An authentic coal shute

Richard Mackie and Susan Safyan alerted us to a vintage feature of their building: “The Vault” on 1st just east of Victoria Drive. “It is a good story: we had a leak in the basement that finally we traced to a wall. With the condo’s ultimate support we had the wall taken down. The source of the leak was a large patch about four feet up. The cement guys came with a big drill and removed the patch to find the bricked up (and leaking) oval chute, which leads 4-5 feet up at an angle and and almost to the sidewalk.”


So that’s how coal was delivered to the furnace room of the building a century ago.

“The Vault” itself is the former Canadian Bank of Commerce vault building, which is turning 100 this year.


Not surprisingly, it is a solid, substantial building. Even more surprising is its location – 1st Avenue was not a major road until 1938, when the Grandview Viaduct opened across the False Creek flats and much more automobile traffic began to run east-west. Why did the bank build it there? This is the $64 question, ha ha … But really, why did they build it there???

There was a Bank of Commerce building at 1st and Commercial in 1915, the date of the photo below …


… which is probably a partial explanation. That bank building was a prefab, one of the stock designs of the B.C. Mills, Timber & Trading Company which the Bank of Commerce used all over the Canadian West. Notice the vertical battens on its sidewall covering the join of the prefabricated wall panels. Perhaps because it was a wooden building, the bank decided to build its vault nearby?

As for the prefab bank buildings, I know of one still extant (but stuccoed over) in Keremeos, and saw another years ago in Innisfree, Alberta, a whistle-stop on the CNR east of Edmonton. Richard Mackie reminds me of the Bill Hartley Insurance office, a former Bank of Commerce, on Douglas Street in Victoria.


Our Grandview branch was torn down in the 1960s (?) and replaced by a stock modernistic box, now used by a money-mart operation.

One thought on “An authentic coal shute

  1. When doing work, always good to take pictures.

    Could the tube have been excavated from the outside, cleaned up and waterproofed on the outside and thus preserved as a visible feature?

    Very interesting report making the connections.


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