J W Weart

J W Weart is not by any means a household name in Vancouver – although he almost had greater name recognition as ‘The Weart Building’ was announced, but then on completion became ‘The Standard Bank Building’. It’s still standing, but there’s no Standard Bank anymore so it’s now just ‘The Standard Building’. The Weart name does score greater recognition on a geographical scale, having both a mountain and (for the time being) a glacier named after him.

John Walter Weart was born in Brockville, Ontario in 1861 and worked first in a foundry in his home town in 1870 (aged 9!) and then as a carpenter in Belleville from 1873 to 1879. He then obtained a teaching certificate, teaching until 1882. He migrated west as far as Manitoba, working in the furniture business in Brandon and Deloraine, marrying his wife Minnie in 1883 and starting a family. He seems to have moved on to British Columbia in 1890, and in the early 1890s owned an 8 acre homestead which today is underneath Burnaby’s Metrotown Mall. He was worth including in the 1893 publication recording the credit rating of Lower Mainland residents where he only rated as ‘Good, but slow’ to pay. Weart studied law as a student with George H. Cowan from 1894 to 1896, worked a manager in a law office for two years and went on to practice law from 1898 to at least 1907. He had six children, three while living in Manitoba, every two years from 1884 onwards, (Arthur, Gertrude and John) and three more in British Columbia in 1890, 1893 and 1895 (Eva, Aileen and James).

He became involved in politics in the early 1900s. He was an unsuccessful candidate for a seat in the provincial assembly in 1907.He then became reeve of Burnaby serving there in 1911 and 1912. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly representing South Vancouver in 1915, and became Speaker of the House. At the same time he maintained his business interests which included being manager of the Investors Guarantee Corporation Ltd.

1912 photograph

Weart’s first involvement in property development was perhaps the most complex, and surprising. In 1894 a new Anglican priest was ordained in Vanvouver, Rev. Louis Norman Tucker.Within two months of arriving he had taken the chair at a special vestry meeting to decide what to do about the lack of an appropriate building. The next Sunday he noted in the vestry book: “Launched scheme to build Christ Church.” With only $288.87 cash on hand, Tucker enrolled the services of J.W. Weart, at that point a 32-year-old articling student-at-law. As a church publication explains “To rescue Christ Church, Weart devised a complicated scheme. He incorporated “The Christ Church Building Co., Limited Liability.” The company was authorized to issue up to 600 shares of stock. The value of each share was set at $100. One hundred shares went to the church in exhange for title to its assets, and 400 shares were sold to subscribers, most of them men in the congregation.

Each purchaser undertook to pay up to $100 per share if called upon, but initially only $10 was collected — at the rate of a dollar per month for ten months. This gave the building company $4,000 cash and an uncalled asset of $36,000. Weart then went to the Sun Life Insurance Company and, putting up the building company’s assets as secuurity, obtained a mortgage loan of $18,000. The church now had $22,000 in cash — $4,000 from the sale of shares, and $18,000 from the insurance company. Sun Life, however, as added security, insisted on writing three 20-year life insurance policies on certain church members. The building company agreed to pay a single, $10,000 premium for this insurance. Now they had $12,000 cash and a big mortgage at six per cent interest — high for the time. With city taxes, the congregation was obligated to pay $2,000 annually. To some it might have seemed a bit of a shell game, but Weart’s scheme worked: the recession might continue, but with the $12,000 the church was completed.”

In terms of property development, Weart was involved with the Exchange Building Company, whose property was constructed on Hastings Street near the Carter-Cotton building, designed by J S Helyer and Son (the designers of the Dominion Building up the street) and completed in 1909. Although the postcard of the time is labelled ‘Stock Exchange Building’ the stock exchange never moved in, and it was not the company name either. These days, minus the elaborate cornice and some other details it’s a single room acccomodation property called Regal Place.

J W Weart was also manager and solicitor for the Metropolitan Building Company. This was another Helyer designed building completed at the height of Vancouver’s big building boom in 1912. Sadly, it was demolished many years ago.

And as the manager of the Investors Guarantee Corporation Ltd he was important enough that initially the impressive 15-storey steel-frame building was called ‘The Weart Building’. Even more impressive as at the time there was, theoretically, a ban on any building going over 10 storeys in the city.

Completed (like the Metropolitan Building) in 1912, the building was designed by Seattle architects Russell Babcock and Rice (although Mr Russell did the work and received the credit). Completed on a similar scale and at a similar price to the Rogers Building, the Standard Bank Building had an all terra cotta face over a steel frame, but never got the elaborate tracery that seems to have been based on New York’s gothic Woolworth Building which had started construction in 1910.

Weart was named chairman of the Garibaldi Provincial Park board in 1927, which is how a mountain ended up named after him. He died in 1941. His obitiary in the Vancouver Sun ran to several inches; L A Hamilton had died on the same day (he was an alderman, surveyed, named and determined the city’s street pattern) and rated just 10 lines. (The reference to the Dominion Bank Building is probably an error – there’s no evidence of Mr Weart’s involvement in that company).

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