Thomas Dunn and Jonathan Miller

Thomas Dunn appears to have been better known to the early residents of Vancouver as Tom. His full name was Alexander Thomas Dunn, and he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1852, moving to Victoria in 1883 and Vancouver in 1886. Jonathan Miller was nearly 20 years older, born in 1834 in Middlesex, Ontario, arriving in Granville (the precursor to Vancouver) in 1865 via the Cariboo gold fields. The two are linked in Vancouver for their decision to develop two linked, but technically separate buildings known (unsurprisingly) as the Dunn-Miller Block.

Tom Dunn was a hardware merchant; he started working for Douglas and McDonald in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket in 1869, staying there for six years. He sold hardware in England for two years, and arrived in Toronto in 1876, working for seven years again selling hardware before arriving in Victoria in 1883. In Toronto he had married and his first son, Thomas, was born. Seven more children followed, with the last being born in 1896.

Thomas Dunn & Family c1889 - City of Vancouver Archives

He arrived in Vancouver in February 1886, and set up his hardware business at Powell and Carrall in A G Ferguson’s building. Four months later he lost everything he owned in the fire that destroyed the city (his losses were valued at over $2,000 – including the piano that had just arrived from Victoria).

 He quickly rebuilt – he was said to have been the first store open after the fire – and soon moved to new store on Cordova Street.

He also had a house built, also on Cordova Street (although in those days it was called Oppenheimer Street). The house still stands, and is said to be the oldest in the city that can be dated with any accuracy. These days it is part of a Catholic Charity.

Business continued to boom as the new city built out fast, and in 1889 the new Dunn family home “Earlscourt” was completed in the developing West End, on the corner of Georgia and Thurlow. N S Hoffar was the architect, and he was also hired to to design the Dunn-Miller Block that housed the retail component of the Dunn business.

Thomas Dunn's in 1898 - City of Vancouver archives

Four years later William Blackmore designed another Dunn Block, this one on Granville Street at Pender, completed late in 1893. (It was demolished in 1949). N S Hoffar was once again the architect of a new a warehouse at Alexander Street, the Dunn Block, completed in 1899.

This building housed the offices of the Union Steamship Company for several decades. As the Klondike Gold Rush faded Tom Dunn sold the building to Boyd, Burns and Company Ltd., dealers in engineering and mill supplies.

Tom Dunn was heavily involved in the rapidly-growing city. He was elected as Alderman to the first City Council in 1886, donating money to buy both fire equipment and instruments for the City Band. In 1887 he was founding Vice-President of the Board of Trade (David Oppenheimer was President). His extensive business interests including President of the Vancouver Electric Light Co, and later in 1891 Vice President of the expanded Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Co.

In 1909 Tom decided to move to Prince Rupert which was seeing a similar boom to early Vancouver, but in 1912, for the sake of his wife’s health, he moved to San Diego, leaving his eldest son in charge of the business. He died three years later at the end of 1915, his wife four years after him in early 1920.

Jonathan Miller had a more eventful past. For a start, he had a series of almost entirely unrelated professions. Married to Margaret Springer (his cousin on his mother’s side) in 1856, aged 22 – in the same year he was appointed a Justice of the Peace.  Two children were born before Jonathan starting out from Ontario for the west with his brother-in-law Ben Springer (see Springer and Van Bramer). He worked in a store in New Westminster, and was elected to New Westminster council in 1864. One account of his life has him joining a crew looking for a route from Bute Inlet to the Cariboo Gold fields, narrowly avoiding an Indian massacre.

By 1865 he was in Burrard Inlet, logging what today we know as Stanley Park, many of the ‘skid roads’ have become the park trails. His wife and family joined him from Ontario and he had two crews logging the area until a dispute with Captain Stamp, operating the Hastings Mill, led him to move on and farm in the Fraser Valley. (Captain Stamp initiated many legal actions – he seldom won, but that does not seem to have deterred him. The fact that Jonathan Miller cut logs for the rival Moodyville Mill may not have helped relations with Catain Stamp.).

In 1871, with Stamp no longer running the mill, his replacement, Captain Raymur along with Sewell Moody the owner of the north shore Moodyville mill and Jack Deighton, the Granville innkeeper all petitioned the Provincial Governmernt to install a constable to deal with the fast-developing and often lawless town. The existing ‘law’, an Irishman called Tomkins Brew was living with his native family at Brockton Point and his policing methods (reported to consist of snoozing on a veranda, his white beard blowing in the breeze) were deemed inadequate.

A New Westminster magistrate appointed Miller as constable (Brew was named customs collector), the government confirmed the appointment and built a Court House, police station, jail and residence (albeit one small building serving all those purposes) on Water Street. Another constable was later appointed to double the police force.

