Archive for May 2022

Burrard Street – south from Burnaby Street

It’s 1914, and we’re looking south on Burrard street from around the top of the hill that slopes down to False Creek, a little further north than the previous post. Down the hill there are extensive industrial operations, including a brickworks, a sawmill, boatbuilding and wharves along the water’s edge. There was no bridge until the early 1930s, so no transit ran along this stretch.

The fire hydrants are almost in the same location 108 years later, but now there’s also a bigger, blue hydrant that would allow the fire brigade to fight fires with seawater in the event of an earthquake. The smoking object down the street is a mystery. It could be a piece of heavy equipment, perhaps related to paving the road (at last – it’s been unpaved for over 25 years). As far as we can tell there was no significant building or industrial plant on that alignment, only a boat building yard and construction materials storage.

We know a little about the row of houses on the left. They’re the 1300 block (even numbers) on Burrard, and they were almost all built after 1905 and before 1909, in the few years where the permits have been lost. Five houses were built earlier – and we have some records for their construction. There were two larger houses that each occupied a lot-and-a-half, (so with a 50 foot frontage). P P Findlay owned, designed and developed 1348 Burrard, a $2,000 dwelling, in 1904. It wasn’t occupied until 1906, when Thomas Allen, who was in real estate, moved in.

George Sills was recorded hiring A Sykes to design a house at 1352 in 1905. (We think the clerk made an error, as we can’t find a George Sills in Vancouver). G Thorpe built the $2,000 house, and in 1905 it was Thomas Sills, a CPR employee, who was living there. Thomas had emigrated from Yorkshire, England when he was one, and was married to Sarah Kilpatrick in Vancouver in 1891, who was 19 years older, and born in Ontario. He was a fitter in the CPR shops, and as well as building his own home, Thomas dabbled in the province’s other main obsession, mining. He applied to buy 640 acres in the Cassiar District of the Skeena in 1910, when he was described as a machinist. In 1911 Sarah’s brother, George Kilpatrick, and her sister, Elizabeth were living here too. Sarah died in 1915, aged 69, and in 1919 Thomas married Elizabeth (who although 8 years younger than her sister was still 11 years older than Thomas). Elizabeth died in 1936, and Thomas 21 years later at the age of 91.

The first house on the block was 1310 Burrard, and in 1905 George Fortin, owner of the Louvre Saloon in Gastown lived there. In 1905 he obtained a permit for a $2,200 frame dwelling. We looked at his history in connection with the block he developed on West Cordova.

At the far end of the block Jacob Hoffmeister’s permit was also in 1905 for a $2,000 dwelling, and in 1906 he was living at 1386 Burrard. His next-door neighbour up the hill at 1378 was Ansil Thatcher, a machinist, and he carried out $400 of alterations in 1907. We looked at both Jacob and Ansil’s houses in an earlier post of this row looking north from Burrard Bridge.

The other houses seem to have been built by speculative builders and then sold on. Thomas Morton (who first bought the West End before the city had been created), Reilly Bros, William Gormley, a carpenter and Elliot Brothers were among others who all built multiple dwellings along Burrard in the early 1900s.

Today there’s a rare ‘street wall’ block of brick-clad apartments, called Anchor point. There are three buildings, each a separate strata, nine storeys high designed by Waisman Dewar Grout Architects for Daon Developments and completed in 1978. There have been unsuccessful attempts by developers to acquire enough of the units to trigger a redevelopment, but so far that hasn’t happened. A new tower completed last year beyond Anchor Point, The Pacific, gives a sense of the scale that a replacement might seek to achieve. On the west side of the street, on the corner of Burnaby Street is the Ellington, a 20 storey condo from 1990, while Modern, a 17 storey condo building from 2014 can be seen to the south.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives LGN 1126



Posted 30 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

Burrard Street – south from Harwood

We took a while to pin down where this image should be shot from. The 1930 picture shows Burrard Street at it’s southern end, heading downhill close to where it stopped at False Creek. Because the Burrard Bridge was yet to be constructed here, the wide boulevard of Burrard was only partially paved, and there were wide verges that cars parked on.

