Bailey Bros. and Granville Stationery Co.: Part 3 of a Series

(If you haven’t yet read them, start with part 1 and part 2 of this series.)

I ended the previous installment of this series in 1911, when Granville Stationery Co. (headed by William Payne and J.P. Mott Woodworth) assumed control of Bailey Bros.’ wholesale department, having taken over its retail store at 540 Granville the previous year.

Bailey Bros.’ owner William Bailey had also sold his store at 138 Cordova to the Vancouver Book Co. in 1910. When this business failed in 1913, Granville Stationery bought its stock and sold it off at clearance prices (1).

In newspaper ads, Granville Stationery regularly referred to itself as “Bailey’s Old Stand” or told customers to look for Bailey’s electric sign, which remained above the store entrance at 540 Granville (Vancouver Daily World, March 7, 1913)

William Bailey evidently retained a share in Granville Stationery, as he continued to be listed as a company director in city directories. Payne left in 1918, leaving Bailey and Woodworth as director and manager, respectively.

In February 1920, Bookseller & Stationer reported that Granville Stationery had greatly expanded its book department and had brought bookseller Ben Toon over from Spencer’s Department Store to run it. Toon wasn’t there long, though; by July he was with the Book Shop, George Forsyth’s store at the corner of Homer and Hastings (2).

Still more instability came in the spring of 1921, when Arnold & Quigley bought the building housing Granville Stationery’s store, forcing the company to vacate the premises when its lease expired at the end of the year (3).

Granville Stationery ran numerous sales ads before vacating its premises at 540 Granville Street in 1921 (Province, December 1, 1921)

Granville Stationery resumed business at 619 West Pender Street in 1922, and William took over as the manager (4). But time was running out on both him and his once-flourishing business.

In June 1925, a huge liquidation sale was announced in local newspapers. “This store carried stock of $50,000 in 1914 and did the largest business in the city,” the article read, noting that the move from Granville Street had been disastrous. “Now with a $12,000 stock we’re going into voluntary liquidation” (5).

William lost nearly everything when the business failed, including his grand family home on Chesterfield Avenue in North Vancouver, which was divided up into the Garden Court apartments. The Baileys relocated to 12th and Blanca near the University of British Columbia for a few years before returning to North Vancouver, this time as renters at Garden Court (6).

William Bailey died on July 2, 1936, at the age of seventy. He was survived by his wife, Jean, and a daughter, Jean Grace Kathleen (7). Fittingly for a girl whose father had run one of Vancouver’s earliest bookstores, Jean Grace’s university yearbook entry said she could be found “at any time, in any lecture, reading English 13 novels” (8).


(1) “Secures Wholesale End,” Province (June 8, 1911), 28; “The Granville Stationery Store Is Selling Off a Bankrupt Stock,” Vancouver Daily World (August 4, 1913), 5.

(2) Bookseller and Stationer (February 1920), 40; Bookseller and Stationer (July 1920), 34.

(3) “Firm Buys Property on Granville Street, Vancouver Daily World (May 7, 1921), 22.

(4) Vancouver Daily World (February 16, 1922), 6.

(5) Vancouver Sun (June 5, 1925), 15.

(6) Sharon Proctor, “Garden Court,” Express (North Vancouver Museum and Archives newsletter) (June 2014).

(7) Province (July 3, 1936), 17.

(8) “Jean Grace Kathleen Bailey,” The Totem (yearbook) (1929), 20.

Kamloops · Vancouver

Bailey Bros.: Photographers and Booksellers, Part 2

Picking up where I left off in part 1 of the Bailey Bros. story, Charles Bailey’s death in 1896 must have struck a major blow to the photography and stationery firm he left behind, and to his business partner and brother, William.

Charles had been the man behind the lens for so many Bailey Bros. photographs, and presumably he was the expert behind the firm’s stock of “photographic views,” photography supplies, cameras, picture frames, and mouldings—said to be the largest such stock in the province (1). Now William needed to keep Bailey Bros. going without his brother by his side.

Even though Bailey Bros. continued to be known for its photography-related merchandise, the company’s focus widened to include a more diverse stock of books, stationery, and fancy goods in the years after Charles’s death, or at least the firm’s frequent newspaper ads in the Vancouver Daily World from 1896 into the early 1900s give this impression:

The interior of Bailey Bros.’ store at 138 Cordova Street, 1896 (City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-: Bu P505.2)

In January 1901, William married Jean Grace MacKinnon in Victoria. One of the newspapers reporting on the event said that the wedding came as a surprise to friends of both bride and groom (though the same newspaper reported that it was Charles, not William, who was married, which throws the accuracy of the rest of the article into question!) (2).

