Archive for the ‘Thomas J Roberts’ Tag

307 West Pender Street


We’ve looked at the building on the right of this 1975 image in two previous posts; when it was a newspaper office and printing works, and a little earlier in 1922 when it was also a knitting factory. The building next door is slightly oldier; the corner building dates from 1911 but Thomas Roberts built the Roberts Block in 1908. We’ve looked at Mr. Roberts in an earlier post. He was responsible for a later Roberts Block on Water Street, designed by Hugh Braunton in 1911. Although the 1908 Contract Record itemized the cost of the Pender Street building – $24,0000 – it didn’t mention the architect, and the Building permit has been lost. The Vancouver Daily World reported in January 1908 that the new building being proposed would a 5-storey building, and that Mr. Roberts himself was supervising the construction of the tender to construct the basement but doesn’t reference a designer.

Mr. Roberts hired R H Bracken in 1903 to build a $25,000 addition to his hotel, and again in 1910 to design a stable for his West End home and Hugh Braunton to design the Grand Hotel in 1905 and the Roberts Block on Water Street in 1911. However, as far as we can tell, he designed this commercial building himself. He obtained a Permit to dig the footings in January 1908, and the main building permit in March. By August the Province were reporting “The finishing touches are being added to a modern business block just completed on the north side of Pender street between Homer and Hamilton street. It is a two-story brick fire-proof structure, with basement, extending the full length of lot, 120 feet. It is owned by Mr. T. J. Roberts, proprietor of the Grand Hotel. Mr. Roberts designed the plans and personally supervised every detail of construction.

The upper floor has been magnificently equipped for the purposes of a lodging house. The specious rooms can be used single or en suite. Every apartment has a steam heat radiator besides behind supplied with hot and cold water, gas heating pipes, fire alarm, city and house telephones.

The first floor has been divided into offices which are so designed that they can be converted into bedrooms if the entrée building should be subsequently used as a lodging house exclusively. The ground floor is occupied my Messrs. Greene & Simpson, undertakers. This large floor space contains a beautiful chapel, reception hall, inquest, embalming and stock rooms.”

tommy-cyrs-centre-and-tommy-roberts-with-dog-vancouver-1887-8ishBy October the building was complete, and occupied. Very soon after this there was a fire, reported that same month: “Prompt Work of Firemen Saved Costly Blaze at Cabello Cigar Factory on Pender Street. Fire broke out late last evening in the bonded warehouse of the Cabello Cigar Manufacturing Co., in the Roberts block, on Pender street. Passers by who saw the smoke turned in an alarm and awoke the night – watchman, who sleeps at Greene & Simpson’ undertaking parlors, in the same building. By the time – halls 2, 1 and 6 arrived, however, the fire had got a good start and was blazing away merrily. The firemen worked with their usual skill and energy, and by midnight the flames were extinguished. It is not yet known how the blaze originated, but it is thought that damages will be about $1,000, as a large quantity of cigars and tobacco were destroyed. A number of caskets, belonging to Messrs. Greene & Simpson, were somewhat injured by the smoke, though fortunately not seriously.”

We covered the story of Tommy Roberts and his Water Street development in a post a year ago. Thanks to Andrea Butler, Tommy’s great granddaughter, we have this fabulous family image of Tommy Roberts (on the right, with his dog) and his uncle, Tommy Cyrs, in the middle, who probably developed the Grand Hotel on Water Street.

Tommy Roberts owned a fair amount of property around Vancouver, and even some in New Westminster and Coquitlam. He died after an intruder burst into a high stakes card game in the West End, and robbed the players. Reports said that Tommy Roberts wasn’t willing to give up the ring he was wearing, and was shot. There are suggestions that there was some cheating going on, and the robbery was rigged, but the thief got away and never identified. The huge diamond ring was not taken by the intruder, but it had disappeared by the time Tommy’s body got to the morgue.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-265


Posted 2 February 2017 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, Victory Square

