Archive for February 2023

1111 Seymour Street

These are the Hollywood Apartments, seen in a 1927 Vancouver Public Library image. The apartments were intially addressed as 1121 Seymour, but became 1111 a few years later. Land agents Smith and Partners were offering three vacant lots here for $11,000 in 1906, and by 1909 there was an illustration in the press of the 18 apartments facing a twenty-six foot lawn. The owners were identified as D E Harris and J J Gregg, and the National Finance Co handled the leasing.

We found Mr. Harris obtaining the permit for a 3-storey apartment ‘between Davie and Helmcken’ for $20,000 in September 1908. Although he was a contractor, he hired A J Bird to design the building, and Mills & Williamson to build it. He lived on Ontario Street.  Mrs. Harris, before her marriage, was the unusually named Sydenia McFeetors, from Ross, Renfrew Ontario, who married Daniel Ely Harris in Rosedale, Manitoba in 1892. Daniel was shown as six years older, and was also from Ontario. We know the family arrived here in the early 1900s; their third child, Violet, was born in Ontario in 1903, and Everett, her brother, in 1908 in Vancouver.

In 1909 Sydenia Harris acquired 640 acres in the Cariboo, near Quesnel, using her husband as agent. Annie Gregg, wife of J J Gregg also bought land in the same area, using Mr Harris as agent, and he assisted a series of other purchasers who also bought land in the same area. In 1914 Mr Harris was identified in the paper as a land speculator, owning 10,000 acres in the Fort George district.

The residents of these apartments featured in the press from time to time. In 1916 Miss Ethel Dawson lost control of her car, which ‘ran amuck’, severely damaging another auto and sending two people to hospital. In 1921 Mrs Marie Tudor, who lived here, sued Gordon Gartley, the driver of the vehicle that killed her husband in Stanley Park earlier in the year. In 1925 the Ladies Meeting of the Royal Society of St George met in suite 9. W H Taylor had his car stolen in 1934, but Walter McElroy of Robson Street was arrested after police gave chase, catching him at Granville and W54th. A. Bakerman had jewelry stolen from his suite in the same year, and Mrs McKellar also had a ring stolen from her suite a month after that.

In 1944 William Johnson, a taxi driver, received a 10-day jail sentence for driving while drunk, and lost his licence for six months. A year later several residents’ sons were reported as killed, missing or wounded in the war, while another resident was injured in a car crash racing to meet her husband, returning from the war. The driver was charged with the manslaughter of one of the passengers, but acquitted. His widow and daughter sued, and received $10,000 each in civil proceedings. In 1946 William Johnson was again in court in an alcohol related proceeding – this time for selling it illegally; he got a $300 fine. Ironically, Mrs McKenzie held regular meeings of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in her suite for five years from 1949.

Effie Carmichael and James McArthur, both living here, were charged with running a gambling game in a South Vancouver home in 1959, but the case was dismissed. Harry Waterfield was aged 37 in 1963, and a tenant here, when he faced his 17th charge of breaking and entering (over a period of 21 years). Found guilty as a habitual criminal, he faced an indeterminate sentence of life imprisonment. In 1965 Alexander Williamson, aged 52, had a fall in the hall of the building, and another fall the same day from his second floor window that killed him.

When the developer, Daniel Harris died in 1953 he was aged 86, (so born around 1867). Sydenia Harris was aged 81 years when her death was reported in 1959. That suggests there was probably an 11 year difference in their ages. She was survived by 2 sons, J. Stafford Harris, Toronto, and E. Raymond Harris, Halifax, N.S.; 1 daughter, Mrs. T. Cameron, Vancouver.

In the early 1980s the kitchens were removed and the interior re-modelled to provide hotel rooms, managed as an annex to the Chateau Granville hotel across the the lane. Demolished in 2015, two years later Wall Financial completed construction of a 40 unit 6-storey building designed by Endall Elliot Associates that was submitted as a strata building, but then retained as leasehold apartments.



