New Westminster

Miss Peebles

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.”

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).

The ad for Margaret Peebles’ new stationery and fancy goods store (Daily British Columbian, September 1, 1888, p. 4).

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).

A glowing report of Miss Peebles’ store (Daily British Columbian, September 12, 1888, p. 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 to Cariboo, 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 McNaughton Manson, ca. 1914 (British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present, p. 332).

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,

(7) Vancouver Daily World (December 31, 1896): 7. Overland to Cariboo is listed in Alan Twigg’s The Essentials: 150 Great B.C. Books & Authors as “the first significant non-fiction book by a B.C. woman.”

(8) “Archibald McNaughton: One of the Best Known and Respected Old Timers Dead,” Daily Colonist (June 22, 1900): 2.

(9) For example, “Wonderful Resources of the Cariboo,” Daily Colonist (January 31, 1904): 8.

(10) Marriage certificate.

(11) “Oil Prospects at Quesnel’s Door,” Cariboo Observer (May 7, 1910): 1.

(12) British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present, 335.

(13) Vancouver Daily World (February 3, 1914): 11.

(14) British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present, 335.

(15) “Well-Known Vancouver Lady Passes Away,” Vancouver Daily World (May 26, 1915): 12.

(16) “Retired Indian Constable Dies,” Prince George Citizen (March 7, 1946); burial record for William Francis Manson,

New Westminster

Carrying and Passing the Bookstore Torch: Henry Morey, Part 3

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).

(Vancouver Daily World, June 20, 1896, p. 48)

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).

Henry Morey, ca. 1910s (New Westminster Archives, IHP2492).

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).


(1) American Stationer (October 17, 1895): 722.

(2) Vancouver Daily World (April 21, 1896): 5.

(3) “H. Morey & CO.,” Daily News (October 4, 1910): 20.

(4) British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present: Biographical vol. IV (Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 504.

(5) Henry Morey obituary, Vancouver Sun (May 16, 1936): 1.

(6) Ibid.

(7) “Closing the Book,” Royal City Record/Now (June 29, 19940: 11.

New Westminster

Destroyed by Fire: Henry Morey, Part 2

New Westminster’s Henry Morey was in his fifth year of business as a bookseller and stationer when disaster struck on February 15, 1891 (1).

At 5 a.m., live coals in an ash box suddenly flamed up in the rear room of watchmakers and jewellers Stirsky & Son at 715 Columbia Street. A patrolling police constable soon noticed the smoke billowing from Stirsky’s store, but no water was readily available to snuff out the fire.

Finding ample fuel in the wooden buildings housing Stirsky’s and adjacent stores, the fire soon consumed the west half of the block. Within the hour, eight stores, including Morey’s at 713 Columbia, were levelled to the ground.

“Within the hour, eight stores, including Morey’s at 713 Columbia, were levelled to the ground.”

The fire also started spreading in the other direction along Columbia toward the real estate office of T.J. Trapp at the corner with Lorne Street. Adjacent to Trapp’s store was the grand Masonic and Oddfellows block fronting on Lorne, said to be one of the finest buildings in the province.

The Masonic and Oddfellows block at the corner of Lorne and Columbia prior to the 1891 fire. Henry Morey’s bookshop was located just up the block on Columbia. (New Westminster Archives IHP0217)

At 6:30 a.m., “a terrific explosion occurred caused by powder stored in the cellar of Trapp’s store. This explosion smashed all the windows in the neighborhood and shook up the Masonic block so badly that the fire got a new hold despite the hard work of the firemen. This magnificent building was soon ablaze inside and was completely gutted, together with its contents” (2).

At 11:00 a.m., part of the north wall of the Masonic block caved in. Falling bricks hit a passing hack driver, Fred McKinnon, breaking both of his legs and one arm. Otherwise, no one else was seriously injured—which seems miraculous considering the explosives stored in Trapp’s cellar.

The property damage was significant, however. Losses were estimated at $175,000 to $200,000, with insurance covering about half of that. What had started out as live coals carelessly left in an ash box turned out to be “the largest and most destructive conflagration ever seen in Westminster” to that point. “Never in the history of Westminster did our principal thoroughfare look so completely demoralized and desolate,” reported the local newspaper (3).

