A History of Leonard’s Cafe, Vancouver, B.C.

In September of 1895, George Clayton Leonard threatened to sue the Consolidated Railway and Light Company because a street car hit his dog.  While the Vancouver Daily World doesn’t say whether Leonard went through with his threat to sue for damages of what was considered one of the best sporting retrievers in the province, its somewhat fitting that the first mention of Leonard was in an article about his dog.[i]  George Clayton Leonard was a sportsman, dog lover, and restauranteur who founded Leonard’s Café and left collectors a legacy of four different hotelware patterns; a café which served Vancouver for over seven decades.


The four logo patterns that have been attributed to the cafe.

While Leonard’s Café didn’t open until 1902, G.C. Leonard was in the Vancouver restaurant business as early as 1894 when he was one of the proprietors of the Oyster Bay Restaurant on Carrall Street.  This is probably where his retriever ran away from when it was hit by the tram near the Market Hall on Westminster Avenue.[1]  Leonard cut his teeth in the restaurant industry at the Oyster Bay, and developed unique marketing strategies to bring patrons to his business.  In 1896, he kept a pair of live ducks in the restaurant window to attract patrons.  But after a while their plumage started to suffer, so Leonard set them free on Lulu Island with a silver plate attached to the leg of each with the following inscription: “March 4, 1896 – Three months after date or later return dead or alive to Oyster Bay Restaurant, Vancouver, B.C. Reward, $3”.[ii]  Surprisingly this unique marketing strategy worked, and the following November, M.J. Henry shot the female duck on Lulu Island.  Mr. Henry, a florist and nursery owner from Mount Pleasant, claimed his reward at the Oyster Bay: “Mr. Henry returned the duck to Mr. Leonard who immediately paid over the reward as promised.  Lulu Island ducks have the reputation of carrying round gold in in their crops, but this bird was a silverite evidently, for it brought Mr. Henry three of Uncle Sam’s ‘cartwheels.’”[iii]

Leonard’s threat of litigation over the death of his dog was by no means an idle one and he was no stranger to the inside of a courtroom – as either the plaintiff or defendant!  In 1897 he was brought up on charges of having a hen pheasant in his possession near Eburne and was forced to pay a $25 fine as well as court costs of $1.50.[iv]  He once pressed charges against an employee, James Hatton, who he caught stealing food when he noticed that the till receipts and inventory didn’t match.[v]  The Westminster Exhibition Association was sued for $100 that they paid to the Vancouver Baseball Club players for a game against the team from Everett, WA at the provincial fair.[vi]  Leonard put a garnishee claim against the team for a $300 catering bill for feeding them during the 1901 season.[vii]  In 1907 theft once again brought Leonard to the courtroom, but this time it was for the theft of his dog by a rancher in Pitt Meadows, Herbert Ford.  While Ford was found guilty, the judge let him off without any penalty.  Undaunted, Leonard then took out a writ of replevin[2] and had the dog seized by the sherriff.  A different magistrate judged in favour of Leonard, with all costs against Ford for a sum around $300.[viii]  Ford claimed that the dog had been chasing his cattle.[ix]

