When I grew up in Winnipeg, the night before Hallowe’en was customarily known as “gate night,” when bands of teenagers too old for trick-or-treating went around egging houses, streaming rolls of toilet paper through trees, putting all sorts of disgusting things in mail boxes, and in general behaving in ways that were sure to charm the neighbourhood.
I never learned why a night featuring pranks was called “gate night,” and I’d forgotten all about it until I read this notice today about Hallowe’en mischief at Hibben’s book store in 1898:
It seems that “gate night” was a thing in Victorian Victoria too, only they meant it literally.
On Hallowe’en, citizens weren’t on the lookout for cute little kids coming through the gate for candy as much as for gangs of “roughs” who actually came for the gates, or fences—whatever they could get their hands on:
Similar reports from Vancouver, New Westminster, and other BC communities show that the pranking could get pretty carried away:
I’ve previously published quite a lot about Seth Thorne Tilley, one of Vancouver’s first booksellers (if not the first; click here for the beginning of Tilley’s story).
We know that Tilley operated a store in Vancouver prior to the Great Fire of June 1886, and that he rebuilt on Cordova Street following the fire. This image from 1887 shows his new store on the near right of the scene:
But click on the photo and enlarge the view, and you will see that Tilley had some competition right across the street, from the B.C. Book Store (its partially hidden sign is about a quarter of the way down the block, to the left of the round clock).
At first I thought that the B.C. Book Store might belong to the British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company, founded by Thomas R. Pearson, John B. Ferguson, and David Robson, and in operation on Cordova Street in 1886/87 (the company also had branches in Victoria and New Westminster). And in fact it seems there might be some truth to this, at least as far as that Cordova Street location was concerned.
The 1887 Mallandaine B.C. directory shows C.Z. Perry (Charles) as the company’s Vancouver manager:
But a year later, in the 1888 directory, Perry appears as the manager of a store in the same location, but bearing a different name:
And the same directory carries an ad for the B.C. Book Store, showing W. Harrison as the proprietor:
Here’s what I think might have happened. We know from newspaper reports that the British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company broke apart in January 1887 and that Pearson took over the Vancouver and New Westminster branches, while Ferguson carried on in Victoria.
We also know that Pearson sold the New Westminster store in March 1887, and that he entered the real estate and insurance business in partnership with his father-in-law. I haven’t found any reports about what he did with the Vancouver store, but it’s not far-fetched to assume that he sold it as well.
I’m guessing—and this really is only a guess—that Harrison, formerly a bookseller in Victoria and Yale, was the buyer of the Vancouver outlet, and that he changed the name to the B.C. Book Store.
Harrison and Pearson even had a previous bookstore-related connection. On April 11, 1883, the British Columbian reported that Harrison had sold his Yale book and stationery business to Pearson. That same article reported that Harrison was on his way to Cobourg, Ontario, to visit his parents.
When Pearson wanted to get out of the trade in Vancouver, perhaps Harrison was ready to get back into the business. It’s a theory.
Wherever the truth lies about how Harrison ended up owning the B.C. Book Store, own it he did until November 1889, when Books and Notions reported that he had sold it to Webster & Co. and was once again on his way to Cobourg. By this time, the B.C. Book Store was located in the rear of the Wilson Hall block on Abbott Street (Harrison had moved there in June 1889).
In June 1891, Harrison shows up as a bookseller in Steveston, and then in 1894 as a stationer in Kaslo, and from there it appears that he left the book business behind and invested in a Slocan-area mine.
On December 31, 1889, the Vancouver Daily World had this to say about book and stationery stores in New Westminster:
“There are in the Royal City several handsome and well-appointed fancy-work and book stores, the chief being those of D. Lyall & Co., Z.S. Hall and Morey & Co.; whilst it is doubtful whether the Province can show a trader more enterprising and deserving in that particular line than Miss Peebles” (1).
“It is doubtful whether the Province can show a trader more enterprising and deserving in [the fancy-work and book store] line than Miss Peebles.”
I have come across very few women in my research of early BC booksellers and stationers thus far, and none of them business owners, so this go-getter named Miss Peebles instantly grabbed my attention!
Miss Peebles Sets up Shop in New Westminster
Born in Scotland in 1856, Margaret Peebles arrived in New Westminster in 1888; her brother Peter was already established in the city in the furniture and real estate business (2).
