In 1912 J M McLuckie obtained a permit for a $41,000 5-storey warehouse that he designed and built. On the permit it was shown shown at 1106 Helmcken, but we’re almost certainly it was really this building; 1106 Mainland Street. It was developed by Kelly, Douglas & Co, and the building here was initially used by the Kelly Confectionary Co, a company created by Robert Kelly. He was the son of an Irish tailor and was born in Ontario. He travelled to Vancouver in 1886, but finding things a bit slow, moved south and managed a general store and telegraph office in McPherson, just south of Los Angeles.
Kelly returned to Vancouver in 1887 and established a wholesale fruit and provision business with William McMillan on Water Street. Two years later he became a travelling salesman for Oppenheimer Brothers, leaving the job in 1895 and teaming up with William Braid to form Braid, Kelly and Company, wholesale grocers specializing in tea and coffee. Business was good, but the partnership lasted less than a year as Kelly’s loud style didn’t work with Braid’s more conservative approach to business.
Frank Douglas from Lachute, Quebec arrived in Vancouver in 1896. Douglas would be described a few months later by the Vancouver Daily World as “an able and progressive business man.” Despite their differing personalities, the pair created Kelly, Douglas and Company, wholesale grocers and tea importers. The firm prospered, helped by the Liberal political connections that Kelly established. Douglas spent each summer visiting the Klondike to meet clients and secure orders; he was on one of these trips in 1901 when the Islander, the steamer on which he was travelling, hit an iceberg and sank in Lynn Canal, Alaska. Kelly continued running the business, and Douglas’s brother became a partner a few years later.
The company’s Nabob brand was registered in 1905 and soon became known for the high-quality pre-packaged teas and coffees that are still sold, (these days as part of Kraft Foods). In 1906 the firm built a huge nine-storey warehouse on Water Street.
The Kelly Confection Company Limited was established that year to market confectioneries, and business was good enough for the firm to require its own warehouse, built in the area now known as Yaletown, that the CPR released a couple of years earlier. By 1941, as this VPL image shows, the Mainland Street warehouse was being used by Kelly Douglas for their Nabob branded foods. As in our 1970s image there was a smaller 2-storey building next door; that was replaced in 1989 with a new ‘heritage style’ office building that looks like a former warehouse.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-813
There are three buildings here – although two are so similar they appear to be a single entity. Both the buildings on the right of the picture are thought to have been designed by James Cadham, a Winnipeg-based architect. (A hint to their likely geographic design origins are the Plains Indian heads carved into the building). The building furthest to the east is the Prentice Block from 1902; next door is the Greenshields block built in the same year for a dry goods wholesaler whose western headquarters were built in Winnipeg in 1903. Samuel Greenshields and Son had been established in Montreal by Samuel, a merchant from Glasgow, and his son, John, in 1833. By 1903 S Greenshields was run by grandson Edward Black Greenshields, who expanded the company’s trading activities across Canada. By 1907 the company was the country’s largest supplier of both imported and domestic dry goods. It handled cottons, woollens, carpets, household furnishings, dress goods, and notions such as gloves, hosiery, and laces.
The building contractor was J M McLuckie. The Prentice block was originally occupied by Kelly, Douglas and Company, a food processor and wholesaler, whose rapid expansion soon saw them building a much bigger structure nearby. Founded in 1896 by Robert Kelly and Frank Douglas, their Nabob coffee brand is still roasted by the company today. The brand also included tea and spices. We’re not sure who the Prentice Block was named for – most likely is William Prentice who was secretary of the BC Sugar Co and therefore able to finance an investment property. Prentice was a Scotsman, listed in the 1901 census as a bookkeeper.
To the west is the McLuckie block at 353 Water Street, a warehouse built by the same contractor as the other buildings (and many others on Water Street) – but here for himself, at a cost of $30,000. (Today it’s painted off-white). J M McLuckie claimed in the building permit to have designed his own building (as he did on other investment projects for himself – so that’s probably true). He initially leased the building to the W H Malkin company, a food wholesaler. That company also went on to build bigger warehouses for their own use a few years later.
By 1908 all three buildings had different firms in occupation: John W Peck, wholesale clothing occupied 337; Johnston Brothers, dry goods, were in 345 and 353 was vacant. In 1911 Peck and Johnston businesses were still here and 353 was Stewart & McDonald, and James Thomson & Sons.