It was also in 1901 when William sold off Bailey Bros.’ Kamloops branch to Smith Bros. & Vernon (3). Over the next few years, he announced his intentions to retire from the retail book and stationery trade in Vancouver as well, but either he couldn’t find a buyer at the right terms, or he simply kept changing his mind.

The first such announcement came in December 1903: “Remember we are positively giving up the retail business and everything must be sold,” it read, as if some would have reason to doubt the plan (4). A subsequent announcement in February 1904 said that Bailey Bros. was building a new three-storey warehouse on Pender Street (to add to another warehouse it occupied on Hastings), and closing-out sales for its retail lines continued to appear that spring.

It seemed neither plan came to fruition.

Instead, William’s next move was actually to expand the retail side. In July 1906, Bailey Bros. opened a new store at 540 Granville, taking over the premises formerly occupied by bookseller Norman Caple (whom I’ll talk about in a future post). William planned to cater “more to the tourist trade” on Granville, while his store at 138 Cordova would continue to carry “a large general book and stationery stock” (5).

As of summer 1906, Bailey Bros. had two retail bookstores in Vancouver (Vancouver Daily World, November 24, 1906)
Bailey Bros.’ store at 540 Granville Street, highly visible with its electric sign, ca. 1906–9 (City of Vancouver Archives, AM336-S3-3-: CVA 677-659)
William Bailey’s family home, called Garden Court, at 718 Chesterfield Avenue, North Vancouver (North Vancouver Museum and Archives, 15770)

In 1907, William once again advertised that the 138 Cordova branch was for sale—perhaps he was trying to generate some cash for the large family home he was having built in North Vancouver at the corner of Chesterfield and Keith Road, which had twelve rooms, two bathrooms, five fireplaces, and one acre of lawn (6). However, the Cordova store remained a Bailey Bros. outlet through 1909, when ads about its sale resumed (7).

In 1910, the branch at 138 Cordova was taken over by the Vancouver Book Co., managed by Gordon Tanner, and the 540 Granville location became the Granville Stationery Co., whose principals were former Bailey Bros. clerk William Payne and his partner J.P. Mott Woodworth (8).

Former Bailey Bros. clerk William Payne and his partner J.P. Mott Woodworth bought the store at 540 Granville Street in 1910 and formed the Granville Stationery Co. (Vancouver Daily World, October 12, 1910)

Granville Stationery also bought Bailey Bros.’ wholesale department in 1911, with plans to “extend considerably the activities of the firm they now control” (9). What happened next will have to be the subject of the third and final post in this series.


(1) “Bailey Bros. Co., Limited,” Vancouver, the Queen City of the Wonderful West (Vancouver: Daily Province, 1898).

(2) “Bailey-MacKinnon,” Vancouver Daily World (January 29, 1901), 5; Daily Colonist (January 29, 1901), 5; Bookseller and Stationer (February 1901), 11.

(3) Bookseller and Stationer (June 1901), 1.

(4) “To Erect Big Warehouse” Province (February 12, 1904), 8; “Retiring from Business,” Vancouver Daily World (March 4, 1904), 8.

(5) Bookseller and Stationer (July 1906), 23.

(6) “Fine Residence Nears Completion,” Vancouver Daily World (March 28, 1908), 20; “To Let,” Vancouver Daily World (October 5, 1911), 18.

(7) Vancouver Daily World (July 13, 1907), 23; Vancouver Daily World (April 21, 1909), 26; Vancouver Daily World (October 5, 1909), 26.

(8) The Vancouver Book Co. remained at 138 Cordova for only a short time. By 1911 it was at 932 Granville Street: Henderson’s Greater Vancouver City Directory (1910–11). The information about Granville Stationery Co. is from Vancouver Daily World (March 9, 1910), 5, and Henderson’s Greater Vancouver City Directory (1910). When the Vancouver Book Co. failed in 1913, Granville Stationery bought its stock and sold it off at clearance prices: “The Granville Stationery Store Is Selling Off a Bankrupt Stock,” Vancouver Daily World (August 4, 1913), 5.

(9) “Secures Wholesale End,” Province (June 8, 1911), 28.

Kamloops · Vancouver

Bailey Bros.: Photographers and Booksellers, Part 1

Many Vancouver history buffs know Bailey Bros. as the scenic photographers who captured enduring images of a young city and of British Columbia in the late 1880s and early 1890s (1).

But fewer people know that the Baileys were also among Vancouver’s earliest booksellers and stationers.

