Archive for the ‘J S Helyer & Son’ Tag

Mercantile Building – West Pender and Homer

John Helyer, in partnership with his son Maurice, designed several of the city’s biggest buildings in the first decade of the 1900s. The Dominion Building from 1908 was easily the most prominent, but there was also the Metropolitan Building, the Stock Exchange Building, and this one – the Mercantile Building. There was a difference from those steel framed buildings, because this has a concrete frame. It was only a year after the first tall (six storey) concrete frame had been built in the city, (the Hotel Europe addition), and while for that building an American company were brought in to supervise that construction, here the General Engineering & Construction Co carried out the work on the $60,000 investment. It was run by engineer and sometime architect Kennerley Bryan, and was possibly related to a Seattle business with the same name.

Some sources claim this building was originally designed as the Board of Trade Building, “constructed for the Trustee Company under president James A Thompson, who was the owner and president of the Thompson Stationary Company.” We haven’t been able to find any contemporary references that show the Board of Trade were ever associated with the building. It was developed by the Trustee Company, Ltd., as this 1909 Directory entry shows, which was headed by James Thomson. He was one of Thomson Brothers, pioneer stationers who also had extensive real estate interests. James A and Melville P Thomson (not Thompson),  first established a stationery business in Vancouver in October 1886. They were already in business as Thomson Brothers in Calgary, and Melville arrived on the first train into Port Moody, although he hadn’t travelled all that far.

Born in Ontario, (James in Belleville in 1858 and Melville in Erin in 1860), they followed the CP line westwards, opening their first bookstore in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, in 1881. As the line reached Moose Jaw, so did the Thomsons, with Calgary next in 1884. The 1887 City Directory entry for their Vancouver store shows they didn’t limit themselves to books; Seth Tilley already had a bookstore in what was a tiny, but fast-growing town, so they also sold wallpaper, fancy goods, toys, and fishing tackle. (They were the Indigo of the 1880s). Adding printing to their business, they moved around on Cordova Street, to ever-larger premises, and then to West Hastings. They added a store in Nelson too, but by 1903 they had closed all but their Vancouver business, with both brothers living in the city from at least 1899.

The 1901 census inaccurately recorded one brother as Thompson. Melville lived with his Irish wife Marcella, and their two daughters and three sons, all aged under 12. They had an English ‘help’, Bessie Sorby, living with them in their house on Robson Street.

James Thomson had married Lillian Anderson in 1899 when she was 25 and he was 39. He had previously been married to Harriet Wood when he lived in Portage La Prairie, and they had three children before her death in 1891. In the 1901 census the family were living on Georgia, with James and Lillian, his three children, his sister, Florence, and his mother, Eliza. From 1903 to 1909 Lillian added four more children to the family.

In 1908 the brothers sold the stationery business (but retained their real estate portfolio). They became directors of The Trustee Company, a real estate development firm founded in 1908, and soon acquired a controlling interest. In 1913 the company was renamed Mercantile Mortgage Company Ltd., and the company and a spin-off business called Estates Investment Ltd. built up a significant real estate portfolio in the city and in other parts of British Columbia.

James Thomson died in 1926, and that year the street directory showed 55 businesses located in the building, with most employed as manufacturer’s agents, but others ranging from a clothing manufacturer, a camera repairer, freight forwarders and importers, wholesalers, the Aurora Silk Co and the office of Coast Publishing. His brother, Melville died in 1944, when the building had even more manufacturer’s agents, although there was a woolen jobber, a printer, a raw fur dealer, and Agnes Hughes made blouses on the 7th floor.

The Thomson family maintained control of Mercantile Mortgage and Estates Investment (whose offices were also here) until the early 1990s. Today the small businesses occupying the space include interior designers, architects, digital renderers, real estate management, a phone fraud detection and management business and a company manufacturing ‘handcrafted eyewear’

Image source City of Vancouver Archives copyright CVA 810-26



Posted 9 May 2022 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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View from Harbour Centre Lookout south east

The before image here is from 1981, and the contemporary image was taken about 18 months ago, although very little has changed since. (That won’t be true in future, as the viaducts cutting across the image are due to be demolished at some point in the near future).