There’s a single house down the street on the right, and from the insurance map we think that must be 1000 Beach Avenue. It was an isolated house, next to a brick factory owned by the Pacific Pressed Brick Co in 1920, with Champion and White’s Building material wharf and gravel bunkers beyond it on the side of False Creek. The house appeared in 1906, and the occupant was William W White, manager. He wasn’t too bothered about the builders yard because he was the ‘White’ in Champion and White. We looked at the biography of Samuel Champion in connection to a property he developed on Powell Street.

William W White was 38 in the 1901 census. (He arrived from England in 1889, and was shown as living alone and a general labourer in the 1891 census). His wife, Alice, who was a year younger, arrived in Canada in 1891, and they married in July. In 1892 their daughter, Hilda, was born, followed by Eveline in 1894, and son William Wall in 1898. Mabel came along two years after the census in 1903.

Alice Urch married William Walter White in Vancouver in 1891. She was born in Newington, and brought up in London. He was born in Manchester, but his parents had married in London. His mother, Rebecca Fosdick, and her mother, Emma Fosdick, were probably related as they came from different households in Devonshire.

In 1911 William was also president of Coast Quarries Ltd. He died in 1919 when he was only 55; Alice was listed as his widow that year, living in the same house with her daughter Evaline who was a teacher at Franklin School and son William, who was working for Champion & White. Evaline married William Mann, a Scot in July that year and Hilda married David Irwin in October. Alice was still here in 1921, when Mabel, a stenographer, was still at home, and William, who now worked as assistant manager for McBride & Co, one of Champion & White’s rivals. A year later only Mabel was listed in the city, living on West 10th Avenue. William married Ada Nicholson in January 1922.

John Donaldson, of the ‘Exclusive Shop’ moved into the house here. In 1931 Knud Jensen, a labourer at Coast Cement was here, the house was vacant a year later (unsurprisingly as the bridge was under construction almost on top of it), but in 1933 Miss E H Fraser, a telephone operator at BC Tel was living in the house. She stayed for several years, and so too did the house. In 1955 W Percy Beale, listed as a mate, was living here.

Alice White was 80 and still in Vancouver when she died in 1944. Her daughter Hilda died when she was living in Trail, in 1965, and her husband, David, a year later. Her daughter, Evaline Mann died in West Vancouver in 1972, and Mabel Bayley in North Vancouver in 1983. William died in Nanaimo in 1987.

Today the spot the house stood on is part of Sunset Park, to the north of the Aquatic Centre, the windowless swimming pool that was completed in 1974, and supposed to be replaced in a few years time. At 1005 Beach, across the street, ‘Alvar’ a 28 storey condo tower was developed by Concert Properties in 2004.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives, Walter E Frost, CVA 447-103


Posted 26 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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East from Burrard Bridge – south shore

In 1950 a sensational murder trial drew attention to the squatters along the shores of False Creek. Blanche Fisher was 45, living on East 12th, an unmarried seamstress working for a departmental store. Her partially clothed body was found in November 1949 washed up against the pier of the Kitsilano Trestle, and a police investigation began. Initially it was thought she might have committed suicide, but the state of the body suggested it might be murder. All that was known was she had been to see a movie at the Rio on East Broadway the night before.

In 2020 John Mackie unearthed the story from the paper’s archives and retold it in the Vancouver Sun. Press reports said that initially Frank Ducharme was arrested for vagrancy, but when the police searched his float house, they found dozens of items of women’s underclothing. During his appeal case, the basis of Ducharme’s arrest was outlined, over a month after the body had been found found. “About 1.30 on the morning of December 5th the police were attracted by his appearance and as they approached him he ran, but was caught and taken into custody. He was wearing a handkerchief about his head, a silk shirt, an overcoat and scarf, and a pair of rubber boots rolled down in a manner that his legs were bare  around the knees. There was no indecent exposure but the condition observed as to his person at the police station might suggest that he was abnormal.”

When they searched his untidy shack on the south bank under Burrard Bridge, the police found “a pair of black gabardine shoes and a shattered wristwatch” that matched what Fisher had been wearing the night of her death. The watch crystal and her umbrella were found behind the back seat of his Hupmobile. He was then charged with her murder, and after an extensive examination of his mental fitness to stand trial, it was held in March 1950.