On September 1, 1888, Margaret opened a stationery and fancy goods store in the Queen’s Hotel building on Columbia Street. Her ads noted her thorough experience in this line of business, so presumably she had either worked in or run such a store in Scotland (3).
In any case, Peebles’ efforts in New Westminster soon drew positive attention: “So beautiful was the display in the shop window that our reporter was enticed inside and found one of the best regulated and most modern shops in the city,” gushed one newspaper review shortly after the store’s opening (4).
In early December, Miss Peebles moved to a location opposite the Bank of Montreal. Although it sold general stationery and books, the business seemed to cater mostly to women with items like albums, photo stands, needle working supplies, and other “fancy articles and novelties for ladies’ work” (5).
Exit Miss Peebles, Stationer; Enter Mrs. McNaughton, Author
In September 1890, Miss Margaret Peebles became Mrs. Margaret McNaughton when she married Archibald McNaughton, a Hudson’s Bay Company manager in Quesnel who first gained prominence as a member of an overland expedition from Montreal to the Cariboo district in 1862.
Despite her success as a businesswoman, marriage ended Margaret’s shop-owning days in New Westminster. Moving to Quesnel to be with her husband, she gave birth to a son, another Archibald, in October 1891. The baby died in June 1892, and Margaret never had any other children (6).
Instead, she devoted her energies and literary talents to writing about her husband’s expedition. The resulting book, Overland toCariboo, was published in 1896 by Toronto-based William Briggs. “Margaret McNaughton…has succeeded in placing before the public one of the most interesting and readable publications which has yet been issued from the press relative to that ever-to-be-remembered trip,” said one among several positive reviews(7).
In 1900, Margaret’s life took another turn when Archibald died at the age of fifty-seven (8).
Margaret McNaughton Manson: Travelling Socialite
In the years following her husband’s death, Margaret continued to write about BC’s history, publishing articles in the Daily Colonist and other publications (9). In 1905, she married again, this time to William Manson, a telegraphist a few years her junior (10).
By 1910, she was the owner of the Cariboo Hotel and a 420-acre ranch across the river from the Quesnel town site. She also had a lease on an additional 640 acres, with the prospect of oil promising to make her a very rich woman. “While Mrs. Manson has travelled extensively at home and abroad, she always returns to the scene of her early marriage and will hazard her fortune in the development of this district in which she has so much faith,” reported the Cariboo Observer in 1910 (11).
Faith (and fortune) or not, Margaret disposed of her Quesnel interests in about 1911 and took up residence in Vancouver, where she became popular “in the best social circles” (12). She was an active member of the Canadian Women’s Press Club, the Women’s Canadian Club, and the Vancouver Art and Historical Society, the last of which was all abuzz in 1914 when Margaret travelled to Hawaii and found a previously unknown letter written by Captain George Vancouver in the archives in Honolulu (13).
Margaret was also a vice regent of the Pauline Johnson Chapter of the Daughters of the Empire and a lady associate of the Royal Colonial Institute of London; was involved in church and charitable work; and was presented with an honorarium from the government of BC for her work in preserving the province’s history (14).
Margaret Peebles McNaughton Manson died on May 23, 1915, while in Los Angeles. “A woman of marked personality, genial disposition and public spirit, she will be much missed by many and over a wide area of this continent,” read one of the articles reporting on her death back in BC (15).
Tellingly, Margaret’s second husband William is never mentioned in the obituaries that followed her death, nor in any of the reports about Margaret’s life after their marriage. He died in 1946 in Vanderhoof (16).
(1) Vancouver Daily World (December 31, 1889): 7.
(2) British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present: Biographical, vol. IV (Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 214, 217, 330-336. Peter and his wife, Augusta Grant, had six children, including Joan “Brownie” Peebles, who became a famed opera singer.
(3) Daily British Columbian (September 1, 1888): 4.
(4) Daily British Columbian (September 12, 1888): 4.
(5) Daily British Columbian (May 27, 1889): 4.
(6) Vancouver Daily World (June 16, 1892): 2; burial record for Archibald Henry Reid McNaughton, www.findagrave.com.
Picking up from my last post about the fantastic photo of Vancouver’s Clarke & Stuart, here’s one that takes us inside a 19th-century bookstore: T.N. Hibben & Co. of Victoria.
Here we can see all the wonderful books lining the walls (floor to ceiling, at least on the right) and displayed down the middle. I feel like I can almost smell their leather bindings.
