I’ve intentionally not shown a caption description of the location of the above image. I’d like you to study the photo and take your best guess as to which block is shown here.
It is the east side of the 300 block of Seymour Street. None of the buildings shown are extant. Most of that block today is the foundation of Harbour Centre tower (with an entry to the mini-mall/food court and a donut shop being the sole relief from a concrete wall, today).
The date the image was made was December 14, 1948. All of the buildings on the block bounded by this street (Seymour), Cordova, Richards, and Hastings had been the property of David Spencer’s department stores for many years until just a few weeks before this image was made.
Late in 1948, T. Eaton Co. had purchased the Spencer’s store at this location, as well as its other properties in B.C. It seems to me probable that Don Coltman, a local pro photographer, was retained by Eaton’s to produce a photographic record of the downtown Vancouver store’s exterior at the time of purchase.¹
So what are the buildings in this image of long-gone Seymour?²
- The building at far left housed the shipping and receiving dock (that helps explain the presence of multiple trucks in the area). Presumably, there were other departments housed in this building over the years. Customers who wished to access that part of the store would likely enter from the rear off Cordova.
- The wee Greco-Roman building in the middle was the only building in the Spencer’s/Eaton’s complex that was not connected to the others. This was probably because there was not a customer service function to the departments housed within it. The building (330 Seymour) had been there from about 1909 — well before it was purchased by Spencer’s in the mid-1930s. It was, for most of its life, the HQ of local realtors known as Mackenzie Bros. and later as Robertson Bros. By looking at Vancouver directories, I’ve been able to confirm that the building had a number of functions over its years as a Spencer’s/Eaton’s property: it began as Spencer’s ‘Food Division’ office³ (1936-43) and later, was Spencer’s ‘Ice Cream’ dept. (1944-46); in 1948, it was Spencer’s ‘Sales Office’; from 1949-52, it was Eaton’s ‘Construction Dept’; and from 1955, it served as Eaton’s ‘Stockroom’. I suspect this building was demolished at the same time as the shipping/receiving building and the old Molson Bank building were (in 1973, according to Changing Vancouver).
- The old Molson Bank building (far right) was established here in 1898 but was purchased by the Bank of Montreal by 1925. Spencer’s bought the property that year and it remained with Spencer’s/Eaton’s until Eaton’s moved to its final location at Pacific Centre in the early ’70s. Interior features of the old Molson Bank are fondly remembered by Gordon Poppy, a 47-year Spencer’s/Eaton’s veteran (he worked out of the Molson block in the Display Department):
[I remember] the fabulous old metal cage elevator, just inside the door that we used to take to get to our office on the 5th floor. The old metal open caging of the elevator was like plant stems, with leaves branching off the stems. Every leaf, was made with a person’s face in silhouette on one side — all hand crafted. There was a stairway that surrounded the elevator, circling upwards. When Spencer’s took over the building, they created a new entrance, at the corner on Hastings and Seymour, but the old elevator remained in its original location. I remember the old marble slab steps, surrounding the elevator were worn down from the many people using the stairs over many years.
Gordon Poppy, email message, 26 Oct 2018.
¹Mr. Coltman made several other photos on the same day as this one. I anticipate writing another post based on two or three of the other photos, with a focus on Spencer’s/Eaton’s automobile parking capacity prior to the establishment by Eaton’s of an extant multi-storey parking garage on Cordova between Richards and Homer ca1950.
²In identifying especially the middle building, I have leaned on the knowledge of one of Spencer’s/Eaton’s longtime employees (and a friend of mine), Gordon Poppy.
³Spencer’s had a Vancouver grocery store located apart from the downtown campus at 2310 West 4th Avenue.