The Dales House at 414 Alexander Street circa 1890 CVA Photo SGN 490

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Homer - Recreation Park & What you see behind those people and things behind the lens

Some years back, I was hired by the developer of what is now called The Beasley Tower residence being built behind the old Homer apartment block at the corner of Homer and Smithe. They were mostly looking for old photographs, but I also did a history of the buildings that stood on the site. Like I always do, I included information on the surrounding buildings as well for context, and looked at a number of fire insurance maps from 1901, 1912, the 1930s and 1950s to see how the area had changed over those decades.

The first thing I found that interested me was that the Homer Block, though pretty old by Vancouver standards, was not the first building to stand on its location...

That prior to its construction in 1909, there was a house standing on its site, 345 Smithe Street, built by the same man who built 335 Smithe, the house that was just recently demolished to the east of The Homer. The original water service for the site was dated December 23, 1904 and was for a house addressed 345 Smithe. This house was completed in 1905, along with its neighbour, 335 Smithe, by 47 year-old English-born contractor and broker Edward Hobson. From what I could tell from looking at fire insurance maps and photos like the one above, 345 Smithe and 335 Smithe were built from the same plan.

According to the 1901 census, Edward Hobson was born in England in March 15, 1858 and came to Canada in 1885 with his wife Mary Reilly. At the time of the 1911 census, Edward and Mary were living at 1782 Davie Street in the West End. The 1911 census lists Edward as a financier.

Edward Hobson actually built four houses in a row along the 300 block of Smithe. On May 16, 1903, Hobson applied for water service for 301 and 311 Smithe, but neither of those houses appeared in the city directories until 1906, the first year that 335 and 345 Smithe appear. These two other houses were twins as well, but had a different plan from 335 and 345 Smithe.

The first occupant of 345 Smithe, was butcher turned real estate broker Albert E. Mullett, his wife Hannah and their four children. According to the 1911 census, Albert E. Mullett was born in England. his wife and three of their four children, all sons, were born in Ontario. The youngest son was born at 345 Smithe in 1908.

The first occupant of 335 Smithe, was a widow named Elizabeth "Lizzie" Sterling, who bought 335 Smithe from Hobson on August 14, 1905. The first occupants of 311 Smithe were BC Permanent Savings and Loan Corporation clerk Frederick H. Godfrey and his wife, Edna. The first occupants of 301 Smithe were American-born CPR locomotive sheds foreman Frederick R. Robson, his wife Mattie and their three children.

The Homer Block itself, was built during the latter part of 1909. Hobson, who was still the owner, applied for water service for the new block on June 29, 1909. The block had three addresses: 337 Smithe, which started out as a grocery store, and 339 Smithe, which was the address for the entrance to the apartments above. The Homer Street address, 890 (and later 892) Homer, which most people today know as the Homer Cafe, started out as The College Dye Works run by a man named William C. Barker. By 1912, this was McMillans Renovatory, and later was a barber shop, grocery, cleaners, and a number of other shops including a Japanese confectionery before it finally became a restaurant in 1952. For about two decades it was the Smithe Coffee Bar, and later Pauline's Cafe, then Rose's Coffee Shop and later Stratos Cafe.

It seems that the Homer Apartments started out with eight suites, then later ten and sometimes eleven suites. I wonder how many there will be when The Beasley is opened. Thankfully, The Homer itself has been saved as part of that development.

Here is a sample cross section of who lived in the apartments from the 1922 directory listing:

1. Charles L. & Marie Caze - CNR employee
    Adrienne Caze - cashier, Dominon Theatre
    Josephine Caze
2. Mrs. Minnie E. Halliday
3. ______ Nicholson
4. Charles J. Chandler - operator, Marconi Wireless Co.
5. Harry L. MacKinnon - boomer, BC Mills Timber & Trading Co.
6. James Tuff - teamster, Mainland Transfer
7. Vacant
8.  Mrs. Lily Williamson - cashier, Good Eats Cafe
9. William McCartney - salesman
10. James Enson - chauffeur, A. Macdonald & Co.

The most intriguing occupant, and someone I would like to find out more about, was cartoonist  Henry G. Crumplin. From what I could find out from the directories, he and his wife Edith Annie Crumplin lived in Suite #4 from 1911 to 1917. From 1916 to 1917, Henry was listed in Active Service. According to the 1911 census, Henry was born in England in May of 1881. His wife Edith was born in England in August of 1881. They both came to Canada in 1910. So far I haven't been able to find any of his cartoons. If anyone out there knows anything about him and can drop me a line, please do. I would really appreciate it.

But back to my search for images... My major base for research is at the City of Vancouver Archives. I am there so often that I must admit I get very proprietary about my usual seat close to the City Directories. I did a search of the photos there, using the address for The Homer and the name Homer, but not much came up. It was only after voicing my frustrating to the staff at the Archives that they came to my rescue. And this relates to my next discovery:

RECREATION PARK   Through looking at the fire insurance maps I discovered totally surprised me, was that just south of The Homer, on the blocks bounded by Homer, Smithe, Hamilton and Nelson, a site now totally occupied by high rise apartments, once stood a stadium and playing field called Recreation Park. For a number of years this was the home field of the Vancouver Vets (later Beavers) baseball team and also was the site of a number of lacrosse competitions between Vancouver, New Westminster and Victoria.