The court case revealed that it was raining on the night of the murder, and Frank Ducharme had offered Miss Fisher a ride home. He admitted to driving around Marpole and Kitsilano before his unwanted attentions caused her to struggle, at which point he “grabbed her by the throat to keep her from yelling”. In interviews he sometimes admitted to having had a sexual encounter, but that it was consensual. At other times he changed his story and claimed she ran away from him onto the Kitsilano Trestle, slipped, fell into the Creek and drowned, and sometimes he denied any knowledge of the woman.

“Ducharme initially said he had been born in Toronto, had grown up an orphan in Winnipeg and was in the RCAF during the Second World War. He also said he was unmarried. He was actually born in Elkhorn, Man., had a mother and six sisters, and had been discharged from the RCAF to the mental ward of a hospital in Weyburn, Sask. The 34-year-old had been married twice, had a couple of convictions for indecent exposure and went by the pseudonym Farnsworth after he moved to B.C. in 1947.” A neighbour said he saw Ducharme in a rowboat with a woman’s body on the night of the murder. He was convicted of murder, and an appeal judge, in concluding he was ‘definitely a psychopath of some description’ rejected the appeal, and he was hanged at Oakalla Prison in July 1950.

This 1949 image shows there were industrial buildings further back in the Burrard slopes area, but closer to False Creek the land had never been developed, and the shacks clustered along the edge of the water, with the ones in the water on pontoons. After the case the City took the initiative to finally clear the squatters off the foreshore.

Soon after the Kitsilano Trestle was removed in the early 1980s development of the final phase of False Creek South started. The BC Credit Union office building had been completed in 1978, and the residential buildings here were built between 1983 and 1989 with 700 dwellings, the majority in strata buildings.

The wharf and moorings here have more commercial fishing boats than other marinas, and are operated by the False Creek Harbour Authority. The water quality in the Creek has been steadily improving, and weighted nets have been installed trying to mimic natural habitat like eel grass or a kelp bed to encourage herring spawning. (Because the piles of the wharves are chemically treated, and there are sometimes hydrocarbons on the surface of the water, the intention is to keep the hatchlings in the water and away from the pilings or the surface). This has been hugely successful, with millions of fish maturing and returning to spawn in recent years.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Dist P135.1


Posted 23 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Altered, False Creek

1365 Seymour Street

Today’s view leaves a great deal to be desired – and it won’t be changing any time soon. This block of Seymour Street faces the off-ramp from the Granville Bridge, and is narrowed to half the width the road was before the ‘new’ Granville Bridge was built, so the ‘before’ image would have been located across the street just beyond the ramp. (There’s a mysterious room under the ramp at this point, with a solid steel door).

Vancouver Parts Co Ltd. developed the building in 1928, hiring Henry Sandham Griffith to design it, and spending $18,000 having G R Coulson build it. It was built with reinforced concrete, and was inaccurately described as a car showroom in the Engineering and Contract Journal. Before they developed here, the Parts Co were at 1260 Granville Street, sharing with Hayes Anderson Motors. The company first appeared in 1922, when D Hayes was the company secretary. Douglas Hayes was the manager of Hayes-Anderson, so the parts business was initially an adjunct business, but one he knew well, as that was his business before establishing the truck company. By 1928 William E Anderson was shown as company president, while Doug Hayes was listed in association with their truck business (although William Anderson was also president of that business). A year later, when they moved in here it was Doug Hayes who was listed as running the business.

In 1934 the business management switched to Alex Eadie, a year after this picture was taken. He had been working at the parts company when Hayes and Anderson were still involved. In 1921 William Anderson lived on Vancouver Island, but he moved back to Vancouver in a new $20,000 home on Angus Drive that year. He retired around 1930, and was no longer living in Vancouver in 1931. Douglas Hayes was originally from Dublin, Ireland, born there in 1887. He married Ella Beam in New Westminster in 1923, and they had two sons, Donald and George, and a daughter, Eleanor. It was Douglas’s second marriage; his first was in Manhattan in 1914 to Lillian Rosin, from Ontario, who died in 1923 aged 32. When he married Ella he a son, Douglas and a daughter, Lillian from his first marriage. Douglas Hayes was 95 when he died in Duncan on Vancouver Island in 1983.

