“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).
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).
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.
- The Final Years of the S.T. Tilley Book and Stationery Store in Vancouver
- Tilley’s First Vancouver Book and Stationery Store Goes Up in Flames
- William Harrison and the B.C. Book Store
- Thomas Robson Pearson: New Westminster and Vancouver Bookselling Pioneer
- “Phoenix-Like”: S.T. Tilley Reopens Vancouver Bookstore after Second Fire