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.

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Posted 2 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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