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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