Maxine Beauty School – Bidwell Street

This West End landmark is the source of numerous stories, many of them total fabrications. The part of the facade still standing today was designed in 1936 by Thomas B. McArravy for his entrepreneurial client, Maxine MacGilvray. He was mostly based in Nanaimo, although he did briefly move here, so only a couple of his buildings were in Vancouver.

Maxine’s name first appears in Vancouver in connection with beauty products sold by Spencer’s department store in 1913 in Victoria (left, when Maxine would have been aged 19), and in Vancouver in 1914. Said to be trained in California, she gave talks on skin care at the stores and would later open an in-store beauty parlor. It’s not clear if she had a permanent residence in Vancouver in those early days, although there was M A McGillivray, a hairdresser living at 742 Dunsmuir in 1917 (for only that year), although Maxine was also lecturing at ‘The Bay’ in Edmonton (right).

In the 1921 census, there were two McGillivrays living at 999 Georgia, one a manufacturer of cosmetics. Living with her was a sister, Patricia, who was manager of a hair salon, and five years younger. What’s odd is that ‘Maxine’ was recorded as Annie McGillivray, not Max, or Maxine. It was probably an error as in 1921 Max E MacGilvary and Patricia McGillvary were both shown in the street directory at the same address; the Maxine Hair Dressing Shop, 726, 510 Hastings (The Standard Bank Building). Patricia was a skin specialist and living on Seymour Street. In 1922 Patricia wasn’t around, and Max E MacGilvray ran Maxine Hairdressing Shop, and was living at 999 East Georgia. That’s the same address where she was shown living in the 1921 census. The shop had moved down to the second floor of the bank building, where it remained for a few years, although Maxine herself wasn’t always shown to be living in the city.

She was often travelling in her expanding empire; in 1923 she was on the radio in Calgary, lecturing on the need for vitamins for city-dwellers, and was described there as a physical and health specialist She had an extended series of lectures in Parker’s Departmental store in the same city, covering a wide range of beauty and health topics. In 1924 Maxine’s hair business (Mrs M MacGilvray) had moved to 601 Dunsmuir and the Max Chemical Co (Miss M E MacGilvray) was at 999 E Georgia, where Maxine also lived. Robert Garner was the chemist in 1926, and a year later he had an apprentice, Ivor Bebb, who lived at the back of the property. In 1926 Maxine opened a beauty school in Calgary, and the press had to retract the suggestion that she had severed ties with the Hudson’s Bay Company there. In fact, she was still manager of the HBC beauty shop (as well as her other business interests)

Maxine married Ivor Bebb in Skagit, in Washington, in April 1928. She was recorded in the register as Max Elwy Mac Gilvray, and she was born in Wisconsin in 1894. He parents married in Chippewa Falls, and Maxine was the youngest of seven children. Her father was born in Ontario, and her mother, Adeline was from Wisconsin. Her husband was from Wales, and was ten years younger. It appears that they were discreet about their marriage: in 1929 there’s a description of the colourful lighting display on their home, described as ‘The home of Miss M E McGillvray and Ivor E Bebb, partners in the Maxine Beaty Shoppe‘ and in 1933 the Vancouver Sun reported ” Miss Maxine MacGilvray, Ph.C, and Mr. Ivor Bebb, M.S.C., have left the city on an extended business trip to New York and Chicago, where they will visit the Century of Progress Exposition.

In 1928 there were two houses on the block face, 1203 on the corner, and 1223 next to the lane. (In 1929 both were vacant, but the couple had moved to 1233 for Christmas). In 1930 part of the garden of 1203 had been acquired and a new building had appeared mid-block, and the house at 1223 was shown occupied by Mrs. M MacGillvray. The new School of Beauty had opened in August 1929, with Maxine Beauty Shoppes at 1211, and the Maxine College of Beauty Culture sharing 1215 with Max-Ivor Ltd. In 1931 The Acadia Tea Room occupied 1203, and the directory had corrected Maxine’s title to ‘Miss’.

