Light and Shadow in the Borderlands: Duncan/Shelly and Earlier Buildings


From within the lobby of Duncan/Shelly, looking to the south (the front) of the building. (Photo: Author, 2014)

This 6-storey office building at 119 W. Pender St. was constructed in 1911 (H. L. Stevens, architect) and was known originally as the Duncan Building; later, as the Shelly Building. It is located in what might be described as the downtown borderlands: it is on the edge of the traditional Vancouver business district and also on the outskirts of Chinatown. The building was named for Howard J. Duncan, original owner/developer, but the building seems not to have succeeded financially and was likely foreclosed upon within a few years. The building was purchased in 1925 by Cora Marie Shelly, wife of entrepreneur and civic leader William Curtis Shelly. W. C. Shelly owned a number of local businesses, including Home Oil and Shelly’s Bakery and was Chair of the Vancouver Parks Board. (1)

In the years before Duncan/Shelly, this part of Pender Street was home first to the Imperial Opera House (ca. 1889-94) and later to an early soldiers’ drill hall (ca. 1889 until 1901, when the Beatty St. Drill Hall opened). The Pender St. Drill Hall achieved its place in history when, in 1899, Canada (along with the rest of the British Empire) joined the Boer War.  Vancouver volunteers (17 in all) joined the Canadian contribution to the War and each of the men were, apparently, given $25 by Vancouver Mayor James Garden as a “thanks” from the city’s citizens to the first from Vancouver to join Canada’s first war. It is difficult to think about the Boer War (or any other) as having many positive points, but one is that, although it was a long war, it wasn’t as hard on Canadian troops as later “world” wars would be. Of the 60 BC men who went to South Africa, there was apparently only 1 casualty — Trooper Timlick of New Westminster.

Historic Places

Sun Spots


(1) A wooden vessel was named after Cora Marie Shelly. For more on the craft today, see here.

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