Author Archive

Robson Street – 300 block, north side (2)

This row of six identical cottages appear on the 1901 insurance map. We know they were built from east to west, because the 1900-01 Street Directory only shows four of them, one so recently built that the occupant is unnamed. The house at the far eastern (right hand) end of the row, 331 Robson, was occupied by contractor W L Campbell, and it’s possible that he built the houses. William Campbell was from Ontario, aged 35, and living in 1901 with his American wife Rosa, and their children aged 7 and 1, and their American domestic, Lina Wallace. It would seem that they didn’t stay long in Vancouver, and even less time in the new house. In 1902 and 1903 a carpenter called William Campbell was living on Westminster Avenue, and nobody of that name was in the city in 1904.

At 335, CPR engineer William Coughlin moved in with his wife Elizabeth and their two children. In the 1901 census Margery was 14 months old and Lorne was only 2 months. They also seem to have left the city by 1902. John Danagher, a tailor was at 339, changing jobs by 1902 to become a commercial traveler, and moving to Eveleigh Street.

In 1902 O L McCullough had moved into 331. D Buie, a carpenter had replaced the engineer next door, W Beavis, a blacksmith was at 339, Mr Alltress, a driver was next to him, D L Gauley a painter lived next door and another contractor moved into the end of the row; J P Matheson. John Matheson was first listed in 1894 as a carpenter living on Oppenheimer Street, and a year later as J P Matheson at 231 Georgia. Born in Wheatley River, Prince Edward Island, he moved to New Westminster in 1890 and then to Vancouver about two years later. He was initially a contractor, as he was listed in the 1901 census, when he and his wife Jane lived with their sons Robert, who was 14, daughter Ruby who was 12, and Gordon who was only two years old.

The Matheson family lived here for several years, until by 1908 they had moved to the West End, with J P Matheson listed as contractor and builder. Son Robert moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that year to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania under the leading American architect Paul Cret. A school friend Fred Townley joined him at the school. On his return in 1911 his father invited him to form an architectural partnership and Robert probably supplied the architectural part in the design of several important commissions in the city. John P. Matheson died in Vancouver in 1917, and two years later Robert formed a new partnership with Fred Townley, and their partnership designed many city buildings, including the modernist design for the Vancouver City Hall. Robert Matheson died in Vancouver after a long illness at the age of 48 on 30 June 1935, before City Hall was completed.

Over the decades that the houses stood, hundreds of different people lived in them. In 1955, the last year we can access street directories online, Mrs Louise McGowan was at 331, Mrs. K Alice Beesley (a widow) at 335, Mrs M Eluk lived next door at 339 with Walter Eluk, a warehouseman, John Farrar, who was retired, at 341, Russell McGowan, a steelworker, living with his wife Elaine at 347 and Glyn Morgan, a welder, living with his wife Kathleen at 351. A year later our image was taken, and some time before 1981 the houses were cleared away. Today the plaza of Moshe Safdie’s ‘not the colosseum’ public library, completed in 1995, is on the corner of the block.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu P508.83


Posted October 18, 2018 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Helmcken Street – 400 block, north side

This is one of our favourite images of Downtown Vancouver in the Archives collection. Shot over 50 years ago, in 1966, the residential nature of much of the Downtown South area was still very much in evidence, but off in the haze in the distance the headquarters building for BC Electric show that indeed, you are Downtown. Remarkably, three of those houses on Helmcken Street are still there today, and perhaps more remarkably there are now five houses here, (hidden among the dramatically expanded tree cover).

Originally Wellington Brehaut built five identical houses here in 1907. They were probably initially leased rather than sold off, although over time they became freehold dwellings. By 1966 two had been lost, but as part of the condo tower built on Richards Street, two houses from further up the street (1062 and 1080 Richards) were relocated around the corner to complete the row. We looked at the history of those buildings, and the ‘hold-out’ owner of one of them, Linda Rupa, in an earlier post.

Wellington W Brehaut was a contractor who lived in the West End, in a house he shared with the builder of the house, D M Fraser. They were also partners in their contracting business. He was a carpenter from PEI, and seems to done well, from being a lodger in a rooming house in 1901 to owning his own home (still standing) on Nicola Street by 1908. He was married in 1904, to Florence Morrison, who was four years younger, from London, Ontario. Her death was recorded in the newspaper in 1911, and Wellington died in 1916 aged only 45 while in Los Angeles, although he was buried in Mountain View Cemetery. He was obviously a well respected Freemason; the Daily World reported that “An emergency meeting of the Lodge will be held in the Masonic Temple, corner of Seymour and Georgia Streets, on Thursday, May 11 at 2 p.m., for the purpose of conducting the funeral ceremonies of our late Bro. Wellington W. Brehaut”.

