Sticking to a ‘brothers’ theme for a while, here’s a new post on the Malkin Brothers. W H Malkin is the name most recognised in Vancouver, as his was the name on the company they owned, and he was the one who became mayor. Three Malkin brothers arrived in Vancouver a little later than some of the other people we’ve featured so far, but there are still several large buildings associated with their dramatic rise in the wholesale grocery business that they established at the end of the 19th century.
The Malkins were from the pottery town of Burslem in Staffordshire. Malkins had been making pottery in the town since at least the early 17th Century, had married into local pottery aristocracy (the Wedgewoods) and had made both china and tiles – the company only merged into a contemporary porcelain tile conglomerate in the 1960s. At the end of the 1800s it was a big family – In the 1881 English Census James Malkin (aged 52) and his wife Ann (48) were living in Longport House, Burslem, Staffordshire with 9 children, aged from 24 to 3, and two servants, Pricella and Ann. The brothers who arrived in Canada were James born in 1863 (or 1864 according to his marriage licence), who in 1881 was not living at home, William and John (the youngest child of the family, only aged 3 in the 1881 census).
James seems to have been called ‘Fred’ in the family (presumably to distinguish him from his father, also called James). In 1899 he married Julia Eldridge in Vancouver who was 12 years younger than him, born in Waterloo, Quebec. John – who would be known more often as Philip – was born in 1878 and in 1907 married Georgina Grundy, 5 years younger than him, born in Winnipeg. William (who following what seems to be a family tradition, was better known as Harold, although Vancouver knew him best as ‘W H’) was born in 1869, and in 1901 married Marion Dougall who was four years younger and born in Windsor, Ontario, a middle child of a family of seven children.
William arrived in Canada in 1884, joining his brother in Grenfell, Saskatchewan. There is some suggestion that the brothers had fallen out with another brother, Sydney, who retained the family pottery business in Burslem. Initially James was a wheat farmer, with a homestead granted in 1885, but drought, floods and generally tough times meant that not long afterwards William went to work as a bookkeeper working for a hardware importer, Sherlock, Freeman and Co. In 1889 James sold the homestead and moved to Lethbridge, Alberta, (pop at the time c2,500) initially working for a druggist but by 1891 also for Sherlock, Freeman and Co. In 1891 William switched to working for another Grenfell wholesaler, Osmund Skrine. Grenfell was (and still is) a very small community located in the Qu’ Appelle Valley, closely linked to the CP Railway which had been built through the prairies a few years earlier. Grenfell wasn’t incorporated as a village until 1894, and for the previous ten years (so through the period James and William were residents) it was affected by the North West Rebellion where it was initially unclear if the local native Band (who outnumbered the white settlers) would join the rebellion (although in the end they remained neutral). A sister, Isabelle, (or Belle) had joined them in 1886 as housekeeper.
Grenfell, early 1900s, University of Saskatchewan Library
Osmund Skrine appears to have been born in Bathford in Somerset in 1858, and he built two commercial blocks in Grenfell, one in 1892 and another a year later, both times hiring prominent Winnipeg based architects. In 1895 he opened a warehouse operation in Vancouver as a produce merchant at 121 to 123 Water Street replacing Stewart, Lewthwaite and Co. He lived at 1751 Robson Street in 1896, listed as O Percy Skrine. William presumably joined him in Vancouver, in a 1937 speech he recalled his arrival “When I came here, half the stores were vacant, there was only a population of 17,000, and the future of the city was far from being assured.” James had apparently already chosen Vancouver as home; family history says among other jobs he hodded bricks for the construction of the first Hotel Vancouver – although this seems highly unlikely as it was built in 1887
In 1896 the Malkins were all living at 617 Richards Street, W H (William) and J P D (John) were working for Osmund Skrine and Co, while J F (James) was a clerk with Major and Eldridge who were pork packers based next door to Osmund Skrine and Co at 125 Water Street. Their mother, Ann, (or Annie as she was generally known) had joined them (she arrived a year earlier after the death of her husband in Burslem). Presumably James married the bosses’ daughter three years later. The house was called ‘The Hawthorns’ and had two bushes brought from England planted on either side of the door.
In 1898 John, James and their mother had moved to Broughton and Davie (which was still uncleared forest further down the street) while William maintained the Richards Street home. In 1897 W H Malkin bought out Mr Skrine, (who was no longer living in Vancouver in 1898, or Canada in 1901) and changed the name of the company to W H Malkin & Co, with both his older and younger brother joining the company. The Malkins built a 5-storey warehouse at 137 Water Street in 1897.
In 1899 William and John were both living in Davie Street, and neither their mother or brother were in the city Directory, (but James had got married that year).
In the 1901 census James and Julia are in one household and the Directory of that year identifies their home address as 1400 Bute Street, His mother Ann is head of the other Malkin family in the city, with her brother and sister-in-law (who curiously get no mention in family biographies), her unmarried sister, Eliza, sons William and John (at this point he switched the order of his names and is now listed as Philip J). Her daughter, listed as Mary but who was always called Isabelle, or Belle is living there too along with 13 year old granddaughter Ethel Bryant, and their cook Ho Yew. The 1901 Directory has them living at 1273 Barclay Street, but sometime that year William moved to the corner of Davie and Broughton (later identified as 1406 Davie). They stay at these addresses for several years, (with Mary appearing as a resident of the Barclay address in some years, but not all of them). Ethel was sent back to England to attend boarding school in 1902.