John W Peck moved to Winnipeg in then early 1870s, representing eastern businesses, and in 1880 founded a clothing manufacturing company in partnership with A B Bethune and J D Carscaden, under the name of Carscaden and Peck. After Carscaden’s retirement, the firm carried on as John W Peck and Company. He lived at Winnipeg for many years before moving to Montreal where he established a large clothing factory. The third location for the business was Vancouver, which was a distribution warehouse, smaller than the impressive Winnipeg warehouse which dates from 1893.
Arthur W Johnston ran Johnston Bros and lived on Nelson Street, near Stanley Park. The company had taken over the interests of Greenshields in Vancouver, and Albert M Johnston was the other brother, living in the Hotel Vancouver in 1911. The brothers were from Ontario, and had been in Vancouver in 1901, living with their sister, Florence on Burrard Street. Albert Mortimer Johnston was previously a traveling salesman for Greenshields, while Arthur was the company’s manager.
Stewart & McDonald were another dry goods operation – described in 1911 as being ‘of Glasgow’. The originators of the business in 1826 were Mr. Robertson Buchanan Stewart and Mr. John McDonald, and an 1888 publication described their activities: “the departments represented in stock are thirty-three in number, comprising the following classes of goods : cloths, silks, cottons, flannels, linens, (Stewart & McDonald) ribbons, merinoes, prints, muslins, laces, handkerchiefs, haberdashery, yams, winceys, wove shawls, moleskins, carpets, tweeds, furs, hosiery, mantles, wool shawls, skirtings, fancy dresses, straw hats, millinery, flowers, white cottons, gloves, shirts, ready-made clothing, Bradford stuffs, stationery, and underclothing.” The company had three immense factories; one in Leeds for ready-made clothing; one at Strabane, Ireland, for shirts, collars, and ladies’ and children’s underclothing; and a third in Dunlop Street, Glasgow which manufactured other clothing.
James Thomson & Sons were yet another Wholesale Drygoods and Manufacturers, run by James B Thomson. A 1920 newspaper cutting gives a sense of the business, (and the difficulties of supply after the war): “The Canadian market cannot begin to fill the need and, curiously enough, its prices offer no relief. England’s mills are running to capacity, and the question is reversed from what it was a year ago. Then it was how much was the buyer willing to pay? Now it is: “Can they get the goods at any price?” Mr. A M Thomson, of James Thomson and Sons, Water Street wholesalers of clothing and dry goods, writes from England, where he is now on a buying trip, as follows: “I went to a dozen different mills in Leeds and as many more in Bradford, and nothing was to be had at any price. I found only one that was willing to consider orders. They offer 40 pieces at 6s. 9d a yard, but the cloth Is too heavy and high, and delivery can not be had before November.”
By 1927 when this Vancouver Public Library picture was taken, John W Peck were still in the Prentice building. J and C Eveleigh were also there selling wholesale bags and trunks with the Standard Silk Co. George H Hees were next door, wholesaling house furnishings, and J M McLuckie had his office in his building along with J Thomson & Sons, who were still trading in the McLuckie building.
Today the Prentice building is still in commercial use, although as offices over retail, as is the McLuckie building. The Greenshields building is one of the few residential conversions on Water Street, with 22 strata units in the refurbished building completed in 2004.
These days this building is called Columbia House, and it was converted to housing in 1986, run by Affordable Housing Societies with 85 rental units. Back in 1910, when it was built at the corner of Powell and Columbia it was a warehouse. Usually the Heritage Description on historic properties helps identify the building’s history – but that isn’t really the case here. There it’s called The Fleck Brothers Building – but they were the last company to be associated with the building, not the first. The statement says it was built for Boyd and Fordham, a hardware and chandlery supplier. Those are the names on the 1910 Building Permit but there seems never to have been a company of that name.
Boyd Burns & Co were John Boyd (living at 411 Hastings in 1911 and 1020 Georgia from 1902) and Frederick Fowle Burns, from Glasgow (in 1901 he lived at 1260 Barclay Street). The company was founded in 1894, dealing in plumbing and engineering supplies, including Portland Cement. (They started as John Boyd & Co, with Burns as an employee, but he was a partner by 1900 along with Arthur A Burns, his brother, who had already left the firm by 1902). In 1900 the Yukon Plumbing Heating and Engineering Supplies Company was formed to be based in Dawson City with $24,000 in capital by John Boyd, both Burns brothers and three other partners.