Vancouver Parts were only at this address until 1951, when Sanford Addison was the managing director. The business moved to West 4th Avenue, and the 24-year-old building was demolished for the construction of the new Granville Bridge Seymour Street off-ramp. There are plans to remove the loops beyond the ramp, and create a new road grid and six new buildings, but the on and off ramps that link to Howe and Seymour steets will remain.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-4567


Posted 19 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Arlington Hotel – West Cordova Street

We’re slightly surprised that in ten years of posting, a complete image of this building has eluded us. The arched Italianate windows suggest it’s a very early building in the city. It is in fact one of the oldest still standing, although not “originally built as professional offices and as accommodation in 1887 and owned by Dr. James Whetham” as the Heritage Statement says. N S Hoffar designed the building, but it was completed in late 1888. After the fire of 1886 an earlier building occupied the corner for a couple of years, seen in an earlier post. Hoffar designed another building for Dr. Whetham across the street, also in 1888, completed a few months after this one. The building here was described in a 31 December 1888 newspaper article as ‘just complete’ although it wasn’t occupied until 1889.

It was shown as 204-208 Cordova on the 1889 insurance map, 3 storey, with lodgings on the top floor, offices on the second, and  stores for Dry Goods and ‘B&S’ on the main floor (Joseph Pyke’s boot and shoe store). The 1890 directory shows John and Johann Buntzen had rooms here, so did Miss C A and Miss Sarah Netterford, and John Rooney, the chief mail clerk. Henry Burritt had his dental office, as did Lewis Griffith McPhillips, a barrister and Tuck and Black, also barristers.

Dr. Whetham, like many early Vancouver developers, came from Ontario. His father had been a flax and hemp manufacturer in England, who moved to Canada, established himself as a general merchant and then died, leaving a widow and three young children. His son, James Whetham is said in an early biography to have taught, then headed west, farming in Manitoba in 1878. Somehow he managed to study medicine (his biography says ‘in winter’) in Toronto and then Portland, Oregon, while apparently living in Spokane Falls. He only practiced medicine very briefly before moving on to develop real estate, initially in Spokane Falls and then in 1887 in Vancouver.

By 1889 James Whetham had the sixth largest land holdings in the city, was on the board of trade and was elected to the City Council. He lived in the Hotel Vancouver, and founded Whetham College on Granville Street with backing from other Vancouver businessmen; his brother became the headmaster. (Charles Whetham had moved to Vancouver before 1889, and opened a real estate office in the Whetham Block). In 1890 Dr. James Whetham still had an office at 130 Cordova, identifying himself as a physician. He died in 1891, aged only 37, of what was diagnosed as typhoid fever. The recession of 1893 saw the closure of Whetham College, the first post-secondary teaching institute in British Columbia. Charles Whetham moved back to the University of Toronto, but returned in the mid 1890s to a farm he had bought in Whonnock.

In 1890 all the tenants listed were commercial, with printers, lawyers and the Patterson Detective Agency. In 1893 they included Truman and Caple’s photography studios, the dentist, a barrister and Frank Leslie, an artist. In 1894 BC Land and Investment Co had their office here, and H D Burritt was still running his dental office, and in 1896 a few residential tenants were listed again.

In 1898 Braden & Co had a meat store here, as we saw in an earlier post with an image from that year.  The heritage statement says “The evolution of this lodging house continued as the Simcoe Rooming House, and subsequently as the Arlington Rooms from 1913“. This is wrong. The Simcoe was further down the block, and the Arlington Hotel name appeared in the 1898 street directory.

By 1901 this was shown as the ‘Lee’ building, renumbered as 300-304 Cordova. The Burrard Inlet Meat Co had the store at 300 W Cordova, the Arlington Hotel was upstairs at 304, and the Arlington Billiard Parlour was at 308, which was the next building to the west. The store was no longer associated with the meat trade after this: A J Bloomfield sold cigars here in 1902. A couple of years later the street address disappeared, and the retail space appears to have become associated with the hotel upstairs. In 1905 it was run by Cottingham and Beatty, and a year later John Beatty on his own, later corrected to Beaty.

