On The Ancient Apartment Building That Sits Sphinx-Like On Mt. Pleasant’s Slope

6th-Avenue-Entrance

by Stevie Wilson | For those living in Mount Pleasant, it’s not uncommon to see new housing developments marketing a supposed connection to the neighbourhood’s character or trying to fit in with the area’s sought-after “heritage”. One building that seems to exist at the forefront of their concepts is the beautiful Ashnola Apartments, the historic brick building on the corner of Main and East 6th Avenue right next to Brassneck Brewery.

The Edwardian-style apartment building was designed by architects Braunton & Liebert and constructed by locals Tolman & Co. in 1912. The exterior features have remained nearly untouched save for some wear and tear. This includes original brick and fenestration, entablature work, fire escape, and dentils along the cornice (similar to hotel styles of the time). Despite the apartment entrance being located on East 6th Avenue, a decorative pediment sits atop the western face, indicating that a retail space was built into its original design. The ground floor was first listed as a grocery in 1916, and then as several private businesses until the 1930s when G.L. Pop Fine Furs moved into the space and also briefly operated a workshop in the area where The Whip Restaurant is now. By the 1970’s the front was home to a location of Royal City Antiques, and in recent years a second entrance was added to divide the space into two sections. There are 17 suites in all.

The-Ashnola-at-2152-Main-Street,-1976-(CVA-780-234)-(Edited)
(thanks Jason Vanderhill for the colour correction of the archive photo above)

The original owner of the Ashnola was Dr. Israel Wood Powell, for whom both Powell Street and the city of Powell River are named. Powell is perhaps best known locally as the man who organized and named all the streets in Mount Pleasant/Brewery Creek after Canada’s provinces. His other achievements include his membership in the BC Legislative Assembly, where he fought for the identity of Canada as a separate nation from Britain, and his work on the law that established free public education in BC. Powell was also an advocate of First Nations land and water rights while serving as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in BC from 1872-1889 (which perhaps suggests why the apartment was named after the Ashnola River). What’s more, he also owned and donated the land that was used for Vancouver’s first City Hall (the Warehouse Building in Gastown), was the first Grand Master of the Freemason’s Lodge in BC, and worked as a surgeon.

The 103 year-old Ashnola is currently designated as a Schedule “B” heritage structure by the City – meaning it possesses “significant” cultural and aesthetic importance to the community – and remains one of the oldest occupied buildings in Mount Pleasant. With an ever-increasing number of new developments slated to pop up around it in the near future the Ashnola’s charms stand out. It’s more than well worth a moment of admiration on your next growler run.

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