We can find the Burns family in the 1901 Census; Fred, his new wife Mae from New Brunswick, ten years younger at 22 and his father, John along with brother Arthur. John Boyd appears to have avoided censuses – or was recorded inaccurately. In 1902 the company expanded by opening a ship chandlery department. In 1907 Boyd Burns had a new warehouse on Alexander Street designed by Parr and Fee. They sold their company to Crane Co, a Chicago based company in 1908. Crane retained the plumbing interests, but sold the ship’s chandlery part of the business to a newly formed company, Simson-Balkwill Co. Ltd. Ship Chandlery and Engineering Supplies.
Calvert Simson, born in Penrith, England, in 1862, left London in 1883 and sailed to Victoria, arriving in 1884. From Victoria he went to New Westminster, where he worked as a night watchman for the Dominion Sawmill. He worked as a shopkeeper on the beach in Granville and later as a storekeeper at Hastings Sawmill until 1891. He was also Granville’s last postmaster, from 1884 to 1886. Simson managed the Chandlery Department of T. Dunn and Co. from 1893 to 1902. In 1902 he moved to the Ship Chandlery Department of Boyd Burns Co. (Dunn sold his hardware business to Boyd Burns, so that was probably when he moved over). In 1908, Simson and Arthur Balkwill opened up their own company, and that was the year they took over the Boyd Burns chandlery business.
The warehouse seems to have been built in two phases, in 1910 and 1911. The 1910 half of the building cost $50,000 and Boyd and Fordham are recorded on the Building Permit as owners and architects, with J M McLuckie as builder. The owner and builder of the 1911 building was J G Fordham; the architect was listed as J M McLuckie and it cost $37,000 to build.
The first occupants in 1912 were Simson, Balkwill & Co, mill suppliers, (where John Fordham worked) and they were there until 1929 when they sold their interest to Gordon and Belyea Ltd – our photograph shows the building in that year painted with the new owner’s name. The new owners abandoned the CPR branch line and built a 3 storey building alongside the warehouse designed by Townley and Matheson in 1933. That has since been demolished. In 1951 Gordon & Balyea had 190 employees in the city.
John Gurney Fordham had arrived from England in 1904, and in 1911 when the building went up was aged 34. His wife, Corisande, had been born in BC, and they married in Victoria in 1904. He married well – his wife was the daughter of Dr Israel Wood Powell, an early and enthusiastic investor in Vancouver. Dr Powell was another of the many former Simcoe, Ontario residents (in Port Colborne). He was a politician, and Superintendent of Indian Affairs as well as the first President of the Medical Council of BC. Corisande was his sixth child, and her wedding was important enough to receive extensive coverage in the British Colonist. Her husband was born in Kensington but his well-connected family also lived in Cambridgeshire. His parents were ignored in the wedding story – rather he was described as the nephew of Sir Wilfred Lawson, Bart, Member of the House of Commons, although his father was a barrister. The list of wedding gifts ran to two columns, and the people giving the gifts was a who’s who of British Columbia society.
The newlyweds apparently headed to Vancouver; in 1908 John was working for Boyd Burns & Co. By 1911 they were living at 1325 Cardero, with their five year old daughter and their nurse. They had a house designed for them in 1909 by McLure and Fox on Harwood Street, but it isn’t clear if they lived there – their home address remained on Cardero until at least 1920. In 1913 the directory shows that John continued with the new occupants of his building as he’s described as Manager of Simson Balkwill Ltd.
It’s clear that John Fordham’s financial interests were not confined to Simson Balkwill. In 1914 he applied to wind up the controversial Alvo von Alvensleben Limited company as he had loaned them $31,000. The company had debts of $3,500,000 and assets of around $1,000,000, so he probably didn’t get his money back. He enlisted during the First World War, and was a Lieutenant by 1916, and later promoted to Major. The Fordham’s stayed in the city for many years. John Fordhams’s sudden death was recorded in 1940, when he was considered to be a prominent member of the province’s banking community. His wife died in England in 1965.
Fleck Brothers were in the city from early in the city’s history as well. J Gordon Fleck and Bryce W Fleck were running their company in 1908, operating as manufacturers agents for Roofing, Lumber, Paper etc. from an office on Seymour Street. They operated on Alexander Street for many years, and took over from Gordon and Balyea in the 1960s
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N275, W J Moore