Another piece added a fascinating detail to Mr. Brehaut’s relatively short life story: “Some fifteen months ago Mr. Brehaut went to California in the hopes of improving his health, but without permanent results, and his many friends in this city will learn with regret of his decease. The body Is being brought to this city for interment, the funeral, which will be under the auspices of – Cascade Lodge, A. F. & A. M , of which the deceased was a member, being held on Thursday afternoon next. The late Mr. Brehaut was a popular member of the Terminal Club. Some six years ago Mr. Brehaut was the central figure in a sensational hold – up case in the city, he being held up by an armed man, with whom he grappled. His assailant was sentenced to a long term which he is at present serving.”

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-41

Posted October 15, 2018 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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West Georgia and Homer Streets looking south

We’ve noted in other posts how parts of Downtown in the early 1980s were like the early clear-felled forest – except used as parking lots. The earlier buildings in this part of Downtown had been cleared away, but the replacement buildings took many years, and in some cases decades, to appear. There wasn’t a lot more development on the other side of the street, either.

Amazingly, we haven’t seen a view of this block, where the new central; branch of the city’s Library was completed in 1995. Architect Moshe Safdie has always denied any intentional reference to Rome’s Colosseum, and the design was the public’s preferred winner after a 1990 design competition. At the time the City’s biggest investment, the federal government supported the project by leasing an office tower and the upper floors of the internal library ‘box’. The top floors have just been returned to the City, and repurposed as stunning new rooftop gardens and meeting rooms.

Image source, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 772-829

Posted October 11, 2018 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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Robson Street – 400 block, north side

We looked at the block to the east of here in the previous post. This block in 1981 was as empty as the 300 block. The 1970s saw a lot of clearance Downtown, but redevelopment took longer, and there was a sea of surface parking for many years.

Today there’s a strata hotel (rooms are owned by different owners as investments) and a residential tower with two floors of retail, including a supermarket.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E09.27

Posted October 8, 2018 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

Robson Street – 300 block, north side

In 1981 this part of the Downtown was noticeably empty. The area started life as a residential neighbourhood, but gradually switched to commercial uses, although there were still plenty of houses nearby in the 1950s. By 1981, when this picture was shot, sites had been cleared and were used as parking lots. There was no rapid transit, and inadequate bus service to the rapidly growing Downtown office and retail core, so workers drove here. There were some parkades, and a few new offices had underground parking, but there were also blocks and blocks covered in cars during the day.

This image was taken on the corner of Hamilton Street, and the first large building that can be seen on the north side of Robson is the BC Telephone building on the corner of Seymour. The trucks parked in the lot here are mostly unmarked, but appear to be Canada Post trucks. (The Canada Post building was a block north of here). There’s another parking lot beyond this one, and a low parkade attached to the BC Tel building.

Today the city’s Central Library, designed by Moshe Safdie and completed in 1995 is here, with Lawrence Doyle’s design for a tower in the shape of a grand piano that became the Westin Grand hotel, completed in 1999, beyond it.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E12.06

Posted October 4, 2018 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

East Pender Street, 100 block – south side lane

This 1914 image shows the end of the lane behind Main Street (recently renamed from Westminster Avenue), where it joins East Pender (opposite our previous post, so the south side of the street). On the right is the Sherman Hotel, and on the left there’s a vacant lot. It had been occupied by the Glasgow Hotel, developed by Michael Costello in 1889. Residents of the hotel (which had become a rooming house) were rushed out of the building in the fall of 1912 when a fire broke out in a harness shop on the ground floor. The Daily World journalist made the most of the story: “The building was fast filling with smoke and writhing tongues of flames leaped through the flooring to shoot Into the rooms above”. The $1,000 of damage was covered by insurance.

In February 1913 it was announced that Parr McKenzie and Day had been hired to design a replacement building for the site which would have office space over stores. In September it was announced that the plan had changed: the site had been sold to a financial institution: “One of Vancouver’s big financial Institutions, the agent who handled the transaction will not disclose the purchaser’s Identity, has bought the southwest corner property of Main and Pender for a consideration that figures out at $3000 per front foot on Main street. The property is described as lots 1 and 2 in block 15 of D. L. 196. It extends along Pender street for 122 feet and has a frontage on Main of 66 feet. It was formerly known as the Glasgow hotel. H. McKlnnon & Company, real estate agents, put through the deal. The property was owned by Mr. Robert Alexander. The purchasers will erect a fine ten-storey modern store and office building within a very short time on the property.”

