History · Vancouver

The Winters Hotel, John McAfee and a Trunk…

Winters Hotel soon after its opening in 1907

The recent fire and demolition of the Winters Hotel at Water and Abbott Streets was a shock and is a loss for Gastown and the city. Designed in 1907 by W.T. Whiteway for Mrs Alice Winters, the hotel welcomed travellers and businessmen to Vancouver. For its day it was a good hotel with 120 rooms, 50 of which were ensuite, all rooms had hot and cold running water and a telephone. The tag line on their initial adverts was the “Perfect Hotel for Particular People.”

The hotel continued to welcome the travelling public through the First World War, but as the war neared its end the hotel began to transition to a residential hotel. A classified ad in 1916 noted that the rooms were fully furnished throughout, the now 96 rooms had hot and cold water, there were 9 private and 6 public baths and the rent was low “for good parties.”

A small item in the May 20, 1918 edition of the Vancouver Daily World caught my eye, it was a classified ad in the Lost and Found and Personal classifieds asking about the whereabouts of a steamer trunk left in the hotel’s storage room in 1915. The classified ad was placed by a Mrs Isabella McAfee of Glammis, Ontario, the trunk belonged to her son John.

Classified Advert appearing in the Vancouver Daily World for the month of May, 1918

So, curious I dug into a bit of research and found that John McAfee was born in Ontario to Hugh and Isabella McAfee in 1876. The census listed him as a farmer but in 1915 John is on the west coast to enlist in the Great War. His papers show he joined in March, 1915 in New Westminster and left for Europe from Montreal shortly thereafter. He was assigned to the Machine Gun Corps. and was posted to France. During his time was awarded the Military Medal for bravery under fire. The citation read in part: Private McAfee, from Apr 27 to 29 acted as runner and carried messages, through heavy artillery fire from his Section Officer to Coy. Hdqrs and also to guns of GIS section. His untiring energy and great courage called for special mention and his good work.

Unfortunately, John McAfee lost his life in March of 1917, almost exactly two years after enlisting. He was 38 years old and was buried at Vimy, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France.

It would appear the fate of the trunk remained a mystery and no other ads appear after the one month run in the Daily World. Mrs McAfee died in 1938.

2 thoughts on “The Winters Hotel, John McAfee and a Trunk…

  1. From my father who worked maintenance at the Winters for several years:
    Good article. All those ensuite bathrooms were boarded off by the time I started working there about 6 or 7 years ago. But I had occasion to open up some of them when one of my jobs was to remove the water lines to the remaining active sinks that were still in some rooms. The copper water lines had deteriorated and were leaking often and many of the cast iron drains were also breaking down and unrepairable..
    I scored a bunch of scrap copper from that project.
    Also, some of the ensuites still had the cast iron claw foot tubs and several had sink and toilet still in place. It was simpler to just board them off than to remove everything and open them up to make the adjoining room bigger.
    The original Winters sign has been restored and hangs in the upstairs loft in a garage the owner has built on his property. Lights work and everything on the sign. It looks cool.
    Sad to see it now. I had a look this week.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Interesting about the ensuites being boarded off. I’d heard the original sign might have existed, thanks for the confirmation.

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