…..from the pages of Charles Woodward’s Diary
“Whether it happened because I was a Magistrate and may have incurred an enmity of several citizens, or it may have been an accident, but my store at Thessalon (Ontario) was burned down in the early morning of the winter of March, 1980 and the fire had made a great headway before I knew anything about it. Everything was consumed except what was in the safe. This was a terrible loss to me as I had only $2000 insurance and I suffered possibly a loss of $15,000 in merchandise.
Fortunately I did not owe very much money. I had got myself into a good financial position by paying cash for all my merchandise. Very few goods were now being bought on time. After the fire insurance had been paid to me and the business straightened up by those owing me, either cash or notes, my wife and I decided that it would be better to make a fresh start, either in the States or out West in British Columbia. It was pretty well advertised and we heard so much about it being a milder climate and Vancouver being the gateway to the Orient. After reaching this decision it was not long until I started for British Columbia.
I had never been further West previously than Brandon. I thought I knew where I was likely to locate if I decided to settle in B.C.—I laid off a few days at Calgary and Kamloops and studied the possibilities of those cities. I realized, losing so much in the fire, I had very little left, only my accounts and a few securities.
The United States had quite an attraction for me on account of so many Canadians going there and it was just possible if British Columbia did not suit me, we would go to some Western State. The place that seemed to appeal to me before I came to Vancouver City was New Westminster, on account of having so much good agricultural land tributary to it, and Vancouver had not. New Westminster also had access to the ocean by the mighty Fraser River, where the large ships came in and loaded and discharged their cargoes. The C.P.R. ran into New Westminster as it did into Vancouver, which I then thought was only a C.P.R. boomtown. I did not know anyone in Vancouver except two families; every other person was a stranger to me.
I was very much interested in British Columbia; all the way along the line after leaving Yale, we were traveling in daylight and had a chance to see the country.
I remember when arriving at Mission City, which was being boomed very strongly at that time, they had advertised an Auction Sale of town lots and had people grading the streets with teams and scrapers—they had thousands of feet of lumber distributed here and there over plots, with the name of “John Doe” or someone else as purchaser of these lots and who were building dwelling houses; sidewalks were also being laid. In fact, it had the appearance of a very exciting, bustling town. It was very nice, I thought, of the C.P.R. to stop the train and give the passengers a chance to make some money on Mission Town lots.
However, all this excitement only lasted until the day after the auction sale when, in some cases, the lumber was gathered up, building operations to a certain extent ceased and Mission City became a dead city and remained that way for some years. There were two people I knew and possibly hundreds of others, who invested their all, thinking they were going to make their fortunes out of Mission City town lots. What caused the excitement was the fact that it was a junction or cut off road fo the main line of the C.P.R. running South into the United States. It apparently was no fault of the C.P.R. that Mission City had not a good start.
Vancouver was very much exercised over this opposition town called Mission City, and a deputation of Vancouver’s influential citizens waited upon Sir Wm. Van Horne, protesting against the booming boosting of Mission City and the advisability of making the junction at Vancouver, Sir William listened to the deputation very patiently and politely, for him and when they were through and had made as strong a case as they could, he said, “Gentlemen, it would be a grand thing for the C.P.R.”, and Mission City was built and Vancouver developed later on.
After I decided to locate in B.C. the thing for me, a stranger, was to investigate the possibilities of the cities and surroundings. The population then in Vancouver was 13,800, possibly not that much, but to me it looked to have a great future—probably the largest city in Canada in fifty years. In fact, the whole Province only had 82,000 of a population then, including Chinamen and Indians—that was the year 1891. The C.P.R. had no ocean sailing vessels of their own at that time. There were a few tramp steamers coming here, their passenger palatial steamers came at a later date.
The most popular city of the three was Victoria and I could not see any reason for its popularity or attractiveness as a wholesale or manufacturing centre. It might become a residential or a tourist city of some note, but I could see a great deal in favour of Vancouver and I was not long in deciding that Vancouver had wonderful prospects ahead of it and that it was the place for me to locate as I did not wish to go into the United States and leave my own country.
After my decision was made in favour of Vancouver, I was advised of two pieces of property which I had the chance of buying and which I was undecided about. There was also one piece on Powell Street, which to me at the time might become a leading thoroughfare.
I had these three pieces of property in view for some time before I finally decided which I would buy. The width of the street had a great deal to do with me deciding in favour of Westminster Avenue, and I eventually bought 57 feet frontage on the corner of Harris St. and Westminster Avenue (now Main St. and Georgia St.) for $5000, which was about one-quarter of the price asked for different locations on Granville Street for the same frontage.
The more I studied the location of Westminster Avenue the more satisfied I was of the advantages it had over Granville Street. Of course, I was the owner then, and I did not own any property on Granville St., which makes a difference in a person’s viewpoint of values.”