Dogs seem to have been very important in Leonard’s life and he was on the board of the Vancouver Kennel Club.  In their first local bench show, he donated two $2.50 prizes for dogs under twenty pounds[x].  He also showed two dogs: Grouse, an English Setter puppy[xi] and Tige, a Boston Terrier puppy.[xii]  In the first annual bench show in 1903,[xiii] he showed a Pointer puppy named Gipsy I and in 1904 a dog named Prince, of an unspecified breed made it into the “Local Briefs” section of the paper.   The reporter described him in glowing terms, praising him for being a first class messenger between Leonard’s Coffee Palace and his home on McInnes Street.  Apparently he could carry a dozen eggs without any breaking, and never got into the parcels no matter how tasty they may have smelled.[xiv]  Another pointer named Jerry was shown at the Vancouver Kennel Club in January[xv] and May[xvi] of 1906. Jerry was still part of the Leonard household in 1910 when an ad appeared in the Vancouver Daily World looking for Jerry and “any information which will lead to recovery of this dog will be gratefully received by G. Clayton Leonard.  Anyone found harboring same will be prosecuted.  Leonard’s Café, opposite new post office.”[xvii]   But once again, in 1908, Leonard and a dog made the local paper and became involved in an assault case.  An unnamed black Cocker Spaniel was found on the property of Henry McArthur, of South Vancouver.  Leonard and Sheriff Hall approached the property and Leonard recognized the sound of the Spaniel’s bark.  The sheriff was serving another writ of replevin to seize the dog and McArther and his wife both attacked them with sticks, with Sheriff Hall receiving a blow.  McArthur claimed that the sheriff didn’t identify himself as an officer of the court, and Hall and Leonard both said that they identified themselves during the melee.  While the jury did find that the Sheriff did identify himself, they concluded that the information wasn’t conveyed properly and McArthur was convicted of assault, rather than much more serious charge of assaulting a police peace officer.[xviii]  With his involvement with the kennel club and because he literally fought for them, Leonard’s passion for dogs understandably spilled over into his restaurant business and became his brand.


The Hastings street side of the Arcade, with the Commercial Hotel in the background.  Leonard’s Coffee Palace was in units five and seven from 1902-07, according to directories.  The Arcade was replaced by the Dominion Trust Building. Ca. 1900 (Vancouver Archives CVA 371-2103)


: A closeup of the Hastings Street entrance, showing a walkway open to the street with shops to either side. Ca. 1900 (Vancouver Archives CVA 371-2104)


A portion of a fire insurance map showing the general layout of the Arcade.  Leonard’s Coffee Palace was in #7.  The Flack block is across the street, next to the Commercial Hotel.

Leonard operated the Oyster Bay Restaurant from 1894 through 1903, and opened “Leonard’s Coffee Palace” at 7 Arcade and at 416 West Hastings in 1902.  The Arcade was a single story building at the corner of Hastings and Cambie, and across from the courthouse.  This ideal location was right at the heart of the city’s commercial core and was a popular landmark in its day.  The coffee palace eventually expanded into unit 5 as well, and shared space with a jeweler, real estate agent, and typewriter supply store.  Unfortunately the rapid development of the city claimed the Arcade, and it was torn down to build the Dominion Trust Building.  According to local directories, he operated a second location at 416 Granville Street, and a third location was apparently in New Westminster, though research has not turned up any additional information about this location at this time.  Three months after his dog Prince was in the news, the following appeared in the Mt. Pleasant Advocate: “Mr. G. Clayton Leonard has received from England very handsome china for use in his Coffee Palaces, the Arcade, Granville Street and New Westminster.  The decorations are a dog’s head, and the name “Leonard” in light pink.”[xix]  Given the time frame, its possible that the pink dog’s head on the earliest piece of restaurantware is a portrait of Prince, who was a regular sight at the restaurant.  It is also likely that the crockery was supplied by Frederick Buscombe & Co. Ltd, a local glassware merchant that was headquartered on the same block as the Arcade.  This has not yet been confirmed as only a single creamer was examined and it bore only a John Maddock & Sons mark and no distributor.


Creamer from Leonard’s Coffee Palace.

Progress continued to march on, and Leonard was forced to give up his Granville location only two years after his new crockery was ordered, as the wooden buildings would be razed to make room for the Bank of Commerce.  During the brief time his old space sat vacant it was used to store relief supplies that were gathered by Vancouver residents for the victims of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

