An Early, Forgotten Hotel: The Cosmo

CVA 321-4 – Group outside Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant at NW corner of Cordova and Abbott Streets. 188-. Canadian Photo Co. Photo modified somewhat by author to enhance features of the image.
World. 28 Dec 1888.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel [1], or ‘the Cosmo’ as it came to be known, was reputedly one of the first hotels to be opened after the 1886 Great Fire (World 11 Aug 1889). It was, presumably, open for business in 1887. According to Major Matthews, the first city archivist, the Cosmo took in a grand total of 65 cents on its first night in business. It was believed to be “too far uptown”! (Early Vancouver, Matthews, Vol. 4, p. 227)

The first owner of the Cosmo was Jacob Cohen. He died in 1889. Not long after Cohen’s death, ownership passed to a group of San Francisco owners.

The Cosmo Restaurant, “open day and night”, crowed that it was “the only first-class restaurant in town” and had “Eastern oysters in every style” (Sun 18 June 2016).

The manager of the Cosmo from nearly the outset was Vancouver’s earliest police officer, Jackson T. Abray (ca1856-1944). He was commissioned to be the first constable by Vancouver’s first mayor, M. A. MacLean, following the Great Fire and he remained in that job for three years. In 1890, Abray went into the hotel business, becoming the manager of the Cosmopolitan in that year and later of the Burrard Hotel.

In the summer of 1889, the Cosmo received a face-lift: the exterior was repainted; interior-wise, much of the work was done to the bar, including adding a new bar back (see photo below, which seems to show the improved bar). The architect responsible for the improvements was N. S. Hoffar.

CVA 321-2 – Interior of Cosmopolitan Hotel saloon 188-. The gent on the customer’s side of the bar, resting his left arm on the bar and with a cigar in his right hand looks like Jackson Abray.
World. 27 Aug 1894.

In the early years of the 20th century, the City waged a small war against the Como through its licensing regulations. Essentially, the city was embarrassed by the wood frame hotel and wanted the San Francisco owners to rip it down and rebuild — this time with brick and stone. The owners of the Cosmo were willing to do as the City requested, but they wouldn’t be rushed, much to the consternation of City officials.

There were others who wanted Abray’s liquor license yanked, notably among them, H. H. Stevens, secretary of the Moral Reform Association. In a letter written in 1906 to the civic licensing commissioners, Stevens claimed that the Cosmo was “the rendezvous of thugs, theives and rogues, and the resort of women of ill-fame” (World 9 May 1906). The licensing commissioners granted Abray the Cosmo liquor license.

Finally, the wood frame Cosmo Hotel was demolished in ca1908 and was replaced with a brick and stone structure which would house retail shops on the ground floor and office space above. This building doesn’t still stand. La Casita Mexican restaurant (ground floor) today is where the Cosmo was located.

CVA 321-5 – Interior of Cosmopolitan Hotel Restaurant and Oyster Bar 188-.
Photo modified somewhat by author to enhance features of the image.
CVA 371-1302 – Jackson T. Abray (far left) and others in front of the entrance to the Comopolitan Hotel at 101 Cordova Street, ca1900. Note the ad in background for Stanley Park Brewery.
The brick and stone building that replaced the old Cosmo Hotel at the NW Corner of Abbott & Cordova. This structure is not extant.


  1. There were several other Cosmopolitan Hotels in BC around the same time: New Westminster, Kamloops, and even tiny Ymir, BC all boasted hostelries of the same name.

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