“Never in the history of Westminster did our principal thoroughfare look so completely demoralized and desolate.”

Morey suffered a total loss of his store and inventory, with insurance coverage of only $2,000. And yet, by April, he was up and running again, boasting in newspaper ads of new stock and new premises at the corner of Douglas and Columbia opposite the Central Hotel.

Henry Morey was back in business only a few months after losing his store to a fire in February 1891 (Chilliwack Progress, April 6, 1891, p. 1)


(1) The account of the fire in this post is drawn from the Manitoba Free Press (February 16, 1891): 1; and the Daily Colonist (February 17, 1891): 3.

(2) Manitoba Free Press (February 16, 1891): 1.

(3) Daily Colonist (February 17, 1891): 3.


New Westminster

Henry Morey: Kicking off a Century+ of Bookselling, Part 1

When twenty-three-year-old Henry Morey established H. Morey & Company in New Westminster in 1886, little did he know that he was starting a bookselling and stationery enterprise that would, through a series of owners, last for more than a century.

“Little did [Morey] know that he was starting a bookselling and stationery enterprise that would, through a series of owners, last for more than a century.”

A Musical Youth

Born in New Westminster in December 1862, Henry was the only son of Jonathan and Frances Morey. Jonathan was a sergeant in the Royal Engineers, arriving in New Westminster in 1859 and later serving as the city’s police chief. The family also included four daughters.

In his youth, Henry Morey went to Leipzig, Germany, to study music, having “exhibited a marked talent in music” and a “fine tenor voice” (1). “It is no secret that this young man has given proof of more than common musical talent, and we believe one of the objects of his visit is to put himself in a position to pursue musical studies to the best advantage,” praised the local newspaper when Morey departed for Europe (2).

Henry Morey, 1889. In addition to being a bookseller and stationer, Morey was known for his musical talents. He is pictured here as a member of the Hyack military band. (New Westminster Archives IHP8138)
Entering the Printing and Book Trade

After he returned to New Westminster, Morey joined the Mainland Guardian as a printing apprentice (3).

Then, in 1886, the young man established himself in the business that would define the rest of his working life: H. Morey & Company, bookseller, stationer, and job printer. John Slater Hainsworth was listed initially as a printer, and then as a partner, in the enterprise (4).

H. Morey & Co.’s ad in the Daily British Columbian (November 29, 1889, p. 1).

By 1889, the company was at 77 Columbia Street and seemed to be thriving:

“H. Morey & Co. claim, with considerable grounds for justification, to have the largest stock of toys in the city…Albums are one of Morey & Co’s extra strong displays; they are in wonderful variety. In hand painted cards, plush goods, smoker’s sets, tea sets and fancy stationery, papetries, the house makes a grand showing. Those inclined to athletics and ‘the manly’ can here get a natty little pair of swinging clubs or a fine set of boxing gloves…Individual cups and saucers finely decorated…also presentation volumes of Shakespeare, Dante, and other great works….One of their special lines in particular is musical instruments of which they have an immense variety at modest prices” (5).

But just as we’ve seen with several other early BC booksellers (like Seth Tilley in Vancouver and John Ferguson in Victoria), fire soon became Henry Morey’s worst nightmare, levelling his store and forcing him to start all over again. I’ll pick up from there next time.


(1) British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present: Biographical, Vol. 4 (Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 503; Henry Morey obituary, Vancouver Sun (May 16, 1936): 1.

(2) British Columbian (May 2, 1885): 3.

(3) Morey obituary, Vancouver Sun.

(4) British Columbia Directory (Victoria: E. Mallandaine and R.T. Williams, 1887), 180. Hainsworth was listed as a partner by 1899, but it’s unclear when he took on an ownership interest.

(5) British Columbian (December 23, 1889): 1.


New Westminster · Vancouver · Victoria

British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company

Now that I’ve introduced John Bowerman Ferguson, Thomas Robson Pearson, and David Robson, three of the founding partners in the British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company (J.A. Hart was the fourth), let’s continue the story about this firm.