In 1903 the company moved to a new bigger warehouse at 353 Water Street, built by J McLuckie. Finally they occupied an even larger bvuilding that they built in 1907 and extended in 1912 designed by Parr and Fee.
By 1908 The company have occupied this building as their business address, the company president is W Harold Malkin, the Secretary-Treasurer is James F Malkin, and J Philip Malkin is also working for the company as sales manager and has moved to 761 Cardero Street.
Unlike many other families in the city where we have to imagine what life was like, with the Malkin household we have a detailed description. Ann Malkin’s granddaughter, Ethel Bryant, orphaned at age 10 would arrive aged 12 and stay in the household (with schooling in England from 1902) until she married, aged 31. At the age of 59, Ethel Wilson, as she became, would publish her first novel, and become a successful and important writer. She wrote extensive fictionalised family reminiscences in which she recalled the household activities. The strict Methodism of Annie Malkin set the tone; family members were non-drinkers, prayers were said twice a day, dances and the theatre were off limits. The descriptions of early Vancouver and life within a family bearing a renakable similarity to her own were published in ‘The Innocent Traveller’ in 1949.
W H Malkin in 1913
The family started leaving the West End as it started to lose its status and apartment buildings were appearing. W H was the first to leave in 1912, building the house that would give its name to a neighbourhood, Southlands, located on South West Marine Drive. James (Fred) Malkin moved a few years later to a spot further along the same road, and so too did John (Philip), locating across from the Point Grey Golf and Country Club.
James Malkin invested in a small way in property too. He built two houses on Bute Street in the West End, replaced many years ago with apartments. On the east side of the city in 1911 he also had S B Birds design a small, but very attractive, apartment and retail building, known as the Sandon Block, where Venables and Commercial Drive meet. These days it’s partly occupied by Uprising Bread and their cafe.
Annie Malkin died in 1919, aged 86. Belle and Aunt Eliza sold the Barclay Street house and moved to Englesea Lodge on English Bay. Ethel moved to live in the Langham Hotel, a respectable residential hotel on Nelson Street, near Burrard. In the following year she got engaged to a doctor, Wallace Wilson, and she married in 1921.
Like many of the successful merchants the family were involved in civic and professional organisations. W H was a Director of both the British Columbia Permanent Loan Co and the Pacific Coast Fire Insurance Co. He was President of the Board of Trade in 1902 and 1903 and was a member of the royal commission on provincial assessment and taxation in 1910 and 1911. He was very involved in the Methodist Church, and also a Freemason.
The company grew significantly, and specialised in importing grocery from England. They were the importers for Peek Freans biscuits, Chivers of Cambridge and Cadburys . Their 1897 premises were 5,000 sq ft in size – with the addition to their 1907 warehouse in 1912 they had 116,000 sq ft of space. The top floor was devoted to coffee roasting and tea blending, and the company sold a comprehensive line of spices, jams and tinned goods.
In 1929 W H Malkin became mayor, partly on a platform of reform to clear up what was seen as a corrupt police force (a perennial Vancouver issue, but on this occasion with some justification) and partly on a return to prohibition, backed by the Christian Vigilance League. Curiously, although as a staunch Methodist W H Malkin was in favour of prohibition, (and donated $1,000 to the cause) his company had been accused of selling ‘Malkins Best’ extract as an alcohol substitute during prohibition in the early 1920s.
W H Malkin in the 1920s - City of Vancouver Archives
He ran a city that had added 50% to its population overnight, as South Vancouver and Point Grey merged that year into Vancouver. It was a difficult time for the city, as the economy faced a huge downturn after the Stock Exchange crash and unemployment rose sharply. While he laid the foundation stone for the Marine Building, started construction of important infrastructure for the city like sewers and the CPR tunnel from Coal Harbour to False Creek, Mayor Malkin also faced the occupation of the relief office by the unemployed and by year’s end 7,000 receiving assistance, with no help from Victoria. W H Malkin lost the 1931 to the east side supported L D Taylor (who had been mayor before 1929 as well) but the new regime were no better able to respond to a collapsed economy than Mayor Malkin had been.
James (Fred) Malkin died in 1950, in his 90s. He had been the first family member to propose moving to Canada, had ridden the Hope-Princeton trail on horseback, driven a model T Ford to New York from Vancouver, and enjoyed blowing up stumps on his Bowen Island property. He had married the much younger Julia, ‘the prettiest girl in Vancouver’
John (Philip) Malkin died in 1952, the youngest and most gregarious of the brothers who travelled widely in the service of the company. He was president of Neon Products of Western Canada (so indirectly associated with the highpoint of Vancouver’s illuminated past). He was a member of the Terminal City Club, a keen (but self proclaimed ‘rotten’) golfer and listed his hobby in earlier years as yachting. He had come out of retirement during the war to work as director of purchases in the Department of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa. He had four children.
W H died in 1959 – a successful businessman who had been elected mayor, helped create the Burrard Bridge, taken on the role of ‘Colonel Malkin’ as the head of the BC Regiment and become a generous philanthropist who had funded the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, was the first Chair of the BC Cancer Foundation and funded the outdoor pavilion that would be called the Malkin Bowl in memory of his wife, Marion. He listed his hobbies as riding, driving and motoring (an interesting distinction).