The Birks Building at Granville and Georgia (where the London Drugs store is today) was demolished in May 1974. Two months earlier, on March 24, a group of people got together and held a funeral. Angus McIntyre attended and took photos, and he has kindly written a guest blog about the building and its demise. All photos and captions are by Angus.
Forty-three years ago this week, I rode my bike downtown to attend a funeral service. The weather was sunny and +10C, and since it was a Sunday, traffic was light, and the Granville Mall was still under construction. I saw the procession of mourners with a police escort coming from the old Vancouver Art Gallery on Georgia at Thurlow. I heard a small band playing a sombre funeral dirge. It looked like the old photos of funerals in Vancouver in the early 1900s.
The funeral was put together by a group of staff and students from the UBC School of Architecture, and included architects and historians. As the service was about to start, crews working on the new building at Georgia and Granville shut off the air compressors and laid down their tools. There was a Gathering, a Sharing of Ideas, a Choir performance and a Laying of the Wreaths. A small group of people wearing recycled videotape clothing put hexes on new buildings nearby. As soon as it came time to return to the Art Gallery, the band switched to Dixieland jazz, and the mood became slightly more upbeat.
I had been able to photograph the interior of the store through the courtesy of Thom Birks, and was even able to access the roof for some photos. I later presented him with a portfolio of images, and in return he gave me a framed print of the building. I had occasionally shopped there over the years, and the pneumatic tube system for purchases lasted almost to the end. When you entered the store for the first time, you couldn’t help but look up at the incredible ceiling detail. As Thom Birks looked at a model of the new tower to be built, he turned to me and said: “Of course, this interior could never be duplicated.”
Demolition had already begun by the time of the funeral service, and it was fitting that enough people cared to have a farewell ceremony. The large R.I.P. banner ended up in a second storey office at the narrow Sam Kee building at Carrall and Pender Streets, visible as I drove my bus every day on the Stanley Park route.
I visited Montreal years later, and was surprised to find Birks in an 1894 building. The store, with its incredible interior, was intact. It was sold recently to a developer for conversion to a boutique hotel, with plans to retain the original building and store. It is sad that Vancouver’s Birks Building did not get the same treatment.
- There are more of Angus’s photos and details of the funeral at Michael Kluckner’s blog
- More about our missing heritage buildings—the Strand, Birks and the Second Hotel Vancouver
- See Angus’s post on the Missing Elevator Operators of Vancouver
- For more about Angus McIntyre
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