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Little-known Nelson heritage buildings: 120 Vernon St.

Updated: Mar 11

The home at 120 Vernon St. in Nelson (seen below) is a two-storey vernacular frame building, similar to dozens of others built in the city around the turn of the 20th century. But it’s actually a very significant site. It originally stood at 509 Falls St., where it was once home to pioneer physician Dr. Gilbert Hartin. From 1914-30, community Doukhobors owned it and used it as a business office and guesthouse.

The home was built for contractor David McBeath. Its construction was mentioned in the Nelson Tribune of June 27, 1899:

David McBeath has given Hillyer & Company the contract for the erection of a $2,000 dwelling on his lots on Baker street. “Dave” is now engaged in getting out the plans himself.

McBeath received a plumbing permit for Block 92, Lots 1 and 2 on July 18, 1899. Although these corner lots fronted on Baker, the home was built at the rear of Lot 2, fronting on Falls. McBeath apparently lived there, but he was listed in civic directories from 1901-05 as residing a block away at “Baker, near Kootenay.”

The house can be seen in several bird’s-eye-views, including this oft-reproduced shot taken from the Hall Mines smelter sometime before 1912 and printed on a postcard.

McBeath built one other home in Nelson, at the corner of Silica and Ward. Its occupant in 1901 was Duncan A. McBeath, who briefly served as Nelson’s mining recorder and district registrar. I am guessing he was David’s brother.

Duncan was arrested in October 1899, accused of embezzling public funds. The case was swiftly dismissed, but he didn’t get his job back.

In 1907, David went to North Bend, Wash. to work on a railway construction project that was expected to take two years, so he sold his house. The transaction was announced in the Daily News of July 10:

Dr. Gilbert Hartin, Dr. Hall’s partner, has purchased David McBeath’s residence on the corner of Baker and Falls streets, and yesterday brought down Mrs. Hartin and family from Kaslo.

Hartin, a native of Stittsville, Ont., graduated from McGill University with a medical degree in 1896 and immediately established a practice in Kaslo. He served several terms on city council there and was elected mayor in 1899 — by two votes over incumbent Charles McAnn. The following year, he was elected alderman and served under McAnn, who returned to the mayor’s chair. He is seen below as an alderman on Kaslo city council in 1903-04 (courtesy the Kootenay Lake Historical Society).

Hartin gave his name to two office buildings in Kaslo that sat opposite each other on Front Street. The Archer-Hartin block has long since been demolished. The Hartin block at 404 Front housed the Bank of British North America on its ground floor for many years along with The Kootenaian newspaper from 1896-1961. Hartin lived on the second floor with his family. It was renamed the Kootenaian building in the 1990s and restored to its original appearance, as seen below.

In Nelson, Dr. Hartin lived at 509 Falls with his wife Hanna and their three sons. He had an office in the KWC building on Baker Street, first in partnership with Dr. G.A.B. Hall and then Dr. William O. Rose. As district coroner, Dr. Hartin was frequently called upon to attend mining accidents and other tragedies.

On Feb. 20, 1913, seven Doukhobors were injured when several sticks of dynamite being thawed out on a heater exploded. Four men died, including Temofay Planedin, 22, and Vasil Rebin, 30, while Dr. Hartin removed the eyes of two others with help from Dr. Annie Verth Jones.

In a 1974 interview, held by the Doukhobor Discovery Centre, John Fomenoff, who was there, explained this related to the construction of the Brilliant Suspension Bridge:

When they were blasting for the bridge, the dynamite was cold and damp. Sometimes it would explode and sometimes not. The men started drying it in the electric pump house that was on the Ootischenia side. John Sherbinin warned them that it was dangerous, yet the men continued to do it. One day the dynamite exploded in the pump house and some were injured, some died. Strukoff was blasted right into the door. Other men that were in there were Strukoff’s brother John, Alex Reibin, Mike Labentsoff. He was deaf from then on and four died. We hitched a team at the sawmill and went to help. They were bringing out the wounded and the dead.

The Victoria Times of Nov. 6, 1911 explained how Dr. Hartin visited a sick Doukhobor woman on another occasion, but his return was frustrated when the boatman trying to take him across the Columbia River to the railway track couldn’t see through the dense fog.

Three times the rowboat made a half circle and returned to the shore from which it started, finally ending up about a mile downriver. They were only able to cross once a fire was lit on the opposite side, and the boatman followed the faint glow through the fog.

