsula (all the way to Main Street on the right hand edge of the picture). In 2016, in the last census, the West End population had gone up to 47,200, adding 10,000 in 30 years. What was a forest of towers in 1987 had become a slightly thicker forest in 2018. The rest of Downtown had seen over a 1000% increase in 30 years – there were 62,030 people living there. Both areas will have seen more growth since 2016, and the 2021 census should show several thousand more people in both the West End and Downtown.

In 1987 the Expo Lands were pretty much bare, with the exception of the Plaza of Nations pavilions in front of BC Place stadium and what soon became Science World on the eastern end of False Creek. The addition of new residents means there are now more local conveniences. Thirty years ago there were only four supermarkets Downtown, all of them in the West End, and now there are sixteen, with two more being built.

On the south side of False Creek, to the east (right) side of Cambie Bridge, industrial sites and the City’s Works Yard have been transformed into South East False Creek, a new residential neighbourhood, heated from a neighbourhood energy system that extracts the excess heat from the sewer that serves the site. Among the first homes completed here were 1,100 in the Olympic Village for the 2010 Games, but there are now over 5,000 completed homes, with 500 more underway and several sites still to develop. Over 650 of the units are non-market housing; some providing welfare rate homes, and others in housing co-ops.,


Posted 3 August 2020 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown