George Byrnes

George Byrnes has very little written about him, but he is important for having developed one of the first buildings after the 1886 fire – and it’s still standing.  Census records and newspaper reports from here suggest he was born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1840 or 1841, but we’ve recently heard from family members in Australia that he was born in 1839 in Dungog, about 200 kilometers north of Sydney near Newcastle, and then we found this Sydney Mail piece from 1897 which seems more specific, but is actually just confusing, as Dungog (where his birth was registered) and Tamworth (in the newspaper below) are some 250 kilometers apart. (Thanks to Dennis Donovan and Edward L’Estrange, who also added some of the information that follows).

His parents were Thomas and Frances (Fanny) A Byrnes and they had been married in Sydney, also in 1839. He was reportedly in the stationery business and then sheep-raising, before coming to Victoria “to join his mother, whose husband Mr. Byrnes stepfather was the proprietor of the Bee Hive and afterwards the St. Nicholas hotels, when they were the chief hotels of the city“. (obituary notice, Times Colonist). A photograph of Mrs Byrnes refers to her as becoming Mrs Lee, although she certainly seems to have been known as Mrs Byrnes at the Bee Hive.

George nearly didn’t make it to meet his mother; he was one of only three saved from the shipwreck of the Coya sailing from Sydney to San Francisco in 1867 – two were ship’s crew and he was the only passenger to survive. On the day she hit the rocks, Coya carried 29 passengers and crew. Among the travelers were six women, including the captain’s wife and daughter. Most were below deck enjoying tea.

The sea kept lifting her from rock to rock, crushing in the bottom,” recalled George Byrnes, a passenger. “With the sea breaking over us, nothing could be seen but a mass of hissing foam.”

George Byrnes, City of New Westminster archives

He went from Victoria to the Cariboo gold fields in the same year that he arrived, although he obviously maintained connections with Victoria as he was elected to Masonic Office there in 1870. He was appointed tax collector in 1873 and also Sheriff in Cariboo District at $500 a year.

George got married in Barkerville to Maria Neate (ne Halley) who was born 21 May 1849 in Dublin and had been married to William Collyer Neate, an Oregon pharmacist. Anecdotal evidence is that Maria lived in Portland, Oregon and then moved to British Columbia. She was divorced in 1874 and custody of the two children Albert and Lily Mabel were granted to Maria and she married George Byrnes in the same year. She died in Victoria B.C. June 29 1900 of a heart ailment after several months in hospital. Albert Neate died in a horse riding accident (in California) in about 1903 and after George and Maria died, Lily married James Sharp the manager of the Hudson Bay Company in Port Simpson where her daughter Hilda was born in 1906. James and Lily eventually left Canada and finally settled in Brisbane Australia.

Mrs Maria Byrnes & Miss Lily Byrnes, BC Archives

George was appointed Notary Public in Cariboo in 1876, and Commissioner in 1877. He was Involved with two different gold mining claims in Barkerville in 1878, one also involving P C Dunlevy and F J Barnard (of Barnard’s Stagecoach line).

In the 1881 census George was living in Richfield & Barkerville & Lightning, Cariboo, BC, aged 40 with Marie (ten years younger) born in Ireland, and Lillie Mabel (sic), aged 12, born in the USA. With them appear to be Elizabeth, George and Margaret Pinkerton, aged 5, 4 and 1. Two Pinkerton’s were partners with George in one of his Barkerville mines, and both were living alone in Barkerville in 1881.

George was paid to be the returning officer in Cariboo for the Federal election in 1882 – one of 5 in BC. He advertised a Portable Sawmill for sale in Barkerville in 1883, for Mr Robert Tatlow of Victoria (Tatlow was a real estate and insurance businessman who had been private secretary to the Lieutenant Governor, Richards, and who later moved to Vancouver).

August 24 1884, “The Card of Mr George Byrnes, late Sheriff of Cariboo, and now a valued resident of Victoria appears in this issue. Mr Byrnes, who is a gentleman of experience and ability, has leased the commodious building on the northwest , corner of Fort and Langley streets” (Times Colonist). By October he was selling lots in Hastings Townsite. His arrival in Victoria is noted in March 1886 on the Louise, from the mainland.

