There was a time, evidently, in Vancouver’s distant past, when office space wasn’t at a premium in the downtown core. The building shown above was developed by and named in honour of A. G. Ferguson in late 1888. When I first saw this photo, I assumed that both of the upper stories of the block were always for office space. But I had reason to change my mind — slowly — over the course of several days of research.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What caused me to look into the Ferguson Building were three words that I noticed while browsing the 1889 city directory: “res, The Shack”.
Reference to a “shack” in early city directories was typically derogatory and was often accompanied by the word “Chinese”. Also typically, buildings so described were of wood frame construction and weren’t meant to endure for long.
But The Shack seemed to be a residence that was quite different — mainly because of the residents. My search for listings of residents of The Shack revealed that they seemed typically to be of “occidental” heritage (versus oriental) and that they were all gainfully employed in good jobs, in several instances by the CPR. Here is a list of the residents of The Shack with their occupations:
- G. McL. Brown, Ticket Agent, CPR
- A. H. Buchanan, Accountant, Bank of Montreal
- Allan Cameron, Clerk, General Freight and Passenger Department, CPR
- H. E. Connor, Local Freight Agent, CPR
- Albert John Dana, Purchasing Agent, CPR
- A. O. Leask, Leask & Johnston
- S. O. Richards, Barrister, Innes & Richards
- H. B. Walkem, Assistant Engineer, CPR
- Samuel McLean, Steward of The Shack (the manager of the residence?)
- Ote’ Ki, Assistant, The Shack (an Asian person — judging from the name — who was assistant to the manager?)
Where was 419 Richards? I needed a photo of the place, preferably ca 1889 for this “Photo-Historical Journey”! This proved difficult. The odd-numbered side of the 400 block of Richards was evidently close to the SW corner of Richards and Hastings. But the only structure at that corner in 1889, as far as I could tell from City of Vancouver Archives photographs, was the A. G. Ferguson building. That couldn’t be the site of The Shack, could it? After all, it appeared to be constructed of brick? Weren’t shacks in Vancouver typically wood frame and of impermanent appearance?
It turned out that The Shack had to be part of the Ferguson block. There were no other logical contenders. I believe the entry to The Shack at 419 Richards was a few steps up Richards from Hastings (see annotation to the photo above).
But some sort of proof that The Shack was located at the Ferguson would be nice. I finally found the nearest thing to proof that I could get from the World:
On the corner of Richards Street, is the elegant A. G. Ferguson Block, approaching completion . . . . The building has a frontage of 78 feet on Hastings and runs back 73 feet on Richard[s]. It consists of three stories, with a fine entrance in the centre, the entrance to the offices and rooms upstairs being on Richard[s] Street. The height from the floor level to the ceiling on the ground floor is 16 feet. The first floor offices have a height of 14 feet from the floor level to the ceiling, the next flight above being so arranged as to be used for sleeping apartments.Daily World, 31 December 1888 (emphasis mine)
So, if I’m reading the newspaper account accurately, I take it that The Shack was located on the top floor of Ferguson.
The Shack seems to have lasted for just a single year (1889). By 1890, I assume, the demand for office space had ramped up and the floor which had housed The Shack was renovated to be suitable for the working lives of office dwellers.
The Ferguson building was demolished sometime between 1904 and 1910. It was sold by A. G. Ferguson’s estate the year after his passing in California in 1903. The Weart Building (which still stands) was constructed in its place in 1910-11.