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Greenwood Hotel

Greenwood Hotel, early 1900s
Photo: Bonnie Edstrom


Dec 29, 2018 — GREENWOOD, BC (BG)

R. F. Coates

The City of Greenwood's quick growth from a raw townsite to a bustling city was due in great part to the skill and energy of the carpenters who built it. Some came from out of town to bid on large building projects, while others had become new residents of Greenwood. One of these, Mr. R. F. Coates, built many structures here including the house this writer lives in.

The earliest mention of R. F. Coates was in 1897, and there are indications that he came to Greenwood along with a brother or relative of that name. The first mention we find in local papers is from a January 1897 edition of the Boundary Creek Times,[1] which reports that:

"A show-case of very superior finish and workmanship has been made for Messrs. R. N. Taylor & Co. by a local carpenter, Mr. R. J. Coates."

As the reader will see from the text below, it is very likely that the reporter attributed this feat of carpentry to the wrong Coates. Except for this reference, R. F. Coates is the one always mentioned as a carpenter and contractor, while Mr. R. J. Coates is advertised as a green-grocer.

R. F. Coates held ownership in at least one mining claim, and a February 1897 announcement tells us that he was admitted to membership in the Boundary Creek Mining & Commercial (M. & C.) Association.[2] Notification was published in the Times that on May 25, 1897, 50% interest in the Quebec mine was transferred from W. Guttridge to R. F. Coates.[3]

In what appears to be his first year in Greenwood, R. F. Coates immediately began work as a builder:[4]

"Messrs. Sansom & Holbrook have let a contract to Mr. Coates for the erection of a large two-storey building on their lot next to the Pioneer Hotel. Work was started yesterday on the foundations."

Meanwhile, the other Coates began advertising his garden produce business:[5]

Coates Advertising

Boundary Creek Times — Mar 1897

The following month, R. F. Coates began advertising his construction services:[6]

Coates Advertising

Boundary Creek Times — Apr 1897

Although speculating on mining interests, Coates focused most of his attention on the contracting business. A June report announced:[7]

"Mr. Coates has a force of carpenters at work on Mr. Hodgson's residence at Midway. The foundation is already laid and the work will be hurried forward. The building is a two-storey one of very neat design."

That summer R. F. Coates also found time for social activities. In July he joined the Volunteer Fire Company of Greenwood, and became an officer of the Boundary Valley Lodge No. 18, International Order of Odd Fellows. Over the year he accepted several different titles in serving the I. O. O. F. brotherhood.

The fall of that year brought a story of near disaster for Coates. The Times reported an unusual series of fire events in which volunteer fireman Coates' own house was put at risk:[8]


"The "patent fire extinguisher" man is a hoodoo of the first water. He came to Greenwood on Sunday, and Monday night he showed the people how easily his apparatus could extinguish fires. He started a bonfire opposite Barrett & Hodgson's residence and when it reached the proper height he successfully quenched it with the chemical. A few hours afterwards Barrett & Hodgson's pretty cottage, upon which they had spent many dollars making it cosy and comfortable, was burnt to the ground. The extinguisher man was not responsible for the blaze, but it was a remarkable coincidence that the only serious fire which visited Greenwood should happen three or four hours after he showed how easily a large fire could be subdued.

Ald. Barrett retired about midnight Monday evening, and at 3:45 a.m. was aroused by the crackling of fire in his residence. At that time the blaze had gained considerable headway, and he at once concluded it was impossible to save the building. The people living in the neighborhood were soon aroused and in a few minutes a large crowd of willing workers were busy removing the furniture and other valuables from the house. Everything of any value excepting the carpets was removed from the building, so that the loss is principally confined to the house itself.

It was fortunate for Greenwood that the night was perfectly calm and that the residence was surrounded by grounds which are kept clean of rubbish of every kind. As it was, the attention of the fire fighters had to be directed towards saving Mr. R. F. Coates' residence and carpenter shop on the one side and Mr. Hallett's office and the Bealey Investment Company's office on the other side. Mr. Coates' residence being the nearer was in the greatest danger and it was only by carrying bucket after bucket of water from Twin creek that it was saved."

