110 East Cordova Street

After a recent makeover, this 119 year old building now has office space over retail. It started life as a warehouse for the Public Transfer Company, designed by G W Grant and built by E Cook at a cost of $12,000. Despite the Heritage Statement claim, Pacific Transfer weren’t the developers; they were Atkins and Johnson, who were also in the cartage and storage business when it was developed. Robert O. Atkins was from Nova Scotia, and was born in 1868. He had two brothers, Thomas and John who were druggists, who had come to Vancouver in 1889 and 1891. They went on to be partners in the largest drug business in Vancouver, McDowell, Atkins & Watson. A contemporary biography said “Thomas Atkins also had interests in the lumber business and with sawmilling and salmon-packing industries, as well as extensive real-estate operations”.

Robert Atkins joined them in Vancouver around 1890, and by 1892 was running a truck and drayman business with Andrew Johnson. who also appears in the street directory for the first time that year, although he was in the city for the 1891 census. He had arrived from Norway (according to the 1901 census, although the 1891 census said Sweden) in 1884, and he became a Canadian citizen in 1895.

Atkins and Johnson’s first office was on Water Street, but we assume they developed this building with the intention of moving their business here. However, in 1902, the year it was built, it was announced that they had sold their entire operation to a new company, Mainland Transfer, a business with close connections to the Canadian Pacific Railway company. It was reported (somewhat inaccurately when it came to the businesses formation) “Atkins and Johnson have carried on business in Vancouver since the fire in 1886, and have had a large share of the heavy teaming work of the city. Their new stables Just east of Carrall street, and south of Dupont, are amongst the finest in British Columbia. They also have a waterfrontage on False Creek. All this property goes In the sale.”

This building was vacant in 1903, and finally occupied a year later when the Public Transfer Company moved in. The firm was a rival to Mainland Transfer and was run by George Davidson, Hugh McDonald and Howard Campbell.

In the meantime Atkins and Johnson found new interests. They invested in, and ran, a number of the city’s hotels. In 1904 they were shown as proprietors of the Hotel Metropole, on Abbott Street. In 1905 it was announced “Messrs. Atkins and Johnson, who have been running the Hotel Melropole for the last two years, have sold the hotel to Mr. G. L. Howe, of Seattle, who will take possession on Saturday next.” In 1906 they were running the Maple Leaf Livery Stables on Seymour Street.  In December 1905, Atkins, Johnson and Stewart had taken over the Commercial Hotel on Cambie Street, but Thomas Stewart retired from the partnership in 1908 leaving Atkins and Johnson to run the hotel.

In 1909 “A real estate deal was put through this morning by Mandervillle & Milne whereby the Wellington block, located on the north side of Hastings streets between Carrall street and Columbia avenue, changed hands at the figure of $100,000. The property has a frontage of 50 feet on Hastings street and is improved to the extent of a two-story store and rooming-house block. The sale was made for Messrs. Atkins and Johnson, the purchaser being Mr. A. E. Tulk.” In 1910 they owned the Burrard Hotel, and in both 1912 and 1913 ‘Andy Johnson’ obtained a permit to alter it – possibly adding an additional floor. They sold up in 1914, and Robert moved to Chilliwack. Andrew Johnson and his wife Margaret had moved to Burnaby to a new Arts and Crafts style house they had commissioned in 1911.

Robert Oliphant Atkins had married Eliza McAlister from New Mills, New Brunswick in 1892, quite soon after he arrived in British Columbia, but she tragically died in 1894, and their only child died a year earlier. Robert married again in 1904, to Jessie Clemitson, and they had four children. His sister, Sarah married Thomas Clemitson, Jessie’s brother. Robert died in 1929 at the age of 61.

Andrew M. Johnson was also a major landowner in Burnaby, at one time owning each of the four corners of Royal Oak and Kingsway and many of the adjacent properties. In 1910 he bought Burnaby’s Royal Oak Hotel and soon acquired the property on the opposite corner to build a family home named ‘Glenedward,’ after his son. He owned and operated the Royal Oak Hotel until his death in 1934. He was married to Margaret Sloane, (listed in 1901 as Maggie) who was Irish, and they had two sons, Edward, who died in 1901, the year of his birth, and Andrew Sloane Johnson, born in 1906.

We’re used to tracing constant changes to the businesses associated with buildings – but this is an exception. Pacific Transfer Co continued to use these premises into the early 1930s. They were replaced by Burke and Wood, another goods transfer business. By the end of the war this had become the Police Garage, replaced in the early 1950s by Sam Rothstein’s sack dealership. By the time our picture was taken, Spilsbury and Tindall had taken over the building. The Archives think the image is from the mid 1980s, but we place it earlier. Spilsbury and Tindall manufactured radio equipment, but the name was not used after 1972, although Jim Spilsbury continued in business until 1984. Our guess is this is the early 1970s around the time the business ceased operating.

The building was completely renovated in 2009, designed by Gair Williamson, and renamed The Stables. The restoration presented some challenges. “A rare design feature of heavy timber trusses and steel cables at the third level, which supported the second floor below. The function of this original suspended system was to allow for easy passage of horses and carriages on the main floor, without the hindrance of columns. To preserve the open space, the project team decided to retain this unusual element.”

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-2447

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Posted 25 March 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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