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.

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).

Yip Sang

Yip Sang was the head of the Wing Sang Company, an important Vancouver Chinese trading company from 1888 onwards. Yip Sang was born in Guangdong Province in 1845, and came to San Francisco on a sailing junk from Hong Kong in 1864. He earned enough by washing dishes, cooking in a restaurant and panning gold on his trip to the United States to be able to return to China and identify the woman he intended to marry. He returned to the US, among other jobs cooking for cowboys in Montana, allowing him to return again to China to marry and have two children. His first wife died, but he had already married another to look after her and his children. On a further trip back he married again, so now had two wives to look after his three children.

In North America he passed through Vancouver, headed for the Cariboo gold fields, but with no luck there ended up selling coal door-to-door in New Westminster. Finally his luck was in when he impressed Andrew Onderdonk, the contractor building the CPR line from Port Moody to Kamloops, becoming bookeeper, timekeeper and paymaster for the Chinese work gangs building the line. He then started supplying the CPR with work gangs, recruiting in the Pearl River Delta and while there marrying a fourth wife.

Yip Sang, UBC Chung Collection

Once the railway construction was completed Yip Sang returned to Vancouver, establishing the Wing Sang Company (it means ‘everlasting’) in 1888. He built what was probably the first brick building in Chinatown on Pender Street, enlarging the building in 1901 to three storeys to allow him to bring his entire family from China (using a design from T E Julian) and then building an even larger 6-storey family and stores block in 1912 at the back of his lot on Market Alley, this time using Edward Stanley Mitton as architect.

Wing Sang’s building in 1900. City of Vancouver Archives photograph

By 1908 Yip Sang was one of the four largest Chinese owned companies in the city with real estate worth over $200,000. Yip Sang’s family grew as successfully as his businesses, with 19 sons and 4 daughters all living with their father and three wives and other family members including numerous cousins. The growing family moved to the new building at the back, leaving space for the expanding businesses covered by the Wing Sang company, including labour supply to the railway, rice, silk and clothing imports, salt herring export and steamer ticket brokerage.

Like several other Vancouver traders (although far fewer than in Victoria) the Wing Sang Company imported and processed opium. Although the government changed the rules after the McKenzie inquiry into the riot of 1908, Henderson’s Directory hadn’t caught up with those changes in 1909. (Market Alley runs behind the Wing Sang building)

Yip Sang never learned English well, but employed two secretaries, one English speaking and one Chinese who could also speak English. In 1911 when Sun Yat-Sen and his followers toppled the Manchu Dynasty, Wing Sang cut off his queue and adopted western dress.

He owned at least 16 lots in the city, including the 11-lot Canton Alley tenament district of homes and businesses which saw construction on Pender Street in 1903 ans 5 more buildings that cost $50,000 to develop in 1904. A 1912 building replaced the 1903 building with a substantial 7-storey apartment block.

While those buildings were cleared away many decades ago, two other buildings developed by the Wing Sang Company are still standing. The Chinese Times Building was completed in 1902 to designs by W T Whiteway, working with Chinese architect W H Chow – even though in theory the Chinese were prevented from working as professionals in the city. The building sits on the corner of Pender and Carrall, and on the back half of the lot (so on Carrall Street) J G Price designed the West Hotel for Yip Sang in 1913.

As with several of his Chinese competitors, Yip Sang didn’t only invest in Chinatown. In 1912 J G Price designed the Fraser Hall for Wing Sang, located at Fraser and 46th Avenue. It’s still there today, 100 years later.

Yip Sang died in 1927, his death being marked by the longest funeral procession Vancouver had ever seen. Unusually, he opted to be buried in Vancouver rather than having his bones returned to China, as normal custom would have indicated. The buildings on Pender Street stayed in the family until 2001. In 2004 Bob Rennie acquired them and undertook a massive restoration project, moving his realty company to the Pender Street building and installing his extensive art collection and a gallery for curated works into the gutted six-storey family block on Market Alley.