Posted 27 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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The Leslie House, Hornby Street

This is one of Downtown’s oldest houses, although it hasn’t been lived in for many years. It was built by George Washington Leslie, who was listed at different times as both a carpenter, and a plasterer. He lived in the house with his family from when he built it soon after arriving in 1888 (the year he turned 38) to his death in 1924. Family members continued to live here until 1947.

George was born in Cape Breton in 1850, the third of nine children. He married Susan Bethune, also from Sydney Mines (a coal mining town) in 1872, and they started their family of 11 children a year later, when Charles was born, and ending when Susan was 45 and gave birth to Arthur. (Ermina died as a baby). Arthur (who seems to have been known by his middle name, Purvis) and Ernest were born in BC in 1895 and 1891. Life in the new house must have been tough going for the first few years; the water service was only connected in 1896.

George’s home is a rare remaining example of a ‘cottage’ version of a Queen Anne style Victorian house, modified to include some Italianate elements, and it was full! The 1891 census showed all eight children at home, with Charles  already a carpenter at 18, and Emma, who was a year younger, a dishwasher. By 1901 there were still seven children at home, but in 1902 Agnes married Sterling Grieve, and ten months later their daughter, Thelma was born.

In 1903 George applied for a permit to add another dwelling behind the house (identified as 1380 Hornby), and by 1905 Agnes and her family had moved in, with Amy born in October 1905. Sterling was from New Brunswick, and a brakeman for the CPR. They didn’t stay in the lane house for long, and in 1907 a four-week old son, Sterling, died. His father worked in the CPR yards and as a fireman, and the family moved around, but always close to Hornby.

George’s son Harold (also a carpenter) was the next to occupy the cottage, in 1906. He had married Mary Girvan in June 1905 and just over seven months later their son George was born. The family moved to West 12th, and a variety of lodgers moved into the cottage. In 1911 there were still six children at home, including oldest son Charles. He had married Emily Hagenbuch from Victoria (who was 14 years younger) in 1910, and they had a daughter, Adelene, in 1920, a year after George’s mother, Susan had died.

In 1921 Archibald Sloan was shown as head of household in the Hornby house, with his wife Isabella and their children, Pervis, Ruby and Ruby . Isabella’s father, George Leslie was still living here, as were two of her siblings, Arthur and Edith. Son Fred, and his wife Josephine were shown in the street directory living in the cottage, but the census seems to have missed them.

George Washington Leslie died in 1924.

Emily Leslie died in 1929 at age 41; her death was reported in the press, and at the time the family were living on Kitchener street, and she was described as a member of the Pythian sisters. Charles was superintendent of the Burrard Shipyard and Engineering Works. He remarried in 1931 to Ella Gill, who was from Winnipeg. The Sun reported the birth of a daughter a year later, although we haven’t traced any further records. His daughter, Adelaine, was only 20 when she died in 1941, and Charles died two years later.

Ernest Leslie and his wife Clare lived here until they sold the house to Wilhelmine Meilike in 1947. Ernest was a shipwright at the Pacific Drydock shipwright, and his bachelor brother, Arthur Purvis Leslie was living in the lane house that year. The Meilike’s converted the house into an interior design store, with their upholsteror Sid Toren living in the laneway house (until 1955). Around 1967 the house becomes a dress design business, Mano Designs, with the owners living in the laneway.

Umberto Menghi established his Italian restaurant, Il Giardino, here in 1973, and soon added the single storey building next door, operating as La Cantina in our 1975 image. It had been built in 1941, when it was the offices of Townley and Matheson, the architects. In the late 1990s Umbert was thinking of adding a boutique hotel tower to the site, and even obtained a development permit. To clear the site he donated the laneway house to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. The house was moved to a new location in the West End heritage enclave of Mole Hill in 2002.