When Vancouver was in its infancy Mr Byrnes purchased a considerable amount of property In what is now one of the principal sections of the town , and which a couple of years ago became very valuable” (obituary notice, Times Colonist). One parcel was the site of the burned out Deighton House – where Jack Deighton had moved his hotel before he died. George erected the Alhambra Hotel, although it also carried his name as ‘The Byrnes Block’. The new building was designed by Elmer Fisher, but apparently not (initially) for George. The initial tenders for the stonework were handled by Rand Bros, a well-known firm of land agents; and the architect was still based in Victoria.

Once the project was underway, in April of 1887, George was identified as the client, and a publication in 1887 refers to ‘The Byrnes Block’ as being constructed.

The block has lasted extraordinarily well, and a recent restoration has returned it to close to its original appearance.

We know that George didn’t conduct his business by long distance from Victoria. He came to town, and ended up in a famous early image of Maple Tree Square, taken just before the 1886 fire. A 1929 Vancouver Sun interview with Harry Devine, the photographer of the 1886 image below identified the two men standing in the centre of the picture. “The man with his back to the camera is J M Spinks, pioneer realty man, and brother of the late Judge Spinks of Vernon. The bearded gentlemen with the derby hat, light coat and leather leggings is George Byrnes, Vancouver’s first auctioneer”.

In the 1891 census George, Maria and Lily were living in Victoria – George is now noted as aged 48, a two year difference from his 1881 entry, and four years younger than he really was.

He auctioned racehorses in 1894, owned land that was given up for construction of the new railway on Vancouver Island in 1895, was a Hospital Trustee in 1896 and was still advertising as an auctioneer in Victoria (one of several) in the Daily Colonist of 1898. His death, from a heart attack, was reported on the 13th of March 1899.

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The Malkin Brothers

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).

J W Horne, capitalist

James Welton Horne was born in 1853. His mother was born in England and his father had arrived from Germany. In Canada he established a woolen mill, eventually becoming a partner in Clarke Woolen Mills in Toronto, where James was born. He died when James was nine, and as a result James left school to work on a farm to help support his mother and four younger siblings, moving to another farm in Pickering aged 11 where he was able to continue at school every other day until he was able to get work helping a church Minister when he was able resume full time schooling. 

At 15 he apprenticed as a mechanical engineer for five years, leaving his salary to accumulate and then investing the resulting $3,000 in the company, (or $5,000 – even contemporary records don’t agree) and being offered a directorship at that point. He sold out aged 22, and became an insurance agent until in spring 1878 he headed to California, but by summer was in Winnipeg (still a town of only 3,000) setting up an insurance and shipping agency, later adding loan valuation to his portfolio.

In 1881 it was apparent the CPR would be extended westwards, and speculation started to guess where settlements would spring up. As an 1889 publication explains: “Mr. Horne entered into an agreement with the railway company by which he was given a certain quantity of land at a fixed price, and on his erecting business buildings he was to have a rebate. He at once opened an office, or rather erected a tent on the prairie, divided his land into lots, opened and graded streets and when this preliminary work was accomplished began the erection of buildings.” He persuaded the government land agent to set up his office here, and then to get a post office, and thus the city of Brandon was established. Although his role is acknowledged in an 1882 publication “Brandon, Manitoba, Canada and her Industries”, which concludes “We may safely state that no man in Brandon has accomplished more for the welfare of the city than Mr. Horne, and in years to come he will be remembered as one of the founders of the Infant City, and a leader in laying the foundation of her greatness”  the ‘remembered’ part doesn’t seem to be true as his name doesn’t appear at all on the extensive ‘Heritage Brandon’ website. He was an Alderman, the Chairman of the City Board of Works and the province made him Commision of the Peace.

With an eye to repeating his success, Horne travelled to Burrard Inlet via California in 1883, but chose not to invest yet. He visited again in 1884, and bought some farm land, (his arrival from Nanaimo being recorded as J W Horn). In March 1886 he moved across and started serious land purchase (although many of his investments were outside the area torched by the fire).

