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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