Stationery and blank books, some of which we can see at the front right, were important parts of the business, as were items like photographs, maps, typewriters and office equipment, toys, and sporting goods, like the racquets hanging on the left.
Although the Royal BC Museum and Archives dates this photo as ca. 1891, I believe it was taken before January 1890, because that is when founder Thomas Napier Hibben died, and the man on the front right looks an awful lot like Hibben in the portrait below, with his distinctive white beard either side of an exposed chin.
In 1894, when Vancouver’s first bookseller, Seth Thorne Tilley, exited the bookselling business, he handed the baton to Harold Clarke and James Duff-Stuart.
The two were former clerks with Thomson Bros., one of Tilley’s main rivals in Vancouver. After purchasing the business, they renamed it Clarke & Stuart.
Initially they remained in Tilley’s location at 11 Cordova, but by 1896, they had moved to a new store across the street, at 28 Cordova, and that is where this photo was taken.
Viewed at full size, the photo reveals so much detail, giving us more than just a fuzzy glimpse into booksellers and stationers of the past.
In the window at the right hang newspaper broadsheets and posters promoting Scaife’s Comparative and Synoptical Chart, the 19th-century version of an infographic. We can also see guitars and violins in that window, and wagons, a bicycle, and brooms out front.
In the left window we can see a sign advertising Tiger cards, Bicycle cards, and Capitol cards, and a string of what look like clipboards, perhaps notices of community goings-on. And are those baskets of some kind? And lightbulbs! And a row of leather-bound books lined up inside.
On each side of the door are what appear to be stands with books or greeting cards, and above the entrance hang lacrosse rackets. Inside, we can just make out a bank of filing cabinets. A banner above the door proclaims that pianos, organs, and typewriters can also be had here, along with, of course, books and stationery.
The faces of the two men—whom I believe to be Duff-Stuart (left) and Clarke (right)—and the woman, presumably a clerk, standing in the entrance are alert and intelligent, the woman’s expression especially welcoming. And the boy—a messenger or delivery boy?—at left looks like just the sort of chap to get things done quickly and well.
Don’t you wish you could step inside and buy a book?
I was recently contacted by someone who is writing a biography of Robert Carswell, founder of the legal-publishing firm Carswell Company in Toronto in the mid-1860s. She wondered, just as I once did, if there was any connection between her subject and my Victoria bookseller James Carswell, a partner in Hibben & Carswell from 1858 to 1866.
Both of us had come across claims, like one here, that after dissolving his partnership with Hibben, James had moved to Toronto to co-found the legal-publishing firm. However, based on newspaper articles from the time and various archival records I’ve collected, I have concluded that this is not true.
In 1867, just a few months after leaving Hibben, James was reported to have opened a general store in Cowichan:
James was still in Cowichan in March 1868, when he made the news for capsizing his canoe in Cowichan Bay:
By 1871, James had quit BC for Glasgow, where his wife, Elizabeth Ferguson (and likely he himself), was from. In a letter published in the Colonist, Reverend Thomas Somerville (a minister from Glasgow who had been with the Presbyterian church in Victoria) reported that James had set up an agency business there.
On October 19, 1872, James died in Glasgow. Although the local BC newspapers reported (with the same Rev. Somerville as the source) that James had “cut his hand severely and bled so freely that he never recovered,” his Scottish death certificate records the cause as epilepsy. It also states that he was 47 years old and a restaurateur at the time of his death.
Although it seems highly unlikely that James could have fit in the co-founding of Carswell Company in Toronto, I thought there might still be a familial connection between the two bookish Carswells. However, finding any evidence of this has also proved elusive.
We know from James’s marriage and death certificates that his parents were John and Anne (Finnie) Carswell, and that he was born in about 1825, whereas Robert was born in Colborne, Ontario, in 1838, to Hugh and Margaret Carswell, both originally from Glasgow.
So they weren’t brothers. But perhaps cousins or uncle/nephew?
Maddeningly, I haven’t been able to find a birth record for James Carswell in Scottish archives. However, John Carswell and Anne Finnie are recorded as having multiple children, including a son named Hugh in February 1825. Huh. James Carswell was 47 in October 1872, so I concluded that his birth year was 1825. Were James and Hugh twins? One and the same person? Or was James’s age perhaps recorded incorrectly at his death?
