“Old Books” Seller

Str P94

Crop of CVA Str P94. 509 W. Georgia (between Seymour and Richards). Wm S. Dagnell, “Old Books” Seller. ca1916. No photo attribution is given by CVA, but I suspect this may be Stuart Thomson’s work, as Dagnall’s shop was just west of Thomson’s shop at this time.

I am a sucker for antiquarian and used book stores. And so, when I stumbled upon this, to me, hitherto unknown bookshop, I naturally investigated to learn as much as I could about the seller. There wasn’t much to learn, unfortunately, as the shop was in business for only about a year during the Great War.

The proprietor was William S. Dagnall. He seems to have immigrated to Canada with his wife, Emma and their 5 kids in 1909 from the U. S. (whence Emma and all but one of their kids were born). Dagnall began his time in the city as a bricklayer (according to the 1911 census) and kept working at his trade for roughly the next 5 years.

In 1916, then in his late 50s, and perhaps musing that there had to be easier ways to earn a living than laying bricks for the rest of his days, he decided to open an “Old Books” store at 509 West Georgia (north side of the block between Richards and Seymour, more or less where Quorum Fashion Emporium is located today). As mentioned earlier, Dagnall stuck it out as a used bookseller for only about a year; by 1917, he chucked the used book business for vending cigars a couple of blocks away at the Labor Temple Cigar Store (on Dunsmuir at Homer). This alternative work occupied him for a couple of years. But by 1919, Dagnall was back doing what I can only assume was steadier and more lucrative work as a bricklayer. He spent the next twenty years (from 1920-40) earning his daily bread by working at his trade. In 1940, he appears in the city directory as secretary for the Masons, Bricklayers and Plasterers Union and by 1942 (by which time he’d have been about 84!) he is shown as “retired”. On November 5, 1945, William Dagnall died.

I can only deduce from Dagnall’s brief sojourn into used book-selling entrepreneurship that he discovered what so many others over the decades have learned (albeit, in many cases, not nearly as quickly as did Dagnall): That unless you are specially talented and have a taste for the long hours and very often little return and that (probably most of all) you find that you have a true love for the occupation and the odd personalities whom you attract as customers — that the used book-selling business is best left to personal flights of fancy!

Mil P107 - [Military honour guard on Georgia Street between Seymour Street and Richards Street] 1918-21 Stuart Thomson

CVA – Mil P107 – Military honour guard on Georgia Street between Seymour Street and Richards. This view looks up Georgia Street a short time after Dagnall had vacated the “Old Books” shop; it seems to have been taken over by a taxidermist (although the street numbering within this block appears to have changed). 1918-21. Stuart Thomson

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