519 and 523 Powell Street

These two buildings were demolished many years ago, and for the time being are the location of one of the City’s temporary modular housing buildings. The building on the left pre-dated the 20th Century (and looked like it in our 1978 image), while the one on the right was developed in 1912 as an apartment building. It cost $9,000 and was designed and built by W J Prout for E McPherson.

We’ve noted Mr. Prout’s history in relation to a West Pender building. He was originally from Cornwall, and he was a builder who could design the project too; presumably shaving cost and time. His client was variously Ewen, or Ewan, McPherson or MacPherson. Probably the accurate version was Ewen MacPherson, born in Blair Athol in Scotland in 1851. His family ran the Tarbet Hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond. After travelling to Argentina and Australia, Ewen arrived in Canada in 1887 and settled in Harrison Hot Springs. He had a small farm that supplied eggs and milk to the Saint Alice Hotel, a significant property run by the Brown Brothers. In 1888 Jack Brown married Luella Agassiz, and two years later Ewen married her sister, Jane Vaudine Caroline Agassiz. The 1895 directory shows him as ‘E McPherson, gentleman.’ Jane was shown to have been born in Ontario.

In the 1891 census the McPhersons were shown living in New Westminster, where Ewen was listed as a hotel keeper, although the BC Directory shows him in Harrison Hot Springs. In the 1901 census the family were still in New Westminster, but Ewen was shown as a farmer, and there were three daughters aged 8, 7 and 5. (The street directory in 1900 still had him as a gentleman, and still in Harrison Hot Springs.) In 1908 he was in Agassiz, and farming. In the 1911 census all three daughters were still at home, and Ewen’s profession was described as ‘income’

All three daughters married; Florence was 23, shown born in Vancouver when she got married in 1914 in Vancouver to Hesketh St. John Biggs, an Australian. (Despite his impressive name, his work was as a meter reader and clerk with the British Columbia Electric Railway). The family moved to California in the 1920s. In 1920 Constance McPherson, aged 27, and shown born in Vancouver was married to James Hermon in Agassiz. In 1922 Edith was 26, born in Harrison Hot Springs, and was married in Vancouver to Ernest Baker.

Mr. McPherson was briefly proprietor of the Bodega Hotel on Carrall in the 1890s, although shown still living in Agassiz. The street directory for 1891 shows the proprietor to be Alexander McPherson, who was Ewen’s brother. Alexander also farmed in Agassiz later in the 1890s, so it appears the two brothers co-operated on their business activities.

Ewen first moved to Vancouver in 1910, living on Denman Street. His wife, Jane, passed away in 1916 after a short illness. Her obituary recorded the family traveling over the Panama peninsula in 1862 to join their father, who had settled in the area that would subsequently be named after him, after he had been to the gold fields in 1859. Ewen was 82 when he died in 1932.

Given it’s location in the heart of the Japanese community in the city, it’s not surprising that the buildings had Japanese tenants. In 1920 523 was the Kawachi Rooms, with M J Nishimura’s grocery store on the street. 519 however shows a different ethnicity, with Kashi Ram’s confectionery store. The census recorded him as Kanshi, and he was 35, single, and had arrived from India in 1911. Twenty years later Y Hayashi had his confectionery business at 519, and there were four residential units upstairs, and Mrs Taniguichi was living at the rear of the property. 523 had become the Calm Rooms, run by Mrs K Kawabata, and Tomejiro Isogai ran his ‘tranf’ business here – we assume a goods transfer firm.

By the end of the war all the Japanese had been forced into camps in the interior. 519 was ‘occupied’, and 523 was vacant, although the Calm Rooms were still in operation upstairs, run by Nils Engkvlst. In 1948 a new business took over the retail space under the Calm Rooms, the Three Vets Warehouse. They moved on very quickly, replaced by Aquapel Cement Paint manufacturers in 1950, with the Calm Rooms run by E W Haggstrom. That was the last reference to the Calm Rooms – there were no residences shown here after 1951, just a Scaffolding company, and later a construction company, suggesting a vacant building. 519 was still listed, but remained vacant through the mid 1950s. Our 1978 image shows 519 in use, but with no business name, and 523 with Downtown Glass Sales on the main floor, but no sign that the rooms above were in use.

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Posted 7 October 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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