We’ve looked at both the buildings flanking this modest 2-storey structure in earlier posts. 322 Water Street, to the left was designed by Townsend and Townsend in 1912, while 342 Water on the right dates from 1899 and was designed by William Blackmore for John Burns. The retail arcade building in the centre also dates from 1912, designed by Stuart and White for the ‘Thompson Bros’ 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 as the Homer Street Arcade.
As we noted in an earlier post, the Thompson Bros were really the Thomson Bros; listed as James A and M P Thomson who ran their stationers business from 325 West Hastings. An 1896 Auditor General’s Report noted that the company could be up to five years late in paying for publications they had sold on the government’s behalf; the report shows they also traded in Calgary.
Somehow the 1911 Census seems to have missed James (or we can’t find him), but Melville P(atrick) Thomson was living at 1215 Cardero, aged 51 with his wife Louise and their son, Melville F(itzGerald) Thomson who the street directory tell us was working for the Dominion Trust. Two more sons, George (a bookkeeper) and Donald were at home, as well as daughters Nora and Marcella, as well as a niece, A Finkueneisel, and their domestic. Melville senior was born in Ontario, while Louise was French. Louise seems to have been a second marriage for Melville; in 1888 he married Marcella Fitzgerald in Esquimalt. Melville died in 1944 aged 84, when he was living in Oliver. His death certificate says his wife was Marie Louise Kern, and that they had moved to the town in 1924. He had lived in BC since 1887, and we’re pretty certain he was born in Erin, in Wellington, Ontario, and that his brother James was three years older. The directory says that in 1910 James A Thomson was living at 1238 Cardero, so across the street from his brother.
The photograph shows the businesses located on Cordova Street included G.R. Gregg and Co. Ltd., The Borden, and Richardson Jensen Ltd. Ships’ Chandlers. The businesses in the Arcade were addressed from Cordova Street; The Borden was actually the The Borden Milk Co (so not a bar, despite the name). The heritage description for The Arcade says “The covered passage, with shops on both sides, served the bustling community with commercial and retail services.” In reality there was very little, if any retail – the building was full of commercial offices and some pretty specialized services. Here’s the complete list of businesses in 1914: Robt D Dickie – com agt, Alex Smith – accordion pleater, Searson & Russell – whol men’s furngs, Mendelson Bros – whol silks, A Olmstead Budd – produce broker, Walter D Frith – mdse broker, M B Steele – mdse broker, Hayward McBain & Co Ltd – com agents, corn, Dan Stewart – tailor (workroom), Hugh Lambie – com agt, Chas Schenk – tailor, Produce Distributers Ltd, Successful Poultryman, Excelsior Messengers, BC Assn of Stationary Engineers and Sandison Bros – mfrs agts.
During the 1970s the building was spruced up, with odd details that included facemasks of the entrepreneurs responsible for the revival of Gastown in the 1970’s. In recent years there have been a number of restaurants in this location, renamed Le Magasin, most recently the short-lived Blacktail. No doubt another concept will pop up soon.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 810-1
Here’s another image from the City Engineers image vault in the City Archives that’s a companion to the previous post. It’s from the same junction, but in this case we’re looking west towards Downtown. Way off in the distance is the Vancouver Centre’s Scotia Tower with a tower crane still showing, so from that we can date the image to 1976 (or perhaps the end on 1975). We’re looking at a number of commercial properties in this industrially zoned area. When the first buildings were constructed here, just over a century ago, the area was on a very different trajectory. Chinese merchant developers built a series of buildings here, some of which still stand today. That’s true on the left of the picture where there are several buildings that date back to 1912 when Soon Key and Chin Yuen hired Stewart and White to design a two-storey $26,000 rooming house. They obviously decided to increase their investment quite soon, as a few months later Stewart White and Peters were hired to design an additional storey built at a cost of $8,000. The three storey building is still there today, a rooming house now known as Royal Manor, and extensively renovated in 1970. Soon Key and another partner added another building just round the corner of Woodland Drive a year later. Assuming Soon Key was also Soon Kee, his family portrait is part of the Vancouver Public Library collection. The Daily World described Mr. Soon’s evidence to the McKenzie King inquiry into the 1907 riot on behalf of Ti Sing Co, although the official record shows Tai Sing Ltd were at 19 Pender Street, which sustained $88 worth of damage in the riot.
On the same day that the architects received permission to add the extra storey to the corner building, Stuart and White also sought a $26,000 permit for Mah Sam Yuen & Co for “Apartments/rooms; Chinese building, three-storey brick store & rooms”. Wood & Macdonald were the builders.
Sam Lum Mah was the builder of the third building, also given a permit on the same day for another Stuart & White design for the Chinese Reform Society’s $26,000 “Apartments/rooms; Chinese building, three-storey store & rooms”. The plans from the Vancouver Archives (AP 289) show an extraordinary composition of traditional Chinese forms married to an Edwardian building. The roof crest is of particular interest. Of all of the society buildings in Vancouver this was one of the most elaborate to be constructed – and it wasn’t in Chinatown.
The Chinese Reform Society of the Americas (headquartered here) were the same as the Chinese Empire Reform Association, founded by Kang Yu-Wei, a philosopher and reformer who had to flee China in 1899 (ending up initially in Victoria). In Vancouver both Won Alexander Cumyow and Yip Sang were members. The organization was a rival to that of Sun Yat Sen, although funds for overthrowing the Manchu dynasty flowed from Vancouver to both groups of would-be revolutionaries.
These last two buildings are still standing, but significantly altered: they are now in industrial use and seem to have been altered initially in 1940. The 1970s image shows that almost all the Chinese detail had already been lost, and the metal paneled bay windows were in a pretty poor state, and these days they’ve all been removed. We found a little information about Mr. Mah, the developer; he was born in China around 1868, and in 1930 he was living in San Joaquin in California.
Stuart was Bertram Stuart, a Londoner who was only in the city for a few years before heading to Seattle: White was Howard E White who seems to have arrived around 1910, and was probably the source of the commissions as he worked on a number of Chinatown projects for Chong Yuen as a partner in Cockrill & White. He continued to work in Vancouver after Mr. Stuart headed south. White was secretary of the local branch (#1) of Ordo Templi Orientis – a fraternal organization with elements of Freemasonry (although initiates could not have been Freemasons) but also other more esoteric rituals developed by British occultist Aleister Crowley.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-223