This attractive billhead from the Intercolonial Railway is dated January 27, 1888 and contains a list of goods shipped to the McNair Brothers General Store in Eel Crossing, New Brunswick.
The McNair Brothers, James, William, Robert and David were 4 of 10 children born in New Brunswick to Scottish immigrants. In addition to the General Store the brothers also operated a lumber mill which burnt to the ground in 1889. By 1892 James and his brother Robert were on the west coast and had constructed a small shingle mill at Hastings. Ten years later they constructed a new shingle mill – the largest in the world – and went on to become significant figures in BC lumbering history.
The Intercolonial Railway ran from Montreal to Halifax and officially began operation in 1872 but it’s name implies its’ origins are much older, and indeed they were. Connecting the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada with those on the Atlantic Coast were top of mind after the War of 1812 and security concerns were raised again during the US Civil War. The name stuck despite the company beginning operations five years after Confederation and remained intact until the railway was taken over by the Canadian National Railway in 1918.
Billheads are illustrated receipts which were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some engravings on these old receipts are quite lavish and occasionally in colour. This billhead, dated Aug. 31, 1891 features a wonderful drawing of a ladies boot.
The purchaser was Robert Lettice, a British-born builder and painter who emigrated to the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1860. By 1891 he employed 20 men in a “paint, oils, glass and wall paper” business based at 40 Fort St. He lived with his wife and six children at 58 Kane Street which was located on what is now the north side of Broughton Street between Blanshard and Quadra. Robert had five daughters aged between 10 and 23 and so it isn’t surprising that he was in need of the ladies boots and shoes listed on this billhead. Robert Lettice died on Aug. 18, 1917, aged 86, and is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery.
Henry Mansell was born in London but by 1860 he had established the first boot and shoe manufacturing business in what was to become the Province of British Columbia. In 1863 his bootmaking shop was located at 87 Government Street but by the mid 1880’s he was at 95 Government Street, near the corner with Yates Street (note: Victoria’s street numbering system changed in the early 1900’s). This advertisement in an 1882 issue of the British Colonist does not include a street number at all. Henry Mansell retired in 1902 and died on Nov. 13, 1910. He’s buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, a stones throw away from Robert Lettice.