Vancouver Retail Pioneer

Posted by Daniel on Apr 24, 2009

Chuck Davis writes:

Thanks to a visitor to my web site, Gwen Newton, I’ve learned about an undeservedly neglected early Vancouver merchant named Robert Clark. Ms. Newton is a Vancouver financial advisor, and is Robert Clark’s granddaughter. Clark had an important influence on the early business life of the city.

He was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland and as a young man learned the ship-builder’s trade. In 1871, at age 25, he left for Canada. He built the first steamer that sailed on Lake Manitoba. “Going into the forest,” the 1906 B.C. Illustrated News relates, “he picked out the trees, hewed the lumber and with help whip-sawed the lumber. He then built and launched the boat and delivered her to the owners, a craft one hundred feet in length.”

In 1880 Clark opened a men’s wear store in Nanaimo, moved it to Yale a year later. “He remained at Yale until the spring of 1886,” the Illustrated News continues, “when owing to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad [sic] he returned to Vancouver. He then opened his store on the same street [Hastings] on which he is now located, and he has a large and successful business . . . He is the pioneer clothing merchant of this place . . .”

The web site of the Vancouver Board of Trade reveals a key role Clark played in our early business life: “Following the disastrous fire of June 13, 1886, when all but one of Vancouver’s buildings were destroyed, Vancouver businessmen held a number of meetings to discuss the need for some kind of business organization that could help to rebuild the young city. On September 22, 1887, such a meeting was held under the chairmanship of Alderman Robert Clark and the decision was made to form a Board of Trade . . . On November 24, 1887, a Charter was issued which made the new organization official and gave it its name—The Vancouver Board of Trade.”

Clark had one traumatic pre-Vancouver experience, too long to detail here, which can be read at my web site