Umberto never built the hotel, and eventually sold the site, moving his restaurant nearby. The purchaser was Grosvenor Americas, the North American arm of the Duke of Westminster’s property empire, who applied to build a slim 39 storey residential tower with 224 condominiums. The Leslie House, like the laneway, was picked up and moved, but in this case returned to just around the corner to the Pacific Street part of the lot. Fully restored as a commercial building with period details (but to contemporary code), it was sold in 2022.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-12


Posted 23 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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Water Street east from Cambie

This is a very early picture of today’s Water Street – it’s from 1886, and it shows the Town of Granville as it’s from a few months before the fire, the arrival of the railway, and the new name for the new city. It was known then as Front Street, and we’re looking east, from half way between Cambie and Abbott. The water is on the left, behind the buildings, (and a little further east almost up to the edge of the street).

The archives notes say “Photograph shows the residences of Isaac John and Ainsley Mouat and other buildings prior to the Great Fire“. Major Matthews, the city’s archivist recorded that “Mr. Isaac Johns, customs officer and harbour master, lived in a neat dwelling to the west of Mannion’s. Ike, he was called, was from Bristol, England. He was a capable musician and much in demand for concerts at New Westminster.

Isaac Johns was born around 1839 (his marriage certificate says in Wales) and he married Isabella McGregor (born in 1851 in Sooke) in Nanaimo in 1867. Records suggest they had seven children; the last, Kate, was born in Granville in 1883. Isabella Johns died in 1888.

W R Lord recalled Mr Johns and his office: “he was a man of about three hundred pounds, and I can see him yet, sitting out under the verandah in front of his little office, the Customs House, west, not east, of Sullivan’s, and near the ‘Hole in the Wall,’ just a bit of an office about ten feet by twelve, little bit of a place.”

This is a picture of the Custom House, which was then on the corner of Granville and Hastings. John Bowell was the customs officer, and Isaac Johns deputy. The picture is labelled 1891 and shows shows John S. Rankin, Captain C.A. Worsnop, Mr. Johns and Joseph Fagan.

Charles Worsnop was the cashier, Joseph Fagan a ‘landing waiter’ and we can’t find John S Rankin in the city. The date can’t be correct, as Isaac Johns died in April 1890.

The Nanaimo Free Press reported “Mr. Isaac Johns, for many years customs officer at Vaucouver, died in that city on Sunday after a lingering illness. Tbe deceased gentleman was in early days in business in this city in the building now occupied by Hirst Bro., on Commercial street. His wife, a daughter of Mrs. John McGregor, of this city, died in December 1888. He leaves five children who now are doubly orphaned. Mr Johns will be well and favorably known by the pioneer residents of this city, for his genial manner and open-heartedness made him many warm and lasting fnends.” His second daughter, Margaret, died two months after her father’s death.

Ike Johns had already moved out of his house by the time the picture was taken; it was the home of ‘Birdie’ Stewart, and her ladies. They were said to offer a warm welcome to any visiting sailors, (and local gentlemen too), much to the discomfort of their next-door neighbours, the Methodist Parsonage.

Although there are reasonably contemporary records that say Birdie Stewart moved to Granville in 1873, her name didn’t appear in any street directories. As far as we can tell, no females appear there in the 1870s, and it’s only in the late 1880s that they’re acknowledged. Stories told to the archivist said she was fined $20 for keeping a house of ill repute by the new City Council in 1886, having pled guilty. It was the means by which the new Council paid their first bills, as they had other no tax roll or income at the time.

After the fire she seems to have continued in business. After pleading guilty and being fined for running a house of ill-repute, the second time she appeared before the magistrate she didn’t plead guilty, and the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

In 1891 there was a Mrs. M Stewart who was running a boarding house on Water Street, about a block to the west of here. She was said to be 39, from Ireland, and had three children, the eldest a daughter aged 21 born in BC in 1870.

On the opposite side of the street Mrs. Crakanthorp told Major Matthews  “The storey-and-a-half cottage just across the street a few yards to the east was built by Ainsley Mouat.” (The Major noted: Mouat was one of the early lot owners in Granville.) “He built it on spec, rented it to Ben Wilson for a residence, until Ben Wilson built his own house on the north side.”

