Archive for the ‘John Burns’ Tag

West Cordova north side from Homer Street

Remarkably, all the buildings in this 1919 Vancouver Public Library picture are still standing today, almost unchanged in appearance in over 100 years.

We looked at the history of the big warehouse in the middle of this image in two earlier posts. On West Cordova it’s numbered as 401, while on Water Street it’s 342 Water Street. It was developed as a three storey building that later had two floors added. It was built in 1899 as The Burns Block, but became known later as the Buscombe Building. William Blackmore was hired by John Burns to build a three storey stone building, and in 1911 Grant and Henderson designed two additional floors at a cost of $13,500, which was executed in a grey Gulf Island stone matching the earlier phase of the building. We’re not completely sure which of two possible John Burns developed the building, but we suspect he was a Scottish born businessman who arrived in the 1890s when he was already in his 60s, and retired. His son, Fred Burns, was already in Vancouver, dealing in plumbing and engineering supplies.

To the left of the warehouse are two significantly older properties. The Jones Block was developed in 1890, and designed by N S Hoffar, who recycled his design (with an extra window on the top floor) for the McConnell Block next door, also in 1890. Most census records suggest Gilbert Smythe McConnell was born in Quebec around 1857, although his death certificate and the 1891 census said it was 1855. That Census has his name as Guibert, which is probably more accurate, before he switched it for convenience to Gilbert. An 1891 biography tells us much more about Mr. McConnell “Mr. McConnell was born in Argenteuil County, Quebec, in 1856, where he attended school. When fifteen years of age he entered the employ of Green, Sons & Co., of Montreal, wholesale dealers in men’s furnishings. He remained with this firm for seven years, when he received the appointment as Indian agent in charge of the Touchwood Hilt district, Manitoba, in which service he remained for about six years. At the breaking out of the rebellion in the Northwest, in 1885, he was appointed one of the transport officers on Gen. Middleton’s staff’. He returned to Woodstock after the rebellion had been quelled, and was married to the eldest daughter of Wm. Muir, of that town. Mr. McConnell came to Vancouver in 1886, shortly after the fire, and has since been actively identified with the city’s interests. He built about thirty houses, including a couple of brick blocks, and has been interested in various enterprises. He served for two years in the City Council. He started his present business, as a wholesale importer of gents’ furnishings, hats, caps, etc., about three months ago, and has already a very large trade. He owns and built the building he occupies, which is a three story brick, fronting on Cordova and Water streets.”

His wife, Nettie Agnes was from Ontario and ten years younger. They married in Woodstock, Ontario in 1886, and their children were born in British Columbia; William in 1888 and Florence in 1890. Gilbert died in 1934.

We haven’t found a contemporary reference to who the ‘Jones’ in the Jones Block was, but H A Jones had his offices here the year after it was completed. Harry Jones was originally from Liverpool, born there in 1851, and had been in Vancouver from before the 1886 fire. He developed several buildings in the city, and was married at least three times.

Running off the picture to the left is the Holland Block, completed in 1892 and designed by C W H Sansom for James M. Holland, an American lawyer. On the right of the Buscombe Building is the Homer Street Arcade which dates from 1912, designed by Stuart and White for the ‘Thompson Bros’ (actually Thomson), and built by the Burrard Construction Co for $30,000. It was an unusual building for Vancouver: an arcade linking Water Street to Cordova, with an entrance across the street from Homer Street, (which presumably explains its name).

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401 West Cordova Street

Buscombe Building Cordova

Here’s the other side of 342 Water Street, which started life as the Burns Building, designed by William Blackmore in 1899 for John Burns, with an additional two storeys added in 1911 by Grant & Henderson.

In 1901 Turner Beeton & Co occupied the building, the company founded by John Turner who was at different times Mayor of Victoria and Premier of British Columbia. Also occupying the building were S Greenshields & Co, founded in Montreal by a Scottish businessman, Samuel Greenshields, and expanded across the country to be the largest suppliers of dry goods, including cottons, woollens, carpets, household furnishings, dress goods, and notions such as gloves, hosiery, and laces. In 1910, before the extra floors were added, Greggs, importers of Japanese Goods were here with the Canadian Rubber Co of Montreal. Ten years later the Dunlop Tire Co had half the building and the Western Dry Goods Co of Canada, Ltd the other half. Despite the ambitious title, they appear to only have operated in Vancouver, run by R B Mackedie and E St John Howley. In 1930 Dunlop were still in the building, but the other half was J H Hunter & Co, another dry goods company headed by T E Leigh.