A Promising Start…

Beginning in May 1886 with Pearson’s and Ferguson’s existing book and stationery stores in New Westminster, Vancouver, and Victoria, Robson’s British Columbian newspaper and printing operation in New Westminster, and $50,000 in capital (1), BC Printing and Stationery seemed strongly positioned to compete in the province’s burgeoning bookselling and publishing industry.

…Followed by a Series of Unfortunate Events

But only three weeks after the new firm was incorporated, the Great Vancouver Fire of June 13, 1886, destroyed the company’s Vancouver branch —the same inferno that devastated Seth Tilley’s book and stationery store. BC Stationery and Printing was located on Water Street adjoining the Granville Hotel, and its losses were estimated at $5,750 (2).

Just like Tilley, the firm wasted no time in rebuilding, this time on Cordova Street.

The BC Stationery and Printing Company was back in business less than two weeks after the Great Vancouver Fire (Vancouver Weekly Herald, June 22, 1886; author photograph)

Just as things were settling down in Vancouver, another fire, this one on September 1 in Victoria, destroyed the company’s store on Government Street.

Fortunately, much of the firm’s $25,000 worth of stock was removed as the blaze spread, and insurance partially covered the rest (3). “[The company] will resume business in a few days, and doubtless do a good trade, as they have done heretofore,” declared Books and Notions (4).

And at first it seemed this prediction was right. Through 1887 and into 1888, BC Stationery and Printing’s enthusiastic ads in the Daily Colonist and elsewhere gave no signs that the company was in any distress.

BC Stationery and Printing ad in West Shore magazine (vol. 13, 1887)

But the company was, indeed, in financial difficulty. In January 1887, the partnership between Ferguson, Pearson, and Robson broke apart when Pearson withdrew from the firm, taking his Vancouver and New Westminster branches with him. BC Stationery and Printing also lost the British Columbian and David Robson when the newspaper was sold to a joint stock company controlled in New Westminster (5).

Ferguson tried to press on alone, but in the spring of 1888, BC Stationery and Printing Company declared bankruptcy. Ferguson issued a statement saying that the losses from the Vancouver and Victoria fires in the company’s first year of business, “some serious losses through our jobbing trade,” and “heavy expenses attendant upon the closing up of two branches” had left the firm unable to meet its financial obligations (6).

T.N. Hibben & Co., the company’s staunchest competitor in Victoria, bought the stock of the bankrupt firm at 57½ cents on the dollar, and Ferguson sold what was left of the business to Robert Jamieson (7).

As for John Bowerman Ferguson…

John Ferguson left Victoria in November 1888 and headed back to Winnipeg, where he once again opened a book and stationery store. But again, bad fortune seemed to follow him. First came the death of his wife, Harriett, in November 1891. And then came another bankruptcy, which prompted Books and Notions to conclude that “Mr. Ferguson has a poor record” (8).

But Ferguson didn’t give up. In 1894, he not only remarried, to Helen Walsh, but also reentered the book trade, incorporating Ferguson & Co. once again (9). In 1895, he sold the book and periodical side of this business to Alex Taylor and carried on as a wholesaler of wrapping papers, printing and lithographing papers, and office and school supplies (10).

Then in August 1896, Ferguson left Winnipeg—and the book and stationery business—for good. Over the next dozen or so years, he participated in some mining ventures in the Kootenays, was manager and local treasurer for an American life insurance company in Vancouver, was general manager of the Western Oil and Coal Company, and was  involved in the Stave Lake Power Company with Charles Hibbert Tupper (a member of Parliament and son of former prime minister Charles Tupper Sr.), among others (11).

By 1911, Ferguson had returned to his home province of Ontario. He died there in 1919 and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto (12).



(1) “The B.C. Stationery and Printing Company,” Daily Colonist (May 22, 1886): 3.

(2) “Losses,” Vancouver Weekly Herald (June 22, 1886): 2.

(3) “Fire on Government Street,” Daily Colonist (September 1, 1886): 3.

(4) Books and Notions (September 1886): 28.

(5) “The British Columbian Printing Company,” Daily British Columbian (January 28, 1887): 2.

(6) The Commercial, vol. 6, no. 32 (April 30, 1888).

(7) The Commercial (April 30, 1888); Books and Notions (December 1888): 87.