Charles Bailey, the younger of the two brothers, was first to the city, arriving in 1887/88. Born in Creemore, Ontario, in June 1868, he was not yet twenty by the time he established himself in Vancouver (2).

In December 1888, he opened a studio at 227 Hastings Street, formerly home to the city’s post office. There, as C.S. Bailey & Co., he sold not only his photographic services and works, but also books, albums, periodicals, greeting cards, and other stationery (3).

Charles Bailey in front of his photography studio and bookstore at 227 Hastings Street, ca. 1888 (City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-: BU P76)

In 1889, Charles teamed up with Hamilton George Neelands. Operating as Bailey & Neelands out of the same Hastings Street location, the two shot scenes of Vancouver and British Columbia that are now “among the most cherished images of the early city and province” (4). Charles’s prints were shown at the Paris Exhibition in 1889, the Toronto Industrial Exhibition in 1891, and the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 (5).

In 1890, Bailey & Neelands moved to larger premises at 176 Cordova, between Cambie and Abbott (6). Not long after, Charles’s older brother William arrived in Vancouver, and Neelands left for Nelson, reportedly due to ill health. William joined Charles in the business, which they rechristened as Bailey Bros. (7)

Charles remained the principal photographer for that side of the enterprise, while William took more responsibility for the books and stationery side, having worked for nine years with stationer R.D. Richardson in Winnipeg prior to coming to Vancouver (8). “Both partners are men of youth, energy, and liberal experience,” reported Books and Notions, “and with these advantages they have assurance of success” (9).

In 1892, the business moved again, this time to 160 Cordova, “which they [fitted] up in excellent style” with intentions to carry “a larger stock of stationery than formerly” (10).

Cordova Street looking east from Cambie, 1893 (City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-: Str P301). The Bailey Bros. store at 160 Cordova can be seen as the third building on the right when this photo is viewed at a larger size.
I found this Bailey Bros. label in an online copy of the 1896 Vancouver City Directory.

In September 1895, Charles and William incorporated Bailey Bros. Ltd. along with a third partner, their brother-in-law Joseph Coupland, who was married to their sister Mary Ann (11).

That same month, Charles married Jennie Johnstone, and the couple moved to Kamloops (12). Charles oversaw a branch of Bailey Bros. there, but over the coming months, newspapers reported that he was seriously ill with tuberculosis and frequently confined to his bed. Charles died of pneumonia on November 29, 1896, just one month after the birth of his only son and namesake, Charles Edward (13).

The Kamloops branch of Bailey Bros. was put up for sale in January 1897, but it seems there was a change of mind, as that store remained open under the management of Arthur Foster Lauder until 1901, when Smith Bros. & Vernon bought it out (14).

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, the firm moved to 138 Cordova the year of Charles’s death, and it would continue to grow and thrive under William’s leadership. I’ll pick up from here next time.


(1) Repositories of Bailey Bros. images include the City of Vancouver Archives, the Vancouver Public Library, and the Royal BC Museum and Archives. David Mattison has written and presented extensively about Bailey Bros., particularly Charles Bailey. See, for example, the summary of his presentation “An Artist of Rare Ability: The Life and Photographs of C.S. Bailey” to the Friends of BC Archives; his Camera Workers database entries; and Eyes of a City: Early Vancouver Photographers 1868–1900 (Vancouver: Vancouver City Archives, 1986).

(2) C.S. Bailey is listed in the “additional names” section of the 1888 Vancouver City Directory (R.T. William), indicating that he arrived not long before the March 1 publication date. Thanks to former Vancouver city archivist Major James Skitt Matthews for this detective work!

(3) Vancouver Daily World (December 21, 1888), 1.

(4) John Mackie, “This Week in History: 1889 Two Pioneer Vancouver Photographers Set Up Shop on Hastings Street,” Vancouver Sun (December 1, 2017).

(5) Martin Segger, “Mirrors of the Architectural Moment: Some Comments on the Use of Historical Photographs as Primary Sources in Architectural History,Material Cultural Review (1982).

(6) “Removal: Bailey & Neelands,” Vancouver Daily World (August 13, 1890), 1.

(7) Vancouver Daily World (December 12, 1890), 5.

(8) David Mattison, Camera Workers database.

(9) Books and Notions (February 1891), 12. Robert Dennis Richardson established the first stationery store in Winnipeg in 1878: Memorable Manitobans.

(10) Books and Notions (June 1892), 8.

(11) “Forty Years Ago,” Vancouver Sun (September 18, 1935), 6.

