Fortin Building – West Cordova Street

The Fortin Building has recently had a new paint job, and the sign that reads ‘Fortin Building 1893’ is now easier to read. It’s been on the building for many years – and is unfortunately entirely inaccurate. The building was designed by Grant and Henderson, and dates from 1909.

The Fortin name came from ‘George’ (actually Georges) Fortin, probably from Quebec (although some records say New Brunswick). He was in the city in the 1890s, but not as a hotelier. In 1891 he was in New Westminster, aged 23, living with his parents, Wilfred and Marie, and working as a carpenter. Most (but not all) records show he had been born in Quebec, as were his three siblings aged 14 or older, but Ernest, the youngest (who was 11) had been born in New Brunswick. George’s wife, Annie, and infant son, Henri were living with the family. In 1896 he was living on Richards, and was a glazier with the Royal City Planing Mill, which was on Carrall street. It appears he briefly moved south, as his son, Archie, was born in the United States in 1896, but came to Canada a year later. By 1900 he had moved to Robertson & Hackett’s mill, by the Granville Bridge, where he worked with one of his brothers. By the 1901 census he had five children, including four sons, and was shown born in New Brunswick.

It was only in 1903 that George was shown running a hotel – The Colonial on Granville Street, close to the mill, (today known as The Yale). The description on the Heritage BC website that says “Quebec-born Georges Wilfrid Fortin was one of the first hotel owners in Vancouver and Victoria” isn’t really accurate. He probably didn’t own the hotel – ‘proprietor’ related to the hotel business, not the building, and 1903 wasn’t that early in the city’s history. In 1904 George had moved, running the Leland Hotel on West Hastings. He continued to move around a lot. In 1905 he lived to Burrard Street, and was running the Louvre Saloon although Reinhold Minaty was also shown in charge there in the same directory. In 1906 he had retired, (at the age of 38), but a year later he was running The Orpheum hotel on West Hastings. In 1908 he had moved to Robson Street and was running the Hotel Leland again – except that had now moved to Granville Street. In 1909 he had moved to a house overlooking Kitsilano beach, and had no employment.

This building was developed in 1909 by C S Douglas and Co, who spent $23,000 in building the store and rooming house. Although it was called the Hotel Fortin, and George initially ran the Cafe Fortin here, Charles Douglas continued to own the building, carrying out alterations in 1912 costing $3,000. After the hotel opened in 1909, the newspaper adverts said “HOTEL FORTIN An entirely new. modern, fireproof hotel, containing 50 bedrooms, furnished with hot and cold water, telephone and steam heat. The cafe, run on up-to-date lines, is a special feature of the hotel. Rates European plan. 7.00 and 11.00. Special rate by the week J A. PLUMB. GEORGE FORTIN.

George was listed as sole proprietor by the end of the year, and by spring 1911 W Fortin was running the show, (presumably George’s father), but later in the same year J. Meagher, was listed as Proprietor. The street directory didn’t list George that year, although his son, Henry was shown as a clerk at the hotel’s address. The 1911 census had him living on Melville Street with Annie, and 7 children, and he was a pool room proprietor, (and shown born in New Brunswick again), with his two eldest sons working for him. The 1912 directory agreed, showing the Pool Room on West Pender, and Wilfred Fortin also working for his son. George disappears again in 1913, and a year later he’s running the Orpheum Pool Room, and living in the West End.

In 1916, he enlisted and went overseas with the 103rd Batallion CEF. On his return home from overseas, he farmed in the Fraser Valley for 10 years, retiring in 1930. His son Henry died in in 1933; he was also a hotelier, running the Strand. George died in 1951 after 64 years in Vancouver. He was survived by four sons and one daughter, all of Vancouver.

The Fortin name disappeared from this building comparatively quickly. In 1913 it had become the Panama Hotel, run by H Rogelet, and by 1919 the Shoal Bay Hotel. In the early 1920s it became the Rob Roy Hotel. John McDonald reported having $50 stolen from his room while he was asleep in 1922. That year C.F.Renfro, who lived in the hotel, was robbed at gunpoint on Powell Street of $60, but was given $1 back by the considerate gunmen for “breakfast money”. A year later a white cockatoo was stolen from a resident. and that same year the owner survived an armed holdup. “SCARED BY OWN SHOTS Holding up the proprietress and two patrons of the Rob Roy hotel, 53 Cordova street west. In dashing style, and firing two shots from a revolver to intimidate their victims, a pair of would-be bandits lost heart at the sound of the shots on Saturday midnight, and fled without obtaining any loot. The two men entered the hotel office, where Mrs. Wright and two guests were seated, and ordered them to throw up their hands, one of the pair firing two shots, after which both turned and ran out. A mask and two discharged shells were found outside by P. C. W. Mackle, who was called, but no further trace of the men was discovered.”

In the 1930s this had become the Travellers Hotel, which it has retained as a name for decades. In 1966 “cash and cigarettes worth a total of $379 were reported stolen in a break-in early Wednesday at the Traveller’s Hotel beer parlor at 57 West Cordova. Police said a Jukebox, cigarette machine and two shuffle-board machines were opened“. In 1972 an argument over seats in the crowded beer parlour led to a fight in which one of the men involved fatally stabbed the other.

Our image shows the hotel in 1985. Today it’s a market-rate Single Room Occupancy rental building, owned by Fortin Holdings, and there’s no longer a bar on the main floor.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-2130

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Posted 7 February 2022 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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