Judging by his ability to rebound after losing his Vancouver book and stationery store to fire not once, in June 1886, but twice, the second in February 1889, Seth Thorne Tilley must have been a man of spirit and some financial means. The losses he suffered in the fires were not adequately covered by insurance, yet he was able to rebuild and restock quickly and get right back into business.
Judging by his ability to rebound after losing his Vancouver book and stationery store to fire not once, but twice, Seth Thorne Tilley must have been a man of spirit and some financial means.
In May 1889, Tilley could once again be found at 11 Cordova Street, the same site as his second burned-out store, in the newly built Ferguson Block (1). Developed by A.G. Ferguson, the building would soon also house the popular Boulder Saloon, which opened in November 1890 (2).
Noting the “splendid stock of goods” in the article announcing the bookseller’s reopening, the Vancouver Daily World encouraged the public “to look at Mr. Tilley’s store for their purchases” (3). Tilley’s store continued to receive the support of the newspaper, and a December 21, 1889, article gives us an excellent picture of what the establishment was like:
“Among Vancouver’s most energetic citizens” and one who took “a strong interest in everything affecting the city’s progress” (4), Seth Tilley was a member of Vancouver society. In 1892, when Edgar Dewdney, newly appointed as lieutenant-governor, arrived in Vancouver aboard a private train car, greeting him were the mayor and city officials, along with “Mr. Dewdney’s pioneer friends—David Oppenheimer, Isaac Oppenheimer, James Orr, S.T. Tilley, and John McLennan” (5). Said Walter Graveley to Vancouver archivist Major Matthews in 1936, “The only time I saw Sir William [Van Horne, president of the CPR] in Vancouver was when he took Mrs. Tilley of the book store to supper at a Hotel Vancouver ball” (6).
Seth’s son, Charles (Charlie) joined his father’s business as a partner in August 1891, with the store becoming known as S.T. Tilley & Son. “[Charles] is an estimable young man, having many good social and business qualities,” read a notice in the trade periodical Books and Notions (8).
But their partnership would be fairly short-lived. In April 1894, Tilley announced that he had sold his store to Harold Clarke and J. Duff-Stuart, both former clerks at one of Tilley’s competitors, Thomson Brothers (9). Tilley was not yet fifty-eight years old, and he would go on to participate in various business ventures for the remaining decades of his life (10). But it was the end of his bookselling days, and the end of the S.T. Tilley Book and Stationery Store in Vancouver.
(1) “Tilley’s New Bookstore,” Vancouver Daily World (May 27, 1889): 3.
(2) “A Handsome Resort,” Vancouver Daily World (November 1, 1890): 2.
(3) “Tilley’s New Bookstore,” 3.
(4) John Blaine Kerr, Biographical Dictionary of Well-Known British Columbians (Vancouver, BC: Kerr & Begg, 1890), 306.
(5) “The Lieut.-Governor Arrives” Vancouver Daily World (November 8, 1892): 8.
(6) Cited in Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 4 (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2011), 189.
(7) “Co-Partnership Notice,” Vancouver Daily World (August 8, 1891): 8.
(8) Books and Notions (September 1891): 16.
(9) “New Firm,” Vancouver Daily World (April 12, 1894): 3.
(10) Tilley died on August 20, 1910, just shy of his seventy-fourth birthday. He is buried in Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery. His son, Charles, predeceased him, dying of an unspecified illness in 1898 (Daily Colonist [February 17, 1898]: 1). Tilley’s wife, Jeanne, died in 1931 (Major James Skitt Matthews, Early Vancouver, Vol. 4, memo of conversation with Mrs. Jennie Beck [Mrs. N.D. Tilley Beck], April 20, 1937). Their daughter, Jennie (sometimes recorded as Jeanne), died in Vancouver in 1971.
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