(12) “Bailey-Johnstone,” Vancouver Daily World (September 24, 1895), 4.

(13) Vancouver Daily World (November 30, 1896), 4; Vancouver Daily World (October 22, 1896), 8.

(14) Henderson’s British Columbia Gazetteer and Directory (1897–1901); Bookseller and Stationer (June 1901), 1.



Wood & Charlton

In 19th-century Vancouver, numerous people entered the bookselling fray looking to prosper in a growing and promising new market. It took capital and some luck to make a go of it, and those without access to deep pockets sometimes exited the scene before the ink was dry on their initial entry in the city directory.

Two of these short-lived book and stationery entrepreneurs were William Edward Wood and Ormond Lee Charlton, who went into business together in October 1888. Wood & Charlton was located at 165 Cordova Street, near Cambie (1).

(Vancouver Daily World, October 4, 1888)

Wood, born in Peterborough, Ontario, had some experience in the book trade, having worked for Thomson Bros. in Calgary and Portage la Prairie before coming west to manage their Vancouver branch (2). Wood’s sister was married to one of the company’s founders, James Thomson (3).

Charlton was from New Brunswick, and he arrived in Vancouver in September 1886 “looking for adventure,” with “no idea of what [he] was going to do,” as he reported to city archivist Major Matthews (4). He moved around from job to job before aligning himself with Wood.

The two business partners became brothers-in-law when Wood married Charlton’s sister, Alice, in March 1889 (5).

Wood & Charlton’s clever Christmas ad stood out in the Vancouver Daily World (December 19, 1888)

In August 1889, the partners moved their shop to 330 Cordova (6), but the end was already nigh. As the Canadian Journal of Commerce, Finance and Insurance Review reported that November, “Even in the far west a man occasionally fails. Wood & Charlton . . . after a struggle against fate for one year in the book business, now find their capital all spread and accordingly assign. They were known to be steady and industrious and with sufficient capital might have prospered” (7).

A “slaughter sale” of their stock took place at Thomson Bros. in December, (8) but Wood did not return to his former employer. Instead, he took a position with Arthur B. Diplock, a bookseller and stationer on Granville Street (9). In 1893-94, he moved with his wife and three children to San Francisco, where the family remained (10).

Charlton, meanwhile, moved around a little before returning to Vancouver for the long haul. He died in Vancouver in 1962 at the age of ninety-seven, survived by one son and three daughters, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren (11).


(1) Vancouver Daily World (December 21, 1888), 1. The company’s location is shown as 167 Cordova in another source.

(2) Weekly Herald (Calgary) (July 3, 1886), 3; Vancouver City Directory (R.T. William, 1888).

(3) Vancouver Daily World (October 28, 1889), 4.

(4) Major James Skitt Matthews, “Memo of Conversation with Ormond Lee Charlton, 11 February 1941,” Early Vancouver, Vol. 6 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011),

(5) Vancouver Daily World (March 4, 1889), 1.

(6) Vancouver Daily World (August 31, 1889), 4.

(7) Canadian Journal of Commerce, Finance and Insurance Review (November 29, 1889).

(8) Vancouver Daily World (December 17, 1889), 4.

(9) William’s British Columbia Directory, part 2 (R.T. William, 1891).

(10) US census records retrieved from

(11) Times Colonist (March 28, 1962), 26.


Stationery and novelties

Happy Valentine’s Day from 1909

(Province, February 11, 1909)

In 1909, Vancouver bookseller Norman Caple advertised the many items he had in stock for “lovers as of yore,” friends, and parents who wanted to pick up some “tokens of love and gifts of affection” for Valentines Day.

Available were not only valentine cards, but also gift books, valentine tally cards, decorations, table napkins, domino masks, and other types of masks.

Here’s a bit more about how early BC booksellers boosted their business catering to customers who wanted to show a little love on February 14.



The End of Gaskell Book & Stationery and Thomson Stationery

I wrote last time about the rise of Manfred Gaskell’s bookselling mini-empire: as of mid-1914, he owned two Gaskell Book & Stationery stores in Vancouver and a branch in New Westminster, plus Thomson Stationery’s main operation in Vancouver and a branch in Victoria.

At the height of his business boom, Gaskell’s business equity amounted to $120,000 (1).

But now, let’s turn to the bust.

It’s hard to say whether a dampening of business during the war years was the cause, or if he was just plain over-extended, but Gaskell’s mounting cash flow challenges in 1916 are clear in letters held at the City of Vancouver Archives (3).