I still don’t know, but even so, this Hugh Carswell would have been too young to have fathered Robert Carswell in Colborne in 1838. And there the mystery still remains…
A Most Agreeable Place launched exactly one year ago today, so I’m just going to take a few minutes to mark the blogiversary.
Interestingly, one of the only posts I wrote about a woman turned out to be the most popular: Mary Stewart, a clerk at T.N. Hibben & Co. around the turn of the 19th century, was said to know more about books than anyone else in Victoria.
The series about Seth Thorne Tilley, first bookseller in the Lower Mainland, was also popular. My article about Tilley was also a cover feature of BC History.
Third-most popular on the site was the running timeline that shows when each bookseller I’ve covered so far entered and exited the BC bookselling scene.
In its second year, Agreeable Place will feature many more interesting characters from BC’s bookish past. For now, thanks for following!
Since starting my research about early BC booksellers, I’ve been curious about why they were so often called stationers.
True, most bookstores of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sold stationery products in addition to books (as they do today). But it turns out that their proprietors’ common title of “stationer” had a lot more to do with the historical origins of bookselling than with their inventory.
“In the Middle Ages, booksellers in Rome were called stationarii.”
In the Middle Ages, booksellers in Rome were called stationarii, “either from the practice of stationing themselves at booths or stalls in the streets (in contradistinction to the itinerant vendors) or from the other meaning of the Latin term statio, [meaning] entrepôt or depository…The term stationer soon became synonymous with bookseller.” (1)
It is easy to romanticize these stationarii at their stalls, disseminating learning and ideas to a literate Roman public. However, the Middle Ages book trade evolved from a less-than-wonderful method of making books that were both plentiful and cheap.
Centuries earlier, in the time of the emperor Augustus (d. AD 14), “every respectable house possessed a library, and among the better classes, the slave-readers (anagnostœ) and the slave-transcribers (librarii) were almost as indispensable as cooks and scullions.” (2)
Initially, “these slaves were employed in making copies of celebrated books for their masters; but gradually the natural division of labour produced a separate class of publishers.”
The first of these was a man named Atticus, who “saw an opening for his energies in the production of copies of favourite authors upon a large scale. He employed a number of slaves to copy from dictation simultaneously, and was thus able to multiply books as quickly as they were demanded.”
By the time of the stationarii in about the thirteenth century, monks and university-trained copyists had largely replaced slaves as the main source of transcription labour. And two centuries later, the printing press would, when it came to book reproduction, displace the human hand for good.
(1) Henry Curwen, A History of Booksellers, the Old and the New (London: Chatto and Windus, 1873), 13-14.
(2) This and the next two quotes are from Curwen, 10-11.
After a few diversions to show how 19th-century bookstores took part in the festive holiday season, I’ll now pick up the story of Henry Morey in New Westminster.
Following the fire that burned out his store on Columbia Street in 1891, Henry Morey steadily rebuilt his book and stationery business. In 1895, he expanded into job printing when he bought out printer Frank Noot (1), and a year later, the firm moved to the Armstrong-Young block at 705 Columbia (2).
Over the next ten years, Morey & Co. ads hint at multiple disruptions, with the firm moving at least half a dozen times. Nevertheless, the company seemed to prosper. A glowing article in the Daily News in 1910 called Morey & Co. “without doubt today the most up-to-date in the Royal City…Here are to be found the requirements of the school child, the parent, the business and professional man, the student or the divine.”
“But the firm of Morey & Co. do not only look after the serious side of life for their large clientele,” the article continued; “pleasure also enters into their stock, as is shown by the large stock of toys and sporting goods they handle” (3).
“But the firm of Morey & Co. do not only look after the serious side of life for their large clientele; pleasure also enters into their stock.”
“A great deal of the credit for the continued growth and expansion of the concern is due to its founder…who has through the years steadily adhered to high standards of business integrity, has given largely of his time and energies to the expansion of the enterprise, has studied modern merchandising and has applied his knowledge in a practical and constructive way,” praised the editors of a 1914 biographical dictionary (4).
In 1924, Morey sold his business to Alan and David Nixon (5). In retirement, Morey built a “splendid home and developed an outstanding garden” in South Westminster (6). He died, unexpectedly, at the age of seventy-four in 1936, and is buried in Fraser Cemetery.
As for the business he had founded in 1886, it continued on as Nixon’s Book Store—first under the Nixon family’s management and then under new owners Bob Hall and Ernie Ramsey—until closing in 1994 (7).