There are three landmarks, each over a century old. In the foreground is the top of the Dominion Building, developed by the Dominion Trust in the late 1900s and completed in 1910, designed by J S Helyer and Son, and replacing an earlier retail building called The Arcade. On the corner of Hastings and Cambie is the Province Building (once home to the newspaper of the same name) developed by the newspaper owner Francis Carter Cotton and completed in 1908. He also built the adjacent and linked building on West Pender Street that became home to wholesale fruit and vegetable dealer H A Edgett. A A Cox designed both buildings. Further up West Pender is the Sun Tower (the name coming from another newspaper) developed in 1910, designed by W T Whiteway and completed in 1912 for Daily World owner L D Taylor, who was mayor of Vancouver for several terms between 1910 and 1930.

Beyond those buildings, and the row of warehouses down Beatty Street, was a soon to abandoned industrial landscape. Once home to heavy industries, and heavily polluted with metals and chemicals, in 1981 there were a number of warehouse and shipping operations and at the ends of False Creek, a concrete batching plant. The viaducts were the second structure – the first so badly built that the plan to run trams over the bridge was abandoned as it couldn’t take the weight. The new viaduct was the only part of an ambitious plan to run a highway through and round Downtown from Highway 1. It would have cut through the early residential Strathcona neighbourhood, removed much of Chinatown and then replaced the warehouses of Gastown. Some versions of the plans added complex cloverleaf junctions and cut through the West End. Delays and changing governments (and priorities) ensured only the replacement for the structurally compromised existing viaduct was funded.

It crossed a landscape that changed significantly after this picture when Expo 86 was built on the land around the end of the Creek in the mid 1980s. Subsequently the land was sold to a few developers. Concord Pacific developed most of the site (and continue to do so today, over 30 years later), but two other developers were responsible for the residential transformation today. Between 1989 and 2007 Bosa Development built over 1,000 units at the end of False Creek, between Main and Quebec Streets. Five towers can be seen today, with a sixth the headquarters of the Vancity Credit Union which spans the tracks of the Skytrain. Closer to us is International Village, a complex of six towers and a supermarket, retail mall and cinema built over a similar period to Citygate by Henderson Developments, a Hong Kong based developer. The worst polluted soils were retained on site and capped, with Andy Livingstone Park built on top.


West Hastings Street – 100 block, south side (2)

We saw the buildings to the east of this part of the 100 block of West Hastings in an earlier post. We’ve also looked at most of these buildings in greater detail over the years. The tallest building in the group is the Stock Exchange Building, an 8 storey steel-framed building on a 25 foot wide lot, costing $75,000 to build and designed by J S Helyer and Son in 1909. The two storey building to the east (on the left) is The Province Building, which we revisted in a second post. It started life in 1898 as the offices of the Province Newspaper, Walter Nichol’s Victoria newspaper that moved into Vancouver. It was given a new lease of life in the 1920s as a retail store known as ‘The Arcade’, and today’s façade is Townley and Matheson redesign for that purpose. Both the Stock Exchange, which today is non-market housing, and the Province building have been given a recent make-over, with furniture store Structube moving into the retail space. Our 1981 image below shows that it was a furniture store in a previous incarnation. In 1940 (above) there was Singer sewing machine dealer, and the office building had become The Ray Building.

The black and white almost matching three storey buildings to the west are 152 and 156 W Hastings. The westernmost is older, built in 1901 for Jonathan Rogers, and costing $10,000. It was designed by Parr and Fee. 152 West Hastings, next door, was built in 1904 and designed by William Blackmore and Son. It cost $8,000 and the developer was E Rogers – Elizabeth, Jonathan Rogers’ wife, who had married Jonathan in 1902. Long the home of the Trocadero Grill, today it has office space over retail.

The one building we haven’t researched is 150 West Hastings, and we don’t know who designed or developed the building. It’s the 3 storey building between the Stock Exchange and Rogers buildings. It’s been cleaned up – in 1979 the brickwork had been painted over and the store was ‘Save-On Surplus’. It was repaired in 1920 by Cope and Sons, who hired Gardiner and Mercer and spent $2,000 on fixing it up, and the same owners carried out more repairs in 1916. In 1911 the Vancouver Electric Company added an electric frame sign, but we don’t know who that was for. In 1903, when it was supposedly built, T Grey, a tailor had a store here, as well as Ernest Easthope (senior), who repaired bicycles. (His son, also called Ernest, was a teamster). Today there’s a yoga studio, with offices upstairs.