When you start researching a particular house or building, it always seems that there is something else interesting you will discover. This same stadium and playing field was also used for solemn civic ceremonies, like those marking the death of H. M. King Edward VII. There are a number of photos taken from the top of the grandstand showing the entire field covered with various military regiments lined up to mark the solemn occasion. On another occasion it was used by a visiting circus.

Recreation Park was replaced by Athletic Park which opened on April 11, 1913 near the south foot of Granville Bridge at 5th and Hemlock. Though pro-baseball glory passed to Athletic Park, Recreation Park seems to have continued on for a number of years more being used mostly by company based amateur teams.

Anyway, back to the pictures. If you can't find something by doing a direct, head-on search, come at your objective obliquely. Carol Haber, Archivist at the City of Vancouver Archives, astounded me, first by bringing out an 18 x 108 cm panorama print of a lacross game being  played at Recreation Park in 1911. You can see not only the grandstands full, but the also the windows and balconies of every house and building overlooking the parks walls crowded with people to see the game. Unfortunately, Pan P87 has not yet been scanned or I would have tried to include it in this blog.

But now for the oblique part. Carol also showed me that you could find literally dozens of photographs searchable under the subject "Baseball" at the Archives that have no mention of Recreation Park in the description, but which clearly show The Homer, or parts of it, and the houses that once stood along Smithe behind it. By searching the same way, I found even more at the Vancouver Public Library Special Collections. You just never know what sort of important piece of information or history you will find in the background of pictures that at first glance have nothing to do with the subject you are researching.

It was through these searches, inspired by Carol's help, that I was able to find some rather amazing shot of old residential district which once stood around Recreation Park, including some great shots of The Homer and the houses that Edward Hobson built along Smithe Street.(See pictures of baseball teams above)

But the story doesn't end here. Perhaps the biggest surprise and bonus of all was when I was doing some directory searches on the VPL Special Collections. I was standing by the directories, thinking about what year I needed to look up next when I paused to look at the photos displayed over the book shelves. There, right above my head (and the image is still there in the same place on the seventh floor of  the Central Branch of the VPL for anyonewho wants to go there and look) was another amazing panorama shot of the same block where Recreation Park once stood.

It is VPL photo 48502, taken in 1923 by the Dominion Photo Company. It shows the block where recreation park once stood, now demolished and empty of any buildings. There are a large number of trucks from a variety of companies: Almond's Ice Cream, Crescent Ice Cream and Fraser Valley Ice Cream, all lined up in a row. But the most amazing part about this one panorama image is that it shows that the Homer Block, up until the 1920s anyway, originally had little rounded turrets above the corner bays. This original detailing was for some reason later removed.

Hopefully, this original detailing will be reconstructed and added to the soon to be rehabilitated Homer Block as part of the new Beasley Development.

Each new project I take on teaches me more and ends up providing me with bigger discoveries than I ever could anticipate.  I am very grateful for the guidance and support from the staff at the City of Vancouver Archives and the VPL Special Collections Department who have taught me the value of looking behind the people and buildings behind the camera lens. At the same time, I would like to recognise the contributions of those clients who hired me for a house history research job, and by doing so, have been part of resurrecting some very important pieces of Vancouver history.

Top colour photo of The Homer is courtesy of Bob Hare
Second colour photo showing 335 Smithe Street courtesy of Maurice Jassak.
1st Archival photo: 
  VPL 6885 - Recreation Park entrance, Philip Timms 1907
2nd Archival photo: 
  CVA 99-52 - BC Tel Baseball Team, Stuart Thomson 1910
3rd Archival photo: 
  CVA 99-3337 - CPR Baseball Team, 1921 by Stuart Thomson
4th Archival photo: 
  CVA 99-3206 - Hudson's Bay Baseball Team, Stuart Thomson 1920s
5th Archival photo:
  CVA 1477-222 - Mayor L. D. Taylor pitching a ball at Recreation Park, Stuart Thomson photo
6th Archival photo: 
  VPL 6767 Philip Timms photo of game a Recreation Park
7th Archival photo:
  VPL 6766 Philip Timms photo of game a Recreation Park
8th Archival photo:
  CVA 99-342 Lacrosse Game at Recreation Park, 1917 by Stuart Thomson
9th Archival photo:
  CVA Photo Port P.2.3 Memorial Service for King Edward VII
10th Archival photo:
  CVA Photo 677-1021 perhaps Greater Norris and Rowe Circus Recreation Park June 1908
11th Archival photo:
  VPL 6763 Baseball Recreation Park 1907
12th Archival photo:
  VPL 7196 Baseball at Recreation Park
13th Archival photo:
  VPL Photo 6727 Recreation Park, 1907 by Philip Timms


  1. Wow! A ball park! I always wonder what the air smelled like back then. Probably freshly cut wood and the sea.

  2. I'm very late to this conversation, but my grandfather was tenant 9 - William McCartney! I was doing a search on 337 Smithe and your blog came up.

  3. I have my Great-great Grandfathers military records showing that he and his 2nd wife lived at 337 Smythe I was just wondering if that would actually be Smithe Street and he just spelled it wrong?