Contractor Coates faced another challenge before year's end -- a customer account became delinquent, and he had to take the debtor to court.[9] Strangely enough, the presiding magistrate was the man whose office had been adjacent to Coates' home and workshop in the fire story, reported above. Even in 1897, Greenwood was "a small town".

"Police magistrate Hallett held a Small Debts Court for the first time this week. The case was one where R. F. Coates sued a Chinaman for money due on account of building. Judgment was given in favor of Mr. Coates."

The next two years, 1898 and '99, appear to have been the busiest for R. F. Coates' building company and in general, for the construction industry in Greenwood. A Spring 1898 project was reported in the Times:[10]

"J. W. Nelson, of the Pioneer hotel, has awarded the contract to R. F. Coates for the erection of an addition to the hotel. The building will be erected on the lot adjoining the Pioneer, and the work will be pushed so as to afford hotel room for the large number of people who are coming into the distrct."

That fall, the Times reported on the overall building boom taking place in Greenwood.[11] The list includes not only structures that Coates would be building, but others as well.


"R. F. Coates has secured the contract for several buildings in Greenwood. Rendell & Co. are clearing the ground for a 25x50 foot two story building on Greenwood street at the rear of their Copper street lots. This building will be used as a salesroom during the work on the streets.

It is the intention of Rendell & Co. to build on Copper street opposite the Imperial, as soon as the street improvements are completed. Rendell & Co. are also going to build a large stone building on Government street which will be used as a bonded warehouse. This will be the first fireproof building erected in the city.

A parsonage for Rev. D. Richards will shortly be erected.

Ralph Smailes of the firm of Rendell & Co., will shortly make extensive alterations and additions to his residence.

Mr. Sullivan's hotel on the Sutherland addition is about completed. He will make application for a license at the regular meeting of the Board of license Commissioners to be held next Wednesday.

Mayor Wood intends shortly to enlarge his residence.

Chief of Police Taylor is erecting a cottage near the provincial court house.

The Greenwood City Mercantile Co. are placing a stone foundation under their premises.

If is reported that several residences will shortly be erected on the Barbara mineral claim property.

George H. Collins' residence in the Garland addition is nearing completion."

For all the building work his company was engaged in, R. F. Coates still found time for other activities. In the summer of 1898 he served on a committee working to secure volunteers for the volunteer fire department. That fall, he joined a deputation appearing before City Council, delivering a petition from local ratepayers who wanted the daily wage for street works labour to be set at $3.00 per day.[12] Nor did Mr. Coates limit his construction projects to just buildings. In September of that year, he was building rail trucks to move ore:[13]

"The rails for the tramway arrived on Monday but owing to the delay in securing trucks the tracks were not laid. The cars are being made by Messrs. Coates and McDuff."

Given all the projects that needed doing in Greenwood, there was not surprisingly a shortage of skilled labour in 1898, as reported in the Times:[14]

"There is a great demand for carpenters in Greenwood. Last week Contractor Coates was endeavoring to secure sufficient carpenters to rush Rendell & Co.'s building but had great difficulty in finding the desired number. Good progress was made with the building however and although it was only started last week Rendell & Co. are preparing to move. The building is a two storey 50x25 feet. The upper flat will be used for offices."

In another professional endeavour, the Times announced[15] that R. F. Coates would be serving as Valuator for the Reliance Loan Association, of which Robert Wood was president. A few weeks later Coates was invited as a guest to attend the Bankers' Banquet, held by three chartered banks doing business in Greenwood.[16]

Coates Advertising

Boundary Creek Times — Jan 1899
This ad ran regularly in the Times through September 1899

R. F. Coates kicked off 1899 with two hotel construction projects. He won the contract for John Keough's three-storey hotel on Government street, and was hired to raise a new floor under the Commercial hotel, adding a storey beneath the existing building.[17-18]

Although he began the year with two hotel projects, by 1899, there was a significant environment of competition for projects in Greenwood. Coates himself had drafted a list of the many projects going on in December 1898, and by mid-'99, the Times was publishing their own updated list[19]. In just the first six months of 1899, the value of building projects was almost triple the total 1898 projects.