Image sources City of Vancouver Archives CVA 586-2574 and CVA 779-E16.21


West Hastings Street west from Howe Street

This 1930s postcard shows several buildings that have been redeveloped, and three that are still standing. The extraordinary Marine Building dominates the older picture – one of Vancouver’s rare ‘street end blockers’ – and fortunately, a worthy example, designed by Vancouver’s McCartner Nairne and Partners, designing their first skyscraper. While it’s Vancouver’s finest art deco building, it was far from a positive example of development budgeting. Costing $2.3 million, it was $1.1 million over budget, and guaranteed the bankruptcy of its developers, Toronto-based G A Stimson and Co.

Stimsons were also owners of the Merchant’s Exchange, the building closest to the camera on the north (right) side of the street. That was designed by Townley & Matheson, and the building permit says it cost $100,000 and was developed in 1923 for “A. Melville Dollar Co”. Alexander Melville Dollar was from Bracebridge, Ontario, but moved to Vancouver as the Canadian Director of the Robert Dollar Company. Robert Dollar was a Scotsman who managed a world-wide shipping line from his home in San Francisco. His son Harold was based in Shanghai, overseeing the Chinese end of the Oriental trade, another son, Stanley managed the Admiral Oriental Line, and the third son, A Melville Dollar looked after the Canadian interests, including property development. (The Melville Dollar was a steamship, owned by the Dollar Steamship Company, which ran between Vancouver and Vladivostok in the early 1920s). Vancouver entrepreneur and rum-runner J W Hobbs who managed Stimson’s West Coast activities paid $400,000 for the building in 1927. Stimson’s bought the site with the intention of tearing down the recently completed building to construct the Marine Building, then discovered it was a profitable enterprise and instead bought the site at the end of the street.

The larger building on the right is the Metropolitan Building, designed by John S Helyer and Son, who previously designed the Dominion Building. Beyond it is the Vancouver Club, built in 1914 and designed by Sharp and Thompson.

On the south side of the street in the distance is the Credit Foncier building, designed in Montreal by Barrot, Blackadder and Webster, and in Vancouver by the local office of the US-based H L Stevens and Co. Almost next door was the Ceperley Rounfell building, whose façade is still standing today, built in 1921 at a cost of $50,000, designed by Sharp & Thompson.

Next door was the Fairmont Hotel, that started life as the Hamilton House, developed by Frank Hamilton, and designed by C B McLean, which around the time of the postcard became the Invermay Hotel. The two storey building on the corner of Howe was built in 1927 for Macaulay, Nicolls & Maitland, designed by Sharp and Thompson. Before the building in the picture it was a single storey structure developed by Col. T H Tracey in the early 1900s. There were a variety of motoring businesses based here, including a tire store on the corner and Vancouver Motor & Cycle Co a couple of doors down (next to Ladner Auto Service, run by H N Clement). The building was owned at the time by the Sun Life Insurance Co. Today there are two red brick modest office buildings, one from 1975 and the other developed in 1981.


The Arcade – Hastings and Cambie

Arcade 1

Here’s another of Harvey Hadden’s Vancouver investments – possibly his first. The corner of Hastings and Cambie was important – across the street from the courthouse and near the newspaper offices. C O Wickenden designed the new Hadden investment, a series of retail stores and offices called ‘The Arcade’. S M Eveleigh was working in Wickenden’s office at the time, and knowing that Eveleigh subsequently designed a number of other buildings for Hadden, he may also have been involved with this one.

Major Matthews, the city archivist, recorded his impressions of the corner. “On the corner, a wooden building is the famed “Arcade,” with thirteen small shops, cutting through corner from Hastings to Cambie St. The first office of the “Great Northern Railway” is on the corner… The “Arcade” was built about Dec. 1895. “Meet you in the Arcade” was a common expression.”

Donald Luxton, in Building the West, records the impressions of the Arcade when the economy was in the doldrums despite the arrival of the railway “the enterprise betokened temerity for what prospect was there for Vancouver? What was there to lead one to suppose that this far city in the west would ever develop into anything worthwhile?“. Just twelve years later the building was torn down and replaced over a two year construction period with, for a while, the tallest building in the British Empire; the Dominion Trust Building. Undoubtedly, as with the Royal Bank site, Harvey Hadden made a substantial profit on the sale of the site.