Loo Gee Wing

Yip Sang and Chang Toy, probably the two best-known Chinese merchants trading in Vancouver at the start of the 20th Century have been extensively written about, but far less has been published about Loo Gee Wing. His story is just as interesting, and there are still several buildings standing today that he had built. The references to Loo Gee Wing appear in a variety of contexts – as a merchant with losses as a result of the 1907 riots, as the owner of one of two theatres playing Cantonese Opera, and in a series of sensational court cases that eventually fizzled out. The various pieces have been assembled here in roughly chronological order.

Loo Gee SF 1878

It’s not entirely clear when Loo Gee Wing arrived in BC, most likely in 1887 when he acquired Kwong Lee and Co. In 1878 he was in San Francisco, while his father visited Victoria, so there were earlier connections, and Mr. Wing was an experienced and successful merchant long before he arrived here. He bought some land in Victoria in 1890 on Fisgard Street that he then sold to another Chinese merchant, Loo Tai Cho, in 1893. He was certainly living in Victoria in 1892.

Loo Gee Wing was reported in the 1901 census to have been born on 23 December 1861. He was living in Fisgard Street with his wife, Mong Wing born in 1864 and sons Chang Shong born in 1886, Chung Key, born 1890 and his brother, Chu Lung born in 1874. He was still living in Victoria in 1907, the Times Colonist reporting “April 25, 1907 Breaking through a wooden wall a brave young Chinaman, Leon Loo, elder son of Loo Gee Wing, a wealthy Chinaman property owner, residing on Fisguard street, at great risk to his life saved his mother, brother and cousin from a horrible death by fire which broke out about four o’clock this morning.”

There don’t seem to be any images of Loo Gee Wing, but In 1897 he gave evidence in a forgery case in Victoria. The Colonist reported “Loo Gee Wing, whose mild countenance beamed behind a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, was the next witness. He is a prosperous merchant and speaks English particularly well.”

We also know from the 1907 McKenzie King hearings into the riots earlier that year how he dressed. The Province newspaper described him as “dressed like a tailor’s model in the suit of a prosperous Englishman down to his patent leathers“. (He was paid $153 compensation for the damage to his 45 Dupont Street property). Whether it’s accurate or not, the Province, claimed Loo Gee Wing was one of the two wealthiest men in Chinatown.

Many recent published sources repeat the statement “Loo had made his fortune in the Cariboo Gold Rush”, but there is little evidence of this. There’s no question that somewhat later (the earliest record seems to be in 1912) Loo Gee Wing had interests in Barkerville in mining – up to this date all references to his business dealings relate to property, court cases (some involving gambling), or trading.

An early reference to a Loo Gee Wing – likely to be the same person – is a complex case of 20 pounds of opium (valued at over $20,000) found in a rowboat in San Francisco harbour in 1881. The case was referred to as “Three Thousand Eight Hundred and Eighty Boxes of Opium v. United States”. It was reported to be ‘faked’ to look as if it was of Hong Kong origin but said to be actually manufactured in the US of Turkish opium. Loo Gee Wing of Hop Kee & Co gave evidence about supplying Turkish sourced gum opium, manufactured at Hop Kee’s factory in New Jersey (not in any way illegally as far as the case details appear to suggest). It was reported in the trial that Hop Kee had stopped dealing in opium in San Francisco in 1881. The judge seems to have had issues with some of Loo Gee Wing’s testimony, and concluded it really was imported opium.

(Hop Kee and Co were large enough to have stores in New Orleans and Sydney, as well as Baker City, Oregon and an opium factory in New Jersey. The company had links with BC going back to 1858, when they paid $3,500 to Allan, Lowe & Co to ship 300 Chinese workers on the Caribbean from San Francisco, soon after gold was discovered on the Fraser River – thought to be the first Chinese to arrive in British Columbia.)

