A Trip Across Vancouver in 1907

Photo Courtesy of the Vance family.

John F.C.B. Vance, the star of Blood, Sweat, and Fear: the Story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver’s first forensic investigator, started his first day of work as City Analyst on May 1, 1907. My challenge was to get Vance from his Yaletown house to Market Hall, a long-gone gothic building on Westminster Street (Main) near Hastings, which doubled as City Hall.

I have no idea how Vance got to work that day, but I decided to use some creative licence and have Vance take the streetcar. I went to Vancouver Archives, found a map from 1907, blew up the sections, ran them off, taped them together and stuck them on my wall. Next, I played City Reflections. William Harbeck shot the earliest known surviving footage of Vancouver that year by mounting a hand-cranked camera to the front of a streetcar. Just five years later poor William was dead, a victim of the Titanic, and the film disappeared for decades until it turned up in the home of an Australia film buff who thought he was looking at Hobart, Tasmania.

In 2007, the Vancouver Historical Society reshot the same route and put the two side by side.
Vance, I decided, would catch the streetcar at Granville and Georgia, by the banner that boasted “In 1910, Vancouver then will have 100,000 men.” In 1907 this corner was the social hub of the city, flanked by the 60-room (first) Hotel Vancouver and the Opera House, and across from the Hudson’s Bay department store, a red brick building built in 1893. Construction was everywhere, on every block. The home of the new post office (Sinclair Centre) was going up at Hastings and Granville, as was Fire Hall No. 2 on East Cordova, and the recently defunct Pantages Theatre would soon open as a 1,200-seat vaudeville theatre.

Slogans on banners shouted out the benefits of development. As today, Vancouver was attracting investment and visitors from around the world, and property prices were soaring.

While it was fascinating to see what’s changed, I was surprised at how much has stayed the same. The Vancouver Opera House, the first and the Second Hotel Vancouver are long gone, as is the CPR Station, a massive chateau-style building that dominated the foot of Granville Street. But Spencer’s Department store (now SFU) remains, as do several of the buildings between Richards and Homer. The former Royal Bank of Canada is now the film production campus of the Vancouver Film School, the Flack block, built in 1898 is still east of Cambie, and what used to be the Central School, is now part of Vancouver Community College. Woods Hotel, just a year old when the film was shot, is now the Pennsylvania Hotel.

In 1907, the Province was one of three daily newspapers. An ad that year boasted that it was read in 90 percent of Vancouver homes, and sold for five cents. Vance would have paid five cents to ride the streetcar. And, he would have disembarked at the Carnegie Library on Westminster Avenue.

I’m not sure how long in real time it would have taken Vance to get to work that day, but it took me most of the week to get him there on paper.

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Eve will be at Word Vancouver on Sunday September 24 (Library Square) to talk about and read from her latest book Blood, Sweat, and Fear.

Watch the book trailer

Eve Lazarus is a writer with a passion for non-traditional history and a fascination with murder. Her true crime books include the BC bestsellers Blood, Sweat, and Fear: the story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver’s first forensic investigator (2017); Cold Case Vancouver: the city’s most baffling unsolved murders (2015) and Sensational Vancouver (2014). Eve blogs at Every Place has a Story–evelazarus.com