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.



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.


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.