Once he reached the railway track, Dr. Hartin took a speeder but frost on the wheels made it almost impossible to move. Finally he got to the point where he expected to meet a rancher with a boat to take him to see another patient on the other side of the river. But the rancher had fallen asleep and Dr. Hartin was left shivering before a small fire for an hour and a half.

Dr. Hartin died in 1922 of cancer, “for which he had sought a cure from the best specialists of Europe.” He was 63. An obituary that ran in newspapers across the country called him “one of the best known physicians of British Columbia.” Nearly 1,000 people “of all ranks, conditions, nationalities and ages” attended his funeral and “Every one felt a personal loss in the removal of this good man and citizen.” He was buried in the Nelson cemetery.

Another view of 509 Falls, taken between 1905 and 1913. (Nelson Museum 1987-156-002)

Dr. Hartin’s middle son David also attended McGill and graduated with a medical degree in 1914. He practiced in Montreal for a while, then returned to Nelson to join his father’s office. After his father died, he moved to Spokane, where he was an eye specialist for over 25 years.

Youngest son Gilbert Jr., died in 1914, age 17, but oddly I can’t find an obituary for him.

Eldest son Hilliard was listed in the 1910 civic directory as residing with his parents at 509 Falls and working as a clerk at the Imperial Bank. In 1932, Hilliard returned to Kaslo where he was became city clerk, a position he held for 10 years until being caught in an embezzlement scandal.

With Kaslo’s municipal finances in a precarious state, Hilliard was charged with misappropriating over $19,000 from city coffers (the equivalent of about $295,000 today). However, he was acquitted.

He moved to Trail, where he became a security guard for Cominco, which was producing heavy water for the Manhattan project during World War II. He died in 1951, within a few months of his brother David.

At the end of World War II, Hilliard Hartin, like all others who worked on Project 9 at Cominco, received a certificate of thanks from the US War Department for helping to produce the atomic bomb. (Courtesy Jared Grant)

Back to the property: on Sept. 5, 1909, the Nelson Daily News reported contractor John Burns was building three cottages at a cost of $6,000 at the corner of Falls and Baker for James Macauley of the firm Knowler and Macauley.

The plumbing permit indicated these were on Block 92, Lots 1-3 and the owners were Knowler and Macauley, listed in the 1910 civic directory as CPR boarding masters. But it’s unclear through what arrangement this took place. Prior to this there is no sign that Dr. Hartin sold any of his property, which consisted of Lots 1 (vacant) and Lot 2 (on which his home stood).

However, in February 1913, the same month as the terrible dynamite incident at Ootischenia, Dr. Hartin bought two lots on the corner of Hendryx and Vernon streets to build a new home.

At the same time he sold 509 Falls St. to the Nelson Investment Co. Ltd. of Moose Jaw, speculators busy buying up properties around town. A few months later, the house was resold to unnamed local investors at what was said to be “a good profit.” A local real estate agency soon advertised for rent an “Eight-roomed house and basement on the corner of Baker and Falls street; furnace; three lots” for $40 per month.

By July 1913, Henry Johns and his wife lived there. Johns was a former engineer with the British Columbia Copper Co. and superintendent of the Mother Lode mine near Greenwood. During his time in Nelson, he was superintendent of the Eureka and Queen Victoria mines, but he and his wife didn’t stay long. The home was advertised for rent, furnished, in February 1914.

In May 1914, a classified ad appeared seeking a servant for the property, but it’s unclear who placed it. In September, the Johns held a private sale of their furniture, which was still in the home, and then moved to Spokane, where Henry died suddenly in 1917.

Peter V. Verigin appears to have purchased the property on behalf of the Doukhobor Society in December 1914. At the time, the Doukhobor Society may have had plans to redevelop the corner, based on a Daily News interview of Dec. 8, 1914 with one of its administrators:

Regarding the rumor that it was the intention of the society to erect a business block on its property on Baker street at the corner of Falls street in the near future, [John] Sherbinin stated that he had the matter under advisement for some time but as yet no decision has been arrived at as to when construction work would be undertaken or, as a matter of fact, just what the nature of the building would be.

The idea came to naught. Instead, the house was used as a stopping place for Peter V. Verigin to stay at when he visited Nelson while conducting business on behalf of the Doukhobor Society.

By 1915, Anton and Tania Strelive (also spelled Streloeff, Strelaeff, Straeloff, Streloff, and Strelieff among other transliterations) were selected to serve as caretakers of the house at 509 Falls and as the Doukhobor leader’s personal attendants during his visits. Anton would meet Verigin with a specially-prepared coach, even though the train station was scarcely two blocks away. Verigin always drove himself.

