birks-building
birks-building

The Birks building in 1946, looking east on Georgia Street. Vancouver Public Library.

[Editor’s Note: The Canadian Encyclopedia is proud to present its first free app, Vancouver In Time, highlighting the stories of the city. Cyclone Taylor and the Vancouver Millionaires is one of 45 unique stories in the app. Download the app here.]

The sparkling white terra cotta tiles of the Birks building lit the southeast corner of Granville and Georgia from 1913. Inside, sparkling jewelry, silver and fine china attracted the most demanding, and wealthy, clientele. It was a shock to the city when the Birks family decided to tear the impressive grand dame down in 1975.

The Montreal-based Birks jewelry chain moved its Vancouver store into the ten-storey downtown location on November 8, 1913. It had been located on the northeast corner of Granville and Hastings since 1906, when Birks bought out George Trovey’s jewelry store and adopted his trademark street clock as its own.

The grand downtown store, located across Granville from the elegant old Hotel Vancouver and across Georgia from the Beaux Art Hudson’s Bay Company, announced Vancouver’s cosmopolitan aspirations. The gifts that came in the little blue Birks boxes were signs of sophistication in a city whose prosperity still depended on wood and fish.

birks-building

London Drugs, a retail chain, now occupies the site of the old Birks Building.

Imagine, then, the tumult that greeted the decision by the Birks family to tear the entire edifice down. It was simply as business decision, the Birks family announced (although it is said that the family was bitterly divided by the decision). Those who knew the old corner still shake their heads at the replacement — a tower and a squat corner retailer, currently a glaring London Drugs outlet.

If there is any consolation, the demolition of Birks mobilized the architectural preservation community, ensuring the salvation of other heritage buildings in the city.

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