Despite its outdated timber-framed internal structure, the 1913-built Kelly, Douglas and Co. Warehouse proclaimed itself as Vancouver's first skyscraper. This dubious assertion aside, the seven-storey building has established a reputation as the single largest building in Gastown, and continues to secure the west end of the historic district that was known as an integral trans-shipment point between the railway and Pacific shipping routes.

The warehouse at 375 Water Street, image by Canadian2006 via Wikimedia Commons

Built on the north side of Water Street — which marked the border of the original waterfront — the warehouse was one of an emerging class of structures that utilized infilled lots to shoot skyward. Strategically placed loading bays on the lower level were oriented towards the railway tracks to allow direct offloading of goods from arriving trains. Kelly, Douglas and Co., a wholesale grocery firm, was co-founded by Robert Kelly and Frank Douglas in 1896.

Kelly, Douglas and Co. Warehouse, image retrieved from Google Street View

About ten years later, the company moved forward with expanding the five-storey Kelly and Burnett Building that existed on the block. The enlarged footprint of the building allowed it to become the largest warehouse in Canada dedicated exclusively to produce. The company then carried out subsequent expansions in phases, resulting in a site fully built-out to seven storeys and two basement levels. Architect W.T. Whiteway, responsible for the Woodward's Department Store and the Sun Tower, designed the building, with local contractor J.M. McLuckie fashioning the later additions to the structure.

The warehouse and the Spencer Building, image by Xicotencatl via Wikimedia Commons

The brick-faced building now housing offices and retail, the changing purpose of the old warehouse reflects the evolution of Gastown, once a thriving centre for trade and commerce, and today one of Vancouver's most successful mixed-use neighbourhoods.

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