When we came here in 1873, Ainsley Mouat was a boy in the Hastings Mill Store; then afterwards he went into the mill office, then he went to Victoria. Then when Captain Raymur died, and Mr. Alexander became manager of the mill, the heads of the mill sent for Ainsley to come back. Ainsley was the heart of the Bachelors’ Club. He died about 1893 or 1894 of typhoid fever.” In the years he was in Vancouver, Ainslie built several cottages to lease out. He’s on this image of Betchelor’s Hall, on Dunlevy at the Hastings Sawmill.

We found A Mouat (initially recorded as Mowatt) in the street directories in the 1880s, listed as an accountant. His death was announced in the Times Daily Colonist in November 1893: “Ainsley James Ingles Mouat, second son of the late Captain William Mouat, aged 26 years“. His service as secretary of St James Church for ten years was noted in 1894. He was the oldest of eight children of William Mouat and Mary Ainslie, both from London. His father was a noted ship’s captain for The Hudson’s Bay Company, dying in a canoeing accident in 1871 travelling from Knight Inlet to Fort Rupert (near the tip of Vancouver Island).

Today on the right the Colonial Hotel and Gastown Hotel were built in 1911 and 1913. Winter’s Hotel used to occupy the corner up until last year, when it burnt to the ground with the loss of two lives. On the left there’s Rainsford and Company’s 1923 building, and the 1905 warehouse built by the McLennan and McFeely Company and initially occupied by  the Canadian Fairbanks Company.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives Str P8, Misc P6 and Mi P27


Posted 20 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Gone

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Granville Street – 800 block, east side (2)

We saw another view of this block of Granville in an earlier post. This 1967 image misses the corner with Robson, but shows the Art Deco entrance to the Capitol Theatre – a cinema – that was first opened in 1921 and given several new lives (and entrances) before closing in 2005. The facade on Granville led to a ramp, and staircases, leading up to a bridge over the lane behind; the cinema was actually on Seymour Street. We can’t pin down the installation date of the art deco facade seen here – the latest we’ve found of the original 1921 facade is 1937, and the earliest image of this one is 1943. There was another by the early 1980s, and after the cinema was redeveloped there’s now a double-height glazed retail store in that spot.

Down the street is the Commodore Ballroom, developed by ‘Vested Estates’, a company founded in 1924, and mysteriously described in 1929 as ‘a syndicate whose identity is not disclosed’. In 1928 their name started appearing in the press for their property purchases, and then development activity. By mid 1929 they had acquired at least 14 lots on Granville Street, and had commenced construction at 840 Granville of a 25 foot wide building costing $17,500, designed by architect H H Gillingham. As leases came due they closed the adjacent businesses down, and in early 1930 announced a $100,000 block to add another 125 feet to the south of their 840 Granville building. The facade of the recently completed building was to be altered to match the new building, which would have eight store fronts, a second floor cabaret club, and a bowling alley in the basement, costing $100,000 to build. By December it was complete, and took the name of a cafe demolished for the construction, The Commodore.

The site acquisition took a while, and after demolition had commenced, in January 1930, the premises formerly occupied by Vancouver Oster and Fish Co, and the Novelty Cloak and Suit Co caught fire. The owners of the fishmongers, George Canary and George Zerbinos had given up their lease early, in exchange for a promise of a lease at 837 Granville, another Vested Estates property. However, the lease was never issued, and they sued for nearly $10,000 in damages. At this point the owners were revealed; Harry F Reifel was identified as Vested Estates’ president, and W F Brouham the company’s lawyer. In court, he declined to answer questions about the business, but was required to do so by the judge. The case was dismissed, (and subsequently appealed).

Harry’s father, Henry Reifel, and his brothers Conrad and Jack had come from Germany and established a number of breweries, (not all immediately successful). By the early 1920s they had a range of interests in alcohol production; breweries as well as distilleries, based in BC. They had weathered the relatively short-lived prohibition in the province and the new restrictions in the US offered new business opportunities.