(8) “Ferguson & Co.’s Failure,” Books and Notions (December 1893): 6.

(9) “Wedding Bells,” Manitoba Morning Free Press (May 9, 1894): 6; Books and Notions (June 1894): 14.

(10) American Stationer, vol. 38 (1895).

(11) “Off for Rossland,” Winnipeg Tribune (August 26, 1896): 5; Vancouver Daily World (December 2, 1897): 8; “May Prove an Ore Gusher,” Daily Colonist (December 30, 1905): 6; “Extension Granted,” Vancouver Daily World (January 23, 1902): 2.

(12) Memorable Manitobans: John Bowerman Ferguson;


New Westminster · Vancouver

Thomas Robson Pearson: New Westminster and Vancouver Bookselling Pioneer

Before I continue the story of the British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company and John Bowerman Ferguson, let’s meet the other bookselling partner in the venture: Thomas Robson Pearson.

Establishing T.R. Pearson & Co., New Westminster

Born in 1858 in Oshawa, Ontario, Pearson came to Victoria in 1877, and then to New Westminster in 1879 (1).

Soon after settling in New West, Pearson entered the book and stationery trade, establishing T.R. Pearson & Co. on Columbia Street.

Thomas Robson Pearson established a book and stationery store in New Westminster in about 1880 (ad from R.T. Williams, British Columbia Directory for the Years 1882-83, p. 1888)
Connection to the Robsons

Pearson’s middle name, Robson, came from his mother Isabella’s family. Isabella Robson Pearson was the sister of John, David, and Rev. Ebenezer Robson, all of whom were actively involved in the development of BC in the province’s early days.

John Robson, of course, was premier of British Columbia from 1889 to 1892. But before becoming a politician, John was a journalist, serving as editor of the original British Columbian newspaper in New Westminster in the early 1860s, and then as publisher of the new British Columbian from 1882 to 1883. David Robson was also involved in the reincarnation of the newspaper, and when John left to pursue his political career in Victoria in 1883, David took over management of the paper (2).

It is unclear whether Pearson and his uncles were partners in T.R. Pearson & Co. and/or the British Columbian (a February 1883 notice in American Stationer suggests that Pearson and John Robson might have been partners in the book and stationery company [3]), but the two enterprises shared the same premises, as seen in this photo from the City of Vancouver Archives (4):

T.R. Pearson & Co. on Columbia Street, New Westminster, ca. early 1880s (City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Out P482)
Expansion to Vancouver and Formation of BC Stationery and Printing Company
Pearson’s ad in the Vancouver Weekly Herald, April 30, 1886, p. 4

By January 1886, T.R. Pearson & Co. had expanded to Vancouver (actually still called Granville at the time) (5), and then in May, Pearson folded his New Westminster and Vancouver stores into the newly formed British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company. David Robson also partnered in the venture, bringing in his British Columbian Printing Company. And J.B. Ferguson brought in his book and stationery firm in Victoria.

As I’ll cover in my next post, the BC Stationery and Printing Company turned out to be relatively shortlived. So was the remainder of Thomas Robson Pearson’s bookselling career.

The End of Pearson’s Bookselling Days
Thomas Robson Pearson (British Columbia Pictorial and Biographical, vol. I, p. 292; UBC )

In 1887, Pearson married Edith Eleanor Major, daughter of C.G. Major (who was brother-in-law to George Clarkson, a New Westminster bookseller in the late 1860s—I’m telling you, the connections between these early booksellers form an intricate web!).

Also in 1887, Pearson withdrew from the BC Stationery and Printing Company, sold his New Westminster bookstore to David Lyal (6), and entered a partnership with his new father-in-law. Operating as Major & Pearson, the firm dealt mainly in real estate and insurance. When the Dominion Trust Company was established in 1906, Major & Pearson was incorporated into it, and Pearson became a director and manager of the new company (7).

Pearson was widely esteemed in New Westminster business and social circles, and he and Edith had three children. He died in 1947 at the age of eighty-nine (8).



(1) Biographical information about Pearson is mainly from British Columbia Pictorial and Biographical, vol. I (Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Montreal: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1914), 289–295.

