The McIntosh Girls in Tent Town

SGN 167 - [Two women seated in front of tent at Greer's Beach (Kitsilano Beach) 1894? Bailey Bros

SGN 167 – Two of the McIntosh sisters (probably twins Grace and Gertrude, roughly 21, here) at Greer’s Beach (aka “Tent Town” aka, later, “Kitsilano Beach”), 1894? Bailey Bros photo. There are two other related images that appear to have been made the same day by Bailey Bros. One of these shows the sisters having some fun with (I’m guessing), their brother, William. The other shows the sisters posing with an oar and a musical instrument.

I’m not sure what it is about this image that I find compelling. It is a well-made photograph, to be sure; the exposure and composition are flawless. But I don’t think the technical competence of the photographer is what draws me. It may be the uncommon playfulness of the subjects in this late-Victorian image; not just the obvious sisterly affection evident between the girls, but also the discarded clothes, hats, and even the business end of a broom, upon a bed. Evidently, nobody did much of a tidy-up of this tent before the photographer arrived!

How do I know that these ladies are McIntosh sisters? Well, none other than J. S. Matthews so avers. On the verso of the print held at the City Archives, Vancouver’s first Archivist has scrawled (over his signature): “[T]hese are the McIntosh girls.”  But of which McIntosh family were they?  Matthews gives a hint in a related note in which he claimed that there were “several” McIntosh daughters and a son, and that they were “a prominent family”.

I had a look at the census records for 1891 for McIntosh families in Vancouver consisting of “several” girls and one boy. There was only one family I could identify that met those criteria. The family headed by Charlotte McIntosh (and the late, by this time, Alexander) and their progeny: William (31), who was a local butcher (31); Margaret (27), Maude (21), Grace, who taught at Central School (18), Gertrude (18) and Fanny, who became a dressmaker for awhile at Hudson’s Bay Co. (16) — one son and five daughters.

How can I be sure the image was taken at what is known today as Kitsilano Beach (which was originally named, informally, Greer’s Beach, after a “squatter” on CPR-owned land, Sam Greer; and even more informally as ‘Tent Town’)? Again, thanks to notes left by J. S. Matthews on the back of the print shown above. He noted that the tent was on “Kitsilano Beach” and that it sat on the “present [in 1937, when he wrote the note] ‘Hotel Site Park’ at the foot of McNicol (sic) Ave.” at the “north end” of the beach. I think he meant by this that the tent was situated near the ‘chin’ of Kits point. This looks accurate to me, given the image of Tent Town shown below ca1900; in order for the McIntosh tent to have been so surrounded by trees as it plainly was (this is clearest in the two other McIntosh tent images that are part of the series made by Bailey Bros.; see the caption above for the links), the tent would need to have been located toward the northern end of the beach, closer to Kits Point (where a pretty thick stand of trees stood) than to the beach itself.

Be P99 - [Greer's Beach (Kitsilano Beach)] ca 1900

Be P99 – Greer’s Beach (Kitsilano Beach), aka as Tent Town, ca1900. See my annotation with arrow showing where I think the McIntosh tent images were made.

Speculation on Proposed CPR Hotel at Kits Beach

What follows is indirectly related to the tent image of the McIntosh sisters. It pertains to a proposed hotel drawing by American architect, Edward Osborn, reproduced (from the University of Washington Libraries site) by my friend, Jason Vanderhill, at his blog, Illustrated Vancouver

Jason maintains that the proposed hotel shown in the drawing was to go on the 1600 block of Beach Avenue.

I’m speculating that the location of the hotel was to have been at the rough location of the tents shown in the images earlier in this post (almost directly across English Bay from 1600 Beach).

See this excerpt from 1912 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map for Kitsilano Point (and the notation of “Hotel Reserve” at the corner of McNicoll and Maple).

1912 Goads Map Showing Kits CPR Hotel REserve. McNicoll and Maple.

1912 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map showing Kits CPR “Hotel Reserve” at McNicoll and Maple.

Here is what Matthews has to say about the “hotel reserve”, aka the “hotel site”:

The “Hotel Site” is so named from the fact that it so appears on certain early maps of Vancouver as the site of a proposed C.P.R. hotel. The piece of land so known is bound by McNichol (sic) Avenue and Maple Street, and was so marked on the maps when the section of land to the east of Kitsilano Beach was surveyed and opened for occupancy and settlement in 1909. At that time, the General Superintendent of the the Canadian Pacific Railway in Vancouver was Mr. Richard Marpole, and it is stated that it was his dream to have erected on the “Hotel Site” a palatial tourist resort hotel.

In the real estate boom days [what period in Vancouver cannot be called “real estate boom days”?] the Board of Park Commissioners secured an option on the site for the park purposes for $200,000. The purchase price not being available, they [the Park Board] continued to lease it for many years [from the CPR], paying a rental equal to the amount of taxes imposed. Finally, about 1929 or 1928, a bylaw to purchase park sites was passed by the Electorate and the “hotel site” purchased. In the meantime, the option had been dropped, and they finally secured it for $50,000, one quarter of the original price.

— James S. Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol II, p.410

The CPR Hotel proposal at Greer’s Beach seems to have had some possibility of development in the 1901-02 period; mention was made in the 2 November 1901 issue of the Vancouver Daily World that work on it would begin “at once”. This unattributed claim was made by the World following a site visit by Marpole, “Mr. Hamilton” (presumably L. A. Hamilton, representing the City) and Thomas Tait (CPR transportation manager).

The last local newspaper reference I could find to the ‘CPR hotel site’ in Kitsilano was in the Vancouver Daily World of 28 January 1914 summarizing recent Vancouver Park Board decisions: “The area known as the C. P. R. hotel site would be reserved wholly for picnic grounds and kept as far as possible in its natural condition. Dead trees would be removed and shell walks leading to the sea promenades and the pier would be laid down.”

The park, as it now is, seems to have been left pretty much as the Park Board in 1914 decided.


The northern end of the former “CPR hotel site” at Kits Beach. July 2019. MDM Photo.


¹There is a question mark in my mind regarding this speculation about the drawing of the hotel. That pertains to Osborn’s nationality. Why would the CPR have gone to an American architect to design the proposed hotel when there were many competent local architects whom they might have approached?

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2 Responses to The McIntosh Girls in Tent Town

  1. Christine Higdon says:

    I love the photo! And great sleuthing. Thanks.

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