This wagon (or a similar one, used for the same purposes) ended up in the basement of the Ellison’s Milling warehouse on Front Street, where manager Joseph Kary discovered it in the 1950s or ‘60s. He donated it to the local museum, but they didn’t have room to display it and transferred it to the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar in 2010. It was restored along with a farm wagon in 2015 and remains on display.

Anton Strelive tends to Peter V. Verigin’s new carriage in Nelson, ca. 1910s. This picture reportedly shows Anton bringing the carriage home after its arrival via sternwheeler, but looks to have been taken on Nelson Avenue. (Courtesy Paul Strelive)

Anton and Tania also hosted Doukhobors from Brilliant who needed to stay overnight in Nelson for medical or dental care, greeting them at the train station and securing their passage back home.

Paul still has notes sent to his grandfather directing people to various doctors and dentists, and his grandfather’s diary, written in Russian. “His script was excellent in Russian and English, which not that many people had,” he says.

Anton was placed in charge of a branch depot for the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works (where Maglio Builiding Centre is today at 29 Government Road), buying apples from farmers to send to the jam factory at Brilliant. His appointment was noted in a classified ad, seen here, in the Daily News of Oct. 9, 1917.

The 1921 census listed Anton and Tania as one of six Doukhobor families living in Nelson, totaling 26 people, although street addresses were not indicated. All the families were directly or indirectly involved with the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., a wood and coal subsidiary of the Doukhobor Society. (A comprehensive history of this business has been published by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff as “The Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Company at Nelson.”)

On June 20 of that year, the Strelives’ only child, Pete Anthony, was born, presumably at 509 Falls. “They were childless for a long time, and when it did happen it was a blessing,” Paul says. “They were very happy.”

Anton Strelive is seen with wife Tania, son Pete, and sister Moolasha (Molly), early 1920s. (Courtesy Paul Strelive)

Anton raised bees at the rear of the house, whose escape from their hive resulted in this charming item in the Daily News of July 14, 1919:

Excited by the heat, Anton Strelaff’s bees held a public indignation meeting at high noon yesterday, leaving the seclusion of the colony house near Mr. Strelaff’s residence on Falls street and finally settling on the fence, about a rod from Baker street. Before a large and interested audience Mr. Strelaff gave a neat demonstration of how to handle bees without being interviewed by their stings, capturing the buzzing ball with the canvas bag that beekeepers use. He stated that the event was not a true swarming as the queen did not leave the hive.

The original apiary adjacent to 509 Falls St., 1910s. (Courtesy Paul Strelive)

Around 1921, Anton asked city council for permission to use part of the street adjacent to 509 Falls to raise bees, and the request was granted. (This is roughly where a concrete retaining wall stands today, opposite and just slightly south of the Savoy Hotel.)

However, in the fall of 1923, he began building a bath house on the alleyway. Mayor L.H. Choquette noticed and ordered the work stopped but the building was completed anyway.

The matter came before city council in January 1924, with Strelive apologizing, stating that he hadn’t realized he needed a permit, and offering to pay a reasonable tax if necessary.

The Nelson Daily News reported the bathhouse might result in increased insurance rates for the Athabasca Hotel (now the Savoy), presumably because of the bathhouse’s wood burning stove.

City council talked it over, with alderman A.S. Horswill making the bizarre comment that “Doukhobors should not be given privileges which the white residents of the city were not allowed. He did not think that the Doukhobors should be the favored race in Nelson.” In those days, whiteness meant more than the colour of your skin.

Council voted to ask Anton to remove the building.

In the first photo, 509 Falls St. is seen ca. 1920s with the apiary below. In the second photo, Anton Strelive tends to his bees. These hives were located close to where a concrete retaining wall now stands, opposite the Nelson SPCA branch and the Savoy Hotel. (Courtesy Paul Strelive)

Things took a sharp turn for the worse on Oct. 29, 1924 when a train explosion at Farron claimed the life of Peter V. Verigin. Among the eight other victims: Anton Strelive’s 17-year-old half-sister Mary, who was Verigin’s personal travelling companion. (She was erroneously reported in the press as Anton’s niece.)

Anton was among the first Doukhobors to learn of the disaster, and it was his sad duty to inform others. He also boarded a special train chartered from Brilliant to recover the bodies. According to his grandson, Mary actually survived the explosion, but died on the way back to Nelson, as the train crossed the Taghum bridge.