A record-breaking year

Building Operations in Greenwood during 1899 Already Aggregate Over $200,000. — A List of Those Erected Since the New Year

"In the special holiday number of the Boundary Creek Times, published at Christmas last year, there appeared a list — compiled by R. F. Coates, contractor and builder — of the number of buildings erected during the year 1898. The total cost of the buildings were figured at $69,200. A careful estimate of the building operations for the past portion of 1899 places the expenditure during that time at $203,400.

One of the healthiest signs of progress during 1898 was the number of substantial buildings erected. That the town has grown beyond the expectations of the most optimistic is shown by the detailed statement given below. The buildings erected during the year, or under construction, are of the most substantial character. Some of them are imposing structures that would do credit to the principal street of a large city. This is particularly true of the Miller & Wallace block on Copper st., the walls of which are being erected. The building will occupy a frontage of 75 feet on Copper street, and will run back along Centre street for 110 feet. It will be three stories high. The foundation and walls to the second floor will be of stone. The rest of the building will be brick.

J. W. Powell's hotel on Government street is another handsome structure. It is a 3-storey frame building, occupying 75 feet on Government street and running back along Deadwood street 115 feet. The hotel, when completed, will be one of the best in the interior.

Probably the handsomest building in the city from an architectural standpoint is Rendell & Co.'s 3-story block at the corner of Copper and Greenwood streets. It has a 50-foot frontage, and runs back 110 feet along Greenwood street. Lack of space precludes a detailed description of the many substantial business blocks and comfortable residences that have been erected during the year. They all bear strong testimony to the confidence their builders have in the future of the city.

There appears to be no cessation in the building operations. Contractors state that new work is coming in every day. It is a very conservative statement indeed to state that during 1899 half-a-million dollars will not represent the money expended on buildings in the city.

Below is a list of the buildings, the majority of which have been already completed:

J. W. Powell's hotel … $21,000
Rendell & Co.'s block … 15,000
Jno. Keough's hotel … 8,000
Robert Wood's block … 6,000
W. Waterland's hotel … 6,000
Hunter-Kendrick block … 7,500
* Wallace & Miller block … 30,000
Madden & Dallas hotel … 6,000
A. Beath's residence … 500
Thos. Johnson's residence … 800
John Shafer's residence … 1,000
R. F. Coates' residence … 550
A. W. Mcleod's residence … 800
Fred. Munns' residence … 400
Blonquist's residence … 600
C. J. McArthur's residence … 300
C. J. Eales' residence. … 300
John McKenzie's residence … 600
J. Bowles' residence … 900
John Miller's residence … 600
Posty & Villandre's hotel … 3,500
F. Elkins' block … 2,000
W. S. Fletcher's block … 2,000
B. L. Wood's shop … 1,500
Hamilton Powder Co.'s office … 500
W. S. Fletcher's residence … 1,000
D. Manchester's hotel … 3,500
A. Cameron's hotel … 3,500
J. T. Bedard's hotel … 3,500
R. J. Bealey's store … 2,000
W. G. Gaunce's block … 500
A. Young's block … 1,500
J. A. Cameron's addition hotel … 2,000
Russell Hardware Co.'s block … 4,000
Smith & McRae's block … 2,000
Sperry & Co.'s addition … 800
S. W. Edwards' hotel … 3,500
J. O'Brien's hotel … 3,500
Temperance hotel … 2,500
Queen lodging-house … 800
P. Burns & Co.'s meat market … 1,200
M. Keane's residence … 1,500
Thos. Hardy's residence … 1,500
J. A. Russell's residence … 1,250
Frank Miller's residence … 800
A. Leamy's residence … 500
A. Bourke's residence … 500
A. McDonald's residence … 700
D. Frye's residence … 400
Private houses, Gold st. … 21,100
About 60 small residences … 15,000
C.P.R. freight shed & hospital … 3,000
Guess Bros.' block … 5,000
TOTAL $203,400"

In 1899, we find mention of the various social activities R. F. Coates participated in. In July he competed in the Fireman's races at the city's two-day annual celebration. Still celebrated today as Founders Day, back then the July event was comprised of mining and other sporting contests. In July 1899 Mr. Coates served as a pallbearer for W. B. Paton, one of Greenwood's pioneer citizens. He was also a member of the Masons.