Jonathan Miller in around 1886 - BC Archives

In 1872 Constable Miller got his name in the news. Two boats are spotted approaching Granville, apparently filled with settler’s belongings stolen from along the coast. Seeing the interested constabulary (Constables Miller and Handy) the two men in the boats, named Brown and Shipley, head out into the harbour. The police slowly pursued them, and found them at night on the beach at Jericho (believed to be named for logger Jerry Rogers, via Jerry’s Cove to Jericho). They discharged their rifles at the police, who returned fire, injuring one of the men. Thet escaped in the darkness, although the police retrieved the stolen goods. This being a slow news year, the local newspapers called it ‘The Battle of Jericho’.

His policing was obviously considered satisfactory, as Jonathan Miller held the job as Granville grew and the city of Vancouver came into existance. On incorporation Miller was named Returning Officer for the election, and despite suggestions that several votes were ignored while others appeared more than once, a mayor was elected. Turning down the role of Chief Constable for the new city, Miller was appointed Postmaster, a role he would hold through into the 20th Century. When the fire consumed almost everything he owned a few months after his appointment, Miller ran for the mill (which was not burned) carrying the post-office cash box with his spectacles balanced carefully on top. That was all he saved. His wife and family also escaped, his wife with nothing but her prayerbook.

When the city rebuilt almost overnight, the Millers joined in the action. The family moved to a fine house on the city’s west side, on Burrard Street. Along with other respected citizens including Ben Springer, Miller was an officer of the Vancouver Electric Illuminating Co Ltd. He also acquired some land on Cordova Street, and by 1889 was ready to build a sizeable investment, partnering with Tom Dunn.

The Dunn-Miller Block was by no means a straightforward development. For one thing, there were two clients. While Jonathan Miller owned his part of the site, Tom Dunn was a tenant. Mrs Emerson Lougheed, daughter of Chales Paull the landowner later recalled “Our home was on what is now Cordova Street, where the Dunn-Miller Block is. Mother leased our lot, sixty-six feet, next to the corner; Jonathan Miller’s lot was next to ours. Mother leased our lot to Thomas Dunn, the hardware man, for one hundred dollars a month for fifty years; that was in 1889; then when the Lonsdale people took it over, we sold in April 1912, the sixty-six feet for thirty-five thousand dollars. I don’t know what the Millers got for their lot, but we got $35,000 for ours.” As well as the family house there was a fruit and vegetable business for R V Winch. Edward Baynes of contractors Baynes and Horie recalled getting his first work in the city helping demolish the buildings and clear the site.

As this ‘Daily and Weekly World’ Illustration shows, the building wasn’t completely symetrical – but it was so grand that wasn’t really obvious. In its early days tenants included a subscription Reading Room, the city’s first synagogue, the Knights of Pythias and the Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company (in which both owners had an interest). The building was sold in 1912 to Arthur Lonsdale, who added his name to the building. He had made his money holding the mortgage on the Moodyville mill, and foreclosing on it in the 1880s, picking up a valuable chunk of North Vancouver in the process.

More recently the Army and Navy Department store moved in following a refurbishment in the early 1970s – the last time it had serious attention.

While postmaster the Millers moved out of the Downtown in 1895, to a full city block at Birch and Alder Streets in Fairview where Jonathan was able to give full attention to his hobby – breeding and training race horses. His wife died in 1906, but he didn’t retire from the position of Postmaster until 1909, aged 75. After retirement Jonathan Miller moved to Long Beach in California.  Following a massive stroke in 1914 he returned to Vancouver to be looked after by several of his ten children before he died in the same year and was buried in Mountain View cemetery with his wife.

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Jonathan Rogers

Jonathan Rogers was born at Plas-Onn, near Llangollen in Denbighshire, North Wales, and grew up speaking only Welsh. At 16 he moved to Liverpool where he worked at various jobs while perfecting his English. In May 1887, aged  22, armed with a legacy left to him by an aunt, Jonathan sailed for Montreal and crossed Canada on the first transcontinental train to Vancouver. Soon after he arrived, Jonathan attended the first public auction of parcels of CPR land within the newly created city. He bought four lots outside the area built at that time, although now located in the heart of downtown. He started work as a painter, and then became a construction contractor.

The massive speculation that had accompanied the arrival of the railway in 1887 was soon halted when the economic realities of building a new city set in, coupled with a collapse in lumber prices south of the border. Jonathan Rogers held on to his land through this depression and in 1893 partnered with the Hunter Brothers (Samuel and Thomas) to build a 2-storey building on Columbia Street, near Powell Street known as the Commercial Block.