There was both an advertisement and a write-up in the Vancouver Sun for the August opening of the new building, whose architect isn’t identified. VANCOUVER SUN, AUGUST 3, 1929 – NEW ‘MAXINE’ OPENED IN CITY Ultra Modern Beauty Parlor Built on Bidwell St. With a chain of beauty shops in Canada and the Pacific coast of the United States, the Max Chemical company, with Mrs. Max McGillvray and Ivor Bebb sole owners, has further extended is activities by the erection of a fine new beauty shop at 1215 Bidwell street. Attached to the handsome new building is a college where young ladies are taught the art of the beauty parlor expert. “Maxine,” the name under which all the shops are conducted, has become a household word over great territory, and a visit to the ultra-modern plant on Bidwell gives assurance that this name has been well earned. Mrs. McGlllivray Is a qualified chemist and for a number of years has devoted her time and skill to the manufacture of cosmetics, powders and such like, and all of which are considered necessities for M’lady’s boudoir and bath. “I feel that there is a great future for Vancouver and British Columbia and that is the reason that I have come from the United States to live-here and make my business here,” said Mrs. McGlllivray. “We have an investment of upwards of $65,000 in the business and we feel that this, in itself, is evidence of our faith in this wonderful city.” A fully equipped factory is also attached to the new shop in which the various products are made.

The advertisement suggested Maxine was staying close to home (at least briefly). “The new Beauty shoppe will be under the direct supervision of Maxine MacGiIvray. Ph.C who is also personally supervising the up-town shop Maxine No. I (601 Dunsmuir St.) Miss MacGilvray is also the general manager of the international chain bearing her name. She is assisted by Mr. Ivor Bebb (assistant manager) and a staff of capable licensed operators, who have had years of experience.”

In 1936 the building was extended to the south, and the facade remodeled – that’s the image at the lead of the post. This was built by H A Wiles and designed by Thomas B. McArravy costing $3,500 according to the permit. Two years later another addition was made, designed by Ross Lort and costing $7,200. That’s probably the more ornate addition to the north, the edge of which is just visible in the contemporary picture. That year Maxine and Ivor had slightly altered their names and origins to persuade young ladies to train with them. The year had prompted a nasty shock “‘Fire completely destroyed the roof of the residence of Ivor Bebb, 1223 Bidwell street

The stories that have more recently attached to the building continue to live on – thanks to the internet. One story says that there was a tunnel from the building to English Bay, for smuggling, and another to the Rogers Sugar mansion, ‘Gabriola’. The owner of a nightclub in the building in the early 2000s was quoted in a magazine article: ‘Disguising the spot as a beauty school and boarding house, McGilvray gained notoriety by serving illegal alcohol and running the joint as an after-hours bordello. From his own personal research, Henderson learned the first tunnel was used by sugar magnate B.T. Rogers to access the bordello at his leisure. “The impetus behind the tunnel was bootlegging,” he explains. “Sailors would use the passageways to run rum from the boathouses at English Bay.”

If Maxine had been alive, she might have successfully pursued a lawsuit. Although her business undoubtedly involved attractive young women, there was never a hint of scandal attached to the business. The production of cosmetics would have involved deliveries and shipping, but it would have been unwise to drink the contents. Prohibition was long over in Canada, so smuggling to English Bay (which was then, as now, a hugely popular recreation area) would have been unnecessary (and the Vancouver rumrunners during prohibition were involved in exports, not imports). As for B T Rogers accessing the bordello, the elevation change between Gabriola, and Maxine’s would have made the proposition an incredibly expensive engineering feat, and risky, as the City Engineer might have come across it while maintaining the pipes under the road. It would have been even more expensive, as it was impossible without a time machine. The first building Maxine constructed was built in 1929, and B T Rogers died in 1918.

We’ll look at further developments with the building and the building that replaced it in a future post.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-4477



Posted 10 October 2022 by ChangingCity in Gone, West End

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