History · Pacific Northwest · Transportation · Vancouver

From Point Grey to a Train Robbery

Researching houses is always interesting. There is the architecture, or lack of it, the builders and the context that prompted a development or subdivision and there are the lives of those that once inhabited a house, sometimes ordinary, a few times interesting and occasionally linked to intriguing events.

Soon after the 4th Avenue streetcar line opened in 1909, real estate advertisements began extolling the virtues of the subdivisions throughout Kitsilano and a few real estate men stretched the advantages of the line to their holdings along the hillside that climbs above English Bay from 7th to 16th Avenue west of Alma Street.

Ads for Clearview or Viewland among other original names begin appearing in the papers, each one ‘a not to be missed opportunity’ or ‘a once in a lifetime deal’ or the ‘centre of a up and coming commercial centre’. In reality it was mostly logged off land that might have a few rudimentary improvements such as a plank sidewalk.

Just west of Alma, the City of Vancouver boundary with the municipality of Point Grey an enterprising builder erected six houses on what would become the 3700 block of West 12th Avenue. For four of the houses, the unknown builder (unfortunately Point Grey’s early permits are largely missing) drew on the designs of Seattle-based architect Victor Voorhees for the design. Voorhees had published his designs the 1907 self-published Western Home Builder which had a few reprints and a number of his designs can still be found in Vancouver and around BC.

Voorhees’s 1907 original design for a bungalow

In researching one of the four original houses on the block, I was struck by the turnover in occupants, from 1914 through to the 1930s tenants seem to last a year or two before moving on. Some were just names with no other information available, a few were accountants or store clerks and one, Harry Bartle, a messenger for the Dominion Express Company.

Mr Bartle was listed at 3768 West 12th only in the 1918 directory, after that he moved to Calgary, Alberta where he continued to work for the Dominion Express Company. In 1921, Mr Bartle made the news because his train, CPR No. 4 was robbed.

From the Lethbridge Herald

Here’s the account from the Vancouver Daily World for October 21st:

NET OF LOOT WAS FARMERS GRAIN MONEY
Loss in Train Robbery Near Moose Jaw More Than First Thought
EFFORTS TO FIND ROBBER FAILURE
Police Believe More Than One Man Took Part in Hold-up
(By Canadian Press)

MOOSE JAW, Oct. 19. Investigations by the officials of the Dominion Express Company establish the fact that the unknown bandit who held up H. Bartle, express messenger on C.P.R. train No. 4, early today, escaped with approximately $30,000 and not $5000, as at first reported.

All railway officials have been endeavoring to establish their losses, while provincial police have been semiring the district near Chaplin for the robber without success. The huge haul made by the bandit is explained by the fact that large sums of money are now in transit following the crop movement, and a large proportion of the stolen money was being transmitted from various banks in the western portion of Saskatchewan.

The police, while refusing to discuss the case, are said to be working on the theory that more than one man was concerned in the hold-up. Bartle left for his home in Calgary.

The robber was a man about five feet nine inches in height, wore a brown slouch hat and brown or fawnish coloured tweed rubberized raincoat. His face was masked from below the nose with a dark blue handkerchief. He spoke with a deep voice. Bartle, the messenger, declares it is his opinion that the bandit left the train after it had passed Chaplin, although he does not know for sure, as his head was covered with his overcoat.

MESSENGER HELPLESS
Shortly after leaving Swift Current at 3 am. the attention of Bartle was drawn to the sound of breaking glass and on turning from the desk in the car where he was working, Bartle saw an arm thrust through the broken pane in the side door of the car. In the hand was a gun and the gruff command was given to “Hold up your hands.” Bartle was “covered” and although he had a revolver in his hip pocket he was unable to move.

The masked man then produced a length of cotton clothes line from his pocket and bound the messenger hand and foot and then tied a handkerchief tightly over his mouth and threw him on the floor, covering his head with Bartle’s own overcoat. He removed the messenger’s revolver and took it with him.

Messenger Bartle contributed more information later today relative to the man who held him up, which indicates that the bandit was well informed as to the habits of express messengers. Bartle states that when the train stopped at Herbert, the bandit opened the side door of the car next to the station, as is the practice of messengers, and looked out, thereby passing himself off as the messenger and allaying any suspicion. He repeated the trick at Chaplin. Bartle felt the draft and heard the door open at both stations.

It didn’t take authorities long to apprehend the culprit who turned out to be one Roy Gardner an escaped convict from McNeil Island penitentiary. He was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona and was credited by railway police with having been responsible for the robbery

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