This image is listed as “Exterior of the John P. Nicoll’s residence – 1120 Seaton (Hastings) Street: 1895″ The 1895 Directory says J P Nicolls, a clerk working for John J Banfield (an Alderman, and a ‘general and financial agent’) and Edward Nicolls, a solicitor, were both resident. They had both been in the city since 1891, living at a house on Hornby (where John was shown having rooms in Edward’s house). They were from Cornwall; originally a town called Callington, although Edward had practiced in Plymouth before heading to Canada. The last time Edward is mentioned in a street directory is 1900-01; we thought at first they might be brothers, but some digging revealed that Edward was born in 1831, married Anne Pethybridge, and his son, John Pethybridge Nicolls was born in 1871. So this was more likely to have initially been Edward’s house, and became J P’s after Edward Nicolls died in September 1901, aged 69. We haven’t identified an architect, and it may have been designed by the builder as it’s a reasonably modest house.
In the 1901 census John is aged 31, head of the household; his mother, Anna and two older unmarried sisters, Margaret and Mary are also at home. Both his mother and Mary were listed as music teachers in the street directory. They’re still together, all aged 10 years more, in the 1911 census, now with the help of a servant. Margaret, who had been the organist at St Andrew’s Wesley, left for California in 1902, but another sister, Elizabeth Hawley had moved in.
In 1898 C H Macaulay and J P Nicolls teamed up as Macaulay & Nicolls, insurance and real estate agents, registered in BC and J P Nicolls opened bank account #8 with the Royal Bank of Canada for the firm. In 1900 their offices were at 611 West Hastings. In 1922 Ronald Maitland, who joined the firm as a clerk in 1904, becomes a partner and the firm became Macaulay Nicolls Maitland. Charles Maitland died in 1932 and J P Nicolls became the firm’s second president. In 1948 John’s son, J P R Nicholls, joined the firm at age 21.
J P Nicolls was elected to office in several of the city’s business organisations, including the first President of the Building Owners and Managers Association of British Columbia. At some point he was engaged to Ethel Wilson, a noted Vancouver author, but she called the engagement off. In 1919 he had a new house built at Drummond Drive. In 1923 he married Gladys Ranking, daughter of the impressively named Devey Fearon de L’Hoste Ranking, in London, and she moved to Canada with him. Gladys was 20 years younger than her husband, 33 to his 53 when they were married.
John Pethybridge Nicolls died in 1957, aged 87, and Gladys in 1971. The company he founded continued to expand. By the end of 1978 they had 11 offices and 360 employees in Canada and the U.S., headquartered in 200 Granville Street. In 1985 they merged with Colliers, becoming Colliers Macaulay Nicolls, now known as Colliers International Canada, still based in the Granville Street location but with 1,400 employees across the country, linked to nearly 16,000 around the world.
Today the spot where the house stood is the backside of a modest (by contemporary standards) 7-storey office called the Shorehill Building, designed by McCarter, Nairne & Partners and completed in 1966.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P561
Here are two images of the same building, on the south west corner of Abbott and Hastings. The building permit tells us it was initially built in 1905 for the Thompson Brothers, designed by Parr and Fee (who were also responsible for a number of the other buildings on this block). It seems to have been extensively rebuilt in 1910 – the cost of the work was $35,000 (and again, Parr and Fee designed it). (We wondered if the upper floor was added, but there’s a 1908 picture that shows the full 3 storeys). There were a lot of Thompsons in Vancouver in 1905; fortunately the street directory tells us that they were really J A and M P Thomson who ran their business from 325 West Hastings. These are the same brothers who ran Thomson’s Stationery. (There are at least 17 building permits that refer to them as Thompson Bros, and just one that got their name right.)