In February 1925, about 20 community Doukhobors from Glade and Brililant came to Nelson and sang at 509 Falls in memory of their fallen leader. The Daily News reported:

Passers-by on Baker street between noon and 1:30 saw them grouped on the verandah of the house, lived in by Anton Streloff, on Falls street, all facing outward as they chanted and lingered to listen to the melodious minor melody.

That evening they performed a concert at Trinity Methodist Church, at the invitation of Rev. J.H. Wright. They returned the following week, holding an 8 a.m. service at a house on Granite Road, then sang at Anton’s house at 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m, and 3 p.m., each time for about an hour. In the evening they performed at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. Anton explained afterward that the same group of singers often sang for Verigin when he was in Nelson.

The Strelives briefly hosted Evdokia Verigin, Peter V. Verigin’s first wife and mother of Peter P. Verigin, at the house when she arrived in Canada in January 1926 amid much fanfare. Community Doukhobors hoping for word from her son, who was expected to become their next leader, hailed her arrival. She was also the subject of fascination for curious non-Doukhobor residents.

Tania and Pete Strelive at 509 Falls St., 1920s. (Courtesy Paul Strelive)

In January 1926, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. in Nelson was dissolved. By February, Anton started a fuel business of his own, the Doukhobor Transfer Co. Using wagons and remaining stock from the defunct company.

His grandson Paul also has a receipt booklet bearing his grandfather’s name for Doukhobor Transfer, whose office is given as 509 Falls. The first ad for the business appeared in the Nelson Daily News on Feb. 27, 1926, offering “coal and wood for sale at reasonable prices.”

As it turned out, Anton’s fuel business was short-lived. Within months, he permanently lost his voice due to an illness, making continuation of the business impossible. By early 1928, the Strelives were assigned to another Doukhobor settlement at Taghum known as Dorogotsennoye. By 1929, Anton left the community Doukhobors altogether and was living among independents at Thrums.

In late 1928, the Strelives were replaced by Eli and Melayna Chernoff and in-laws Philip and Nastia Lazareff as caretakers of 509 Falls. They appear there in the 1929 and 1930 civic directories. They were joined for several months by Russian Tolstoyan Paul Birukoff (or Biryukov) and his daughter Olga. Birukoff came to Canada in 1927 with Peter P. Verigin, when he finally arrived to assume the leadership of the Doukhobors. By 1930, Birukoff (pictured) departed to Geneva with his daughter.

In 1931, only Eli Chernoff was still listed in the civic directory at 509 Falls, working as a carpenter for T.H. Waters. He moved to Granite Road by the following year.

The property, (transferred from Peter V. Verigin to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. in 1917) was sold in late 1930 to George F. (Bud) Stevens and later redeveloped as a gas station. However, Doukhobors continued to occupy the home at least through the end of January 1931. George Sutherland then acquired the building and moved it to Vernon Street.

I wish we knew more about the logistics of the move, which must have been a sight to behold. But I’m grateful we know about it at all, thanks to an invaluable 1968 memoir left us by Dr. C.E. Bradshaw, who noted:

Dr. Hartin lived in a house on the present property occupied by Texaco. It faced Falls Street and was later occupied by Antonne [sic] Strelieff, being the guest house of the spiritual leader of the Doukhobors. It was later removed to Vernon Street.

But where exactly? Originally I suspected 112 Vernon, which stands out because it faces west where all of the other homes on the block face north.

Furthermore, civic directories for 1913-15 (the earliest ones for which street listings are available), don’t list anything at 112 Vernon; but there was a house there by 1951, a sign, I thought, of a home being moved. But this logic proved faulty.

Comparing photos of 509 Falls to the homes in the 100 and 200 blocks of Vernon Street, it didn’t take long to identify 120 Vernon as the strongest candidate, for they closely resembled each other — the only difference being the verandah.

But something else was perplexing: there was already a house at 120 Vernon in 1913-15, occupied by Nick Olynyk. So did this house replace that one? No, as it turns out.

Plumbing records show Olynyk was issued a permit in 1910 for a new house at Block 87, Lot 2. Sutherland received a plumbing permit on May 2, 1931 for Block 87, half of Lot 4 and Lot 5, accompanied by the notation: “House moved to new location.” Aha! There’s the relocation of 509 Falls to what is now 120 Vernon.

