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Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited

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Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited

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The Trustee Company Limited was established in 1908 by Vancouver businessmen and real estate developers J.B. Mathers, George Hay, E. D. Odlum and others. Within several years of the company s inception, brothers James A. and Melville P. Thomson became company directors and in 1913 the company was renamed Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited. The company was set up as a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), which used the combined capital from many investors, called Unit Holders, to purchase and manage income property and mortgage loans. Throughout its lifetime, Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited s primary unit holders were its directors, their spouses, children and other family members with the Thomson family retaining a controlling interest in the company. The company provided mortgage loans for and invested in a variety of properties including land in Cape Caution and Blunden Bay on British Columbia s North Coast, farm land in South Vancouver much of which was parceled and sold to Japanese farmers, a commercial property in Nelson BC, Buckley Bay near Bowen Island, property around Ladysmith, and the Highland Park area of Burnaby near Buller Avenue, among others.
In 1919, Estates Investment Limited was established with Thompson brothers and E. D. Odlum acting as directors, to manage a number of properties owned or managed by Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited in Vancouver and New Westminster. Among the Vancouver properties managed by Estates Investment Limited throughout the 20th Century are some of Gastown s best known heritage buildings: the Brinsmead Building (301Cordova known today as the Petrina Block), the Mercantile Building which housed the companies offices (318 Homer at Cordova), the Arlington Building (304 Cordova), Cloth Hall (332 Water known today as Le Magasin), Central Building (100-106 West Hastings, including The Argyll Hotel located at 106 West Hastings), 305 Cambie Street, and much of the 300 Block of West Cordova. In New Westminster, Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited owned and managed two of the only buildings to survive the 1898 fire that claimed most of New Westminster, the Burr and Guichon blocks located on Columbia Street at 4th Avenue. These properties were used for a variety of commercial, retail and residential purposes and generated excellent investor returns. Among the most well known businesses to reside in Thomson properties were Owl Drug Store, the Community Arts Council which actively participated in the drive to defeat project 200, and New Look Interiors.
In 1921, Melville F. Thomson took over administration of Mercantile Mortgage Company and Estates Investment Limited from his uncle and father. He established two further corporate holdings to manage the various properties: Melville F. Thomson and Company Limited, Property Managers, and Argyll House Limited. After a general slump in business activity and property investment in the 1930s and 40s, there was a post-war resurgence in business and investment in Gastown in the 1950s and 1960s. The protest and defeat of the proposed freeway and urban reconstruction Project 200 brought with it the 1971 designation of Gastown as an historic area which prevented demolition of historically significant buildings in the area, however, put constraints on development in and changes to the buildings themselves. Despite beautification efforts throughout the 1970s, Gastown s fortunes continued to decline, safety was increasingly a concern for business owners, and Mercantile Mortgage Company and Estates Investment Limited began to sell off their property holdings in Vancouver and New Westminster until only the Arlington Block and Mercantile Building remained by the late 1980s.
Mercantile Mortgage Company Limited and the other Thomson companies remained in the hands of Melville F. Thomson until his death in 1977 when his son Melville Gerald Thomson and his children continued as directors until the company's dissolution in the early 1990s. Melville Gerald Thomson and the company's under his auspices fought for both the historical importance and the economic viability of Gastown which Thomson documented in a variety of photographs, slides and slide presentations.
The buildings once under the auspices of Thomson companies remain some of the most historically significant buildings in Vancouver.

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