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22-28 Water Street

28-30 Water St

We looked at the Grand Hotel (with the arched windows in the centre of the picture) in an earlier post. That’s the red building, initially designed by N S Hoffar for Thomas Cyrs in 1889 and then extended in 1903 by architect R H Bracken for T J Roberts, (both owners were originally from New Brunswick). The published history would suggest that Roberts built the hotel in 1889, which would have made him an extraordinarily young entrepreneur; he was born in 1874, so would have been only 15. That sounded so unlikely that we checked the Census records for 1891, 1901 and 1911. Unlike many early Vancouver residents who seemed to need to shave a few years off their age as time progressed, Thomas J Roberts stuck to either 1874 or 1875 as his birth date, and was shown as aged 17 in 1891. In the census Thomas and his 12-year-old sister, Mary, were living with their uncle and his wife. The uncle was hotel keeper Thomas Cyrs, so we now think Thomas Cyrs built the Grand, and Thomas Roberts took over in 1897 (at a more reasonable age of 23) and completed the expansion of the hotel in 1903. (We’ve revised the Grand Hotel post to reflect this).

In 1901 Thomas Roberts was living in the Granville Hotel (the earlier name for The Grand), with over 30 boarders and the hotel’s staff. In 1911 he had moved to 1635 Barclay Street with his wife, Pauline (born in Ontario, and five years younger) and their two children, three-year-old Pauline and one-year-old Mary. The family had three domestics: Jennie Larson was 22 and from Sweden, Dorothy Parkes was 14, from England, and so was John Shepherd (aged 18).

TJ RobertsIn 1908 Roberts commissioned the Roberts block, a 3-storey commercial building on Pender Street. In 1911 he redeveloped the building next to the Grand Hotel (to the east). Hugh Braunton was the architect, and it cost $48,000. In 1913 Roberts was considered to be a legitimate businessman – which wasn’t true of all the hotel keepers in the city; he featured in ‘Northern Who’s Who and Why’ – a biographical volume.

When it was first opened the new building had the Vancouver Clothing Co as a tenant, along with A Waddington, who specialized in overalls, the poolroom of McEwen & Knox, Fredericks & Skatigno (who were barbers) and Jarus & Weinrobe (who sold clothing, and had another store at 56 Water St). In 1915 there were two barber’s shops – one was run by William Brown, the other by Vincent Lacolla. The other occupants in the building were the Van Pickle Co and Taisho Printing Co. Three years later there was one barber remaining, V Lacolla, a clothing store (H Cooper), and Beaver Interurban Auto Transfer occupied the rest of the building.

Thomas J Roberts was killed in a dramatic fashion in September 1918 while watching a card game. He was with seven others in what was described as a ‘gambling resort’ on Jervis Street when a masked armed robber attempted to rob the party. The ‘Daily World’ described it as ‘the most sensational holdup which has occurred in tbe city in recent years’. The ‘Times Colonist’ published a longer version of the story. “Thomas J. Roberts, proprietor of the Grand Hotel, and one of the best known of the city’s pioneers, was shot and killed on Saturday evening by a masked robber with whom he had grappled to avoid handing over a diamond ring which the bandit had demanded. The tragedy occurred shortly before 11o’clock at 1304 Jervis Street near the corner of Harwood, a fairly large residence, surrounded by a thick screen of trees.

A second victim of two of the robber’s six shots was Henry Eames, aged about 50, manager of an upcoast logging camp. He is so seriously wounded that slim hopes are entertained for his recovery.

The police have one suspect under arrest the most important evidence so far obtained is from A. Harradine, a taxi driver who conveyed a fare to Broughton Street; a block away from the scene of the murder, on Saturday night the man left the taxi with orders to await his return. He came back in ten minutes, became much agitated when the driver had difficulty in starting the car and finally was conveyed downtown, where he disappeared in the alleyway alongside the Alcazar Hotel, on Dunsmuir Street east of Homer.

The house where the shooting took place is occupied by Oscar Olesen, his housekeeper, Mrs. McLennon, and her children. Eight men were in the drawing-room when the robber’s unheralded arrival took place. Five or six members of the party were playing a card game. They and several neighborhood friends were in the habit of coming in once or twice a week to spend the evening at cards.

Story of Shooting

The robber first demanded a ring from O. Jay, who handed over a three-stone ruby which encircled one of his fingers. Then the robber turned to Roberts with: “Now, hand over that ring,” motioning to a large solitaire which the hotel man wore on the third finger of his left hand. It happened that this ring fitted very tightly Mr. Roberts made an effort —real or assumed—to remove the ring and failed. Then he held out his hand with the words: “Here, take it off yourself, if you want it so badly.” Suiting the action to the words, which were the last he uttered, Mr. Roberts stepped towards the highwayman.

