The Lumberman and His Boy

Str P221 - [A horse-drawn lumber wagon at the corner of Hastings Street and Cambie Street] 1888

CVA: Str P221 – [A horse-drawn lumber wagon at the corner of Hastings Street and Cambie Street]. 1888. Photographer not shown. CVA’s record indicates “Donated by Mr. and Mrs. William Blais in 1944 from the collection of Dr. A.M. Robertson” (the city’s first medical officer of public health).

This is one of my favourite early photographs of Vancouver, the condition of the negative, notwithstanding. I love it for the usual reason for love . . . just because! But also for compositional and historical reasons.

It seems to me all but certain that this was professionally produced, although there is no credit associated with the image as it has come down to us today. The image bears the compositional marks of a professional hand, in my opinion. The lumberman standing atop the cut lumber on the wagon is balanced by the young lad (his son, perhaps?) standing next to the rear of the wagon. Also, the angle at which the wagon is positioned – this is not a normal or natural way to ‘park’ a wagon. In my opinion, the vehicle was posed. It was arranged by the photographer so that the lumber in all of its amazing length was clearly visible, along with the horses and the two human figures.

If I were pressed to name a photo company that seems to me to be the producer of this image, I’d speculate that it was J. D. Hall of the Vancouver branch of the Vancouver Photo Co. Hall would have been in Vancouver for about a year by the time this image was made and his office was just a couple blocks away on Cordova Street.

In addition to the compositional strength of the image, I also love it for what the photo points to historically, today, about a crossing of streets which would become of some importance to the city over the decades ahead and into the 21st century. The four corners of Hastings at Cambie tell different stories. I will highlight just a few of them below:

  • SW:  To the left of the heads of the horses, is what today is (the un-square-like) Victory Square (1924), where the Cenotaph is located. At the time this image was made (1888), however, the first Provincial Courthouse was either under construction or would be very soon on this site. It wouldn’t last long, being torn down ca 1911; it would be an empty lot until Victory Square was established following the Great War (with a notable exception; in the 19-teens, the site served as the home for significant Christian evangelistic meetings). The courthouse would move to the site of today’s Vancouver Art Gallery (at Georgia and Hornby). Some of the buildings visible behind the heads of the horses would give way within the next decade to the Inns of Court building (1894) at the SW corner of Hamilton and Hastings and where the “Hamilton plaque” once was. The plaque commemorated where the CPR’s first land commissioner in Vancouver, L.A. Hamilton, first pounded a stake into the earth and laid out a significant proportion of the streets which are part of Vancouver today.
  • SE: The corner that the horses are facing is the one where the Vancouver News-Advertiser offices once were and which was HQ for a great part of the 20th century to Vancouver’s print journalism offices. Today, the building on that corner is the Architecture Centre (home to the Architectural Institute of B.C.). The building that would have been on the site at the time of this photo, however, was a wood-frame structure.
  • NE: To the right of the wagon, by 1900, would be another architectural landmark: the Flack block (William Blackmore, architect). This building had a substantial, but historically sensitive, re-do in 2008 by Donald Luxton.
  • NW: And, finally, behind the wagon would be, from ca 1895-1910, a shopping mall of sorts. Not by contemporary standards, perhaps, but the Arcade was an early version; it housed 13 shops. By 1910, the “tallest building in the British Empire” (as it would briefly be known), would replace the Arcade. It is the Dominion building and stands there today.

 

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2 Responses to The Lumberman and His Boy

  1. lhhouben says:

    I love this photo too. I’ve never seen it before. I didn’t know all that history, so once again thank you for making my first post reading of the day so interesting and informative!

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