In 1894 he announced that rather than leave the city (as many were preparing to do) he would be constructing a new building on Hastings Street. The first half of this development was designed by William Blackmore, who occupied it for his own offices once it was completed. The large windows used cast iron mullions to maximise the area of glazing. Four years later the gold rush in the Klondike ensured the city’s renewed growth, and Rogers engaged Parr and Fee to add a second half to the building. While almost identical to the first building, the window dimensions are just slightly different. Jonathan Rogers would almost certainly be unhappy with the current use of his buildings. These days they house the offices of the Marijuana Party and the Amsterdam Cafe. In 1916 Jonathan Rogers was the main organiser in Vancouver of the People’s Prohibition Association who successfully lobbied for the introduction of Prohibition in British Columbia (which lasted from 1917 to 1921).

In 1898 Jonathan built the second Rogers Block on Hastings Street. He also must have acquired the adjacent corner site to the east, as in 1903 he hired Dalton and Eveleigh to design the Royal Bank of Canada, one of the earliest buildings in the city to use reinforced concrete, in this case for the foundations and vaults that were over half a metre thick. He had been similarly innovative on his block in 1898 – to ensure construction could complete by spring 1899 he erected a huge umbrella over the entire building site.

The Royal Bank of Canada and Rogers Block not too long after they were built.

152&156 W HastingsJonathan continued as a contractor and builder and soon became involved in all kinds of construction work – offices, manufacturing plants, hotels, banks, even an electricity-generating station in the city’s significant building and real-estate boom. Although aged 35, the 1901 census found him living in rooms as a lodger – the Street Directory seems to record him as a painter and decorator living on Homer Street. In 1902 he married Elisabeth, a girl from Oswestry, a town near his ancestral home in Wales. They lived close to Stanley Park at 2050 Nelson Street in a large, elegant house named Argoed, (Welsh for beside the wood). Elisabeth became heavily involved in civic life as one of the founders and early benefactors of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Symphony Society. In 1901 Jonathan had built a building at 156 West Hastings, designed by Parr and Fee. In 1904 the adjacent site was developed by Elizabeth with a similarly designed building using William Blackmore & Son as architect. (In 1940 the building was altered so both halves took on Blackmore’s design). In 1907 Jonathan built a single storey (to the street) but 4 storey to the lane warehouse on Beatty Street. He sold it fairly quickly, as Robert Welsh owned it and added two additional floors in 1912.

Seeking to join in the new boom as a significant developer rather than just building modest buildings or other people’s projects, Jonathan turned to a Seattle firm of architects, Gould and Champney to design one of the most expensive buildings the city had seen.

Initially announced as ‘The Glyn Building’, although on completion it would bear the Rogers name, Jonathan spared no expense on his state-of-the-art reinforced concrete structure (the biggest the city had seen). The fifteen carloads of enamelled terra cotta came from Chicago. The ornamental iron was purchased in Minneapolis and St. Paul and five of the most up-to-date elevators were bought in Toronto. Nearly 60,000 feet of cork flooring and 60,000 feet of linoleum came from England and 8,000 barrels of California cement were used. During construction The BC Saturday Sunset said “The building is designed along the lines of the modern French Renaissance (with an) exterior of polished Glasgow granite, in combination with cream-colored terra cotta facing . . . All the interior finish woodwork is to be of hardwood with white Italian marble corridors and stairs throughout… The building will be a monument to Alderman Rogers, whose faith in the future of this city is exemplified in the erection of a building which, when completed, will represent an expenditure of nearly $600,000.”

In commissioning the building, Jonathan had been involved in a uniquely hands-on manner. The Engineering and Contract Record reported “The architect, A. Warren Gould, of the firm of Gould & Champney, and the owner, Jonathan Rogers, are at present visiting Chicago, New York and Toronto, their object being to interview the various manufacturing plans and dealers in high-class finish. The trip will probably include a visit to England, as it is possible they may purchase the terra cotta and special plumbing fixtures abroad.”

The same report noted “One wing of the building will be fitted up for doctors and dentists, for whose convenience special electrical and compressed air appliances will be introduced. They continued “the basement will contain a large cafe and kitchen, barber shop, etc., as well as heating and power plants, electric generators, and refrigeration machines for the cafe.”

Jonathan Rogers in 1916. City of Vancouver Archives photograph

By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Jonathan Rogers was a very wealthy man and a prominent public figure in Vancouver. He was elected an Alderman twice, served for 26 years on the Parks Board, 9 of them as Chairman, and was Chairman of the Board of Trade as well as being involved in a variety of charitable enterprises.

Rogers sold the 1912 building in September of 1927 to General F. A. ‘One Arm’ Sutton for a sum “exceeding $1 million” – the largest real estate transaction in the city to that time. Around 1940 he bought it back – although by then his wife Elizabeth was managing their interests.

Jonathan Rogers died in 1945 and left what at that time was a very large sum of money, a quarter of a million dollars, to various causes in Vancouver. The largest single bequest of $100,000 was given to the City of Vancouver to create a neighbourhood park in a poorer part of the city. After several delays, a park bearing the name Jonathan Rogers Park was finally opened in 1958 on 8th Avenue in Mount Pleasant.