It would appear that Mr Horne was married, but separated.  He was certainly living alone in 1881 according to the census of that year, and this is also true in 1901 when he is recorded as being single, and a boarder. In 1911 he is recorded as a widower, lodging, and he has added two years to nis age, now shown as being born in 1851. Somehow he seems to evaded the 1881 census. Searching the Directories of the period shows Mr Horne moving on a regular basis – and most of the time living in a hotel. And not just any hotel – at times it was the Hotel Vancouver, at others the Badminton and earlier the Leland.

Extracts from various Vancouver Directories

Once in Vancouver J W Horne wasted no time in acquiring, and then re-selling land. As he had in Brandon, he bought land from the CPR. They had of course been given it as an incentive to bring the terminus of the line to what would soon become Vancouver. Both David Oppenheimer’s land company and the Brighouse/Morton/Hailstorm partnership who owned the West End had given the CPR hundreds of acres. Once surveyed and in some cases cleared by CPR crews, the lots were auctioned off. Horne was an avid purchaser of land, both in the Gastown area and further west in Coal Harbour. At one point his assets were said to be second in value only to the CPR themselves. It isn’t recorded whether he had built anything to lose in the fire, but given the timing of his arrival it seems unlikely. Once the city was rebuilding, the demand for well-located lots heated up, and as a land agent Mr Horne had good sites to sell, and as demand rose so too did the prices. In 1887 1889 J W Horne’s assets were assessed at $40,000. in 1889 they were worth $125,000, and in 1891 $156,000, making him the fifth wealthiest landowner in the city (and the CPR and Vancouver Improvement Company were in the first and second spots).

This wasn’t only connected to land values rising – J W was becoming a very active developer too. It was said that “only four years after his arrival in Vancouver, Horne had built major brick blocks on most of Vancouver’s principal streets” 

Promotion by J W Horne (standing at the table, centre) using a burned log as a prop, 1886. - City of Vancouver archives

As in Brandon Mr Horne also built property – there it was to intice new business, in Vancouver it was just to be part of the massive growth taking place all round. In 1889 he completed a flat-iron building that backed onto the Springer-Van Bramer block on West Cordova Street.

Like Springer and Van Bramer he hired N S Hoffar as the architect. The block had elaborate cornice details and a turret (sadly, now gone) and a tiny juliet balcony on the snub point of the flatiron angel.

A year later he completed another building nearby on Cambie Street. Again, N S Hoffar was the designer. The block is unusual in having two retail floors behind the cast iron facade, with stairs up and down from the sidewalk. Among several significant tenants were the Bank of North America (1892), Rand Bros. Real Estate (1896) and G.A. Roedde, bookbinder (1896). In addition, Atlen H. Towle, architect of the First Presbyterian Church (1894) at East Hastings and Gore Avenue, had premises here. Between 1910 and 1925, several publishing and lithography firms had their offices here, no doubt due to the proximity of the Province and Sun newspaper buildings.

Another building still standing that can be linked to him is the Yale Hotel. Completed in 1889, designed once again by N S Hoffar, the Colonial Hotel (as it was initially called) was completed at a cost of $10,000. When completed it stood isolated from most development in the recently cleared forest near Yaletown’s railyards and lumber mills. The name the Yale was adopted in 1907 when new proprietors took over. In 1909 an addition was built to the east, designed by W T Whiteway. In 2011 a new condo block, The Rolston, was being built to the south of the building with a restoration of the hotel as part of the development.

J W had an additional financial operation in the city. He founded the Vancouver Loan Trust Savings and Guarantee with at least three other partners; H T Ceperley, H A Jones and R G Tatlow. Ceperley was Manager of the operation, and married to A G Ferguson’s sister. He had no money of his own, but was successful at managing other peoples’ and the Daily World commented that the company bought and sold improved and unimproved real estate. As in Brandon, Horne wasn’t content to just operate his business and make money. He stood for election as an Alderman, and topped the poll in 1889 and 1890. From 1890 to 1894 he represented the city in the Provincial Legislature, turning down offers to become a Minister because of the business he was still conducting in the city. An 1890 publication listed his many interests.