Despite the many building projects underway — or perhaps because of the competition they created in the local market — over the next two years R. F. Coates diversified his services. In September 1899,[20] the City Council awarded him the contract for stumping Louisa street to the railway station.

The following month, the Times noted that:[21]

"R. F. Coates, the contractor, went to Columbia, yesterday to figure on moving the city from its present location to the railway station."

Having gotten the contract several months prior to raise up the Commercial hotel, adding a storey at the foundation level, Mr. Coates apparently had enough experience in jacking and moving structures to merit his expansion into that line of work. Although his advertising in early 1899 featured "store fronts and fixtures a specialty", he was now emphasizing his house moving expertise.

Coates Advertising

Boundary Creek Times — 1900

In May of 1901 Coates was outbid on another stumping job, but did secure a contract for transporting ore. The Greenwood Weekly Times reported that: [22]

"R. F. Coates has secured the contract for hauling the No. 7 ore to the smelter."

By the fall of that year, Mr. Coates was already getting out of the house moving business, as announced in an ad run by W. D. Wilson, Contractor:[23]

"I have bought R. F. Coates House Moving equipment and will carry on the Business in future. Branches: Grand Forks and Rossland. Leave orders with Pacific Transfer, Silver Street.

Unfortunately, in October 1904, the local paper ran a notice from the Supreme Court of British Columbia announcing properties up for tax sale.[24] The name of R. F. Coates was listed twice in the announcement.

The tax sale notice was published regularly into December, and in the December 16th edition the notice ran adjacent to the Tax Collector's List of Properties in Greenwood.[25] There, we find only one listing for R. F. Coates as an assessed/registered owner of a property. The inclusion of his name twice in the tax sale announcement was perhaps a clerical error.

While at the start of R. F. Coates' contracting career in Greenwood he had to sue a customer for not paying his construction bill, seven years later he himself was up before the court for tax arrears.

This marks the last mention we find of R. F. Coates in local papers. We can guess that he moved on to greener pastures. Nearly 115 years later, my family is very pleased to be living in one of the beautiful houses built by R. F. Coates in 1903, for his own family. In this and other surviving structures, his good name lives on.

House Built by R. F. Coates, Greenwood B.C.

House Built by R. F. Coates c. 1903, Greenwood B.C.


[1] Boundary Creek Times — Jan 02, 1897, p. 4

[2] Boundary Creek Times — Feb 20, 1897, p. 9

[3] Boundary Creek Times — May 29, 1897, p. 11

[4] Boundary Creek Times — Feb 27, 1897, p. 10

[5] Boundary Creek Times — Mar 13, 1897, p. 10

[6] Boundary Creek Times — Apr 24, 1897, p. 8

[7] Boundary Creek Times — Jun 26, 1897, p. 7

[8] Boundary Creek Times — Oct 30, 1897, p. 10

[9] Boundary Creek Times — Dec 25, 1897, p. 5

[10] Boundary Creek Times — Apr 16, 1898, p. 12

[11] Boundary Creek Times — Sep 10, 1898, p. 9

[12] Boundary Creek Times — Sep 10, 1898, p. 14

[13] Boundary Creek Times — Sep 24, 1898, p. 12

[14] Boundary Creek Times — Sep 24, 1898, p. 14

[15] Boundary Creek Times — Nov 05, 1898, p. 10

[16] Boundary Creek Times — Nov 19, 1898, p. 3

[17] Boundary Creek Times — Mar 04, 1899, p. 4

[18] Boundary Creek Times — Apr 29, 1899, p. 1

[19] Boundary Creek Times — Jun 17, 1899, p. 6

[20] Boundary Creek Times — Sep 30, 1899, p. 8

[21] Greenwood Weekly Times — Oct 24, 1900, p. 4

[22] Greenwood Weekly Times — May 23, 1901, p. 5

[23] Greenwood Weekly Times — Oct 25, 1901, p. 4

[24] Boundary Creek Times — Oct 28, 1904, p. 3

[25] Boundary Creek Times — Dec 16, 1904, p. 6


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