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).

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R V Winch

Richard Vance Winch was born in Ontario in 1862 (although 1863 is recorded in some census entries). Despite becoming a very wealthy and successful member of Vancouver’s business elite, R V Winch does not appear to feature in any detail in any of the biographies published in the city through the years he was active. His early story does however appear in several books, some of them about the salmon industry where R V made much of his money. Here’s an example “He was born in 1862 in Cobourg, Ontario. He ran away from home at age 16, herded cattle and worked on the CPR, arriving in B.C. in 1893.” The 1871 census shows him aged 8 in Hamilton, where he was still living (aged 19) with his mother and father (a butcher, also called Richard) in 1881, and he was still a student. He arrived in Vancouver late in 1886, and was already in business by 1887. Whether he embroidered his story to match some of the other pioneers, or whether the accounts got the wrong Winch is unclear. There was a Winch family in Cobourg, so it appears that he was born there and moved to Hamilton, probably in 1871, the year his sister Elizabeth was christened in Cobourg. (Another sister, Julia, born in 1860, also moved to Vancouver and married George Bower who worked for R V and became a property developer himself, developing the Bower building on Granville Street).

Exactly how he raised his capital to start in business is also, at this juncture, unclear, but R V travelled extensively in the early years of his involvement in Vancouver. He sailed for San Francisco in September 1887, returning in December, and he went again in spring of 1888, and to Puget Sound at the end of the year, apparently on behalf of a company called Harning Bros (of whom there is no trace – although there is a salmon cannery run by Harlock and Co). In spring of 1889 he travelled to San Francisco again, this time with his wife.

In 1887 he was in business on Cordova Street as a fish and game dealer with Joseph Shupe, and apparently also living on the same street. The following year Mr Shupe is no longer associated with the Vancouver Market at 20 Cordova Street – it’s all R V Winch’s. In 1889 the address is the same, but the business is now ‘wholesale fruit and commission’ and Mr Winch is living at 412 Oppenheimer St (these days East Cordova). It’s likely that the Directories are mistaken about the address, as Major Matthews recorded that Mr Winch’s place of business in 1887 was 125 feet west of the southwest corner of Carrall and Cordova Street, then the principal business street, and the busiest part, of the City of Vancouver. This small wooden building was pulled down when the Dunn-Miller block was erected (in 1888). Mr Winch recalled “We supplied the Canadian Pacific Railway steamships and railway from Hong Kong to Banff with fresh provisions from that little store

Vancouver Market, Cordova Street 1888 – City of Vancouver Archives

In 1889 he was offering ice for sale – perhaps the business he was setting up in San Francisco. In 1890 the details are the same, but there is a telephone (#58), In 1891 he’s shown as being at 52 Cordova, and in 1892 he’s offering both fruit and fish and his credit rating is considered to be good. There’s another almost identical picture to the one below that has the Winch name board, and that’s numbered as 66 (in 1899).

We know that 52/66 Cordova was built for him. In 1889 R V Winch commissioned Thomas Hooper to design the Winch Block with shops and offices on Cordova. The building that’s on the site these days is a residential condo building, but the building was still standing in the 1930s. Here’s a picture of the building in 1896, by which point a Mr Bower has partnered in the game business (apparently R V Winch’s sister had married Mr Bower, who was from Coburg, Ontario).

Winch & Bower, Cordova St, 1896 – City of Vancouver Archives We have no other image of RV Winch. Mr. Bower has his hand on the barrel and Mr. Winch is to his right

W A Grafton, in conversation with Major Matthews recalls selling game to the company. “You see, I used to sell all the fish and game—deer and grouse—to the Hotel Vancouver at first, or to Coughtery, the butcher, and then I changed over to Dick Winch” (Winch and Bower.) “The biggest lot I ever sold to Winch was thirteen deer and sixty-seven brace of grouse all shot by my brother and myself on Bowen Island, and in two days; deer were ‘thick’ then. Winch gave me sixty-eight cents a brace for the grouse, and five cents a pound for the deer.

You could sell the deer only at the opening of the season. After that, you could not sell them; the market was glutted; they did not want them. After the Comox started running, they brought in too many from up north, but you could always sell blue grouse.”

A bit further east was the butcher’s store of Hayes and McIntosh, seen here in 1893. R V Winch’s building was one of the buildings on the right half of the picture.

