1348 Robson Street

This is another survivor of an earlier era still standing on Robson. In this 1934 Vancouver Public Library image it was the Hotel Gifford. It had been developed by R J Kerr, and the architects, Sharp & Thompson, filed the drawings (today in the University of Calgary collection) as ‘Kerr Rooming House’. The $41,000 investment was built by Carver, Jones & Carver in the fall of 1912.

Mr Kerr was listed as a director of the Hastings Shingle Manufacturing Company in the period when the company owned a mill in Vancouver as well as at Moodyville (and four in Washington state) in 1906. He was also Company Secretary and Treasurer to B C Packers, the huge fish canning business in 1907. But he didn’t have a home in Vancouver, although oddly, Mrs. R J Kerr was present at a variety of events.

Then we realized that R J Ker of Victoria was listed as secretary of B C Packers, and was also part of Brackman-Ker, a milling company. Their premises on Pender Street were also referenced as Brackman-Kerr, so the additional ‘r’ was a common error. In 1901 Robert Ker, and his brother Arnot were both living with their mother, Annie, who was aged 70. Robert was 36, and a ‘cannery-man’, and Arnot was two years younger and a ‘Mill man’, and both had been born in BC. Their older brother, David was the ‘Ker’ in Brackman-Ker, but all three were directors of the company.

The family name pops up in several other contexts, and tells us Robert’s family origin. His father was also Robert Ker, and arrived in Victoria in 1859. He became attorney-general of the Province, helping establish Victoria as the capital, and one of the early auditors-general of BC, described as a close fried of Governor James Douglas. He died when Robert was just 15. Having retired from government service, he farmed in The Gorge outside Victoria, and during a winter snowstorm he died of exposure.

When Granville burned to the ground in 1886 it was the crew of the ‘Robert Ker’ (anchored off Deadman’s Island, but dragged into the Inlet in the huge wind that fanned the fire’s flames) that launched the ship’s boats and saved many lives of people standing helpless on shore as the town burned down.

Not long after his investmnet was complete, at the end of 1913, The Province reported that R J Ker Esq. was retiring from business and returning to England. The contents of his apartment in Granville Mansions were to be sold off: “Auction of Valuable High-class Modern and Antique English Furniture”. In 1919 the Colonist reported that Mr. Ker’s death was one of many away from Victoria – he was 54 years old when he died in Kensington.

When it opened as the Hotel Gifford, Gifford R Thomson was running it. Originally from the Shetland Islands of Scotland where he was born in 1848, he arrived in Kelowna in 1892 with his wife, Harriet, and eight children (with a ninth born soon after their arrival). He initially had an orchard, but it grew poorly because of the high water table, and to make a living he drove the mail three times a week to Vernon. He pre-empted a different property in 1900 and built up a mixed farm, initially growing hay, but later a variety of vegetables. When he moved to Vancouver to open the hotel his two sons remained behind to run the farm. Gifford lived on Nelson Street, but he rented rooms in the house and moved here. In 1920 Albert Howard was running the Gifford Hotel, and in the 1921 census Harriet was living back in Kelowna with some of her children, and there’s no sign of her husband in the census. Mrs E Duncan had taked over running the hotel by 1929.

Gifford Ratter Thomson died in 1932, aged 84. (His mother was Elizabeth Ratter, hence the unusual middle name; his parents were recorded as Magnus Thomason and Elizabeth Rattor on his birth record). The hotel was still the Gifford in 1955, with the Gifford Dining Room on the main floor. Today it’s the Barclay Hotel, with the adjoining building to the east joined on.

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Posted 11 April 2022 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, West End

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