The robber reached forward and in a fraction of a second the men had grappled and the robber began to shoot. Cartridges found later showed the weapon to be a .33 calibre automatic. At least five probably six shots were fired. The first went wild across the room and crashed a window. Another went through the floor. Another struck Mr. Roberts head just in front of the ear and he slipped to the floor. A fourth shot pierced the opposite wall near the ceiling and two others struck Eames.

Mr. Roberts was one of the most familiar figures amongst the younger business men of the city. He was 47 years of age; coming to Vancouver from New Brunswick thirty years ago. He has been continuously with the hotel of which in recent years he was proprietor. He leaves a wife and two daughters of 10 and 8. His brother, Harry Roberts, is proprietor of the Beaver Transfer Company. Two sisters live in British Columbia, Mrs. T. Mambrick, of Comox and Mrs. Roy W. Brown. Mr. Roberts death is the first break in a family of thirteen.

J.F. McCabe, held as a suspect in the Jervis Street murder case, appeared before the magistrate today and was remanded until September 16, McCabe was in court on August 14 last, when according to the police records, he was fined $26 and costs for having morphine in his possession.”

The ‘Coquitlamite’ blog has extensive details of the crime. The main suspect in the crime was soon identified “Known now to the Vancouver police as George Layton or George Leaf, the man was arrested here and convicted under the latter name, with a number of aliases, in November, 1914, on a charge of stealing $40 from John Oleson; and with being in possession of instruments for housebreaking. He served a six months term and, the local records show, subsequently he was convicted at Calgary of theft and was sentenced to two years In the penitentiary, from which institution he could have been released only a comparatively short time ago.”

Police combed the Pitt River area where he was reported to have been seen, but he wasn’t found. In October 1919 the Victoria press reported that he had died in Los Angeles. “Last week at Los Angeles In a running gun fight with police officers a burglar was wounded. To avoid capture he deliberately shot himself with his own revolver, and was dead when the pursuing policemen reached his side. The desperado was known in Los Angeles under the name of Nyland, but has been identified as Lehtenen or Leaf. The identification was accomplished through photo and finger prints of Leaf as supplied to the Vancouver police by the Victoria authorities shortly after the Vancouver gambling house murder. 

Leaf, alias Samson, alias Anderson, alias Necthern, alias Lehtenen, was arrested here on November 17, 1914, for theft of $40 from the person of John Olson. He was dismissed on that charge, but upon the charge of being in possession of burglar’s tools he was sentenced to six months. The next heard of him was at Calgary, where he was sentenced for theft. 

Leaf’s photo and finger prints were taken when he was sentenced here, and when the Vancouver police were searching for him for his alleged participation in the shooting of Roberts and Eamen, the Victoria records were supplied. Circulars bearing his photo and finger print classification were circulated far and near, and it was by that means that the Los Angeles police made their identification of the desperado Nyland.”

In 1920 Vincent Lacolla was still cutting hair, and we suspect that C H Jones had already moved from a  warehouse on Alexander Street – although the street numbering gets a bit confused in the directory. In 1928 when our Vancouver Public Library image was taken, C H Jones were definitely in the building. They made sails and other canvas goods, and they stayed until 1930 when the Canada Western Cordage Company moved in. The made rope and twine, and retained an office here until the early 1970s. Their occupation explains the name that condominiums were given when they were built in 2009 ‘ Cordage’, designed by Acton Ostry Architects.