When Gaskell bought Thomson Stationery from James and Melville Thomson back in 1908, he hadn’t bought the company’s building at 325 Hastings Street. Instead, the Thomson brothers had retained ownership of it, and Thomson Stationery had agreed to pay the Thomson estate a monthly rent.

By the middle of 1916, Thomson Stationery had fallen into arrears on its rent obligations, and it seems that loans to its sister Gaskell firm were the cause.

“It is of course evident that the fortunes of Thomson Stationery Co. are to a large extent wrapped up with those of the Gaskell Book & Stationery Co.,” wrote the trustee for the Thomson estate to the financial head of Thomson Stationery on June 16, 1916.

“I am naturally anxious to know what prospects there are for the recovery from the Gaskell Book & Stationery Co. of the large sum which has been advanced to this business.”

Thomson Stationery owed $1,145 in rent to the Thomson estate in June 1916. By February 28, 1917, the amount had ballooned to $10,965.

Although the letters indicate that the Thomson estate gave the company some concessions, evidently they were not enough for Manfred Gaskell to keep everything afloat.

In May 1917, creditors applied to the BC supreme court to wind up both Thomson Stationery Co. and Gaskell Book & Stationery Co. (4). Assets of $100,000 for Thomson Stationery and $17,500 for Gaskell Book & Stationery were offered for sale (5).

With theatrical flair, the company also ran full-page ads to bring customers in for a massive going-out-of-business sale:

(Vancouver Daily World, June 15, 1917, p. 10)

In August, forced to clear out of his main store at 679-681 Granville, Gaskell moved up the block to 649 Granville to sell the remainder of his stock (6).

Two months later, John S. Ireland, one of Gaskell’s former managers, bought out the stock and took over the 649 Granville location (7).

Meanwhile, Gaskell applied under the War Relief Act for protection against one of his creditors, the Bank of Hamilton, for claims of more than $35,000. His application stated that he had joined the military ranks and was therefore entitled to relief, but the judge denied his plea. “You will have some difficulty in convincing me that this man has been mobilized if he is walking about without a uniform on,” the judge said (8).

Manfred Gaskell’s son, Eric Gaskell, was secretary of the Canadian Authors Association. (Ottawa Citizen, December 14, 1940)

In 1922, reportedly due to ill health, Gaskell returned to eastern Canada (he had been born in Owen Sound, Ontario). He became the Montreal manager of McAinsh and Company, then later moved to Toronto, where he was associated with several publishing firms (9).

When he died in Toronto on December 11, 1949, at the age of 76, he was survived by three children: Eric, Ian, and Margaret, all living in Ontario (10).

Evidently inheriting his father’s literary genes, Eric Gaskell was secretary of the Canadian Authors Association for several years before joining the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. When he died in 2002, he was said to be “a proud Canadian with a passion for his country’s history, art and literature”—qualities we might imagine he shared with his bookselling father, Manfred (11).


(1) Vancouver Daily World (October 11, 1917): 10.

(2) “Live News of the Stationery Trade,” Bookseller and Stationer (October 1914): 44.

(3) The correspondence about Thomson Stationery’s rent owed to the Thomson estate is at the City of Vancouver Archives, file AM54-S17-M9390.

(4) “Big Stationery Houses Assign,” Vancouver Daily World (May 4, 1917): 8.

(5) “Businesses for Sale,” Province (June 2, 1917): 20.

(6) Vancouver Daily World (August 3, 1917): 17. Taking Gaskell’s vacated premises at 681 Granville was the newly formed Vancouver Stationers Ltd., two principals of which were formerly with Thomson Stationery: Walter Hagel and H. Whitehead. Oliver Weber, the third principal, was formerly with Young & Kennedy in Calgary and Edmonton. Vancouver Daily World (September 1, 1917): 20.

(7) American Stationer and Office Manager, vol. 82 (1917): 14. Ireland would soon take on a partner by the name of James K. Allan, another former Thomson Stationery employee. The firm of Ireland and Allan remained at the 649 Granville Street location until 1967. Province (November 29, 1918): 19; Vancouver Sun (December 26, 1967): 26.

(8) “War Relief Act Does Not Apply,” Vancouver Daily World (October 11, 1917): 10.

(9) “Manfred J. Gaskell Dies in Toronto,” Ottawa Journal (December 12, 1949): 9; “Manfred J. Gaskell: Publisher Helped Canadian Authors in Early Editions,” Globe and Mail (December 12, 1949): 32.

(10) “Manfred J. Gaskell Dies in Toronto,” Ottawa Journal (December 12, 1949): 9.

(11) “Obituary: Eric Fleming Gaskell,” The Gazette (September 4, 2002): 56.


