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Then & Now: Corner Brick

Updated: Jan 17, 2020

A terrific postcard popped up on eBay recently, showing the A. MacDonald & Co. warehouse at 623-25 Front Street in Nelson, ca. 1910 — better known in recent years as the Corner Brick building, and home to many different businesses.

Here is the building as seen from approximately the same location today:

Here is a closer look at the unidentified gentlemen in the first image:

BC Assessment puts the building’s construction at 1903, but Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation dates it to 1899-1900. According to the Nelson Tribune of Dec. 7, 1900:

A. MacDonald & Co. have plans prepared for a two-story and basement warehouse to be erected on the northwest corner of Hall and Front streets, which is probably the most desirable site in the city for a wholesale warehouse. The building will have a frontage of 60 feet on Front and 90 feet on Hall. The basement will be 60 by 60 feet at the rear end of the building … Ewart & Carrie are the architects, and tenders are called for to be in on Monday next.

The present building is three storeys plus a basement, not two. The above story also added: “The building is to be of wood.” Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation says the brick facade was provided by LaPoint and Brown, but does not provide a source or date.

But this item from the Nelson Daily News of June 1909 begins to sort things out:

A. MacDonald, head of the well-known wholesale grocery firm of Winnipeg and other cities, including Nelson … has purchased the Alice Roller Rink and the two lots upon which the present building stands with the intention of putting up a three story brick structure for use as offices and warehouse. Mr. MacDonald has also purchased some lots beside the CPR track upon which he intends to erect a second warehouse.

The Winnipeg Tribune of June 11, 1910 added:

A. MacDonald Co.’s Extension – A. MacDonald, wholesale grocer, has signed a contract for the erection of a new warehouse for the Nelson branch of his business. John Burns, of the Nelson planing mills, was the successful tenderer. The structure will be of brick and stone, 45x113 feet, two stories in height. The walls will be of marble.

Whether the latter referred to the first or the second building, I am not certain, but it said two storeys, not three.

The A. MacDonald in question was Alexander MacDonald, the mayor of Winnipeg, who had retail and wholesale stores across western Canada. His first outlet in Nelson was built in 1897 at 524 Vernon Street and also still stands.

The present building was actually erected in two sections: the eastern three-fifths came first, which I think we can safely date to 1910 based on the above. According to a recently completed statement of significance, the western addition was built in 1928. It blended seamlessly with the first section, with the colour of the brick only slightly different. John Burns was once again the contractor.

The following year A. MacDonald and Co. was sold to Canada Safeway. The Nelson store then operated as MacDonalds Consolidated Ltd.

The statement of significance adds:

In 1942 the Vancouver-based Kelly, Douglas and Company wholesale grocers and tea importers took over operations in the building. This company developed the highly successful Nabob brand of pre-packed teas and coffees. For nearly 40 years, the Nelson store was managed by Nelson Rotary Club President Joseph Morey … 
In 1975 Kelly, Douglas and Company moved out of the MacDonald Building. Since then a large number of commercial and medical services and offices has shared the space. Among the most significant is A-3 Plumbing, Heating and Gas Fitting. This longstanding local business occupied part of the building from 1979-90 before moving to their longer term home on Railway Street.

Other noteworthy tenants: software company CoreLogic (formerly Tarasoft) and for a time, Kootenay-Co-op Radio

Oddly, the building was not on the the city’s heritage register until recently, although it was included on the Columbia Basin Trust’s Built Heritage inventory with its construction date listed as unknown.

In 1950, another building was attached to the west side, awkwardly sharing a wall. Today it is home to Lees Auto Haus and other businesses.

Corner Brick block in the mid-1970s, showing an automotive supply store and a furniture store as tenants. Al Peterson photo

The Corner Brick block in the mid-1980s, now minus most of the signage. Al Peterson photo

The building today. From a distance, it’s hard to tell it was put up in two stages.

But up close you can spot where the two parts were stitched together.

Updated on Sept. 25, 2019 to add the photos of the building in the 1970s and 1980s. Updated on Jan. 16, 2020 with details from the statement of significance.

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That's a great postcard! I strongly suspect that the man third from right is my great-grandfather Alfred Wood who worked for Macdonald Consolidated and then Kelly Douglas from 1910 until 1947. He looks a lot like my great-grandfather in a family photo from 1917. His brother-in-law Henry Stirzaker also worked for the company, he may also be in that photo, he was working there at the time of the 1911 census, although at the time of his marriage in late 1910 he was listed as a miner.


Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
Mar 06, 2019

I don’t know too much about it, but it was in business as of 1907.

Daily Canadian, Nov. 8, 1907: “The Alice roller rink will open tomorrow night at 7:30. For the first two hours there will be skating and the rest of the evening will be devoted to dancing. The band will be in attendance. Admission has been fixed at 50 cents for gentlemen and 25 cents for ladies.” It also had a bowling alley and was the site of balls and political rallies.

It apparently moved. The 1910 civic directory gave its address as the corner of Baker St. and Falls St. (where the Savoy Hotel is now). It was no longer listed in 1913. Who was Alice?…


I would love to hear about the "Alice Roller Rink"!

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