No doubt falling foul of the economic collapse that was already severely affecting the local economy, and made worse by the outbreak of war in Europe, the Canadian Bank of Commerce (today’s CIBC) scaled back their plans. The new building was only slightly larger than the hotel, although the design was monumental. The imposing new branch was designed by their Scottish-born architect, V D Horsburgh (based in Toronto) at a cost of $100,000. Local architect W F Gardiner supervised the construction by Baynes and Horie. While the building didn’t extend all the way to the lane, and at the back was built of brick (seen here), the front had four huge (hollow) columns, one of the architect’s favourite architectural elements.

The Sherman Hotel was part of Chinatown, receiving a $15,000 alteration in 1910 designed by J C Day for Kwong Wing Chong. The company imported Chinese Curious and Kimonos, and operated from the other end of the block. A 1917 court case identified Chim Cam, a Chinese silk merchant, who originally carried on business in Nelson, B .C., under the firm name of Kwong Wing Chong, and later, with a number of others, one of them being Chin Mon, started a partnership business in Vancouver under the firm name of Kwong Wing Chong, Importing Company. Chim Cam resided in Nelson, and the Vancouver business was managed by Chin Mon .

The building only appear that year, with James Cannon running the hotel. Prior to this there was a Sherman Hotel, but it was on Water Street, also run (and apparently owned) by Mr. Cannon. Briefly, both hotels operated under the same name. Earlier, in the late 1890s there were houses here, almost all occupied by ladies in the acknowledged (but fiercely debated) Dupont Street red light district. By 1906 they had almost all been forced to move on – many of them to Alexander Street – and once they had gone the street name was altered to East Pender to obliterate all memory of the ‘street of shame’.

In 1920 there were two $1,000 alterations, one for the hotel owner, Chas King, and one for the Shong Yee Tong Association.

Image source; City of Vancouver Archives CVA LGN 1231

Posted October 1, 2018 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Gone

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East Pender Street, 100 block – north side lane

This image, taken in 1914, shows the north side of East Pender, where the lane cuts through, with the buildings fronting onto Main Street on the right hand side of the picture. The street is dominated by the electrical infrastructure, because the BC Electric Power House and Transformer was three blocks south of here. The brick building on the right of the lane was the back corner of the back wing of City Hall, built fronting Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street).

At 153 East Pender was Sang Lee Yuen’s grocery store, with Yin Hing Lung’s tailoring business also in the building. Next door was Wing Hong Chong’s produce store, and there was another grocer to the west, Mee Lung Jung. A few years earlier, in 1908, Alice Arnold had run 153 as a rooming house, and next door was the Railway Porter’s Club.

From the late 1890s these were part of the Dupont Street (unsanctioned) red light district; in 1901 Jennie Manning ran 153, Frankie Reid was at 149 and Lottie Mansfield at 143. The houses, and their particular role in the city’s economy had been here for over a decade. The numbering was revised in the late 1890s, and 153 had been 133 in 1896 When Miss S Hatley was the occupant. Next door at 131 was one of Vancouver’s most successful madams, Dora Reno, while to here east was ‘Miss Mansfield’. The city authorities finally moved to shift the brothels from the area in 1906, and only Lottie Mansfield remained; the authorities weren’t able to move her on as she owned the house.

Laura Reno had been at 131 Dupont as early as 1889 (and probably commissioned the construction of the house, which was shown as a $1,500 building permit published on December 31 1888). Laura was Dora’s sister, and helped run Dora’s business. Dora owned property here as well; she lost the deeds to a property in 1891, and obtained a duplicate title after the necessary procedures.

Dora’s full name was Madora Reno, and the sisters were from Macoupin, Illinois, where Dora was born in 1858, and Laura two years later. The sisters moved from Fairhaven in 1889 where Dora ran the finest of the 20 establishments in the town. In Vancouver she had ‘retired’ by 1904 when she was prosecuted  for owning a house used for prostitution – 140 Dupont, one of four she owned on the street. Her lawyer successfully persuaded the court that the by-law wasn’t legally within the purview of the city authorities, but she took a lower profile from that point on. Laura Reno had previously been accused of running a bawdy house in 1889 and in 1890.

Both sisters owned property. As well as the 1888 permit, Laura Reno obtained a building permit in 1901 for 3 houses, designed by Parr and Fee on the corner of Dunlevy and Harris. In 1903 Dora repaired a house on East Hastings, again in 1906, and in 1913 carried out repairs to 132 E Hastings, and built a new $1,000 office/store at 134 E Hastings.

Today the two modest buildings here are from 1982 (beside the lane) and 1947.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives LGN 1241.


Posted September 27, 2018 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, East End, Gone

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