Manfred Gaskell: Boom and Bust

In 1909, when Manfred Gaskell, Edward Odlum, and Albert Stabler bought Thomson Stationery Company, the firm was said to have the largest book stock in all of Canada (1).

Manfred Gaskell (Bookseller & Stationer, September 1909, p. 56)

By 1914, Gaskell had bought out both of his partners. He also had three stores operating as the Gaskell Stationery Company: two in Vancouver, at 679-681 Granville Street (established in 1910 after buying out Norman Caple & Company) and another at 532 Main Street (established 1911), and one in New Westminster at 649 Columbia Street (established in 1910 after purchasing the business of Thomas Todhunter) (2).

He was also a family man by this time, having wed Jessie Small Millar in Pembroke, Ontario, in 1911, with whom he had a son, Eric (3). In 1913, Gaskell had commissioned architect F.J. Peters to design a large and elegant family home in Shaughnessy Heights (4).

“His life is active in various phases of usefulness touching the general interests of society, while in business circles he has gained a reputation that is most enviable,” gushed the author of his biography in British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present. “He is honored and respected by all because of his achievements and the straightforward business policy he has followed. Employing the most progressive methods, he has also adopted as guide posts of his life those principles which everywhere excite admiration and respect and constitute the basis of all honorable and desirable prosperity” (5).

(British Columbia Magazine, November 1911)

On April 3, 1912, a “spectacular conflagration” consumed the Hastings Street building where Thomson Stationery was located. First breaking out in the basement furnace room of Foster Fit-Reform next door shortly before 4 p.m., the fire quickly outgrew the fire crew’s efforts to stop it.

“The Thomson Stationery Co., who carried a stock valued at $140,000, were unable to estimate their loss last night,” the newspaper reported the next day. “Owing to the nature of the stock it will take weeks of stock-taking before they can get at even the approximate loss.” Most of the firm’s spare stock was in the basement under three feet of water (6).

The company seemed to weather any financial concerns caused by the fire, and evidently, their 325 Hastings Street location was rebuilt, as this address remained on company ads. In the ensuing few years, the regular appearance in local newspapers and industry publications of both of Gaskell’s enterprises gave the impression of great success.

Thomson Stationery’s edition of Pauline Johnson’s Legends of Vancouver featured three more stories than appeared in the “official” version published by rival bookseller G.S. Forsyth (7) (image: British Columbia Magazine, December 1912)

In February 1914, Gaskell’s firm added a Thomson Stationery branch in Victoria, bringing that company’s payroll to 120 employees.

But during the war years, cracks appeared in the polished surface of Gaskell’s bookselling and stationery empire.

I’ll pick up from there next time.


(1) “Manfred James Gaskell,” in British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present: Biographical, volume IV (Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 711-12.

(2) Ibid.; “Edward Faraday Odlum,” in British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present: Biographical, volume III (Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 627-28.

(3) “Manfred James Gaskell.”

(4) Daily Building Record (June 4, 1913): 1.

(5) “Manfred James Gaskell.”

(6) “Spectacular Conflagration in Heart of Shopping District Watched by Curious Crowds,” Vancouver Sun (April 4, 1912): 3.

(7) “Introduction,” in E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), xxiii.

(8) “Thompson Stationery Co. Opens a Branch in City of Victoria,” Vancouver Sun (February 27, 1914): 4.


Thomson Bros., Part 2

When Thomson Bros. incorporated as Thomson Stationery Company in 1896, one reason may have been to raise capital for business expansion.

Over the next few years, the company added space to “its already commodious quarters” in Nelson and moved to larger premises at 325 Hastings Street in Vancouver (while still hanging on to the Cordova Street location) (1).

The firm also became “an important name on the [publishing] scene,” with titles like Gold Dust: How to Find It and How to Mine It (2). 

The photo below shows the bustling scene outside Thomson Stationery’s door on Hastings Street, their “Book Shop” sign readily visible down the street on the right side (3).

Thomson Stationery’s location at 325 W. Hastings, between Hamilton and Homer, c. 1902-9. (City of Vancouver Archives, AM336-S3-3-: CVA 677-642)
This view of Thomson Stationery features the company’s logo, seen below in larger detail. (Vancouver Public Library 7134)
(Seven Roads Gallery of Book Trade Labels)

In May 1903, James and Melville announced that Thomson Stationery was for sale (it was operating only in Vancouver by this time) (4). But nothing seems to have come of their plans to withdraw until 1908, when Manfred J. Gaskell appeared on the scene. Formerly of the Musson Book Co. in Toronto and later with D.J. Young in Calgary, Gaskell took charge of Thomson’s retail operations.