By 1977 it was the ‘Argyll House residential hotel’ and David Gordon’s shoe store (seen in out 1978 image, below) were in the space that the Black and White Hat Store occupied between 1916 and 1935 – (before that they were a bit further along Hastings). The store occupied the corner of the main floor in this 1923 Vancouver Public library shot, Kirkham’s Groceteria (No. 18) was next door, the rooms were now The Central Rooms, and A M Lowe ran the dental practice. The Vancouver Public Library image above from 1923 shows the Black and White Hat Store; below our 1970s show it when David Gordon’s shoestore occupied the corner.
The ‘Description of Historic Place’ will tell you that this was the home of Charley Dunn & Company, tailors who would later open a series of successful retail outlets which continue to this day. That’s entirely incorrect – Dunn’s were located two blocks west and on the other side of the street! The description does accurately report that ‘In 1907, the building became the home of the Bismarck Café, one of Vancouver’s elite dining establishments. The Café once had ‘a full orchestra, seating for 115 people, eight private dining rooms and an electric fountain.’ Upstairs were the St Ermin Apartments run by Wesley W Shaw (along with William Moody’s dental practice), and J A Coldwell had the corner spot, selling real estate. In 1912 it is identified as the ‘Santa Rosa’ on the insurance map, as the apartments had become known as the Santa Rosa Rooms.
It was the home of Owl Drugs for sixty years; they had the main retail floor ‘modernized’ in the 1940s, although the specifications called for the use of the original plate glass wherever possible. For a number of years it’s been closed, and in poor condition, but the owners have recently completed a comprehensive restoration with the rooms upstairs being reoccupied and new restaurants moving into the retail spaces.
We looked at today’s Venue nightclub’s earlier incarnation as the Plaza Theatre in an earlier post. Here’s how the building started out, designed in 1908 by Norman Leech. This is possibly the architect’s first work in the city under his own name – he arrived in Vancouver in 1906 and initially worked for Thomas Hooper as a draftsman.
This picture probably dates from 1926 when ‘The Golden Strain’ was playing, a silent movie directed by Victor Schertzinger. It was a western starring Hobart Bosworth, Kenneth Harlan, Madge Bellamy and Lawford Davidson, based on a novel by Peter B Kynes. That year the theatre was operated by Robert J Dawson, but it had a series of managers over the years including Harry Bell in 1921 (when Mr Dawson was managing the Kitsilano Theatre). Before that, from 1914 to 1920 William Brown was running the theatre for the Lipsin brothers (Abraham and Hyman) who were the owners.
In 1913 William Hansher was shown as owning the theatre and Hyman Lipson (sic) managing it, but there’s also a building permit issued that year to William Kilroy and Frederick W Morgan (who also owned the Bayview Hotel down the street) to add two floors of commercial space, or apartments – a plan that was never built. In 1912 William Brown was managing the theatre for Thomas Carroll (who owned it from 1908, and presumably developed the theatre) Carroll was an Englishman, aged 46 in 1911 and living with his wife Mary. He may have also owned the Maple Leaf boarding house at 1327 Granville Street. In 1909 and 1910 John Muir was listed as the proprietor (in other words, the manager – in 1909 he was also running the Rose Theatre, another movie house, at 126 E Hastings).
It’s ironic that the film showing in 1926 was silent, as the Maple Leaf had one of two rival ‘talking picture’ systems installed very soon after it opened – the French developed pasttense).
had two gramophones amplified by compressed air. It was supposedly the first time the system had been installed in Canada. An operator was expected to switch records while trying to match the recording to the action on the screen, (which would have been almost impossible to achieve) and the system had other problems as well – particularly in filling a 500 seat theatre with sound from a gramophone. The system was removed for a while, then reinstalled – but it seems to have gone by the spring of 1909. (More detail at
The theatre also had an organ, and the first Unitarian service was believed to have been held at the Theatre in early 1909. It has been suggested that the theatre opened with 500 kitchen chairs, but by 1913 it was advertising it’s fine seating, and had 693 seats.
The Plaza theatre a 924 seat Odeon house replaced the Maple Leaf in 1937. We found the image of the Maple Leaf on the cinemaplace website.