Not bad for someone who had only arrived four years earlier! His philanthropy included establishing and personally paying for the Stanley Park zoo. His business interests in the year following publication of the list above included creating an instant town that would become the District of Mission. The Mission museum tells the story “As a land developer and businessman, James Welton Horne had erected the city of Brandon by a railway junction on the Manitoba prairie. Successful in that endeavor, he saw the importance of the Mission junction and invested money to develop the downtown area of what he believed would be another future metropolis. This downtown was on Horne Street, down on the flats by the river. He had buildings put up to create a kind of “instant town”, and he bought great plots of land from the existing settlers. He drew up a map of his plots and divided them into neat lots, naming the streets after cities and states in Canada and the United States. The “Great Land Sale” was advertised in Canada and abroad, inviting potential settlers to buy into his dream. People came by from near and far, and there was a special train to bring people from Vancouver for the day. The St. Mary’s Boys’ Band played and the sale was really quite a spectacular event. However, the auction was less successful than anticipated, and not all of the plots sold. Nevertheless, Horne managed to come out on top. Today, while the streets on his initial map have very different names, three names remind us of his lasting legacy: James, Welton, and Horne Streets are in the heart of downtown Mission.”

The museum goes on to note that unfortunately, in 1894 the convenience of proximity to the Fraser River became inconveniene when the river flooded, and the town was later re-established further up the hill. His 1892 credit rating was good – and interestingly he is listed as a rancher on Lulu Island, another of his successful investments.

Mr A P Horne, who arrived in Vancouver in 1889, and was not a relative of James Welton Horne remembered meeting him in a conversation recorded by City Archivist Major Matthews in 1945. “Mr. Horne lived down on the corner of about Pender and Howe Street, and used to take his meals at the Hotel Vancouver. So one day I met him at the Hotel Vancouver; he said, ‘Good evening’ as I passed, so I sat down and we talked. He was a fine man. I think Mr. Horne was mixed with Mr. McKee in the street railway, what we call the B.C. Electric Railway now, and there were a lot of IOUs when it got into financial difficulty, and some of them were not Mr. Horne’s, but, as I understand it, he paid the whole lot of them.

“Anyway, we sat on the verandah of the Hotel Vancouver, and we were talking and he told me that he thought a lot of us young Englishmen. He said he didn’t play cricket or football or baseball, but he thought a lot of the young Englishmen who did. He was a very quiet man, I don’t think he belonged to any club; he was so busy looking after his financial interests. I think he married a” [blank]; “they did not live together and I think had agreed to separate.

“He said to me as we sat there that he had no ‘vices.’ Did not smoke or drink; collected his own rents, and had a rule that if the rent was not paid, he would collect 10 per cent extra when it was overdue. So I said to him that he was full of vice; that to charge 10 per cent extra interest was a vice; to collect interest on rent was vice. So I told him how much better it would be if he stopped charging that ten per cent extra on the rent. He told me that evening that he thought he was worth three million.”

 Mr Horne lived on into the 1920s, dying in February 1922. His significant assets were divided among his three sisters.

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.

Ben Springer and James Van Bramer

Springer and Van Bramer (sometimes written as Van Braemer or Van Bremer) were two of Vancouver’s earlier developers, known to have partnered to build the Springer-Van Bramer Block, sometimes referred to as the Masonic Hall, on West Cordova Street in 1888. In fact they pre-date Vancouver, both having been active in Granville, the township that preceded the renamed city, and the block we know today was their third real estate project.

