By: Sydney Loney
Robert Kelly was born in Russell, Ontario, in 1861 and got his first glimpse of the grocery business as a 16-year-old errand boy in William Petrie’s general store. Over the years, he worked as a store clerk, a telegraph operator and a travelling salesman before building his own grocery empire in 1896. Kelly and his business partner, Frank Douglas, rented a warehouse on Vancouver’s Water Street, where proximity to both rail and sea helped them prosper despite an economic depression.
In 1897, Kelly, Douglas and Co., wholesale grocers and tea importers, offered provisions for prospectors of the Klondike gold rush. In 1905, they launched Nabob—a high-end tea and coffee brand—and decided it was high time they had a warehouse of their own. That same year, they built a five-storey timber-frame brick-facing warehouse at 375 Water Street, designed by W. T. Whiteway of Woodward’s Department Store fame.
Before long, the building at the western edge of Gastown expanded to seven storeys and became one of the largest warehouses in Canada. Business never waned, but after the First World War, Kelly’s health did, and he died in 1922. Still, 375 Water Street was known as “the Kelly building” until it was renovated in 1987 and renamed The Landing. In 2020, Allied purchased the historic warehouse from Greg Kerfoot, owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Landing still houses the official Vancouver Whitecaps FC store and remains the single largest building in Gastown—a testament to the commercial success of its heyday and the humble beginnings of its original owner.