Then, in June 1909, the Thomson brothers retired and Gaskell took over Thomson Stationery with partners Edward F. Odlum and Albert Stabler, both of whom were also with the business for several years prior to the purchase (5).

A three-page profile of the company in Bookseller & Stationer gives us a great picture of the extent of Thomson Stationery’s business in the fall of 1909:

The success of the Thomson Stationery Co. has been built on an aggressive policy of anticipating the needs of the growing West, and much money has been invested in plant, etc., which succeeding years have fully justified, though at the time the undertaking looked like a visionary project…

On the main floor…are situated blank books, fountain pens, engineering and surveyors’ supplies, leather goods, note papers and commercial sundries…It is said there is not another blank book department in Canada as complete…

The centre of the store in the front section is devoted to displaying souvenir leather goods, scenic view books, post cards, etc., while the centre sections in the rear are utilized to show a general display of office devices from cash boxes to rotary mimeographs. To the right of the main entrance and extending the full 134 feet of the store in length, is the book department. Under the capable management of James Pollock and his experienced staff, this department keeps abreast of the times in all that pertains to a well stocked book store.

The second floor is utilized to display the vast range of loose leaf supplies handled by this firm. Under the watchful eyes of Mr. Stabler and John E. Clark, this department has become famous for the home of labor saving systems in loose leaf. On this floor the typewriter also holds sway and dozens of machines suggest a heavy turnover…

The first floor below the street level contains the office furniture show room, the stock in which consists of flat, double flat, roll top, standing, library and typewriter desks, office and library chairs, sectional book cases, etc. This floor also contains the map dept. and blue print dept., which is one of the company’s specialities…

The second floor below the street level is used entirely for wholesale stationery, flat papers and shipping department…

Up to the year 1906 the printing and manufacturing department had been confined to the fifth and basement floors, but increasing business necessitated enlarged premises. To-day it is found in a splendid three-storey brick plant in the rear of the Hastings street premises. (6)

In a future post, I’ll take up the rest of Thomson Stationery’s history under its new owners, but for now, let’s conclude with what happened to the Thomson brothers themselves.

James and Melville may have retired from the book business, but they were far from done as entrepreneurs. Not long after selling Thomson Stationery, they became directors of and then gained controlling interest in The Trustee Company, a real estate development firm. In 1913, the company was renamed Mercantile Mortgage Company Ltd., and over the ensuing years Mercantile Mortgage and a spin-off business called Estates Investment Ltd. amassed significant real estate holdings in Vancouver and elsewhere in British Columbia, including many in Gastown. The Thomson family maintained control of Mercantile Mortgage and Estates Investment until the early 1990s (7).

By this time, of course, James and Melville were long gone. James died in 1926, and Melville in 1944 (8). They are both buried in Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery.

This photo of Melville Patrick Thomson, one of the founders of Thomson Bros., appeared with his obituary in 1944 (Vancouver Province, October 6, 1944, p. 10)


(1) The Miner (August 28, 1897), 1; “Books, Stationery and Fancy Goods: Thomson Bros,” Vancouver Daily World (December 17, 1898), 3.

(2) Glennis Zilm, “An Overview of Trade Book Publishing in British Columbia in the 1800s with Checklists and Selected Bibliography related to British Columbia” (master’s thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1981), 277.

(3) CVA dates this photo as 190-, but the earliest it could have been taken was 1902, when Clubb & Stewart (also seen on the block) moved to Hastings Street.

(4) Bookseller & Stationer (January 1902), 11; Bookseller & Stationer (May 1903), 124, 150, 152.

(5) Bookseller & Stationer (June 1909), 36; Bookseller & Stationer (September 1909), 54-56.

(6) Bookseller & Stationer (September 1909): 54-56.

(7) City of Vancouver Archives, “Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited.”

(8) Vancouver Sun (February 1, 1926), 12; “Pioneer City Stationer Dies at Oliver Home,” Vancouver Province (October 6, 1944), 10.


Thomson Bros.: Booksellers and Ambitious Entrepreneurs

When Margaret MacLean, wife of first Vancouver mayor Malcolm MacLean, travelled on the CPR to join her husband on the west coast in the fall of 1886, with her on the train to Port Moody was Melville Patrick Thomson (1).

Thomson was coming from Calgary, where he and his brother, James Arthur, ran a successful bookstore called Thomson Bros. The brothers wanted to establish a branch in Vancouver, and by October 1886, they were in business at 46 Cordova Street.