In 1906 he built and opened his location at 716 West Hastings Street, right beside the MacKinnon Block.  Its grand opening on April 5, 1906 was feted by the press, saying that “Its opening marks a new era locally in the business in which Mr. Leonard is engaged, and a visit to the place is well worth one’s while simply for the purposes of inspection.”  He engaged the design services of Mr. James Bloomfield[3] who decorated the restaurant as well as designed the furniture.  Entering the nearly one hundred foot dining room from the street, diners stepped across a tiled entry in which a mosaic of the famous Leonard badge of the head of a setter bearing a bird was inlaid.  The design was repeated on some of the light fixtures.  The dining room was decorated in a west coast theme featuring scenes of First Nations peoples in four large murals entitled The First Sockeye, The Clam Gatherers, The Homecoming, and The Lone Paddler.  Four large folding screens were decorated with scenes of birds and morning themes featuring paintings of English Bay, the Prospect Point lighthouse and other local scenes and landmarks.  The room was floored in Australian mahogany and black butt (other name?) and was patterned to line up with the architectural divisions in the walls.  Natural light was filtered in through stained glass windows.  A grand staircase at the back of the dining room lead up to a rooftop garden which would be open seasonally for dining and, at the time of its construction, afforded views of Burrard Inlet.[xx]


A year after building his grand restaurant at 716 West Hastings, the Arcade was demolished to make way for the Dominion Trust building, and in 1906 Leonard moved his business across the street to the Flack Block, and operated the café in the basement.  He eventually took over the entire basement of the building, and with a large scale renovation in 1912, expanded the restaurant to 350 seats.  It had all new oak furniture, paneling on the walls, and an up to date ventilation system installed.  A new entrance to the restaurant was also constructed facing Cambie Street.[xxi]  Leonard would own this location for another three years, and sold his restaurant business in 1915.


The Cambie Street side of the Flack block.  The café came to occupy the entire basement of the building. Ca. 1914 (Vancouver Archives CVA 166-1)

Leonard was also a family man, with a wife, Nellie, and two daughters George Beulah and Mina.  While Mrs. Leonard doesn’t feature nearly as prominently in the public record, she seems to have been a strong person, who would stand up for herself.  For example, in 1901, the Vancouver Daily World reported that she was the victim of an attempted purse snatching.  She also travelled independently to Maine with her daughters.  The girls attended boarding school in Toronto, and both married men from their mother’s home state of Maine.  They also were mentioned occasionally in the society column, with descriptions of parties as well as school accomplishments. After selling the restaurant business, Leonard became known as a land developer, and was mentioned as such in the newspaper in the appropriately titled “Personal and Hotel Gossip” column when he was visiting San Francisco in 1911 and stayed at the St. Francis Hotel.[xxii]    The marriage with Nellie broke down, and in March of 1912, he obtained a divorce from her in Reno, Nevada.  The reason for the divorce was “Desertion and extreme cruelty.  He testified that she deserted him in Toronto and that she also treated him in a cruel manner.  He also testified to giving his wife $10,000 and $300 per month alimony”[xxiii].  Ten days later, he married Jeannette Rice, a wealthy widow who had been a long time resident of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.  Four months before he died, he changed his will, leaving the bulk of his estate to her, and dividing his property between his siblings, mother, and his daughters.  On September 4, 1915, George Clayton Leonard died at his home in Los Angeles.


A photo of G. Clayton Leonard taken shortly before his death.  This was taken near his fishing lodge on the Stave River, near Whonnock, BC.

Article about a hunting and fishing trip taken by G.C. Leonard

His will listed $150,000 in assets in the form of properties in Vancouver, New Westminster, Calgary, and his home in Los Angeles where he lived with his new wife.  He also had stocks in a number of mining and oil companies.[xxiv]  Among his liabilities, was $25,000 for Nellie Leonard, who seems to have negotiated up from the $10,000 payment mentioned previously.  His will left all the property he owned in Calgary, including another Leonard Café, to his siblings and mother.  Half was to be kept, and half sold to buy stocks in the Royal Bank of Canada and pay annuities to them.  His properties in Vancouver were to be all sold and half the money would go to his new wife, and the other half to be put in trust in the form of shares in the Royal Bank, to be paid out to his now married daughters.  The rest of the personal property, stocks, and life insurance money would go to Jeannette, and to Nellie, nothing.  Nellie contested the will for fear that since probate had been granted in the state of California, rather than in British Columbia where the bulk of the estate was, that the payment of her allowance could be endangered.[xxv]  While Nellie wasn’t listed in the will, her payment was noted in the probate papers as being one of the liabilities, along with a mortgage still on the basement of the Flack Block.