(2) From description of the Columbian Company Fonds at the New Westminster Archives.

(3) American Stationer (February 22, 1883): 263.

(4) The City of Vancouver Archives dates the photo as 189_, but I believe this is an error, as T.R. Pearson & Co. was no longer in operation after 1887.

(5) Ads in the British Columbian for T.R. Pearson & Co. starting in January 1886 show “New Westminster and Granville” as the company’s locations.

(6) “Announcement: Change of Business,” Daily British Columbian (March 1, 1887): 2.

(7) British Columbia Pictorial and Biographical, vol. I., 293-294.

(8) “T.R. Robson of Royal City Dies at 89,” The Province (November 24, 1947): 2.


New Westminster

George Clarkson of Clarkson & Co., New Westminster Bookseller

After Seth Tilley sold his Colonial Bookstore in New Westminster to Victoria’s Hibben & Carswell in 1863, they took on a local partner named George Cubitt Clarkson, who operated the store as Clarkson & Co.

Born in Ontario

Born in 1843 in Ontario (or Upper Canada, as it was then called), George was the eldest child and only living son of William and Jane Clarkson. William was quite a well-known pioneer in New Westminster, arriving in 1858, with his family following shortly thereafter.

William and Jane Clarkson, with their children (l-r) Mary, Hannah, George, Sarah, and Kate, ca. early 1860s (New Westminster Archives, IHP0856)

William became the first president of New West’s municipal council in 1864 (he is sometimes called the city’s first mayor), and he remained politically involved throughout his life. He also ran the New Westminster House (a boarding house), acted as a real estate agent, owned an apple tree nursery, and amassed significant land holdings. Clarkson Street in New Westminster is named for the family.

A Five-Year Bookselling Career

George was twenty when he became a bookseller, and he reportedly did very well. He carried on the Columbia Street store much as Tilley had, advertising a large range of books, stationery, newspapers and periodicals, maps, musical instruments, toys and games, and other goods.

In March 1868, George added a circulating library to his store, and on June 10 that same year, the British Columbian applauded him for the “business energy and push” that had increased the circulation “of useful periodical literature throughout the mainland to double what it has been heretofore.”

The partnership between George Clarkson and T.N. Hibben & Co. was dissolved on June 20, 1868. At first George carried on Clarkson & Co. on his own, but by October, he had a new partner in his brother-in-law, John Stillwell Clute, who had married George’s sister Sarah in 1866.

Clute & Clarkson sold much more than books and stationery, operating more as a general store. Charles Major (another of George’s brothers-in-law, married to Mary Clarkson in 1867) joined the partnership too.

Called to the Church
George Clarkson, ca. 1872 (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, PP500453)

In 1870, George left business life when “the bent of his mind led him to adopt the church as his mission,” as his later obituary put it. He went to Ontario to attend Victoria College, where he prepared to enter the ministry. He also married during this time.

When George and his new wife returned to British Columbia, he served as a Wesleyan Methodist missionary in Chilliwack and Sumas. Now known as Reverend Clarkson, he remained in Chilliwack for two years.

The End of a Short Life

Voting records for 1874 and 1875 list George as a “trader,” so presumably he left the ministry and returned to New Westminster. In 1877, he was appointed as a customs collector in Burrard Inlet. He would not hold the position for long.

On May 15, 1877, George died of paralysis (likely meaning a stroke) at the age of thirty-three. “His upright and kindly disposition had implanted…great respect and regard in a large circle of acquaintance, by whom his loss will be surely regretted,” his obituary in the British Columbian read. “For his bereaved family and young widow, we know that the strongest sympathy is everywhere felt. Mr. Clarkson leaves no children.”


Books for Sale · New Westminster · Victoria

At the Bookstore, 1861: Chambers’s Information for the People

(British Columbian, February 21, 1861)

Chambers’s Information for the People, one of the volume sets featured in an 1861 ad for Seth Tilley’s Colonial Book Store in New Westminster, offered everything “that is requisite for a generally well-informed man in the less highly educated portions of society”—or so claimed the book’s preface.

