205 Main Street

In 1904, according to the building permit, M McRae hire C B McLean to design an $8,500 hotel on the corner of Powell Street and Westminster Avenue. Dowse and Carter built the hotel, which opened as The Melbourne Hotel in the fall. Mr. McLean wasn’t active in the city for very long, but also designed the Invermay Hotel on West Hastings. Here he added a couple of bay windows on the second floor, above a main floor bar.

Later that year 1904 the press carried the following advert: MELBOURNE HOTEL New and up-to-date; steam-heated and electric light; excellent table (white cook); guests receive every attention; cars to all parts of the city pass the door. Rates $1.25 and $1.60 per day. Special rates to steady boarders. D. McRAE. E. McCANNEL Cor. Westminster Avenue and Powell Street. The street directory confirmed Donald McRae, proprietor, although failed to mention Mr. McRae in any other entry. (The only Donald McRae living in the city throughout this period had a job as a customs locker). The Government Gazette published a legal notice at the end of 1904: WE, Donald McRae and Elizabeth McCannel, members of the firm of McRae & McCannel, carrying on business as hotel-keepers at the City of Vancouver aforesaid, in the Melbourne Hotel, under the style of McRae & McCannel, do hereby certify that the said partnership is this day dissolved, the said Elizabeth McCannel retiring from the said partnership. The said McRae is to carry on the said business and pay all liabilities thereof, and is entitled to the stock in trade, moneys, credits and effects of the said partnership, and to indemnify and save harmless the said Elizabeth McCannel against the payment of any partnership liabilities. Witness our hands at Vancouver, B. C., this 29th day of December, A.D. 1904.

We’ve had more luck tracing Elizabeth than Donald. She was living in the city in the 1901 census, and she, rather than her husband, was listed in the street directory. Mrs. Elizabeth McCannell ran the Windsor on East Hastings, although the census only listed her husband Donald’s occupation, as blacksmith. We’re pretty certain it’s the correct household as there are 16 boarders as well as the couple’s 4 daughters and a son-in-law (and grandaughter), so a house seems an unlikely option. Elizabeth’s husband, Donald McCannel, died in 1903. It’s likely that Donald McRae was a relative, possibly her brother, as before she married she was Elizabeth McRae, from Glengarry County, Ontario. She had four children, and didn’t stay in the city after handing over the Melbourne. She died in San Francisco in 1919. Our best guess is that Donald and Elizabeth planned the hotel to help out when Elizabeth found herself a widow, but the arrangement didn’t work out, leaving Donald to take over, and then dispose of the hotel.

Whoever he was, Donald McRae wasn’t running the hotel for much longer. In 1906 John Gaugler was running The Melbourne. In 1908 Earle and Rice were running the hotel, which had been successful at attracting long term residents. There were several engineers, a couple of carpenters and a lumberman and a prospector among the residents. In 1910 Rice and Richter were listed as proprietors, although John Rice appeared to run things, and lived in the hotel. The tenants were a cut above the average East End rooming house; they included Ben Roe, the master of the steamer ‘Farquhar’ and Isaac Forsythe, a master mariner, a fireman on the Great Northern Railway, John Gray, an engineer, the Co-owner of The Dominion Emploment Agency, William Kelman as well as a clerk and a barman who worked at the hotel.

In 1921 M Amano was listed as proprietor of the Melbourne Rooms. The census shows Daiichi Amano, a 27 year old Japanese rooming house proprietor, and his 23 year old wife, Katuyo. Their lodgers were now more typical of the area’s population; a carpenter, a fisherman, two loggers and a pile driver. They were from Japan, Ireland, Quebec, Italy – and one from British Columbia. In 1931 it was once again a hotel, with Dan Mackenzie running the hotel. There was a waiter in the dining room, and a clerk at the front desk. He was still running the hotel a decade later, which had a beer parlour, two waiters, a steward and a porter. The Museum of Vancouver have one of the fancy, art deco styled chaise lounge sofas from the period Dan owned the hotel. After the war the Melbourne Hotel and rooms were being run by John Costock and Goliardo (‘Gillie’) Brandolini. Mr. Brandolini was still running the hotel in 1955. Elma Brandolini was the hotel clerk, and other Brandolinis were running the New Empire Hotel, and BC Hotels, so theirs was a family of hoteliers.

At some point in the early 1970s the bar of the Melbourne joined over thirty other bars and lounges, and transformed into a stripper bar, the No.5 Orange. It was still run by the Brandolinis, Harry and Leon, and was rated as one of the classier venues. Bon Jovi apparently spent time here when they were recording their new album nearby in the mid 1980s, and the shower installed on stage helped them come up with the title of their new album, ‘Slippery When Wet’. Courtney Love performed here for a month in 1989 (before she became a singer). Out of several dozen bars, almost all the other similar venues have closed; there are just four remaining, and (temporary Covid closure excepted) the No.5 continues to be be one of them, although the hotel rooms have long gone.

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Posted 28 June 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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