Faced with new significant payments that each Canadian liquor exporter had to pay, they helped organise Consolidated Exporters, to pay a single fee covering almost all the Canadian rival operators. They shipped locally produced and imported beer, wine and spirits past the US, with paperwork showing Mexican and South American destinations. There were a variety of freighters heading from Vancouver and Victoria, and they often returned empty without ever actually reaching their destinations (although the ship’s paperwork often told a different story). Instead the freighters would hold station outside US waters, with their cargo transferred to smaller, faster boats that could outrun the US coastguard ships. Often those were based in the US, but some were also owned by the Reifels.

Consolidated owned a number of ships, but the Reifels also owned two different shipping businesses, Northern Freighters and Atlantic and the Pacific Navigation Company. Their City of San Diego was probably the first ‘mother ship’ to set off southwards, in 1922, and they continued running alcohol south, supplying the US, through to 1933. They were careful to pay all the duties on exports that the Canadian government levied, but their profits were massive. In only a few years the owners of Vested Estates had an excess of cash – (much of it no doubt untraceable). Henry’s sons, Harry and George each built grand mansions, Casa Mia and Rio Vista and in 14 months in 1928 and 1929 spent at least $1,115,000 on buildings on Granville Street.

By 1931 the company had assembled 19 lots between Robson and Nelson, and their assessment for taxes jumped from $944,150 to $1,141,300 – a situation they appealed. They lost – and were accused of having created the increase in value because they over-paid for the properties in question.

Another contemporary family of developers has been acquiring sites on Granville Street, including most of this block. They are proposing a massive 17 storey office building, retaining the older facades, and bridging the Commodore Ballroom in its existing form. City Council have yet to decide what they think of the idea.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-51


Posted 16 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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550 Hamilton Street

We looked for an image of this building when it was first developed, and drew a complete blank. There are several views of the back, but nothing that we could find shows the street facade. This was taken in 1974, and the building was redeveloped not much later, but it was built as the offices of the Vancouver School Board in 1910 for $40,000, with an additional floor added in 1912 costing $18,000. The Board’s Architect, Norman Leech, designed the original building.

It was rebuilt and repurposed when it became home to the Vancouver School of Art. That had operated on the same block in the old High School, but moved here in 1952, when artist and instructor Bruno Bobek designed the mural integrated into the entrance to the building.

In 1977 an initial $10m was approved towards the $100m estimated to be needed to acquire this site from the Vocational Institute, and build a new building to allow the Art School to move to a new location. It moved to new premises on Granville Island in 1978 allowing the site to be redeveloped as part of Vancouver Community College.

The mirrored replacement, and addition to the heritage 1948 building to the north was completed in 1982. The glazing quality is much better than many other reflective buildings, and shows the Del Mar Inn on the opposite side of Hamilton, with the low-rise BC Hydro building on the left and the clock in the open space that replaced 569 Hamilton on the right. The BC Hydro tower built in 1992 is behind, built on the site of the Alcazar Hotel.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-108


Posted 13 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Stanley Park Manor – 1915 Haro Street

Stanley Park Manor is an imposing structure from 1929. It was designed by H H Simmonds, with 122 apartments. West Coast Builders developed the $200,000 investment, described as the largest single apartment built that year. The design were described in an article in the Sun in 1931, when it was complete, as ‘from plans by Architects Hodgson & Simmons’, as H A Hodgson partnered with Simmonds. It also revealed that the developer was W A Lightheart, whose other developments can also be found throughout the West End, as can others by other Lightheart Brothers. Our image dates from when it was completed, and is from Vancouver Public Library.

When this was developed, William Lightheart had a home in Shaughnessy, but his brother Jacob’s widow, Alice, lived here, and the manager was Cecil Lightheart, almost certainly his son.

