Matheson, Robert Michael

MATHESON, Robert Michael (1887-1935), a successful architect active in Vancouver, B.C. where he was in partnership with Frederick L. Townley from 1919 until 1935 (see list of works under Townley & Matheson). Born in Prince Edward Island on 21 February 1887, his family moved to British Columbia in 1890, and he learned the carpentry trade under the supervision of his father John P. Matheson, a building contractor and architect in Vancouver.

Matheson moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1908 and studied architecture there at the University of Pennsylvania under the leading American architect Paul Cret. He was joined at the school by his childhood friend from Vancouver, Frederick L. Townley, with whom he was to later form a partnership in 1919. After graduating from the Univ. of Pennsylvania in 1911, he returned to Vancouver and was invited by his father to form a new partnership there (see works under John P. Matheson & Son), and likely contributed to the design of important commissions in his father’s office including Caroline Court Apartments (1912) as well as several large private residences in Vancouver and in the Point Grey neighbourhood. After WWI Matheson was briefly in partnership in 1918 with Frederic C. DeGuerre, and collaborated with him on the refined Edwardian design for the First Church of Christ Scientist, 1918-19. Matheson also completed several residential projects under his own name during the period of 1918-19, including a series of large private houses in the neighbourhoods of Strathcona and Shaughnessy Heights.

In November 1919 both Matheson and Townley formed a new partnership which was to flourish over the next decade. A formal announcement of the creation of their new firm, together with a biography and photographic portrait of each partner, with a list of their individual works, appeared in the British Columbia Record [Vancouver], 3 November 1919, 4 (inf. Patrick Gunn, Heritage Vancouver Society). Their most important commission was the modernist design for the Vancouver City Hall (1935-36), a significant landmark on the Vancouver skyline, and still standing at the present time. Matheson died in Vancouver after a long illness at the age of 48 on 30 June 1935 (obit. The Province [Vancouver], 2 July 1935, 7; Vancouver Sun, 2 July 1935, 9; News-Herald [Vancouver], 2 July 1935, 8; obit. R.A.I.C. Journal, xii, July 1935, 123; biog. and port. in D. Luxton, Building The West: The Early Architects of British Columbia, 2003, 320-29; inf. Claudia Matheson Paton, Ottawa, Ont.; inf. Architectural Inst. Of British Columbia). The City Vancouver Archives holds an extensive collection of architectural drawings by the firm of Townley & Matheson.


(works in Vancouver)

(with F.C. DeGuerre) FIRST CHURCH OF CHRIST SCIENTIST, West Georgia Street near Thurlow Street, 1918-19 (Vancouver Daily World, 29 March 1919, 17, illus. & descrip.; British Columbia Record [Vancouver], 2 May 1919, 3 & 5, illus. & descrip.; H. Kalman, Exploring Vancouver, 1978, 121, illus.; dwgs. at Vancouver City Archives)
WEST 11TH AVENUE, near Spruce Street, residence for William Metz, 1919 (British Columbia Record [Vancouver], 2 May 1919, 1, descrip.; 3 Nov. 1919, 4)
McNEILL, WELCH & WILSON CO., warehouse, Front Street East, 1919 (British Columbia Record [Vancouver], 3 Nov. 1919, 4)
SHAUGHNESSY HEIGHTS, residence for John D. McNeill, 1919 (British Columbia Record [Vancouver], 3 Nov. 1919, 2 & 4)
WEST 27th AVENUE, near Hudson Street, residence for R.W. Clark, 1919 (British Columbia Record [Vancouver], 3 Nov. 1919, 2)
WEST 13TH AVENUE, near Alder Street, residence for Capt. Absalom Freeman, 1919 (British Columbia Record [Vancouver], 2 May 1919, 4)