History · Pacific Northwest · Vancouver

A Disappearance…

Research into houses is always interesting. Sometimes it’s the unexpected life or deeds of an owner or tenant that sheds a bit of light on an obscure aspect of Vancouver history. Or in the case of Marshall Smith a mystery.

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The house at 1685 Nelson (pictured above in the Vancouver Archives photo, to the right of the tree, in the 1960s) on the north east corner of Bidwell and Nelson was erected in 1908 by Marshall Smith. The building permit listed in the Vancouver Daily World noted that the house would be built with cement block and steel and have an approximate cost of $5500.00.

Marshall Smith was a well known Ladner businessman who ran a large general merchandise store, “The store that made Ladner famous” according to his newspaper adverts. Born in England, Smith came to Canada in the late 1880s and set himself up as a general merchant in the town of Broadview, Saskatchewan, where two of his daughters, Christina and Minerva were born. He moved west to British Columbia in the early 1900s. Apart from the store, he had interests in the Delta Hotel and was involved with a number of organizations including soccer which he gave the Ladner Cup “the handsome piece of silverware,” for a local championship and horse racing, serving as the secretary treasurer of the Delta Driving Park Association for a number of years. 

The family was well travelled with trips to England and the United States including a trip south for his daughter Christina (Chrissie). The Province newspaper reported in 1905 that: Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Smith, of Ladner, their daughter, Miss Chrissie Smith, and their two small children have left for the south. They will visit Portland and will then proceed to Los Angeles, where Miss Smith will study music under Herr Peje Storck. 

Storck was a noted Swedish pianist who had based himself in Victoria in 1901 where he taught and performed. He played in Vancouver in a series of concerts with his partner, English violinist Herbert Ritchie between 1901 and 1903 before they moved to Los Angeles in late 1903 where he again performed and taught music. The LA Times reviewed one of his first concerts in that town in November, 1903 and wrote that “Mr. Storck’s art is finished, his tone limpid, lucent, pure, his intellectual force unusual, his execution flawless and his mental attitude that of a poet and idealist,”

In 1908, Marshall Smith sold the Ladner business and moved the family to Vancouver to their recently completed house on Nelson Street. Smith had shifted into real estate and finance an had opened an office on Hastings Street. His real estate advertisements appeared regularly in the papers. He and his family lived at Nelson and Bidwell until 1912. That year they moved to their new house in Shaughnessy on the eastern end Matthews Avenue. 

In 1914, the family announced they were heading to England for two years to visit and spend time with two of their children that were at school there. They leased their house to Mr Justice Forin of Nelson for the duration, but his stay was short as the couple headed home after just a few months away. Back home life carried on. His wife, Helena Smith was busy with meetings of an I.O.D.E chapter and other groups. Marshall went back to selling real estate and then in August, 1916 newspapers reported that Marshall Smith had disappeared.

Mysterious Disappearance of M. Smith

Up to an early hour this morning the city police had been unable to discover any traces of the whereabouts of Mr. Marshall Smith, a well-known resident of Shaughnessy Heights, who has been, missing from home since Wednesday morning, when he left for North Vancouver to sell an equity in an automobile, it is believed. The name of the man with whom he was to make the deal is not known to Mr. Smith’s relatives. Should he see this notice he is requested to communicate with Mr. V. G. Crisp, barrister, who will be pleased to receive from any source news of Mr. Smith’s whereabouts or movements. Mr. Smith is fifty-one years old, and was In the best of health when he left his home on Wednesday morning. His business affairs are in excellent shape. Complete mystery surrounds his disappearance and his family and friends are very much agitated over his unexplained absence.      Vancouver Sun August 12, 1916

Left Home Wednesday Morning and Friends Are Anxious for Safety.

His friends are very anxious concerning the safety and whereabouts of Mr. Marshall Smith, a well known resident of Matthews Avenue, Shaughnessy Heights. Mr. Smith, who has long been living In Vancouver, left on Wednesday morning on a brief business visit to North Vanaouver. He intended to return home for lunch, but no trace of him has since been available though many inquiries have been made. He was 51 years of age and in the best of health. His affairs were in excellent shape. It is possible that he may have fallen off the ferry, but he could hardly do that without his accident being noticed. Any information concerning him will be gladly received by Mr. A. V. Crisp, barrister. Vancouver Province August 12, 1916

Police and Relatives Unable to Find Single Trace of Missing Man.

Although it is now over a week since Mr. Marshall Smith, 1056 Matthews Avenue, Shaughnessy Heights, disappeared his relatives or the police have not discovered a single clew as to his whereabouts or the manner of his disappearance, he was last seen by Miss Currie, a nurse of the General Hospital, crossing Hastings street with a hand grip in his possession. He did not get the grip at home, and although the police have “fine-combed” the city they have been unable to locate the place where he secured it. Circulars were sent by the police department to different points throughout the province and the adjoining states, and while, the police have received many acknowledgments of their receipt and promises to keep a sharp lookout for Smith, not a single indication of his being found has eventuated.   Vancouver Province August 18, 1916


The only oddities were Smith’s coat left in the shop and the grip that he was seen carrying. Articles appeared for a while and then nothing until an award of 1000.00 was posted in October, 1916 by W. H. Smith for information of his father. But nothing came of it. The house was sold in 1919 by Smith’s lawyer, A. V. Crisp, who held the power of attorney.  The sale, while mutually agreed upon with the family, was held up  because of concerns raised about the power of attorney and its validity. After a judge got involved it was decided that because Mr Smith was declared missing, but not dead, the power of attorney was still valid and so the house could be sold. The house was sold for the last time in 2007 and demolished in 2009.

Research and the path it leads you down is so much fun.

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