Arcade 2

Designed by J S Helyer and Son, the unusual Beaux-Arts triangular terra cotta clad Dominion Building remains a landmark today, now set in the context of Victory Square across the street (the Courthouse having been removed many years ago). Our Archives images were both shot around 1900 when the city was growing, but at a slower pace than many had hoped. We already blogged an 1896 image of the street that showed how slow things were (there are cows being driven up the street)

Image source, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 371-2097 and CVA 371-2103


West Pender and Burrard – sw corner (1)

Pender & Burrard

Here’s a 1956 picture of a two-storey building on the corner of Burrard and West Pender. If it’s looking a bit shabby, that’s because it’s heading for demolition. It was built in 1910 by owner, and supposed architect E W McLean, and built by R P Forshaw at a cost of $50,000 as stores and apartments. This was not the only project developed by the same owner / builder combination – there was also a $5,000 house on the corner of Nelson and Bute. While Mr McLean’s skills were surprisingly varied, architecture wasn’t something mentioned by his biographers, despite his claim to be the architect on the Building Permit. This is confirmed by an entry from a 1910 copy of the Contract Record that notes the construction of a “commercial block for Arthur E. McEvoy and E.W. MacLean” designed by J S Helyer, the architect of the Dominion Building and Stock Exchange Building.

MacLean 2There’s a bit of confusion about how Mr Mclean spelled his name. The Building Permit, and the 1901 census both have McLean, but his Biographer spells it MacLean – so that’s what we’ll stick with. Ewen Wainwright MacLean was described in 1914 as “one of the most prominent capitalists in Vancouver and on the Pacific coast of Canada, has been engaged in the real-estate, loan, investment and insurance business for about two decades and is an active factor in the control and management of various enterprises.” E W’s father was Scottish, his mother from Canada (born in PEI into a Scottish family) but E W was born in Nagasaki, Japan, where his father acted as superintendent of the lighthouse service. He was sent to school in Hong Kong, so was fluent in Chinese, explaining why his 1901 Census entry gives his employment as a Chinese Interpreter.

MacLean 1He left college aged around 14 and went to San Francisco for ten years before moving on to Victoria in 1886. He worked there as a fur sealer until that practice was banned, at which point he moved to Vancouver (around 1890). He initially ran a coal business, which he sold after a few years to become a broker, involved in insurance, stocks and real estate. He also obviously used his language ability as a number of items of correspondence between Chang Toy, the Chinese merchant who ran the Sam Kee Company, and other businessmen were routed through Mr MacLean. This would also explain an entry in Chang Toy’s biography “During the night of 6–7 September, following a rally organized by the Asiatic Exclusion League, a mob rampaged through Chinatown. Chang responded by sending his two younger sons to stay in the homes of prominent Vancouver citizens Ewan Wainwright McLean and John Joseph Banfield

Mr MacLean had significant property development interests in addition to the modest building at Burrard. He was vice president of the Exchange Building, Limited (hence the connection to J S Helyer as architect). In association with J. W. Weart he organized the Investors Guarantee Corporation, Limited, where he was vice-president, and built the fifteen-story Weart building at the corner of Hastings and Richard streets. (although a deal with tenants ensured it became The Standard Building). He also had a railway interest as vice-president of the Southeast Kootenay Railway.

Arthur McEvoy had arrived in Canada in 1889 from England, and the 1901 Census says that at the age of 26 he was already a barrister (having been called to the bar in 1899). There’s a Sam Kee connection to Mr McEvoy as well. In 1908 the company the company purchased standing timber in the Hastings Townsite and then approached Arthur McEvoy to offer the cut wood to City Hall, the City Hospital, schools, churches and “any other big buildings” to clear the stock before the summer. A Director of a number of companies including the Howe Sound Development Co and vice-president of the Howe Sound Northern Railway, in 1913 Mr McEvoy acquired the Coalmont Colliery and as president of the company saw 4,850 tons of coal hauled from the mine in 1914 before the war put a temporary halt to operations.