In 1950 fire broke out in what was now a 139 suite building, but most of the 200 tenants stayed put. Only two families, with children, ended up at 4.11am sitting in an auto parked on the street. The fire started when the tip of a conveyor carrying wood to the furnace caught fire.

In 1956 Donald Woodruff went missing. “Wife of a Vancouver public accountant missing since Monday night fears he may be a victim of amnesia. Donald M. Woodruff, suite 508, Stanley Park Manor, went for a walk in the park at 9:30 p.m. and has not been seen since. Mrs. Woodruff said her husband, a Second World War navy veteran, may have signed on a ship leaving Vancouver. When last seen the missing man was wearing a black suit, grey hat, brown brogue shoes, a maroon tie, pale grey shirt and an opaque plastic raincoat.”

An intriguing notice in the press in 1958 suggests something odd going on, but confirms the Lightheart development connection.

That same year an advertisment for Burrard Realty Corporation announced “Mr. C. V. Lightheart as President, Vancouver born and educated who brings to the firm a lifetime of experience in Real Estate and Property Management. He is a member of the pioneer Lightheart family with extensive property holdings and who own, among others, Stanley Park Manor and Brookland Court. His many qualifications, his personal buoyancy and boundless energy make him an ideal President.

In 1974 one of the city’s ‘cold cases’ occurred, when the naked body of 32-year-old Margarite Ann Cuff was found when police entered her apartment. The murder weapon, a knife, was still protruding from her body. Police later described her a drug addict and prostitute, and the case was never solved.

More recently the building has been a scene of intrigue in both print, and film. Several movie productions have been shot here, and it was the home of chef Jeremy Papier, author Timothy Taylor’s main character in his novel Stanley Park.


Posted 9 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, West End

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24 East Broadway

Here’s a modest building on Broadway that will soon disappear. Only a block from the new SkyTrain development, Value Group assembled a site with three properties and now Chard are developing a mid-rise office building designed by Musson Cattell Mackey.

The building here today was photographed in 1974, and shows the building looked almost the same 50 years ago. It had been built in 1906 by Robert H Duke, Managing Director of the Pacific Coast Fire Insurance Company, and cost him $2,000, although as the permit has been lost, we don’t know who the architect was. He added a $250 garage five years later.

In 1926 another permit suggested he still owned the building when he spent another $2,500 to convert it to apartments. That’s incorrect; he died in1911, so it was probably his widow “Mrs. R H Duke” (Barbara A in the street directory). She was living here in the year before the conversion with three daughters. Alma was 24 and was a school teacher, and so was her sister Edna, who was two years younger. Alzina Duke had married George Gardner, who worked in sales for Canadian Westinghouse, and they lived here too. Their brother, Earl Duke (christened Alymer) had lived here in the 1910s, but had married Jean McMyn in 1922 on Lulu Island.

Robert Henry Duke had married Barbara Alzina Snell in Ontario in 1895. They were in Ottawa in 1901 with Alymer and Alzina, and Robert was a manager aged 29. Later that year they moved to Vancouver. The Province reported “Mr. R. H. Duke, formerly of Ottawa, Ont., will arrive in the city on Sunday and will in future reside here. Mr. Duke Is a brother of Thos. Duke of the City grocery and W. J. Duke of Wm. Braid & Co., and his arrival will be quite an addition to secret society and social circles. The following Is from the Ottawa Citizen, concerning Mr. Duke’s departure from that city: “Mr. R. H. Duke of the Canadian Savings, Loan and Building association, was last night waited upon at his house on Sweetland avenue, by the Ottawa staff of agents of the company and presented with an address expressive of their esteem for him, accompanied by a gold chain and locket, suitably engraved. Mr. Duke, who was taken completely, by surprise, made a feeling reply, thanking the friends warmly and expressing his regret in parting with associates with whom his relations had always been so pleasant. He leaves tonight for Vancouver, B. C, where he has accepted a position in the head office of the British Columbia Permanent Loan & Savings company.” In 1904 Robert was elected as Secretary to the company.