Benjamin Springer was born in Melbourne, (or London) Ontario in 1841, started out in civil engineering and came to BC to join the Cariboo gold rush in 1862, after a year looking for gold in California with his brother-in-law, Jonathan Miller. He remained in Cariboo engaged in mining for nine years and during that time he developed claims on Williams, Antler, Lowhee, Keithley and Mosquito creeks. He headed to the small town of Granville in 1872, and became book-keeper for the Moodyville sawmill on the north shore of Burrard Inlet in 1874, marrying in that year and becoming mill Manager in 1882, moving to ‘the big house’ and retiring in 1890. Springer partnered Van Bramer in his steamship business, and as well as the Vancouver buildings they developed. They also shared ownership of the BC District Telegraph and Delivery Company, obtaining a 50 year franchise for the operation of district telegraph systems in Vancouver and Victoria. Initially, the company provided the transmission and delivery of telegrams to its customers. This service soon evolved into the provision of signal boxes for watchmen and guards, by which the individual could signal his well being at specific intervals to the central office.

Ben Springer c1895. City of Vancouver archives

On retiring from the sawmill Springer partnered in a new company with Captain Mellon, handling merchandise consignments. Ben’s role as Vice-consul for Sweden and Norway was useful in this new venture. They also acted as agents for Fire Insurance companies based in Britain, and marine insurers in the US. An 1890 portrait of Ben Springer said “Mr. Springer owns considerable property and has erected a number of pretentious buildings in the city, among which is the Masonic Temple block and also the Leland block on Hastings street.” As this was otherwise a glowingly positive piece, presumably pretension was acceptable or even admired in the late 19th Century. Ben was both a Mason and a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, was a Justice of the Peace and also acted as School Trustee for over ten years.

The most likely candidate for the first Springer-Van Bramer block is a two-storey brick building at 320 Cordova Street (opposite the building today known as the Springer Van-Bramer Block). It is clearly an early building (although it is possible that the facade has been changed some time after construction). In the 1887 Elector’s list the owner of the lot that the building sits on was T C Sorby – the only parcel of land that he owned in Vancouver. In August 1886 architect Thomas C Sorby placed a notice in the Colonist newspaper “Parties desirous of tendering for a two-storey Brick Block to be erected in Cordova Street, Vancouver, for Messrs Springer and Van Bremer can see the drawings in my office. The proprietors reserve the liberty of declining any or all tenders”.

There was a second Springer-Van Bramer block built a year after the first block, in 1887. This time the architect was N S Hoffar, and the building was said to be located on Hastings Street opposite the Leland Hotel. It was altered again in 1889. The Leland Hotel was located on the south side of the 600 block of Hastings, between Granville and Seymour Streets. There’s some confusion asbout the use of the name ‘Leland Block’, (rather than the Hotel) In the Major Matthews archives The Leland Block is described as either the first, or perhaps the second brick-built structure in the city, and on Cordova Street, but an 1890 Daily World profile puts it (probably wrongly) on Hastings.

The second Springer Van Bramer block is almost certainly the two-storey building, as Ben Springer owned the land in 1887. City of Vancouver archives

James Van Bramer is something of a man of mystery – although he was an American, and was frequently called ‘Captain Van Bramer’, we don’t know where or when he was born, and there are no identified images of him, although there is one description of him as “a little man with a beard“. We know he arrived in BC around 1860 and was part of a syndicate formed by Sewell Prescott Moody to build a steam powered sawmill in New Westminster in 1862; a project that didn’t last long as the first boat to load lumber got stuck on a Fraser river sandbar for six weeks, dissuading other ships from taking the mill’s lumber. The same group incorporated the British Columbia Coal Mining Company in 1865 to expolit the coal in Coal Harbour, but nothing came of that venture either. In 1863 Moody and Van Bramer joined the Masonic Union Lodge No. 899 ER on the north shore, and in 1865 Van Bramer was a member of the group who bought the mill on the north shore, selling out his share a year later.

In 1866 the Sea Foam – a steam tug owned by Van Bramer began regular ferry service between Brighton and Moodyville across the Burrard Inlet. It is described as “quite a nice. comfortable and airy conveyance“. Joseph Mannion recalled the service in an article in the Province in 1909 “The waterfrontage extended from the Sunnyside hotel to the Methodist parsonage, and consisted of a beach which, when the tide was high, was very shallow, for a considerable distance from the shore. To allow passengers landing from the ferry a long floating wharf about four feet wide, and consisting of two-inch planks nailed to logs which crossed them at intervals of ten or twelve feet, extended out to sufficiently deep water to allow of the little steamer mooring alongside. The ferry was owned by James Van Bramer, who carried on a regular service on the inlet as follows: leaving Moodyville at 7.30 a.m., the steamer came across to Gasstown, and leaving there called at the Hastings Mill, picked up the medical officer of the milling companies and returned to Moodyville. Then it ran over to Hastings and met Lewis’ stage from New Westminster which brought in a daily mail from New Westminster.” Captain Van Bramer, despite the title, employed a crew to operate the ferry.