While the Leonard Café would continue at his purpose built restaurant on West Hastings, the Flack Block location closed in 1915 and the space was occupied by the White Rose Café, with Dan Chong as proprietor.[xxvi]  Charles G. Dixon and Mrs. Charlotte Madill took over proprietorship of the Leonard Café, and ran it for eight years, from 1916 to 1925.  Redecorating took place in 1918, when $2500 was spent on overhauling the space, and a “special artist” was engaged to do mural work.[xxvii]  The firm of Dixon & Murray completed the work as well as constructed a Shaughnessy mansion for Charles Dixon.  Dixon and Madill took over the café during an era when the labour movement was developing in British Columbia, and a combination of inflation and economic hardship during World War One kept wages down.  The British Columbia Federationist, a publication of the BC Federation of Labour and the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council, reported that the Leonard Café, among others “still insist on paying their employees low wages and working them long hours.”[xxviii]  The café remained on their list of restaurants that didn’t use fair labour practices until at least the summer of 1919, with the BC Fed calling for the solidarity of all unions to not patronize these businesses.  The café was also the victim of a “dine and dash” protest by unemployed men, who ordered breakfast onto a single tab, and skipped out on the bill.  Ten men, all well dressed, ordered breakfast and after they were presented the bill for $4.45 and told the cashier to send it to the mayor, Charles Tisdall.  This brazen act took place while a police constable was right outside the front window.  Other establishments, such as Allen’s Café, Oaks Café, and the Good Eats Café were also affected.

The café became less prominent as other hotels and restaurants were constructed, and the dining scene in Vancouver evolved.  After Dixon and Madill owned the café, it passed into the hands of the Michas family who ran it for nearly twenty years, from 1925-44, when it was then sold to the Menzies family of Chilliwack.  The Menzies were the final owners, until the café burned down in 1961, taking the Arctic Club, located on the second floor, with it.  This was a $300,000 loss for the Menzies, which was fortunately covered by insurance.[xxix]

Leonard’s Café was shaped by its founder, G.C. Leonard, a man who wasn’t afraid to try new things and who died a wealthy man and left collectors a legacy of china to be found at antique shops, flea markets and thrift stores.  He was well known sportsman, with interests in hunting and baseball, and of course his love of dogs, which have been immortalized on his distinctive china.  The next time you find an oval plate or a creamer, and examine that logo, it may be Gipsy or Prince staring back at you.


The small oval platter and the creamer were made by John Maddock and Sons and the large platter and plate are from the Pacific Coast Importing Company.


These pieces were all made by Grindley and date from the 1930s.


[1] Westminster Avenue became Main Street in 1910.

[2] Replevin is a action or a writ issued to recover an item of personal property wrongfully taken. Replevin, sometimes known as “claim and delivery”, is an antiquated legal remedy in which a court requires a defendant to return specific goods to the plaintiff at the beginning of the action.

[3] See Jason Vanderhill’s Vancouver Is Awesome article at http://bit.ly/2hlaXM7 for more information about this artist.

[i] (Vancouver Daily World, 1895)

[ii] (To Be Set Free, 1896)

[iii] (Local Gossip, 1896)

[iv] (New Westminster, 1897)

[v] (Had People To Feed, 1898)

[vi] (Cash for Hash: Clayton Leonard Takes Proceedings for Baseballers’ Board Bill, 1901)

[vii] (Must Think It Over: Restauranteur Leonard and the Baseballers’ Unpaid Board Bill, 1901)

[viii] (Judge Henderson Gives Decision In Well Known Leonard-Ford Case, 1907)

[ix] (Local News Briefly Told, 1906)