Both developers of the building were members of the Liberal Party and members of the Terminal City Club. While Mr McEvoy and his family lived across False Creek at 1290 West 12th Avenue in 1910, but a year later was at 1147 Nelson Street, while Ewen MacLean lived at 1184 Nelson Street. (Actually there were two Ewen MacLeans at that address as Ewen MacLean junior was an assistant cashier in his father’s company, but was still living at home in 1911).

The building that replaced the MacLean and McEvoy investment was Bentall’s first office tower downtown (although not the first office building). Charles Bentall was present in 1965 (aged 83) when the ground-breaking for the 21-storey tower took place, and exactly a year later he was present with the mayor when the final concrete was poured to ‘top out’ the building. The Bentall family construction company, Dominion, moved into the building on its completion in 1967, the year that Tower Two started construction. Both were designed by Frank Musson who worked until 1965 with Dominion Construction, and then founded Frank W Musson and Associates, later the Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, responsible for designing the other two towers of the complex.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-336


Metropolitan Building – West Hastings Street

Metropolitan Building 1934

In April 1910 the Metropolitan Building Co., Ltd were listed as owners, architects and the builder on the Building Permit of a $300,000 10 storey steel building at 833 Hastings Street. J W Weart was manager and solicitor for the Metropolitan Building Company, and the company did indeed handle the development of their premises – by the time all the sub-contracts had been let the cost had climbed to $325,000. (The Contract Journal in April 1910 listed the various contractors – the elevators were supplied by A & P Steven of Glasgow. For some reason the publication accidentally transferred the building to Ottawa). By August the steel frame was reported to be well under way, and the architect was identified – John S Helyer and Son. This was something of a minor miracle, as there are websites that say John Helyer fell to his death on the stairs of his already complete Dominion Trust Building. It was all finished by 1912 and our picture shows the building in 1934, after the Merchants Exchange Building has been built in the 1920s to the east.

The Metropolitan Building Co were also sometimes the Terminal City Club – the club started life as the Metropolitan Club, and the name was switched around 1898. It should therefore come as no surprise that today, the Terminal City Club sits on the site of the Metropolitan Building. Completed in 1998, the 30 storey tower has one of the most complex mixes of uses, from condos to a hotel, retail, office space, and the club itself which includes three restaurants for the members.

Picture source City of Vancouver Archives Bu N440


The Stock Exchange Building – 144 West Hastings

J S Helyer and Son were the architects of the Dominion Building, completed in 1910. A year earlier another office tower was completed to their design on West Hastings, within sight of the Dominion construction, and next door to the Province Building. The Stock Exchange Building was an 8 storey steel-framed building on a 25 foot wide lot, costing $75,000 to build.

In 1910 it was already full, with the offices occupied by financial agents, stock brokers, Securities Companies, and on one sixth of one floor, the Vancouver Stock Exchange. The Province had a couple of offices on the second floor, along with the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, among others. Higher up the building, among the various other financial and real estate offices were architects W Marwell Somervell on the fourth floor (called Somerwell in the directory of the day) and Campbell and Bennett two floors higher. They shared the floor with a timber company and the Giant Powder Co. On the top floor Coughlin and Co, Structural Steel had an office (but not the contract for the building, which went to Smith and Sherborne) as well as J S Helyer and Co – who could see their newly emerging tower from this one.

Five years later almost every company had changed – except the Vancouver Stock Exchange. The architects had gone, but P S Combs and Son, architects had moved in, and M D Campbell, architect had moved to the fifth floor. On the top floor Braunton and Leibert had replaced the Helyers. In the 1920s the arcade retail store took over the main floor, and the building next door, and the elaborate arched entrance was lost.  By the 1930s it was called the Ray Building, the offices were a much broader range of professions with a number of doctors, but almost no financial or real estate companies, and no architects at all.

In 1956 ‘Handsome Harry’ Hooper, Vancouver’s first cab driver (owner of a ‘wheezy two-cylinder Ford’ in 1903) died, aged 81, while living in his ‘office’ in the building. His residential use of the building pre-dated its official conversion to Single Room Occupancy in 1984, and improvement (by adding bathrooms and kitchens to each unit) to non-market housing (now called Regal Place) in 2000. Still in need of some external tlc, (and its fabulous lost cornice) the building functions as a significant slender beacon on the street.


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