Within a few years the premises had been renamed from the Arlington Hotel to the Arlington Rooms; Alice Gill ran them in 1915. The retail uses reappeared here; in 1920 Mrs Tosa Takaoha had a barber’s shop and S Nunoda sold confectionary. The courtyard was built on in 1909, to house a printing wing of Thomson Brothers Booksellers.

In 1950 The Arlington Rooms were still upstairs, over Low Yow’s Confectionary store, but by 1955 the rooms had closed and the Triangle Coffee Shop and a fabric shop were on the main floor. Today there’s a tailors and dressmaker’s in one unit, and a locally-made clothing store in the other. Upstairs the offices have a range of businesses just as they did in the 1890s, including a counselling service, a construction company, the offices of the Central City Foundation, the Latincouver Cultural Society office, a Registered Psychologist’s practice and a language school. There’s also a business that would have made no sense to the earliest tenants: the office of an “online archive/designer and luxury clothing store, known for its finely curated selection of niche Japanese brands, well-known European labels, and vintage Americana”

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 810-277 (copyright) and CVA 810-15 (copyright)


Posted 16 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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2050 Comox Street

We know who commissioned and also who designed this 1902 wooden house, seen here around 1910. Major Matthews labelled the image in the Archives as ‘George Buscombe residence ‘, and the permit says J P Matheson designed the house for G Buscombe, who spent $2,900 to build it. By 1903 George had moved in, leaving his previous home on Homer Street.

George was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1875, son of Edwin and Isabella, who had arrived from Cornwall in 1870. They had 12 children, and George came in the middle of the pack, younger than his brother Fred who had come to BC before George, and was already established with a large family in 1901. George arrived in 1891, and like his brother, worked for James A. Skinner, a glass and pottery dealer from Ontario.

In 1899 he married Ada Maud Whitworth, originally from Wales (who had arrived in Canada aged 13 in 1887), and by 1901 they already had an infant son, also called George. His father was obviously doing well, working as a traveler; he built this house when he was 27, two years after the Skinner family had retired from business and Fred had acquired it, renaming it as Buscombe & Co. Two more children were born here, a son, Ernest, in 1903 and a daughter, Barbara, in 1905.

While Fred moved to a much fancier $10,500 West End home in 1905, (the year he was elected mayor), George continued to live here for 50 years. When Fred sold control of the company to a Montreal business at the end of 1911, George continued to work for Fred Buscombe & Co Ltd. as vice-president and general manager. Another brother, Charles also worked for the company. By 1914 Fred had established Buscombe Securities, with his son Robert as the insurance manager.

By 1916 George had become vice-president, while still working Fred Buscombe & Co, but by 1919 that was his only employment. In 1918 Charles Buscombe was the only brother working for Fred Buscombe & Co, now renamed as Cassidy’s, after the buyers of the business. A year later he had also moved on, establishing Buscombe Importing Co, a rival glass, silverware and china business. George also established his own business, George Buscombe Limited, Agents for the Western Assurance Company of Toronto. Fred’s involvement with Buscombe Securities wasn’t mentioned, but he was president of George’s company for a couple of years, before moving to live in Burnaby.

Charles’s Importing Company and George Buscombe’s Insurance business shared premises through the mid 1920s on Cambie Street, overlooking Victory Square. Buscombe Securities owned premises on West Hastings run as Cal-Van Market, owned by a Calgary company but managed by H Arthur Buscombe, another of Fred and George’s brothers. In 1926 Charles was working for another company, V J Creeden, and George was running Geo Buscombe & Co, real estate and George E, his son ran a newly formed business, Buscombe & Co, wholesale crockery, both at 119 West Pender.

In 1928 Fred left Burnaby and moved to West Vancouver. George E Buscombe was living here in 1928, and in 1931 one George was living on Beach Avenue, and another was living here, but in 1932 George jnr. had moved to West 33rd, and Ernest Buscombe, George’s other son was shown living here. The street directory had considerable difficulty keeping up with the two George E Buscombe families, usually identifying one or the other, but not always both. It helps that from 1935 the names of spouses were added to the entries; that year George E (Maud), was identified as a clerk at Buscombe & Co, and living here, while George E Buscombe (Ethel) his son and manager of Buscombe & Co was living on W33rd.

