Archive for the ‘Flack Block’ Tag

The Flack Block – West Hastings and Cambie

Gold was discovered in the Klondike river area of the Yukon, in Canada (but not initially in Alaska) is 1896, when Vancouver was just 10 years old and still a modest, although fast-growing town. Thousands headed west and north from the US and eastern and central Canada to join the gold rush, and all the established ports cashed in on fitting them out. Nanaimo, Victoria, New Westminster and Vancouver all offered prospectors everything they might need, or could be persuaded to take with them. Every seaworthy ship was pressed into service to take the men and their newly purchased supplies northwards.

By September 1897 over 20,000 men were said to have headed to the gold fields, among them a Nanaimo resident, Thomas Flack. Flack hit paydirt at Eldorado Creek with William Sloan (an American who had staked his claim in 1896 very soon after gold was found) and John Wilkinson, a Weardale born coal miner also from Nanaimo. They were working in permafrost in almost permanent darkness, so although they found valuable gold, ($5 a pan or $2.50 a shovelful!), they also missed a fortune in the gravel they rejected. Flack’s partners sold out for $50,000 and $55,000 respectively – Flack turned down an offer of $50,000 and instead cashed in his first $6,000 worth of gold ‘for expenses’ in San Francisco.

Flack Block baths adClearly he made good on his claim, as in 1898 he commissioned a significant building in a prominent corner where Hastings meets Cambie, designed by William Blackmore who had designed the adjacent building a few years earlier. In 1899 Mr. Flack has a house in a newly developed part of town, 1206 Haro Street, and is described as a mine owner.

The Flack Block was an important building, with some interesting tenants, including a vegetarian restaurant, the Bank of Vancouver’s head office (in 1912) and the Dorchester System of Physical Culture (in 1920), as well as barristers and medical offices. For a while there was a Turkish Bath said to be ‘a comfortable place to spend the night’.

Between this 1923 Vancouver Public Library photograph and 2009 the block lost its entrance, shop fronts were replaced with stucco and the buildings services were in a bad way. The building has recently undergone a massive restoration by Acton Ostry, with seismic upgrades, restored stonework, a replica hand carved stone entrance and new retail frontages recreated to match the 1900 original, and the addition of a fifth floor set back from the parapet. The building won both LEED Gold certification and City and Provincial Heritage Awards.

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Victory Square

The three significant buildings seen in the view from Victory Square in 1927 are still there. On the left is the 13 storey Dominion Building. Started in 1908 by the Imperial Trust Company it was designed by J S Helyer and Son. John Helyer handled the architectural aspects of their projects, while his son Maurice was more involved with the engineering.  An over optimistic belief that the necessary $600,000 would be easy to raise led to a shotgun merger with the Dominion Trust Company, and the building was completed in 1910. Perhaps it would have been called the Imperial Building if the merger hadn’t been needed.

The Dominion is said to be the first steel-framed building in the city, and on completion the tallest in the British Empire. When it was built it was across the street from the Courthouse, which was replaced in 1913, and later transformed into Victory Square with the Cenotaph, which can be clearly seen in this 1927 photograph. Several books and websites carry statements like this “Tragically, the Dominion Building’s architect, J.S. Hellyer, is said to have tripped, fallen and died on the interior staircase during the opening party for the building. His ghost reportedly haunts the staircase.”

It may well be true that Mr Helyer (not Hellyer) did fall at some time during the building’s construction, but the fall was not fatal and father and son went on to design other buildings. John Helyer finally died in 1919, having seen the building suffer further financial crises, with the Dominion Trust Company selling the building to the Dominion Bank, the Trust Company President W R Arnold committing suicide and the main financial backer Count Alvo von Alvensleben bankrupt.

The smaller building in the centre, the Flack Block was completed in 1899 to William Blackmore’s design for Thomas Flack who made his money successfully prospecting in the Klondike. On the right is the Carter-Cotton building, also steel framed and completed in 1909. Designed by Cox and Amos, it was home to the News-Advertiser newspaper. Later acquired by the Province newspaper, it continued as editorial offices until 1960. The Flack Building has recently had an expensive and superb restoration designed by Acton Ostry Architects that has added a new fifth floor. And the only significant addition to the picture? The 43 storey Woodwards W Tower designed by Henriquez Partners and completed in 2010.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Park N19

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