The first reference to Loo Gee Wing in Victoria is in the British Colonist from August 21 1887

In 1862 the Kwong Lee Company was said to be the second largest landowner in the city of Victoria after the Hudson’s Bay Company. Kwong Lee also legitimately operated one of the 15 opium refining factories in Victoria in the years between 1860 and 1908.

(Kwong Lee had operated from the 1860s or earlier, (Mrs Chong Lee arrived in 1860 to join her husband) operated by Lee Chong and Tong Fat, (also associated with Tai Soong & Co) and was described as the biggest Chinese import/export company (including, of course, opium) in Victoria. They also had a notable store in Barkerville. Kwong Lee had interests in gold mining; an 1861 report says “Jeffray’s Fraser River Express is transporting gold from a Chinese mining company called Kwong Lee & Co. from Fort Yale to Victoria, B.C”.)

The notice reprinted here says Loo Gee Wing was buying Kwong Lee in receivership. The company’s owners were Loo Chock Fan and Lew Chew Fan – Loo Gee Wing’s father (Loo and Lew are obviously interchangeable in western records). They were the largest Chinese import/export business in British Columbia, and the brothers also operated Kwong U Shing in Guangzhou, Kwong Man Fung in Hong Kong and Hop Kee & Co in San Francisco. They had five other branches in BC, including Yale and Barkerville. It was Loo Chock Fan who arranged the arrival of the first 265 Chinese labourers, and many worked in his gold mine. It is said that due to heavy borrowing and family disputes the company’s assets were sold off in the mid 1880s – in this case to the son of one of the founder’s. No doubt the long drawn out ‘great opium case’ had an impact on company finances (and a lucrative source of revenue) as well.

Loo Gee Wing was no stranger to the courts. In 1903, Betty Keller’s ‘On the Shady Side’ details the biggest police raid to that point in Vancouver’s history on a gambling joint, operated by Peter Sass, (who was white), at 516 Carrall St (in Chinatown). He was said to be a recently opened rival to Loo Gee Wing’s equally elaborate (and illegal) operation at 70 Dupont Street. With Sass’s opening, Loo Gee Wing added female dealers, but there was still too little business for two large scale gambling operations. It is suggested that Mr Loo arranged the police raid on Mr Sass – Mr Sass certainly thought so, and a week later 15 men with axes effectively closed 70 Dupont. A month later Gin Lin Chung, aka Charlie Sing, a professional gambler said to be the original tipster for the raid on Mr Sass was found nastily dead in Steveston. A complex case ensued for perjury when one Li Ping was found guilty after admitting that Chan Toy had paid to say he had seen a Japanese man leaving Charlie Sing’s room after the murder.

A year later in 1904 the case almost repeated itself in a different context. This time Loo Gee Wing was charged with conspiracy in Victoria, accused of setting up two Chinese men on a murder charge. The murder had occurred in Victoria – theatre owner Man Quan was killed in a fight, and two men were accused, tried and sentenced to death. The case was successfully appealed on a technicality, allowing their defence to introduce new evidence that the two accused murderers had not even been present, but that witnesses had been bribed to say they were present by Loo Gee Wing. His motive was said to be revenge for evidence that the accused murderers had given against a gambling operation (in a case that had never come to trial). The conspiracy case apparently collapsed when the judge found that Loo Gee Wing should have been accused of bribery rather than conspiracy.

Loo Gee Wing is known to have built at least five buildings that are still standing today. The first was designed by Emil Guenther in 1904, and cost $21,000 to build. It has been significantly repaired over the years, but sits on the corner of Columbia and Dupont (these days called East Pender Street.