He was a protestant; a member of the board of the Orange Lodge, and chairman of the Mount Pleasant Methodist committee. In 1907 his family holiday in Harrison Hot Springs was recorded. A year later he was General Manager of the Pacific Coast Fire Insurance Company, as well as retaining the role of secretary of the British Columbia Permanent Loan & Savings company. That year he and Barbara travelled to southern California for a month. In February 1911 Robert resigned as manager of the Fire Insurance company to take the same role at the Loan company where he had been secretary. In August he contracted appendicitis, and despite an operation at the General Hospital, he died, aged 40. His death notice acknowledged his involvement in the church, the Orange Order, the YMCA, the Conservative part, and as a freemason.

The house having been split into four apartments, Mrs Duke lived in one, her daughter and son-in-law in #2, and Mrs Jeeves and Mrs Walsh in the other two units. The house was named as Buena Vista Lodge, and Mrs Duke lived here into the 1930s. In her later years Mrs. Duke moved in with Alma, who married Gordon Thompson, and lived close to W 50th on Churchill. She died in 1954, and the building was sold in 1958, advertised ‘offers wanted’ by Sears Realty. When the building was advertised for sale in 1997 there were six apartments, and the asking price was $625,000, and having failed to sell that was dropped to $575,000, and then $550,000, and finally $515,000.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1095-01579


Posted 6 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Mount Pleasant, Still Standing

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Barclay and Nicola Streets

A corner grocery has existed here for nearly 120 years. The first house built on this block face was 971 Barclay, out of sight in this image, but in the early 1900s three others were built. 961 is on the edge of the picture to the left, developed in 1909 by M J Donovan.

Ontario born Albert Blain arrived in Vancouver in the early 1900s and bought 941 Nicola Street soon after his arrival. He was a grocer, and he constructed the store and apartments at the corner of Nicola and Barclay Street in 1904, for $2,300, taking advantage of the water line running along Nicola and the proximity of the Robson Street streetcar line, both of which were driving growth in the area. He hired H Wilson as the builder.

(Confusingly, 947 Nicola was built in 1906 by Fred Schooley, manager of the Royal Soap Co, but the lot is on the other side of Barclay, and the out of sequence street numbering lasted for decades).

In 1907 Albert Blain added 955/957 Nicola, the second building, with bay windows, on the left, again with apartments. It originally had a single retail space with a centrally placed entrance, at some point the retail space was divided in two. The architect for the store and apartments was Blain’s son-in-law George Dobbin who also designed the south building and the family’s home on Barclay, built in 1907 for $3,000. Dobbin had a few other buildings to his credit but passed away in 1908 from TB.

In 1912 the gap between the two buildings was filled with a single storey retail structure, 951 Nicola. M McSween was shown as the owner, and D McLellan built it.

Albert Alexander Blain was born in Oneida, Haldimand, Ontario in 1880, so was only 24 when he built his store. He married Pearl McMillan, who was from Nova Scotia, in Vancouver in 1908, and they had five children, Winslow (her father’s name), known as Alex in 1910, Sarah in 1912, Bedford (known as Llyoyd) in 1915, Albert (known as Ivan) in 1917 and Roy two years later. Although there were two Albert Blains in the city, ours was initially a baggage handler for the CPR in 1902, then a bookkeeper for Boyd Burns & Co in 1904.

Albert didn’t make much impression in the local press. He lost a sum of money in 1910 and placed an advert hoping to recover it. In 1911 he was treasurer-secretary of the Grocer’s Association, and again a decade later. In 1924 there was an instore demonstration of baking, using ‘Magic Baking Powder’. Albert operated the store until 1929 when the family moved to California in September 1929 for health reasons, but he died in Long Beach in January 1930. Pearl returned to North Vancouver, and in 1941 married John Mann. She died in 1967, and was buried in Burnaby.

Our Vancouver Public Library image shows the stores in 1978. The building has recently had a comprehensive restoration, and there continues to be a shop on the ground floor and residential space on the second floor.


Posted 2 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, West End

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