“Designed in an especial manner for the People, though adapted for all classes,” the preface continued, “the work will be found to comprise those subjects on which information is of the most importance … The ruling object, indeed, has been to afford the means of self-education, and to introduce into the mind, thus liberated and expanded, a craving after still further advancement.”

Astronomy, geology, meterology, geography, botany, zoology, natural philosophy, mechanics, optics, acoustics, electricity, chronology, chemistry, textile manufacturing, mining, metals, the steam engine, engineering, architecture, agriculture, animal husbandry, health, food preparation, and more: all these were covered in volume 1 alone, which ran to a hefty 824 pages:

(Source: Hathi Trust.)

Volume 2 packed a similar wallop, covering topics such as history, language, society, military and naval organization, countries, the human mind, phrenology, logic, theology and major religions, morality, political economy, commerce, education, social statistics, grammar, mathematics, drawing, gymnastics, indoor amusements, rhetoric, printing, engraving, and household hints.

The regularly updated reference work was edited by brothers William and Robert Chambers and was targeted at the working and trade classes. It played a role in the increasing influence of science and philosophical thought as a challenge to religion. To put the 1860 edition shown above in context: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published only one year before, in 1859.

Fort Hope · New Westminster

The Colonial Bookstore: First in New Westminster

New Westminster viewed from the Fraser River, 1861, about a year after Seth Tilley arrived and opened the Colonial Bookstore on Columbia Street. (New Westminster Public Library Historical Photo Database, 371)

When Seth Thorne Tilley opened the Colonial Bookstore on Columbia Street in April 1860, New Westminster was little more than a rough clearing hacked out of the towering cedars and hemlocks, a scattering of wooden residential and commercial dwellings lining the Fraser River.

Born a world away, in Gagetown, New Brunswick, in August 1836 to a family descended from United Empire Loyalists and even further back from American settlers who had arrived on the Mayflower, twenty-three-year-old Seth Tilley was no stranger to the pioneer adventure. In 1855 he had joined his eldest brother William in Grass Valley, California, to try his hand at gold mining. The 1858 gold strike along the Fraser River had drawn him north, and he had staked a claim on Strawberry Island, above Hope (1).

(British Colonist, April 10, 1860)

Ultimately unsuccessful as a prospector, he opened a stationery store in Fort Hope in 1859. Then, on April 10, 1860, the British Colonist carried an announcement that he was setting up shop in New Westminster.

Through 1861 and 1862, Tilley’s ads in the New Westminster newspaper the British Columbian indicate an increasingly robust business (click on any ad to enlarge it; you may have to click it twice):

Tilley’s entry in the Biographical Dictionary of Well-Known British Columbians says that he made “a great deal of money” as a bookseller and stationer in New Westminster (2). But in January 1863, he announced in the British Columbian that he had sold the Colonial Bookstore to Victoria’s (Thomas Napier) Hibben and (James) Carswell, who were the most prominent booksellers in that city.

Seth Tilley sold the Colonial Bookstore in January 1863 to Thomas Napier Hibben and James Carswell, the prominent booksellers from Victoria. (British Columbian, January 23, 1863)

A newspaper notice in December 1863 tells us that he was “sojourning” in New Brunswick (presumably visiting his family or taking care of family matters). By January 1864 he was back in New Westminster, though he did not resume his work in the book trade there. Instead, he became the town clerk, assessor, and collector, as well as a partner in a furniture business with David Withrow (3). With politics in his extended family blood (his second cousin was Samuel Leonard Tilley, who would soon become one of the fathers of Canadian Confederation in 1867), he successfully stood for election as a member of the New Westminster municipal council in 1865. He resigned this position in 1866, though, and once again departed from New Westminster.

As I posted earlier, Tilley reappears in BC’s bookselling history in Vancouver in 1886. During the twenty-year gap, Tilley took another short stab at mining in the United States (4) before opening a book and stationery store in San Francisco. He subsequently moved to San Joaquin, where in 1870 he married Jeannie M. Bracken (5) and where his first child, Charles, was born in 1871 (6). Next he opened another bookshop in Santa Barbara in 1874, selling this business in 1876 (7). Tilley’s second child, Jennie (sometimes recorded as Jeannie) was born in Santa Barbara during this period (8).

