A. W. Sullivan: Black Pioneer and Hall-Builder

Crop of CVA Port P334 – 1888 church picnic showing, I strongly suspect, Arthur Sullivan surrounded by several ladies. Arthur Sullivan is identified on the photo at CVA as being present in the image (but it doesn’t specify where in the image he is). But, given the small number of males in the original photo and the tiny number of blacks in Vancouver at this time, I concluded that the black gent was, in fact, Arthur Sullivan.

Arthur Willis Sullivan (1860-1921) was a black pioneer who was very popular in early (and pre-) Vancouver.1 He was born in New Westminster to Philip ( – 1886), who came originally from the West Indies, and Josephine Sullivan (1818-1894), who came from the U.S. (but may have had at least one parent from France). Josephine came to the area that would become Vancouver (Granville) in 1859 from Panama aboard the S. S. Beaver (World, Aug 23, 1894). Philip cleared much of Granville of trees and stumps and he served as cook for a number of years at the Moodyville Mill (Vancouver Voters, 1886 p. 672). The Sullivans were the first Methodists living in Granville. Philip and Josephine (and Arthur and his siblings) were described in their day as being “mulattos“, a distinction not commonly made today; they would doubtless be described today simply as Black).

In 1887, when they were both 26, Arthur married Annie Elizabeth Thomson, a native of Campbellton, NB. Interestingly, he identified his profession on the marriage certificate as “Gentleman”. She died in 1909 when she was only 48. He died in 1921.

Arthur played the organ for services at St. James Anglican Church and for the Princess Street Methodist Church for a number of years.

Sullivan’s Halls

Crop of drawing showing Bird’s Eye View of Gastown ca 1875. Made by Beverly Justice for Granville Revisited, 1970. The Community Arts Council. (Annotations added by mdm). The Maple Tree (located just to the left of ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton’s Hotel and Saloon) is at far left of drawing; the next street south of the tree (‘up’ on the drawing) is Cordova. The first Sullivan’s Hall is located on the south side of Cordova at the right.

There have been three structures associated with Arthur’s family in Vancouver and known as Sullivan’s Hall. The first building was in Old Granville from the 1870s until 1886, when it was destroyed, along with most other structures, in the Great Fire. This first Hall was built by Arthur’s father, Philip.

The second hall replaced the first one on the same property. This structure was built by 1887 by Arthur. It was in this hall that First Baptist Church held some of its early meetings. First Baptist historian, W.M. Carmichael has remarked in These Sixty Years: 1887-1947 that meetings after the Fire were held at various locations, including “Sullivan Hall, owned by a well-known coloured resident whose father had been cook at the Moodyville Mill for many years. His mother was the first Methodist in Granville” (Carmichael, p. 5). Trade unions often met in this hall (e.g., United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners).

The third Sullivan Hall was built on the north side of the same street at 61 Cordova by 1903. This building was a 3-storey brick building. Secret societies, such as the Odd Fellows often met in this hall. Some church groups also rented space there, such as the First Spiritual Church of the Soul. There were also businesses that had permanent digs in this building. The Fricke-Schenke photographic studio was one such. As the building got older, it seems that some of the space was converted into residential suites. I don’t know when the third hall was demolished, but on its site currently is a residential co-op building (adjacent to the Fortin Building).

VPL 8389. Looking NE from Abbott and Cordova. 1912. R Broadbridge photo. This shows the third (and final) Sullivan Hall. It is the tallest structure on the street near the bottom of the image.

A Ladies’ Man?

Well, the first photo in this post certainly is suggestive that Sullivan was not opposed to reclining into the laps of ladies! Perhaps I’m imagining it, but it seems to me that there is a twinkle in his eye which conveys the message pretty clearly that he was enjoying himself.

As you will see in the Changing Vancouver post, Arthur was part of a huge scandal at the time (1889) in which Sullivan and a Dr. Langis faced charges of procuring an abortion of a Mrs. Amanda Hogg with whom he was accused of having an intimate relationship while he was married to Annie (and while Amanda was married to local photographic professional, James Hogg). Although Sullivan and the doc were found “not guilty” of any crime, it remains an open question as to whether or not Sullivan committed adultery with Mrs. Hogg. I must say, however, that whenever I see the photo above, I wonder whether one of the ladies in that 1888 photo was Amanda Hogg! That will probably need to remain in the realm of historical imagination, as there doesn’t seem to be a publicly available photo identifying Mrs. Hogg! And that is probably just as well.


1The blog, Changing Vancouver, has a number of additional details pertaining to Arthur Sullivan. I will generally avoid going over ground covered by that post and will seek to add bits and pieces about the life of Sullivan that they haven’t covered. I suggest that the two posts be read in conjunction with each other.

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