By 1939 George jnr. was still manager, and had moved to SW Marine, and George was president of the company. That year he was elected as an Alderman, and was aged 70 when his final term ended in 1945, when he was still company president. His son, George was managing director of the china firm, and one of the two was also running the insurance brokerage. Ernest Buscombe was the accountant to the business. Ada Maud Buscombe died in 1948, and in 1952 George was finally shown as retired, and still living here. In June 1952 the house was demolished. George moved to live with his son on SW Marine Drive, and was still listed as president of the businesses, still based on Water Street.

George was an owner of two racing power boats, “Sea Snipe” and “Thetis.” In 1905, Frederick (who had a 53 ft. power boat built in 1908) and George had donated the Buscombe Trophy to the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. George was also a member of the Camera Club, a Freemason, and a member of the Knights Templar Mystic Shrine. George joined city planners in lobbying to obtain Japanese Canadian properties around Powell Street for ‘slum clearance’. The Federal government were unwilling to go along with the idea, although they did renege on their original promise to the Japanese community of keeping the property in trust and leasing it out.

The site was redeveloped in 1952 with a 4-storey wood-frame apartment building called ‘Sharon Manor’, soon after renamed as ‘Cumberland Court’, owned by Mayfair Properties. In 1982 architects Romses Kwan proposed a 13 storey building to replace Cumberland Court, but a year later it was redesigned at 6 storeys.  In 1985 the 22 unit rental building, called Liza Court, was completed, owned at the time by T C Fong. A two-bedroom apartment cost $1,550 a month in 1989, and these days the attractive location means the building is still a popular, and far from cheap rental building.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P735


Posted 12 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Gone, West End

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Mercantile Building – West Pender and Homer

John Helyer, in partnership with his son Maurice, designed several of the city’s biggest buildings in the first decade of the 1900s. The Dominion Building from 1908 was easily the most prominent, but there was also the Metropolitan Building, the Stock Exchange Building, and this one – the Mercantile Building. There was a difference from those steel framed buildings, because this has a concrete frame. It was only a year after the first tall (six storey) concrete frame had been built in the city, (the Hotel Europe addition), and while for that building an American company were brought in to supervise that construction, here the General Engineering & Construction Co carried out the work on the $60,000 investment. It was run by engineer and sometime architect Kennerley Bryan, and was possibly related to a Seattle business with the same name.

Some sources claim this building was originally designed as the Board of Trade Building, “constructed for the Trustee Company under president James A Thompson, who was the owner and president of the Thompson Stationary Company.” We haven’t been able to find any contemporary references that show the Board of Trade were ever associated with the building. It was developed by the Trustee Company, Ltd., as this 1909 Directory entry shows, which was headed by James Thomson. He was one of Thomson Brothers, pioneer stationers who also had extensive real estate interests. James A and Melville P Thomson (not Thompson),  first established a stationery business in Vancouver in October 1886. They were already in business as Thomson Brothers in Calgary, and Melville arrived on the first train into Port Moody, although he hadn’t travelled all that far.

Born in Ontario, (James in Belleville in 1858 and Melville in Erin in 1860), they followed the CP line westwards, opening their first bookstore in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, in 1881. As the line reached Moose Jaw, so did the Thomsons, with Calgary next in 1884. The 1887 City Directory entry for their Vancouver store shows they didn’t limit themselves to books; Seth Tilley already had a bookstore in what was a tiny, but fast-growing town, so they also sold wallpaper, fancy goods, toys, and fishing tackle. (They were the Indigo of the 1880s). Adding printing to their business, they moved around on Cordova Street, to ever-larger premises, and then to West Hastings. They added a store in Nelson too, but by 1903 they had closed all but their Vancouver business, with both brothers living in the city from at least 1899.

The 1901 census inaccurately recorded one brother as Thompson. Melville lived with his Irish wife Marcella, and their two daughters and three sons, all aged under 12. They had an English ‘help’, Bessie Sorby, living with them in their house on Robson Street.

James Thomson had married Lillian Anderson in 1899 when she was 25 and he was 39. He had previously been married to Harriet Wood when he lived in Portage La Prairie, and they had three children before her death in 1891. In the 1901 census the family were living on Georgia, with James and Lillian, his three children, his sister, Florence, and his mother, Eliza. From 1903 to 1909 Lillian added four more children to the family.