Loo Gee Wing announced plans for a theatre back in 1905, but nothing came of this. On August 3 the Colonist reported “Loo Gee Wing, a wealthy Victoria Chinese, has finally signed the contract for a hotel and theatre at Vancouver. E W Houghton of Seattle is the architect and A P Gillies & Co of Seattle, the builders. E. R. Ricketts of Vancouver, manager of the Vancouver Opera House has a ten year lease on the new building which will be part of the Northwest Theatrical Association circuit.” He clearly changed his mind about the 12 storey theatre and hotel, to be built on Hastings Street, and Mr Gillies sued for damages. Mr Gillies was clearly unhappy at the turn of the case having discovered that the lawyer he thought was representing him was now representing Loo Gee Wing. In July Mr Gillies attempted to have the lawyer dis-barred, and the case for damages was dismissed in August of 1906. If the theatre had been built the debate about ‘taller buildings’ in the Downtown Eastside might have had quite a different context.

The next building we know to have been built by Loo Gee Wing is built on adjacent lots, and located on Hastings Street in a part of town not really identified with Chinese ownership. The designers of what got called The Loo Building were prolific Vancouver architects Hooper and Watkins, working for Song Mong Lim Co. (his wife was sometimes called Mong Lin), and it cost $80,000 to build. The contractors, the National Construction Company, got into financial difficulties, and their subcontractors, Coughlin Brothers, went after the owners to get the $1,700 they were owed. Except the property had changed hands, and Loo Gee Wing was now the owner, and he argued the builders lien didn’t apply to him. The judge was not sympathetic to this view

“The facts are that the defendant Mong Lin, wife of Leo Gee Wing, was the registered owner of the property at the time the contract was entered into by her with the codefendant, and she so continues to the present time. I strongly suspect that the transfer of the property to her husband was a piece of Oriental jugglery perpetuated in order to embarrass lien holders.”

It was leased as office space, and was a prominent building, as this City of Vancouver Archives panorama from around 1909 by Richard Broadbridge shows.

These days the building still marks an important corner, although the restoration of Woodwards on the diagonal corner makes it look a little tired. Today it’s called Abbott Mansions, and as with many of the earliest office buildings it’s now used as a Single Room Occupancy hotel. In 1912 Loo Gee Wing spent $2,000 on repairs to the building.

The building next door – these days known as the Grand Union Hotel, and also completed in 1909, was also developed by Loo Gee Wing.

We can’t be sure when Loo Gee Wing built his Vancouver theatre, known as the Ko Sing Opera House at 124 East Pender Street, but it also seems to be around 1909. In 1914 we find him signing a contract with a Hong Kong performer, using a local booking agent, to appear at the theatre. He also spent $2,700 in repairs on the building that year. We know that Loo Gee Wing also had a theatre in Victoria. (It’s suggested he also owned a boat factory, store, laundry and hotel there).

The main rival for patrons in Chinatown was the Sing Ping Theatre, owned by Chang Toy. (There were theatres built in Hong Kong at the same period with the same names as Vancouver’s theatres). Stephen Brouwers suggests Loo Gee Wing was the more successful owner, as the arrangement of the building allowed him to benefit from retail sales that offset the costs of running the theatre. The Sing Ping ran at a loss and the first company to perform there was wound up in 1918, although it was soon replaced with a new company. Meanwhile the Ko Sing seems to have been successful enough that In 1921 Loo Gee Wing hired S B Birds to alter it to add dressing rooms, boxes and a new ticket office. The appearance of the building today is largely unchanged, although the wooden windows have been replaced with aluminum units.

Loo Gee Wing also developed 100 East Pender; a building that was built two years later than the others in 1911. These days known as the Sun Ah Hotel, the building was designed by Colonel R T Perry, probably with R A Nicholais; Perry and Nicholais also designed the now demolished Sam Kee Hotel on Main Street in the same year. White and Cockerill altered the building for another owner some years later. The building was once adorned with the fabulous neon of the Ho Ho Chop Suey Restaurant – these days a more modest sign identifies its successor, Foo’s Ho Ho. In 1926 the building became the home of a Chinese clan association, the Lung Kong Kung Shaw Association – this society was later known as Lung Kong Tien Yee