Buscombe & Co were run by George Buscombe, and they were in a smaller building next door to the east. In 1935 they were shown at 341 Water Street, and a year later at 342 – this building. (The 1935 entry might be an error, although it’s repeated in the directory). The company had been founded in 1899 when Fred Buscombe bought out James A Skinner and Co, china and glass importers, originally founded in Hamilton. He was at different times President of the city’s Board of Trade, and Mayor of Vancouver in 1905. He was also president of the Pacific Coast Lumber & Sawmills Company, and director of the Pacific Marine Insurance Company. By the time the company moved to this building there were several Buscombe family members associated with it, including George, Fred’s brother, but Fred had retired. He died in the same year that the picture of the building was taken; 1938.

The other company in the building were the Julius Shore Mail Order House. Dealing mostly in furniture, Julius Shore was a prominent member of the city’s Jewish community. His father, Benjamin, was manager of a coal company in the late 1920s while Julius was at UBC, and in 1935 Julius was working with Dominion Furniture and seems to have established his company soon after, moving into Water Street at around the same time as Buscombes.

The most recent restoration of the building took place in 1997, designed by Rafii Architects, and today it’s home to Brioche Urban Eatery. Upstairs are a range of office occupants, from a Massage school to a coal company and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

Image source: Vancouver Public Library

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342 Water Street

Buscombe Building 342 Water

This building was built in 1899 as The Burns Block, but became known later as the Buscombe Building. It has two similar facades – one to Water Street, and one on West Cordova. It was designed in the same year, and by the same architect as the Flack Block; William Blackmore was hired by John Burns to build a three storey stone building. It appears to be one of the last buildings Blackmore designed on his own – a year later his son Ted (E E Blackmore) was in partnership.

There were several people called John Burns living in Vancouver at the turn of the century. The electrician, musician and RCMP officer are unlikely candidates as developers of Water Street real estate, but there are two living in the West End who are both possible. One was John Burns Jnr., who moved to Barclay Street from Robson Street in 1902, and was a manufacturer’s agent with an office at 313 Water Street (across the street from this building). We wondered if John Burns Jnr might be the son of the other possible developer called John Burns, but although his father was indeed called John (hence the Jnr) he, and his father, were both born in Ontario. He would have been aged 37 when this building was first constructed. He moved to Vancouver in 1891 and initially lived on Hornby Street, and by 1894 had set up a business on Cordova Street as a manufacturers agent and was living at 1216 Robson Street. In 1902 he helped found the British Columbia Hardware Retail Dealer’s Association with Thomas Dunn and E G Prior of Victoria. He died, aged 91, at his Angus Drive home and his 1952 obituary does not seem to note any property development: “Mr. Burns was born in Toronto and educated in Upper Canada College. He moved to Winnipeg during the last Northwest Rebellion. In 1891 he came to Vancouver and was active as a hardware manufacturer’s agent until his retirement 10 years ago.”

John Burns House, Barclay & JervisThe other John Burns also lived on Barclay Street, and there’s one connection that might make him more likely to be the developer of this warehouse. He was the father of Fred Burns of Boyd, Burns & Co, (who developed a warehouse on Columbia Street), and he had a Queen Anne style house built in 1900 designed by William Blackmore. It’s that fact that leads us to think he was the developer of the warehouse. He was a Scottish-born widower, and the 1901 Census said he had arrived in Canada in 1896, although only Fred is listed in the directory in 1896 and 1897. In 1899 when the building was commissioned he was aged 67 and was described as retired, with the phone number 100. In 1868 he had been living in Bridgeton, Lanarkshire when his wife Jane gave birth to their son, Frederick Fowle Burns; (Jane’s maiden name was Fowle). Twenty years later, in 1891 they were living in Eastwood, Renfrewshire.

In 1911 the Fred Burns family were still listed in the street directory, although they’re not obvious in the Census.

Whichever John Burns owned the building hired Grant and Henderson that year to add two additional floors at a cost of $13,500, which was executed in a grey Gulf Island stone matching the earlier phase of the building.

Our image shows the building when it was occupied by Buscombe & Co in 1938.

Image sources: Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver Architecturally, 1900

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