News

History detective on the Baker Street watch

Third in the History Detective series

THE CASE: A photo purchased online shows an early 20th century watch repair shop. Where and when was it taken and who are the men in front?

THE INVESTIGATION: This drymount 5 by 7-inch photo depicts three hirsute men standing in front of two stores. One man has a white coat and another smokes a pipe. Signs on the stores say “Watches repaired” and “Agents of the German M&M Co.” and “Baltimore Oysters.”

Written on the back in a feminine hand is: “Uncle Tom Davies’ jewelry and watch repair store in Nelson, BC, Canada, before he took up the 160 acre place in Rosehill, Kamloops, BC. Daddy Jack’s (John O. Davies) brother.”

There’s an asterisk below the man in the middle, which seems to indicate he is Uncle Tom.

The BC directory of 1893 listed Thomas J. Davies as a Nelson rancher. He also shows up on the 1898 provincial voters list, living somewhere on the Kootenay River. His brother John, meanwhile, is listed as a labourer in Trail.

Tom vanishes from the directories in 1899-1900, but reappears in 1901 at 257 Baker Street, although no occupation is given for him. The same listing appears through 1905, after which interior towns weren’t included for a few years.

By 1910, he had evidently left Nelson. There’s no listing for him in Kamloops that year either, although the 1911 census finds a Thomas Davies, 48, cooking at the Yankee girl mine in Ymir. Hard to say if it’s the same guy.

Ted Affleck writes in Kootenay Lake Chronicles that a “plucky little Englishman” with a “scrappy disposition” named Thomas Jones Davis lived on the Kootenay Flats near Creston and acquired the steam launch Mudhen from William A. Baillie-Grohman. He was thus nicknamed Mudhen Davis. But even ignoring the spelling discrepancy, there’s nothing to link him to the Nelson watch repairman. Mudhen Davis apparently returned to England by 1894.

John O. Davies (wonder what the O stood for) presumably moved to the US, given that his daughter specified the photo was taken in Canada and the photo’s seller found it at a trade show for vintage ephemera in Phoenix, Arizona.

Now we turn to exactly where in Nelson the shop was. With a magnifying glass, the fire number is visible above the door: 257 — the same address given for Tom in the directories.

That puts it where Connect Hearing is today, although that building probably only dates to the 1920s or ‘30s. Yet Star editor Bob Hall took one look at the photo and somehow correctly pronounced its location. Lucky guess.

Previous installments in this series

The King of Pop

The Nelson Cafe

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