534 and 536 Cambie Street

Sometimes, even Downtown, there are modest buildings surviving longer than might be expected. Here are two on the 500 block of Cambie Street. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the short time since we started researching their history, a redevelopment has been proposed to build a 22 storey office building.

The building on the left dates from 1925, while the other was supposedly developed in 1912 (according to the Assessment Authority), but we haven’t identified an appropriate Building Permit. That may be because the structure still standing was clearly an addition to an earlier house, that no longer exists. The house was built at some point in the mid 1890s, and can be seen here in 1974 (and there was also originally a house on the lot to the north, on the left). The numbering on the block was altered in 1896, so the houses here had, for a while, non-sequential numbers, which makes it difficult to be certain of what was built when. Through the later 1890s the house seen here was occupied by two households; D A Campbell, a teamster, and A Cooper Dinsmore, another teamster. In 1898 some of the Scurry family moved to 514 Cambie (renumbered that year as 536). They ran a barbers saloon on Abbott Street. They appear to have moved next door (to the north) to 534 around 1901, when Martha Scurry (widow of Hiram) was living in the house that stood here, before the existing building was constructed in 1925.

The building on the corner of the lane is proposed to have its facade incorporated into the new development. The developers were the Cleland Bell Engraving Co., and the architects Benzie & Bow. Rogers and Purdy built the $17,000 building. The heritage statement for the new office tower repeats an inaccurate internet document about Cleland Bell, identifying Mr. Cleland as William Nelson Cleland, born in Brantford, Ontario in 1871. Unfortunately, the engraver was called Norman Cleland. Norman was William’s younger brother, and had also been born in Brantford. William arrived around 1899, and worked initially as a dyer, then as a clothes presser, and in 1902 he was working for the Perth Dye Works. Norman arrived in the city in 1902, and was a printer at Evans & Hastings. Both brothers had rooms on Richards Street in 1902, and lived on Robson Street in 1904 with William Cleland snr, who was presumably their father, and an accountant. The household didn’t identify a mother in the 1881 census when Norman was 6, and William jnr. aged 10 (There was also an older sister, Jessie and a middle brother, George). These arrangements stayed unchanged until 1907, when Norman went into partnership with Harry Welsh and established a printing business on Pender Street. (William Cleland was with B C Dye Works, and a year later co-owned the Berlin Dyeing and Cleaning Works). William Cleland senior died in September that year, aged 79.

In the 1911 census Norman Cleland was head of a household of three that included William, who was also listed as a printer, and described, unusually, as Norman’s partner, and Jessie, their sister. William had been living in his own rooms earlier in the year, and working as a presser again. Norman had a new business partner, and was now ‘Cleland and Dibble, Engravers and Printers’, on Water Street. William was briefly involved in real estate in 1913, the same year that Norman married an Australian widow, Margaret Zasama, in Victoria. In 1914 both brothers had moved to West 12th, where they each had apartments in the same building.

In 1919 Norman’s business name was changed to Cleland-Bell, and he was managing director; A L Bell was president, and William Cleland was working as a clerk. In 1926 the business became Cleland-Kent with a new partnership with Harry Kent. Although the business name continued under new management, Norman Cleland appears to have retired from the business around 1935, and after a year’s absence he took over a business called Art Engraving for a few years, with William also working there as a salesman. In 1935 he developed a retail building on East Broadway. William and Jessie lived on Point Grey Road, and Norman and his wife lived close by on the same block of West 1st Avenue. Norman died in Vancouver in 1944, aged 68. William Cleland was aged 82 when he died in 1953, His sister, Jessie, died in Vancouver in 1962, aged 92. Neither had been married.

Cleland-Kent continued to exist as a business, and occupy space in this building, through the 1950s. Their name was still on the building in our 1974 image, so we assume an engraving business continued in operation, even if the front door had been bricked up. Today, for the time being, there’s a new doorway, and a lawyer and a finance company have offices there.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-55

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Posted 14 June 2021 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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