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.