In 1908 the brothers sold the stationery business (but retained their real estate portfolio). They became directors of The Trustee Company, a real estate development firm founded in 1908, and soon acquired a controlling interest. In 1913 the company was renamed Mercantile Mortgage Company Ltd., and the company and a spin-off business called Estates Investment Ltd. built up a significant real estate portfolio in the city and in other parts of British Columbia.

James Thomson died in 1926, and that year the street directory showed 55 businesses located in the building, with most employed as manufacturer’s agents, but others ranging from a clothing manufacturer, a camera repairer, freight forwarders and importers, wholesalers, the Aurora Silk Co and the office of Coast Publishing. His brother, Melville died in 1944, when the building had even more manufacturer’s agents, although there was a woolen jobber, a printer, a raw fur dealer, and Agnes Hughes made blouses on the 7th floor.

The Thomson family maintained control of Mercantile Mortgage and Estates Investment (whose offices were also here) until the early 1990s. Today the small businesses occupying the space include interior designers, architects, digital renderers, real estate management, a phone fraud detection and management business and a company manufacturing ‘handcrafted eyewear’

Image source City of Vancouver Archives copyright CVA 810-26


Posted 9 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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Denman and Davie Streets – ne corner

This corner is one of relatively few spots where the contemporary building is less significant than its predecessor. The pattern in the brickwork of this 1912 building suggested it had been designed by the father and son partnership of Townsend & Townsend. Sure enough, the permit from December 1911 shows them designing the $75,000 stores and apartments for Simpson Brothers, who also built it. To the north, a much smaller 2-storey building had been developed by S A Heaslip for $4,500 in 1908.

There were a lot of Simpsons in Vancouver, but fortunately the brothers were identified; William and Zach, (often written as Zack), both living in 1911 at 1811 Beach Avenue. They were boat builders, with premises a block from their home. Their father, Zachariah, was from Chorlton, Lancashire, where he worked as a tailor and draper. By 1875 he had come to Buffalo, New York, with his wife Ann. His brother John was also there, and in 1890 they headed west, to Canada, and Simpson Brothers, merchant tailors opened on Granville Street, with the brothers living on Beach Avenue. They were living in the same household in 1901, but that seems to be the last reference to John in Vancouver.

In 1891 the family inherited a sizeable fortune from an uncle, and started a boat building business. They rented boats to local residents and tourists from Simpson’s Boat House on Beach Avenue. Zachariah Simpson died in 1910, and his wife, Annie having died in 1907, aged 56, he left his $28,000 estate to his children, Maud, Zack, and William.

William Niagara Simpson was 35 when his father died, and was a boat builder. Later he became a master mariner, owning the ‘Roamer’ and a tugboat, the ‘Ocean Plunger’. His brother Zack managed the boat house business, and aged 35 he married Lydia Kleaman, who was 22 and from Ontario. Until 1944 he owned the boathouse and concessions at Lost Lagoon, which he sold to the Park Board, and continued to operate them on their behalf.

William Simpson died in 1936, and his brother, Zack in 1949. His widow sold the Simpson Block in the year following his death. Their sister, Maud, never married, and died in 1940. The Simpson Block saw a constant turnover of both residential and commercial tenants, as is normal in the West End. The new apartments were advertised as having steam-heated hot water, a phone in every flat, and a lift. (clearly the American words apartment and elevator weren’t in universal use in 1913).

Kirkham’s Grocerterias Ltd had one of their 20 stores here in 1928, but the chain closed down and the location was taken over by Safeway Stores in 1929, who remained here for many years. Originally the Denman Grocery Co had opened in the new building. Later, in the 1950s, their store was home to Crown Cleaners and Dyers, while Cunningham Drugs occupied the corner, replacing the Vancouver Drug Co who had been in the same spot in the 1920s.