Born in what would become the province of Ontario—James in Belleville in 1858 and Melville in Erin in 1860—the Thomsons apprenticed in a bookstore in their home province before following the CPR west on an ambitious expansion to new markets.

They opened their first bookstore in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, in 1881, the same year the CPR arrived and the town was incorporated. Next up was Moose Jaw, in the future province of Saskatchewan, where they opened a store just as the railway opened access to the town. Then, in 1884, they expanded to Calgary, within a year of the railway’s arrival (2).

Thomson Bros. Book Store in Calgary (near left), c. 1885 (Glenbow Museum)

And now here they were, in the fall of 1886, setting up shop in the CPR’s soon-to-be terminus of Vancouver, just down Cordova Street from booksellers S.T. Tilley and British Columbia Stationery and Printing (later the BC Book Store).

(British Columbia Directory, 1887)

Thomson Bros. seemed to do well in Vancouver from the start. “We can recommend our readers to pay a visit to the well-filled bookstore of these enterprising men,” read a notice in the San Francisco Journal of Commerce, British Columbia Edition. “Here they carry an excellent line of books and stationery, making quite a feature of their commercial books. Ledgers, cash books, journals and stock books simply line their shelves. They do a considerable business as news agents and carry also quite a line of toys and fancy articles” (3).

In a December 1887 publication called Thomson Bros. Bookstore Monthly, their business “guarantee” was splashed on the last page, giving a glimpse of the brothers’ personalities:

(Thomson Bros. Bookstore Monthly, December 1887)

In April 1888, the brothers moved to larger premises at 108 Cordova near the corner of Abbott, sharing half the space with Davidson Bros., jewelers. Six months later, Davidson Bros. moved to a different location and Thomson Bros. took over the whole store (4).

Thomson Bros., whose large “Book Store” sign can be seen just up the left side of the street, operated from this block on Cordova from 1888 to 1898 (Vancouver Public Library 13236)

In addition to selling books, stationery, and fancy goods, the company expanded into job printing in 1889. By September 1890, the new line of business was deemed to be “one of the most complete in its fittings in the Province. The type is of the latest style and the work they turn out is of a high order” (5).

Needing more space for their growing business, Thomson Bros. moved to larger premises two doors west at 116-118 Cordova in September 1890. “A fine store and a magnificent stock,” began a gushing report in the Vancouver Daily World, which went on to praise the firm’s specialties in imported wallpaper, office stationery, “the choicest magazines and latest novels,” bibles, prayer and hymn books “required by every denomination,” school books, sporting goods, fancy goods, “and the latest in games and puzzles.”

“Such success as they have achieved is proof of the enterprise and push of the firm and their ability to keep pace with the widening demands of this rapidly growing city. Their stock is thoroughly metropolitan in its variety and extent…Few business undertakings have met with such unqualified success and none has more fully deserved it” (6).

“Such success as [Thomson Bros.] have achieved is proof of the enterprise and push of the firm and their ability to keep pace with the widening demands of this rapidly growing city.”

While Melville oversaw things in Vancouver, James took care of the Calgary operation (the Portage la Prairie and Moose Jaw branches were eventually dropped), and the firm continued to grow in both cities.

In Calgary in 1893, the company put up the three-story sandstone Thomson Bros. Block that still stands on 8th Avenue SE (7). Meanwhile, in Vancouver, they returned to 108 Cordova. They also established a branch in Nelson, BC, in the mid-1890s.

In 1896, the Thomson brothers, together with Melville’s wife, Marcella, formed the Thomson Stationery Company with a capital stock of $75,000 (8). The new firm took over Thomson Bros.’ existing businesses in Vancouver, Nelson, and Calgary.

I’ll pick up the story from there in the next post.


(1) Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 2 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 248. After disembarking in Port Moody, passengers destined for Vancouver had to take a steamer to complete their journey. The CPR line through to Vancouver was completed in May 1887.

(2) “The History in Thomsons Restaurant,” on Thomsons menu, retrieved March 28, 2017; The New West (Winnipeg: Canadian Historical Publishing, 1888), 133; Thomson Bros. ads in Portage la Prairie Weekly, Moose Jaw News, and Weekly Herald (Calgary).

(3) “Thomson Bros.,” San Francisco Journal of Commerce, British Columbia Edition (March 1, 1888): 11.

(4) “Thomson Bros,” Vancouver Daily World (September 11, 1890): 4.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Alberta Heritage Survey Program.

(8) Canada Bookseller and Stationer (July 1896): 14; The Miner (May 23, 1896): 3.