Description of Historic Place
The former Prince Edward Island Fur Pool Vault at 310 Water Street is located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Water and Queen streets. The two-and-one-half storey square building with a flat roof is built of brick with a mural of a silver fox painted on the south elevation. A plaque is located beneath the mural. It is set back from Water Street with only a loading bay and two single doors visible.
This plain brick building which is attached to the western side of the Aliant Telephone office has considerable significance in the history of the silver fox industry. It was constructed in 1933 for the Prince Edward Island Fur Pool Limited and was designed in a manner that befitted the storage of precious silver fox furs. It contributes to the historic streetscape of Queen Street as the only building to survive on the east side of the street.
The parking lot in front of the vault was once the location of a two-storey wooden building. Together, the two structures had an interesting beginning. In December 1916, a large fire destroyed many substantial buildings in this area of the downtown. In March 1920, businessman Benjamin I. Rayner acquired the lot along Queen Street. In August 1927, he leased a section of it to W.B. Prowse and Sons of Charlottetown, who opened a showroom for Dodge automobiles. Mr. Prowse hired H.M. Downing of Summerside to prepare plans and construct a two-storey wooden structure on the site. The business operated from February 1928 to April 1931.
The Prince Edward Island Fur Pool Limited assumed the lease and purchased the property in February 1932. The Fur Pool, as it was commonly called, conducted a business of buying, cleaning, and selling silver fox pelts. Foxes were killed and pelted on the premises, and the skins were scraped, shaped, and dried before being cleaned and put into shaker drums. Furs were then graded and prepared for shipment. Established in 1929, the company was formed by a small group of ranchers led by Peter G. Clark, who was the president and manager of the organization.
The business expanded rapidly and marketed over 21,000 pelts in 1932. In the interest of its patrons, the Fur Pool directors decided to erect large fireproof vaults and, therefore, this brick building was constructed in 1933. Tucked in behind, and attached to the building that hugged the corner, the boxlike structure measured 35 by 38 feet and according to the press was "without doubt the most solidly built structure in Eastern Canada."
It featured a 12-inch thick outer brick wall separated from the 8-inch thick inner wall by 4 inches of dead air space. The internal framework of steel was supported by a solid concrete foundation. The first and second floors were used as vaults and the northern part of the third floor was designed as a 20 by 35 foot grading room, with a 25-foot wide sloping window. Another vault on the top floor added to the combined vault space of approximately 2500 square feet. A special ventilation system that could change the air eight times each hour was installed to ensure uniform air circulation to maintain the quality of the furs. As many as 10,000 pelts could be stored at a time.
In 1961, Robert C. Clark, the secretary-treasurer of the company was instructed by shareholders to liquidate the holdings. The building was purchased by the Summerside Co-operative Association Limited in January 1962. The Co-op wanted to expand its egg grading operations and used the basement and part of the main floor for that purpose. From 1963 and 1967, J. Leroy Gallant leased the front offices for his insurance company and moving and storage business.
The property was sold in July 1966 to the Island Telephone Company Limited. As the successor to the PEI Telephone Company, it had been the owner of the adjoining lot since 1928. In 1950, the old telephone building had been moved off the property following the construction of a new two-storey brick structure. Sometime in the late 1960s, the company removed the old Prowse showroom on the corner and converted the space into a parking lot. The vaults were left intact and were physically attached to the western wall of the telephone company building. Today, this building serves as a tangible reminder of the years when the fox fur industry flourished in Summerside.
Source: City of Summerside, Heritage Property Profiles
The heritage value of the building is shown in the following character-defining elements:
- the two-and-one-half storey massing and industrial form of this square brick building
- the concrete foundation
- the flat roofline
- the two ground level main entry doors and a loading bay on the north elevation
- the outdoor stairway to a second floor entrance on the north elevation
- the door and hatch entryway on the south elevation
- the mural and plaque commemorating Summerside's role in the development of the Silver Black Fox Industry on the south elevation
- the three connected rectangular areas framed by raised brick on the west elevation
- the lone window positioned in the middle of these rectangular areas