In 1972, the Sands Hotel (located to the east, up Davie Street) planned a 23-storey addition on the corner, but it was never built. In 1975, soon after this image was taken, a fire damaged the Simpson Block, spreading from an adjacent building on Davie. All 13 suites were evacuated, and in 1976 the building was demolished.  It was replaced in 1979 with English Bay Village, a strata building with 10 units, designed by Richard Henriquez. A third floor, 2-level 1,753 sq. ft. 2-bed 3-bath unit with a rooftop deck (with full kitchen!) was offered for sale at $2.6m in 2021.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-370


Posted 5 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Gone, West End

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Elgin Apartments – 961 Howe Street

The Law Courts were built here in the 1970s, but two entire blocks had to be cleared for their construction. 961 Howe was a $20,000 apartment building designed by A J Bird in 1909. The developer, Hector McPherson was a 48 year old retired businessman. In 1911 his address was in his new investment at No. 6, a suite he lived in until 1920. There were 12 apartments, although in some years there were two apparently un-related tenants. Initially the street directory compilers got very confused, allocating some tenants to a fictitious 643 Howe, and others correctly to 671, which was known as the Elgin Apartments.

Despite Hector’s obvious Scottish Pedigree, the Elgin wasn’t a direct reference to Scotland. Hector’s grandparents were born in Scotland, but he was one of nine children born in Elgin, Ontario. In his case, it was in 1861, as noted on his stone in Mountain View Cemetery, when he died in 1949. Although he was initially elusive, not being in Vancouver in earlier census records, we found the death notice for his wife, Elizabeth, in 1918. ‘Before going to the mainland to live, Mrs. McPherson … had resided in Victoria for many years‘. Mr. McPherson was on a business trip to Brandon when his wife’s sudden and untimely death occurred. She was frequently mentioned in the press in the 1910s, usually in connection with the activities of the Canadian Scottish Chapter of Daughters of the Empire.

That turned out to be inaccurate, but a more detailed death notice clarified (and complicated) the family’s story.

Mrs. Hector Mcpherson, one of Vancouver’s best known social and patriotic, workers, was suddenly stricken with hemorrhage of the brain and passed away about 5:30 o’clock Saturday evening. She had Just returned to her study from the lower part of the building and was apparently in usual good health. The exertion is believed to have been the cause. Mrs. Mcpherson having just entered her study when she suddenly fell to the floor and expired in a few minutes. Mr. Mcpherson was superintending harvesting operations on his farm, north of Brandon, Manitoba, and is expected to reach the city on Tuesday morning. Deceased is also survived by her daughter, Flora, whose husband Major Howey Brydon, was killed in action at Vimy Ridge. The family has resided in Vancouver for the past eight years, coming west from Brandon and taking up their residence in Victoria, where they remained a short time before moving to Vancouver.”

We were able to find Major Robert George Howie Brydon, who married Flora McKelvie in 1916, and was killed in action in 1917. Flora Mae McKelvie was born in Brandon in 1893, her father was John McKelvie, and her mother, before she married, Elizabeth Anne Steele. John was from Quebec, and died in Brandon in 1901. We haven’t found Hector and Elizabeth’s wedding, but we assume it was in Brandon; Hector was living in Brandon in 1901.

We could find Hector McPherson in 1911, living with his wife, Elizabeth, and Flora McKelvie, his step-daughter in Vancouver.  Both Hector and Elizabeth came from Ontario, and he was listed as a farmer. Shortly before her death, Mrs. Hector McPherson and Mrs. Howie Brydon spent a week at Harrison Hot Springs.

Hector stayed in his Howe Street apartment until 1920. After that he appears to have moved south. In 1922 he travelled to San Francisco on the steamship ‘Columbia’. His previous address was with his sister, Mrs Neil Love, at 11th Avenue in Vancouver, and he had been living in Portland earlier in 1922. He was aged 60, 5′ 11″ tall, with a fair complexion, brown/grey hair and grey eyes, and was a retired farmer.

We were able to find Hector’s death record, which showed he died in Los Angeles in 1949 where he had been visiting for 5 months, living on Signal Hill. The informant of his death was his step-daughter, Flora Brydon, who lived in Long Beach. He was described as Construction Engineer, (ret) Canadian Pacific R.R. The cause of death was listed as ‘suicide – cut wrists with knife’.

We don’t know when Hector sold the Elgin, or whether it was part of his estate, but it was almost always fully occupied. Our Vancouver Public Library image dates from 1928, when there were still houses standing on either side. It was still standing in 1972, but by the mid 1970s the site was cleared for the new Arthur Erickson designed Law Courts, completed in 1980.


Posted 2 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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