The unit block of Cordova, 1893 – City of Vancouver Archives

One account of Winch’s life (one of those that have him running away from Cobourg aged 16) says he lost everything in a depression in the 1890s. This seems unlikely, as he had a new home built in 1899. The 1890 Vancouver Board of Trade Annual Report shows the annual catch associated with the two principle fishery related companies: R V Winch was easily the larger, with 120,000 of fresh salmon caught. He was in partnership with Mr Port of New Westminster, and they used the railway to ship halibut and sturgeon on ice to the east and into the United States. In 1899 he had bought out the Anacortes Packing Co for $26,000, and successfully packed the entire 40,000 case production. Taking a risk (which his partner wasn’t willing to pursue) he bought a further 26,000 cases of cans, and a second salmon run allowed him to pack those too. On the strength of this success the Alaska Packers Association bought out the Anacortes operation for $450,000, cash.

R V Winch was starting to entertain serious business success as the city’s growth took off in the early years of the century. His business interests widened to include insurance, importing materials (he lost a court case over losses associated with a cargo of Portland Cement on its was from the UK to North America), and most of all the salmon canning. His obituary in the Province (which is probably the source of the Cobourg/cowboy story) is probably more accurate in describing his business activities “he established the Canadian Pacific Canning Company on the Fraser River in 1893. In 1895 he shipped the first trainload of canned salmon ever exported from this province. They sold in Liverpool, England, for about $5 per case. It was a shipment of 30,000 cases, on which Mr Winch said he cleared $1 per case. His enterprise helped set up canneries at Nootka Sound and on the Naas, Skeena and Fraser Rivers. He also built a cannery at Anacortes. During his career he built and operated seven canneries and one sawmill. At one time these were valued at $1,600,000.” So after only 10 years of operations, In 1902, having built the company up, it was sold. “Mr. Winch acting as manager during the first three years, after which Mr. Alexander assumed the duties of that office, continuing as such for six years and proving capable, discriminating and far-sighted in the discharge of his duties. At the end of that time the company disposed of their interests to the British Columbia Packers’ Association”.

In the early 1900s R V Winch and Company were formed through the acquisition of Robert Ward and Company, a Victoria based commission merchant with connections to Winch through the salmon canning industry. (Over fishing was starting to make the salmon industry far less predictable or lucrative). The commission merchant was the typical Pacific-coast businessman of the time. He acted as broker, supplier, and insurance and shipping agent to a variety of entrepreneurs, in addition to importing and exporting on his own account.

In 1905 he commissioned a building on West Pender Street, designed by Grant & Henderson. As with the first building, it’s no longer in existence; these days the 500 block on the north side of Pender Street is Conference Plaza.

In 1899 Thomas Hooper had been hired to design the Winch family home on Comox Street, and it was Hooper & Watkins who got the contract in 1907 to design Mr Winch’s serious property investment. Construction took 3 years, was completed in 1911, and cost a reported $700,000. It was described as “an entirely modern Class A office building, the first of its kind in British Columbia” It’s something of a departure from some of Thomas Hooper’s other buildings – here he was given a generous budget so designed a Beaux-Arts Classical style stone-clad building (albeit on a steel and reinforced concrete frame) that would look at home in London or Paris.

The Winch Building in 1915 – City of Vancouver Archives

The building today is part of the Sinclair Centre

We get hints at the degree of success the Winch family enjoyed. In 1908 Mr and Mrs Winch visited Los Angeles. R V Winch bought a 1910 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost from Captain Clarence Mawson Marpole not long after Marpole had taken delivery of it. His steady advancement from his arrival in 1886 to his holding significant position in the business life of the city is shown in the Census entries. In 1891, Richard is aged 29, born in Ontario, a Methodist, listed as a Green Grocer, Bella is 25, born of Scottish parents in Ontario, son Richard is aged 1. Ten years later in 1901, Richard is age 39 (20 March 1862) with Bella, 38 and 11 year old son Fife, 8 year old daughter Gertrude, son Charles 6 and Harry 3.and Linda Carlson, their 21 year old servant. (Presumably Richard Fife Winch was known by his middle name to avoid confusion). In 1911 Richard is now born in 1863, wife is now Isabell and has lost 2 years in age, their 21 year old son is called Richard again, Gertrude is 18, Charles is 15, Harry 13, Donald 10, and the household is completed with a servant Edith Docksay aged 22 (probably mistakenly noted as male), a 19 year old cook, Hoy and a 48 year old gardener, Sing.