The Windermere apartments started life as the Balmoral Apartments, built for (and by) Mason & McLeod and designed by William Francis Jones in 1910. Completed in 1911, they cost $80,000 to build and stood on the corner of Pendrell and Thurlow, close to St Paul’s Hospital which was a block to the north.
Mason and McLeod doesn’t appear to have been a company, just a development partnership, and there are no other building permits under those names. There are so many McLeods and Masons in the city in 1911 it makes it almost impossible to work out who either might be.
There’s a possible clue in Charles G Mason who lived at Apartment 3 in the Balmoral Apartments in 1911 (when they first opened). Charles was from Nova Scotia, aged 53 and retired, and lived with his American wife Hariet who was 13 years younger. The family don’t seem to be in the city in 1910, and we have no way of telling whether they had anything to do with the development of the building.
There is a contractor, Samuel McLeod who seems to have had the capacity to build something as big as this, but there’s a more likely contender in William Mason, who also built another apartment building also designed by Jones in 1910, and others in the West End.
Some of the suites were huge by contemporary standards – with four and five bedrooms. The advertising for the building stressed the modern conveniences and the central location. Sadly, that didn’t extend to the safety equipment. The Apartments were the scene of a tragic fire, detailed in Alex Matches’ book ‘Vancouver’s Bravest’
On the warm evening of June 20, 1920, the druggist on the corner of Davie and Thurlow Streets thought he saw smoke coming from one of the basement windows of the Balmoral Apartments, at 1148 Thurlow Street. Within moments, a neighbor next door to the apartment heard a muffled explosion and a cry of “Fire!” He immediately called the fire department.
Fire Alarm Operator Tom Burke, who tapped out Firehalls No. 2 and No. 6 to respond, took the alarm at 10:44 p.m. Both companies were somewhat hampered by the gathering crowd, but they were able to have several hose lines on the fire within five minutes of their arrival. Soon, the fire had gone through the roof of the six-story building. Assistant Chief Thompson said that he could see the fire as he left No. 2 and thought that there must have been some delay in turning in the alarm, but the fire had spread very quickly.
At 10:54 p.m. the chief put in a second alarm then called for a third alarm at 10:59. Ladders were raised to effect rescues and for operating hose lines, and other lines were advanced from the ground floor to the roof, floor by floor, until the fire was knocked down. Finally struck out at 2:10 a.m., the fire had claimed five lives.
The first loss of life occurred when a man jumped to his death from an upper floor before the arrival the fire department. The next man was encouraged to jump from the fourth floor into a life net being held for him by a group of misguided bystanders who had taken the nine-and-a-halffoot (3-m) Browder life net from No. 2 Truck. He jumped, hitting the edge of the net and fell to the sidewalk, striking his head. He was then carried across the street to St. Paul’s Hospital where he later died of his injuries. Chief Thompson ordered the men not to use the net again as they were untrained and not using it properly.
The next two victims, a man and a woman, were found on the sixth floor. They had died of smoke inhalation, and it was felt they would have survived had they not refused to go to the roof and await rescue with one of the survivors who had encouraged them to do so.
The last victim was the building janitor, Mr. S.A. Spencer, who, upon discovering the fire in the basement, ran through the building alerting people to the fire because the building did not have a fire alarm system. He managed to get through the building before he perished on the sixth floor, a hero who had saved many lives.
It was never determined exactly how the fire started, but the rapid spread was caused by combustibles in the furnace room, the lack of a fire door at the bottom of the elevator shaft, open stairways, no fire gongs, and flammable wall coverings on the first two floors. Total damage was $93,600.
When it reopened, the building was renamed, our 1933 Vancouver Public Library image shows what it looked like. In 1976 the Windermere Apartments were owned by the Greater Vancouver Regional Hospital district, and proposed for demolition and redevelopment. Alderman Harcourt proposed the building should be renovated instead, but in 1978 it was demolished, and Pendrell Street no longer reaches Burrard Street. Instead the ‘modern’ addition to the hospital (designed by Underwood McKinley Wilson Smith) was completed in 1983. It’s the part of the precinct that will probably be replaced if and when St Paul’s is finally redeveloped.