Grand Hotel – 24 Water Street

26 Water 2

The first hotel at this location was built by Ebenezer Brown, a wine merchant in New Westminster, and it was originally named the Granville Hotel (after Granville Townsite to the east of here) in the 1860s. He sold it to Joe Mannion and Billy Jones in 1874, and in about 1879 it was rebuilt. Mannion ran it for several years, and the published history says it was then sold on to Tom Cyrs in 1886 (although Cyrs was running it for several years before this, and at least one source suggests the sale was earlier). Cyrs lost the structure when it burned down with the rest of the city, but he Granville Hotel 1887quickly had it rebuilt (that’s the new wooden building on the left with the gentlemen in the bowler hats in front, in 1887). The street directory for 1888 shows that R Campbell was proprietor of the Granville, and Tom Cyrs wasn’t in town (although he was listed as owning the hotel in 1887), so he may have briefly left Vancouver. In 1889 Tom Cyrs is once again shown owning the Granville, and T Roberts is listed as a bartender a situation that continues through to 1891, where the census for that year reveals that Thomas Roberts was a 17-year-old bartender living with his uncle, Thomas Cyrs, a hotel keeper (with Mrs Cyrs, an adopted son, Arthur and Mary Roberts, Thomas’s sister). In 1892 both men are listed as proprietor of the Granville.

The ‘official’ version of the building’s history says Cyrs sold the hotel in 1889 to Thomas Roberts. When we calculated Mr. Roberts age, that seemed a little unlikely. Born in 1874, he was 13 when he arrived in the city, and would have been aged 15 on acquiring the hotel. If our estimate is correct, Thomas Joseph (‘Tommy’) Roberts was still only 18 when he became joint owner of the Granville. Both men are listed as proprietors until 1896; in 1897 Thomas Cyrs moved to a house on Dufferin Street and Thomas Roberts became listed as sole proprietor (at the age of 23). This situation prevailed through the early 1900s, although Thomas Cyrs is still shown as a ‘hotel keeper’ – but no hotel is listed, and the Granville continues to be identified with Thomas Roberts.

The owner, (we assume Thomas Cyrs), had N S Hoffar redesign the hotel as a brick structure, although he retained the Granville name, in 1889. Initially it operated as a reasonably small hotel with ancillary space at the rear (likely the stables); the 1901 census shows 25-year-old Thomas Roberts as head of the household of 33 boarders (many from Ontario, some from England and some from the USA, a couple from New Brunswick and George StGeorge from Quebec). There were four live-in staff (a bartender, clerk, chambermaid and domestic) and his 19-year-old sister, Emily Roberts.

In 1903 Thomas Roberts commissioned a large, four-storey addition that was built at a cost of $25,000; this addition filled the entire footprint of the lot and was designed by R H Bracken. The hotel then switched name to the Grand Hotel. Thomas Cyrs died in 1907 aged 55. There are a number of stories told to Major Matthews about Cyrs that make it clear he was quite a character. William Edwards identified him as the first man to be arrested following the fire – two days later (several other stories relate that Mr. Cyrs considered himself handy with his fists). “They tied him to a chair at first, but he kicked over the chair; then they chained him to the tree; it was on the opposite side of Carrall Street to the tent they used for a City Hall. The old tree had been badly damaged in the fire. Which reminds me of a thing which would look very queer now. I have seen Tom Cyrs walking up the middle of Water Street with a buggy whip over his shoulder, and a horse, just a loose horse—no head rope or anything—following him.”

The architect of the hotel extension appeared for the first time in the street Directory in 1903, living in the Granville Hotel. He was still there a year later, with an office on Hastings. Thomas Bracken lived in the same lodgings for those same years, but had gone by 1905. Richard H Bracken continued to live in the same hotel until 1910 when he seems to have been working for Seattle architect E W Houghton, who designed a number of projects in the city including a theatre. In 1911 Bracken was Bracken 1911living in West Vancouver, aged 34, and we know from that census he was born in England. We don’t know what work he was doing as we can’t decipher the census clerk’s handwriting – but it doesn’t look like it was architect.

Tommy Roberts owned and operated the hotel for many years, and invested in other real estate including the Roberts Block on West Pender Street in 1908 and the building adjacent to the Grand (now known as the Cordage – to the left in the photo) in 1911 (designed by Hugh Braunton and built at a cost of $48,000). Roberts died suddenly at age forty-two in 1918, murdered in the West End with another man when a masked bandit attempted to hold-up a poker game.

26 Water 1

The Grand soldiered on for many years; our main image shows it in 1929, but the upper floors were effectively abandoned by the 1970s (as this image from around 1970 suggests). In 2008 Acton Ostry designed the rehabilitation of the facades and extra density above and behind three of the four buildings on this part of Water Street, including the Grand, with condos over retail uses (the Grand getting one extra brick-faced floor).

Image sources: City of Vancouver archives Hot N8, CVA 780-512 and Str N58