The Tilleys returned to British Columbia between June 1880 and sometime in 1881, and Seth took on a series of demanding and mobile roles as government commissary between Port Moody and Kamloops, then in the same position for Andrew Onderdonk, who was overseeing construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and then on the Dominion Land Survey (9).

The Tilleys appear in the 1884-85 Directory of British Columbia as living in New Westminster; Seth’s occupation is shown as timekeeper for the CPR. With the completion of the railway becoming a near-term reality, perhaps he was already making plans to re-enter the book trade, this time in the city that he and many other speculators imagined would soon rise at the CPR’s terminus.


(1) John Blaine Kerr, Biographical Dictionary of Well-Known British Columbians (Vancouver, BC: Kerr & Begg, 1890), 305.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid., 306.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.; Hand-book and Directory of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Kern, San Bernardino, Los Angeles & San Diego Counties (San Francisco: L.L. Paulson, 1875), 120, 163.

(6) 1880 US census.

(7) American Bookseller, vol. II (July–December 1876), 327.

(8) 1901 US census.

(9) Kerr, Biographical Dictionary of Well-Known British Columbians, 306.


Fort Hope · New Westminster · Vancouver

Seth Thorne Tilley: The First Bookseller in the BC Lower Mainland

“What was the first bookstore in Vancouver?” This was the question that started the journey that has become this blog, A Most Agreeable Place. 

As it turned out, it was not an easy question to answer. Some of the resources that I regularly turn to when writing family history books either were silent on the question or started with much later stores like Duthie Books. And a simple Google search returned unhelpful results.

But then, through more digging, I started to come across references to S.T. Tilley, who turns out to be Seth Thorne Tilley (his middle name sometimes appears as Thorn in archival sources).

S.T. Tilley’s ad in the first issue of the Vancouver Weekly Herald, January 15, 1886, p. 2. (UBC Rare Books and Special Collections; my photograph)

In his invaluable Early Vancouver, first city archivist Major James Skitt Matthews records how paper, pen, and ink for the first council meeting of the newly incorporated City of Vancouver were purchased at the last minute at Tilley’s (1).

S.T. Tilley also appears in an ad in the first issue of the Vancouver Weekly Herald in January 1886. Located on Carrall Street between the Tremont Hotel and the Herald office, the building housing Tilley’s store on the street front was also home to the city’s first post office at the back; the only telephone in Vancouver at the time was located in Tilley’s shop as well (2).

Tilley’s book and stationery store was next door (at right in this photo) to the Tremont Hotel on Carrall Street in early 1886 Vancouver. (City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-: Hot P29)

But then, in newspaper accounts of the devastating fire that levelled Vancouver in June 1886, a new contender for the claim of first bookstore in Vancouver appears in references to the losses suffered not only by Tilley but also by the British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company on Water Street (3).

In future I’ll write more about the events touched on above and try to unravel who indeed was the first bookseller in Vancouver. But first I want to share what I found out about Tilley that told me that, while he may not have opened Vancouver’s first bookstore, he is in all likelihood the first person to have done so in the BC Lower Mainland (4).

Notice how Tilley’s ad in the Herald says that he has many years’ experience in the business? In fact, Tilley had been in the book and stationery trade since at least 1859, when he operated a store in Fort Hope (5). And then, in April 1860, Tilley opened the Colonial Book Store in New Westminster, the first such store in what was then the capital of the Colony of British Columbia (6). That’s where I’ll pick up in my next post.


(1) Major J.S. Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 3 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 189.

(2) Major J.S. Matthews, “The Burning of Vancouver,” Vancouver Historical Journal 3 (January 1960): 19.

(3) Vancouver Weekly Herald (June 22, 1886): 2; Books and Notions (July 1886): 174.

(4) The bookstore trade in Victoria was well under way by the time it started on the mainland. I’ll be covering the Victoria scene as well in future blog posts.

(5) John Blaine Kerr, Biographical Dictionary of Well-Known British Columbians (Vancouver: Kerr & Begg, 1890), 305.

(6) British Colonist (April 10, 1860); Margaret Lillooet McDonald, “New Westminster, 1859–1871” (master’s thesis, University of British Columbia, 1947), 283.