Vancouver Centennial Plaque #23 – Tilley’s Bookstore


206 Carrall Street


Now a Royal Vape store


Missing, but the building is on the Heritage Site Finder, although not related to Tilley’s store



Seth Tilley's store was Vancouver's first post office and telephone exchange. One of the items saved during the 1886 fire was the switchboard – rescued by Tilley's son, Charles. In late 1885 the telephone service had 35 subscribers.”

Credit: Vancouver Centennial Commission, Historic Plaque Program – list and documentation plaques 1-49 (June 18, 1986). Courtesy of Vancouver Archives

Vancouver’s first bookstore! And stationery supplier too, as the first City Council found out.

Yet another piece of the city’s early history that was touched by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Seth Thorne Tilley was a timekeeper for the CPR in New Westminster, where he learned of the company’s plans to make Vancouver the terminus for the line. By 1885, the not-yet-incorporated city was the location of his new business, which was also the local post office and Vancouver’s first telephone exchange. (Vancouver’s first newspaper was based in the same building, but we’ll come back to that!)

In 1886, the store was destroyed in the Great Fire, although Charles Tilley (Seth’s son and the lone telephone operator) was able to rescue the switchboard. Seth rebuilt around the corner, on 11 Cordova Street, and decorated the store with banners and tree branches to celebrate the arrival of the first train. But sadly, in 1889, the store was burnt again!

The fire had started in the nearby barbershop and, although firefighters were quickly on scene, the street water tank had faulty values, so they couldn’t do anything. The flames spread quickly along the block. Tilley’s store wasn’t totally destroyed, but it was gutted by the fire and had to be torn down. Seth rebuilt for a third time, in the Byrnes Block at the north end of Carrall Street.

In 1894, Seth sold his store and retired from the bookselling business, although he continued to dabble in other ventures. He died in 1910, aged 73.

The plaque notes in the Archives say “direct contact needed” for this location, so plaque #23 was maybe never installed. However, if you’re a bookstore fan looking around the area, Macleod’s Books is a Vancouver institution and The Paper Hound is possibly my favourite shop in the entire city.

Thanks to Lana Okerlund and her brilliant blog – A Most Agreeable Place – for a lot of this information.

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