[x] (Vancouver Kennel Club, 1904)

[xi] (Vancouver Kennel Club, 1904)

[xii] (Vancouver Kennel Club, 1904)

[xiii] (Vancouver Kennel Club, 1903)

[xiv] (Local Briefs, 1904)

[xv] (Kennel Club Men To Hold Banquet, 1906)

[xvi] (Sports, 1906)

[xvii] (Lost, 1910)

[xviii] (Didn’t Know He Was Officer, 1908)

[xix] (Local Items, 1904)

[xx] (The New Leonard’s Opens Its Doors – Popular Caterer’s Latest and Greatest Establishment, 1906)

[xxi] (Leonard’s Cafe Now Ready, 1912)

[xxii] (Personal and Hotel Gossip, 1911)

[xxiii] (Applicants Get Decrees, 1912)

[xxiv] (Leonard, 1915)

[xxv] (Leonard Will Again Before The Court, 1917)

[xxvi] (Old Haunt Closed, 1915)

[xxvii] (Fine Decorations are going in Popular Cafe, 1918)

[xxviii] (Hotel and Restaurant Employees, 1918)

[xxix] (Sustain $300,000 Fire Loss, 1961)


Works Cited

(1895, September 21). Vancouver Daily World, p. 8.

Applicants Get Decrees. (1912, March 1). Reno Gazette-Journal, p. 1.

Cash for Hash: Clayton Leonard Takes Proceedings for Baseballers’ Board Bill. (1901, October 14). Vancouver Daily World, p. 5.

Didn’t Know He Was Officer. (1908, October 17). Vancouver Daily World, p. 7.

Fine Decorations are going in Popular Cafe. (1918, December 11). British Columbia Record, p. 1.

Had People To Feed. (1898, October 25). Vancouver Daily World, p. 5.

Hotel and Restaurant Employees. (1918, July 19). British Columbia Federationist, p. 1.

Judge Henderson Gives Decision In Well Known Leonard-Ford Case. (1907, January 7). Vancouver Daily World, p. 15.

Kennel Club Men To Hold Banquet. (1906, May 11). Vancouver Daily World, p. 6.

Leonard Will Again Before The Court. (1917, March 21). Vancouver Daily World, p. 8.

Leonard, G. C. (1915, April 15). Last Will and Testament of George Clayton Leonard. Vancouver, British Columbia: BC Archives.

Leonard’s Cafe Now Ready. (1912, February 13). Vancouver Daily World, p. 20.

Local Briefs. (1904, May 16). Vancouver Daily World, p. 2.

Local Gossip. (1896, November 3). Vancouver Daily World, p. 8.

Local Items. (1904, February 6). Mt. Pleasant Advocate, p. 1.

Local News Briefly Told. (1906, October 23). The Daily News, p. 5.

Lost. (1910, September 6). Vancouver Daily Wolrd, p. 25.

Must Think It Over: Restauranteur Leonard and the Baseballers’ Unpaid Board Bill. (1901, October 19). Vancouver Daily World, p. 1.

New Westminster. (1897, October 8). Vancouver Daily World, p. 4.

Old Haunt Closed. (1915, June 1). Vancouver Daily World, p. 14.

Personal and Hotel Gossip. (1911, June 9). San Francisco Chronicle, p. 6.

Sports. (1906, May 11). Vancouver Daily World, p. 15.

Sustain $300,000 Fire Loss. (1961, December 19). Chilliwack Progress, p. 1.

The New Leonard’s Opens Its Doors – Popular Caterer’s Latest and Greatest Establishment. (1906, April 5). Vancouver Daily World, p. 14.

To Be Set Free. (1896, March 6). Vancouver Daily World, p. 3.

Vancouver Kennel Club. (1903). Catalogue of First Local Bench Show of Dogs. Vancouver: Evans & Hastings.

Vancouver Kennel Club. (1904). First Annual Bench Show Held March 31st, April 1st & 2nd, 1904. Vancouver: Vancouver Kennel Club.