There are earlier views across False Creek that illustrate the dramatic change in the city, but this is in some ways more remarkable as our ‘before’ shot was taken in 1985 (before Expo ’86, but after the stadium was built), and the ‘after’ under 26 years later in 2011 (just before we started this blog, but after the new stadium roof had been built).
Almost everything you can see today was built by Concord Pacific, who have developed a series of residential neighbourhoods, often around a park (where the contaminated soils from the former industrial use of the site are stored). The seawall promenade wasn’t in place in 1985; that has also been built as the Concord projects have been built.
There are a few more buildings in the background since the 2011, shot, but there are big changes under construction that will alter it far more, with two hotels an the casino move to the BC Place stadium, and four more towers by Concord Pacific on either side of Cambie Bridge – two already under construction.
There’s more change to come in future as the final large site on the north side of the Creek, the Plaza of Nations, has a proposed rezoning that would see several more residential and commercial buildings, and there are three towers skirting the Rogers Arena, the first well on its way to completion.
There has been recent commentary suggesting the new developments in Chinatown are changing its character and threatening the heritage of the area. So far that really hasn’t been true – the sites that are being redeveloped are all either replacing recent (and unimpressive) buildings, or have replaced modest older structures that were too far gone, or small, to save.
Here’s our second look at the unit block of East Pender on the north side of the street; (the first post looked at the other half of the block). Here we’re comparing 1981 and today, and if anything the street is in better condition: all the heritage buildings are still standing and almost unchanged. Up the street the Chinatown Gate has been added, and beyond it the Chatham Steel services depot has been replaced with a housing project for Chinese seniors and other community services. (The steel depot replaced Yip Sang’s much larger tenement building).
From the right, and moving west, we can see the Yue Shan Society buildings – the edge of the 2-storey building that dates back to 1889, and the 1920s design by W H Chow for the three storey structure. Between the two buildings is a narrow alley that leads to a courtyard; behind that is a third building (from around 1914) that also fronts Market Alley (running parallel to East Pender). The Yue Shan Society provides aid to immigrants from Pan Yu (Yu Shan) County, near Guangzhou, China, and have occupied these buildings since 1943.
Next door are two buildings that we featured a couple of months ago; the R J MacDonald designed Wong’s Benevolent association from 1910, and Ming Wo Cookware that dates to 1913 and developed by Wong Soon King. Beyond that is the Chinese Times building, developed by Yip Sang who hired W T Whiteway to design it, (and later W H Chow designed alterations).
Image source: Peter B Clibbon
This iconic image captures the small townsite of Granville, just after it’s incorporation as the city of Vancouver. It’s not the earliest picture of the townsite, but it’s one of the last. Vancouver was incorporated in April 1886; the notice on the tree advertises the first election, held on May 3, 1886. Then disaster struck when everything – including the tree – was destroyed on 13 June 1886. A fire began as a brush fire to clear land between present-day Main and Cambie Streets and was spread out of control by a sudden strong wind.
James Hartney ran a general store on the corner of Carrall and Powell in a building owned by American A G Ferguson. Also American, Mr Hartney arrived in town in December 1885. After the fire Mr Ferguson rebuilt, but in fireproof materials, while Mr Hartney became a contractor. He logged on the north shore, and in 1888 he built the road around Stanley Park (using the historic shell midden built up over hundreds of years by the areas’s First Nations village residents).
Next door to the south was the Glory Hotel, which today has the two additional floors added by Frank Filion and designed by Parr and Fee. Beyond that was the Tremont Hotel, (which today has the name of a later occupant, John Abrams).
Today’s tree is close to, but not exactly located where the original tree stood. It was a bit further south, although not quite where Gassy Jack now stands on a barrel.