At the corner of Cambie and Hastings, at the southern edge of Gastown, stands a beautiful ’cloud scraper’ that looks like it was pulled from a Paris street in the late 1800s. The beautiful architectural wonder is The Dominion Building, an office tower shrouded in myth and visible from our Creekside afternoon bike tour of Vancouver.
The tall tan and red building was the first steel framed high-rise to grace the streets of Vancouver.
Visually, the standout feature from the exterior of the building is its exquisite mansard roof, a feature typical of the Beaux-Arts style, without parallel in our young city.
Popularized in France and later New York, the mansard roof contains four dramatically sloping sides, which give the building an additional three floors on top of the ten below. Windows for the top three floors are set within the roofs slope.
Internally, the building houses another standout element: a spiral staircase that runs from the second floor to the tenth.
This staircase and the total floor count of 13, laid the foundation for a whopper of an urban legend. Apparently, the architect of the building, J.S. Helyer, committed suicide shorty after the building was finished. He ‘took his life’ by throwing himself off the banister on the tenth floor, plummeting all the way to the second. Or so the legend goes…
But at a recent “Myths of Vancouver” lecture at Hycroft Manor, local historian John Atkin addressed the suicide story. Turns out, J.S. Helyer lived another nine years after the building was completed. He died at his home in 1919, without any suspicious circumstances.
The myth apparently originated from an incident that occurred during construction, where Helyer suffered a minor fall.
-The building has housed the offices of a number of famous Vancouver writers, including the celebrated novelist Timothy Taylor. Taylor wrote the Giller nominated work “Stanley Park” as his first novel in 2001. Chris Haddock, of “DaVinci’s Inquest” fame, also rented an office in the Dominion Building, for a brief period. Most recently, the award-winning local Vancouver advertising firm, Immersion Creative, was also a tenant.
-The name ‘Dominion’ comes from the company Dominion Trust, which took over the building when the original owner, the Imperial Trust Company, went under. Dominion, meaning from sea-to-sea, is also the official title of our country – the Dominion of Canada.
-It was the tallest building in the British Empire when it was completed. The lead financiers were a German conglomerate, so at the start of WWI, the tallest building in the British Empire was paid for by the German Deutsche Mark.