It appears the entire 100 block of Vernon was renumbered, although I am not sure if it was at this time or a few years later. Block 2, on which Olynyk had his home, became 116 Vernon. The former 116 became 112. And the former 509 Falls became 120 Vernon. But why not just leave the first two homes alone and assign the moved house 124 or 128 Vernon? A lot of mail must have been misdelivered as a result of the switch.

Plumbing records show that at the same time, Sutherland built a new house on Block 87, Lots 5 and 6, which was numbered 124 Vernon (BC Assessment gives it a construction date of 1935).

Also in 1931, Dorcas E. Clark was issued a plumbing permit for alterations to Block 87, Lot 2. A year later, she received another permit for a new house on same lot, and in 1935, a permit to add a third-floor sink.

The three storey home now on that site has been substantially renovated in recent years, with a commercial unit added on the ground floor, but it probably incorporates at least part of Olynyk’s original house. (BC Assessment gives it a construction date of 1901, which just means they don’t know when it was built.)

The vacant Vernon Street property to which Sutherland moved the home from 509 Falls belonged to Barbara Ann Robertson from at least 1915-25. She lived with her late husband Roderick across the alley in a home they built at 414 Falls Street in 1898, which I have written about before. But she left Nelson soon after Roderick was killed in a bizarre accident in New York in 1902.

The lots Mrs. Robertson owned in Block 87 reverted to the City of Nelson in 1925, presumably for non-payment of taxes, and were acquired by George Sutherland in 1930. After 509 Falls became 120 Vernon, it was rented out to tenants. In 1935, the property was listed in Margaret Sutherland’s name. Her relationship to George is unclear; he wasn’t her father or husband.

On Christmas Eve 1938, Margaret married Reginald Goldsbury. They didn’t immediately move to 120 Vernon, but lived there from at least 1941-55. Reginald became plant superintendent of Glacier Lumber Co. From at least 1957-64, the owners were Virginio and Ida DePretto. Patrick Meyers, who with his brothers narrowly survived the Strathcona Hotel fire of 1955, says his mother rented the building in 1956 or 1957 for a couple of years and ran a boarding house there.

One of the boarders was Alex Pollock. If you look at the front of the house there is an open veranda facing Vernon Street. One day my brothers and I were called out to it and we were informed that Alex and mother were getting married. They spent the rest of their lives together ...
As I recall, there was a long stairway from the back of the house leading up to the alley. Beside the staircase was a coal chute which went into the basement.
Also there was an apartment in the basement which was rented by a family named Snedden. Other borders I recall were Fred Taylor and Milt Miltan. Milt could make a musical instrument out of almost anything. He brought in an old TV and made the antenna out of a Venetian blind. To change channels we had to adjust the blind.

Later the house was occupied by city labourer Ridotto Mauro.

120 Vernon has received a nice paint job in recent years. The BC Assessment Authority took the photo above in August 2015. The photos below are as it looked from front and back in April 2020.

On Jan. 15, 1935, George F. Stevens sold Block 92, Lots 1 and 2 (the former 509 Falls) to Dominco A. Priore, a garage manager from Trail. But the deal must have fallen through, for on April 13, 1937, Stevens signed a 10-year lease with Texaco for the property. I presume the cottages built on the site in 1909 were demolished or moved at this time if they hadn’t already been.

The 1937 civic directory shows Kline’s City Service at 202 Baker (listed in 1938 and subsequent years as 206 Baker). In 1950, it became Wiginton Motors, and by the late 1950s, Gordon’s Service Station. It was Downtown Texaco as of 1970, and finally became Baker Street Esso around 1990. It closed in 2008 and the property was fenced off. Today it’s a private parking lot (pictured below).

Although the history of 120 Vernon St. was little known until recently, a statement of significance has been completed in preparation for adding the building to the city’s heritage register.

Updated July 15, 2021 to add Patrick Meyers’ memories; on Sept. 26, 2021 to mention the first ad for Doukhobor Transfer, Evdokia Verigin’s visit to the home in 1926, and to add more details about the singers who performed at the home in 1925; and on Sept. 24, 2023 to amend details around the house’s sale in 1931; and on Sept. 30, 2023 to further clarify the sequence of events.

— Thanks to Jonathan Kalmakoff, Paul Strelive, J.P. Stienne, Patrick Meyers, and Elizabeth Scarlett

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A lot of interesting things here. Didn't know that there used to be a smelter in Nelson.

How I got here: had a dream in which there was a person named Paul Streliev whom I never knew at all. So Googling that name I came across this site. Thanks for all the work uploading/downloading all the information.

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