Winch’s business continued to prosper. He added property dealing to the commission and insurance businesses. (In 1920 for example the company was selling 4 houses in the West End).

R V Winch advertisement in Henderson’s Directory 1919

There are only a few records available that refer to Mr Winch in later years. In 1912 he acquired an orchard estate in Lytton, Earlscourt, and got Maclure & Fox to design a bungalow on the property (although it’s also referred to as the Mansion – so it was quite the bungalow! It burned down in 1993.) He continued growing apples on 17,000 trees until the late 1940s when a late frost decimated the crop. He worked the estate with David Spencer who owned the Vancouver Department store on West Hastings Street and his son, Colonel Victor Spencer, who had married R V Winch’s daughter. There are now films available of the life of the family, donated to the Vancouver Archives. They date back to the 1920s, and there are brief glimpses of R V Winch playing with his grandchildren at Jericho Beach, at his home on Comox Street, and at the Lytton ranch.

He died in 1952 aged 89.

 

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.

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).

Jonathan Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Rogers in 1916. City of Vancouver Archives photograph

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

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

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

Chang Toy

Chang Toy was the developer of a number of important Chinatown buildings, although only a few of them now remain. The founder of the Sam Kee Company, Chang Toy rose from having virtually nothing to become almost certainly the wealthiest man in Chinatown.

Chang Toy – City of Vancouver Archives photograph

Born in Guangdong Province in 1857, his father died when he was aged three, but still Chang Toy was able to go to school and was married as a child (so his mother would have a servant). He came to Canada in 1874 as a labourer, initially working in Victoria, then in a New Westminster sawmill before moving to Granville around 1876 and buying a share in a laundry, (probably Wah Chong’s). He added a small grocery business and started labour contracting other Hakka speaking Chinese workers. Over the years, among other businesses he was involved in he added charcoal burning, an import and export business, steamship ticket sales and real estate. Initially goods were shipped from a more established Victoria merchant, the Wing Chong Company. Chang Toy’s company were known as the Sam Kee Company as if there were such a person, although it is an entirely made up name.

After the 1886 fire (which presumably wiped out his business) Chang Toy moved to Steveston, but by 1888 he was back in business in the newly named Vancouver. Retail sales rose steadily, and in addition the company acted as wholesalers, importing goods from Hong Kong and then shipping on to other stores elsewhere in BC’s interior. In the early 1900s the store was on the south side of Pender, backing on to False Creek (which was much bigger in those days). Sam Kee also acted as a clearing-house for Chinese sending money back to China. By 1908 trade in goods like rice had grown hugely, with Chinese sourced rice being shipped to major Vancouver wholesalers like Kelly-Douglas and W H Malkin. On the export side the main product was salted fish, initially to Hong Kong but later to Shanghai as well. As the trade expanded, the company developed complex relationships with Japanese fishing concerns. As sources of fish declined, Sam Kee developed new connections in Nanaimo, and added a wharf, fish tanks and a saltery which were in turn leased to Japanese companies who supplied the fish that Sam Kee exported.

Although the different traders in Chinatown were rivals, they co-operated more than might be expected. In 1893 Won Alexander Cumyow (another Vancouver merchant) and Chang Toy pooled funds to buy property that they then leased to Wing Sang and other merchants for two years, before selling.

By 1904 the company were based in a 2-storey building at 433 Carrall Street. This was probably the 1903 commission for the Sam Kee company building by W T Whiteway. Soon after it appears to have had a third storey added. The extraordinary pace of development in the early years of the 20th Century can be seen on this site – by 1911 the site had been sold and the new BC Electric depot and offices were being built here.

Carrall St, probably around 1905. The building on the right was 433 Carrall, beyond it was the Methodist Mission, then another building across Pender Street also owned by Sam Kee that would be expropriated by the City.     City of Vancouver Archives photo

Altogether the company held 10 lots in Chinatown, but also land in Gastown, and at the corner of Pender and Richards Streets as well as on Burrard and Hastings Streets. Residential hotels or apartments were built here, either turned over to white hotel operators or non-Chinese management. In total Chang Toy owned five hotels, and built two others on leased land. Overall there were greater land holdings outside Chinatown than within the area.