In November 1867 the Sea Foam blew up, fortunately causing no serious injuries. It was joined (or replaced) by the Chinaman and the Lily.

In 1869 he appears to have partnered George Black, the local butcher, in purchasing cattle and sheep. In 1871 Van Bramer is listed as a resident of Granville; later he moved to the north shore, probably with his wife and family. In 1873 he took over mail delivery across the Inlet, receiving $300 a year from the postmaster general. In 1876 he had the Leonora built in Victoria as a mail and ferry boat. Bill Nahanee, in a conversation with Major Matthews of the Vancouver archives recalls “In his cottage on the hill there lived with him an Indian woman, her name was Lizzie, her Indian name Ka-ak-sala; she belonged to the Katzie Indian Reserve up the Fraser River. She was a young woman, and they had three children. There was Louisa, Leonora, and the youngest one whose name I don’t recall. I don’t know if he named the tug Leonora after his second daughter, or not, but it would seem so”.

He lived in Moodyville rather than Granville, and was recorded there in 1882, described as a steamboat captain. In 1888 the Senator was launched. (Captain Van Bramer may of course be in the picture below). Later, when we sold the launches to the Union Steamship Co and went to the US, his older daughters apparently went with him, and his wife took the youngest back to the Katzie reserve.

At some point in the early 1870s he acquired an interest in a silver mine, the Victoria Mine, near Hope, and was partners in the 1880s with Hugh Nelson, in a mine on Texada Island.

S.S. Senator at City Wharf c1889. City of Vancouver Archives

The third building that we know the men partnered to build is a flatiron building on West Cordova Street, designed by N S Hoffar, and completed in 1888, with 5 stores, second floor offices and the Masonic Temple and Oddfellows’ Hall on the third floor.

Springer Van Bramer block in 1888 – City of Vancouver archives

The building still stands today, relatively unscathed, although the elaborate cornice and Masonic Insignia have been removed for safety reasons.

Van Bramer had a more exciting retirement. He relocated to California on or before 1888, although he visited Victoria as late as 1894. In 1892 a San Diego dispatch to the Post Intelligencer reported: “The steam schooner Eliza Edward was today fined $1,400 for landing and taking on cargo at Santa Barbara without complying with the customs regulations. Captain Van Bremer paid the fine cheerfully, and took out clearance papers for hunting and fishing. He plans to leave this port Monday. The charges of smuggling were dismissed for want of actual proof.” In explanation, the Seattle paper adds: “The sealer Eliza Edwards of Vancouver was supposed to be in the smuggling business. When she sailed from the home port recently she announced her destination as Cocos Island off Costa Rica to hunt for $6,000,000 buried by pirates. She hove too off Victoria and, it is supposed, took out a cargo of Chinese and opium. She slipped into the port of Santa Barbara, Cal., and was off again before the customs officers knew it, and it is supposed she landed her cargo. When the Edwards left Victoria she announced her destination as Valdivia, Chili; at San Diego, he said he was bound for the Hawaiian Islands”. (Victoria Daily Colonist Tuesday July 11th1892). The story was widely reported.

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The New York Times made several attempts at identifying the Captain, none very accurately. Because the same story appeared in other papers, including the Colonist in Victoria, we know it is James Van Bramer.

The Captain died in Santa Barbara in 1895 not long after returning a further mysterious voyage to the Cocos Islands to search for the buried treasue he believed was there.  In a curious postscript to the story, an edition of the Victoria paper three months after his death claimed that “Captain Van Bremer’s Dream Proven a Reality – Millions Recovered From Their Hiding Place”.