In 1910 the company moved to 111 East Pender Street (built in 1903 by Victoria merchant Chu Lai and designed by W T Whiteway, later the home of the Green Door Restaurant), and by 1920 they were based at 147 Keefer Street, a building with a confusing pedigree – the building permit being issued to Kennerley Bryan for Sam Kee in 1911 but plans attributed to Fred Townley for the Wing Kee Rice Mills (probably a Sam Kee related company) existing from 1912. It’s possible the final version was a revisit of Bryan’s initial design.

In 1910 Sam Kee Company employed W F Gardiner to design a $55,000 addition to an existing building on Powell Street. That was the City Hotel, on Powell Street at the other end of the block from the iconic Europe Hotel. In 1911 the Oriental Hotel on Water Street was required to be demolished by the City Health Inspectors, despite Chang Toy’s protest. However, the same year he built a new hotel on Main Street, designed by Perry and Nicholais. Two of the pieces of land the Sam Kee Company acquired on Burrard Street these days have office buildings on top – one site underneath Park Place next to the Cathedral.

Oriental Hotel 1889 (City of Vancouver archives)

Chang Toy’s private life expanded as much as his business; in the Chinese custom of the time he accumulated five wives, and several children by at least two of them. He never really learned to speak English, and retained traditional Chinese dress until his death in 1920.

Like the other Chinese merchants Chang was sometimes willing to take risks and start new ventures. For a short while starting in 1893 he had a 25% stake in a gambling syndicate called Hop Lee Word Flowers, a word-guessing lottery. The Sam Kee Company sometimes imported opium when they had a customer who needed it. Chang operated a theatre, the Sing Ping, located on Columbia Street (but addressed on Keefer) which he had built in 1914 by architect W H Chow, and he invested in the troop who performed there between 1915 and 1918, although it appears that this was not a money-making proposition.

The four buildings still standing that are probably Sam Kee developments are somewhat different in character. The first is on Pender Street, and these days is more often called the Chinese Freemasons Building. It was completed at some point early in the 1900s, but records are sketchy. It was almost certainly complete by 1906, as there is a picture dated to that year, but before that we’re relying on business directories which were less interested in the businesses in this part of town, particularly those that were Chinese or Japanese owned. In about 1907 the building was bought by the Chee Kung Tong, an organisation for Chinese workers first established in Vancouver in 1892 that renamed itself the Chinese Freemasons in 1920. Active in Chinese politics, the organisation later took a position critical of both the Nationalists and the Communist Party.

The second building is something of a surprise; it’s almost certainly one of the apartment buildings that Sam Kee built on lots around the growing city, and somehow it has survived to today. Sam Kee acquired two 25 foot lots at the corner of Pender and Richards in 1904, and the building still there today, the Empress Rooms, were completed in 1906. The architect has yet to be identified. These days it’s the home of MacLeods Books.

The third building is the one that is most associated with the Sam Kee name. In 1912 the city expropriated Sam Kee’s building to widen Pender Street, leaving the company with a strip only 6 feet wide. Although this has been characterised as an attack on the Chinese community, it was a normal business transaction for Chang Toy, who instructed his lawyers to seek $70,000 compensation for the land in expectation of receiving the $62,000 that was the final settlement. Unwilling to have a potentially utilised plot sit vacant – albeit only 6 feet deep, Bryan and Gillam were hired to design a 3-storey steel frame building that overhangs the sidewalk to add a slightly greater depth, with a basement incorporating public baths. The building permit said the work was worth only $8,000 and the architects also carried out the building work. This is generally accepted as the narrowest building in the world.

In the same year Sam Kee also had a residential building permit at 145-149 Keefer Street designed by Kennerley Bryan, to be built by R P Forshaw at a cost of $16,000. It is more likely that the drawings prepared for Sam Kee’s Wing Kee Rice Mills by Fred Townley in 1912 were associated with the design and commercial use of the building.

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“. It’s possible he was born in New York, as most othe US Van Bramer family members lived there. 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 that year he was part of a syndicate, with Hugh Nelson, Sewell Moody and George Dietz, along with several others, who bought the rights to the Eureka silver mine, near Hope, with shares of $150,000. The Van Bremer mine yielded ore with as much as $2,000 worth of silver per ton, and sold in San Francisco at $420 a ton. Captain Van Bramer was also partners in the 1880s with Hugh Nelson, in a mine on Texada Island.

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 he 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.

 

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”.