Notes from the September 18th meeting

Presentation to the Citizens Assembly: In response to the request from Rachel Magnusson, organizer and chair of the assembly experiment, for info from the GHG on heritage issues, we discussed who would be able to go on October 4th at 12:30. The time constraints, which bear a remarkable resemblance to speed dating, were described in the invitation as …

“This Dialogue session will have:
-12 stations, with one organization or group at each station
-There will be four ‘conversation rounds’ over 48 minutes
-During each conversation round (12 min), 4 Assembly members will visit your station
-During each conversation round, we’d like you to say a few words to the Assembly members (3-5 min), and then as a group you can discuss any issues or questions that arise”

Accordingly, there doesn’t appear to be much point in putting effort into a presentation. However, it was suggested that all members of the assembly be invited to one of our regular GHG meetings. Bruce Macdonald agreed to go on our behalf and there were a couple of other names suggested who might be available.

• Eric Phillips updated an earlier talk on the hazards of home renovation, bringing some new material about asbestos, including its presence in plaster fillers that might have been used in repairs and renovations since the 1950s of heritage houses. He discussed strategies for personal protection and the amounts that might be found. He and others emphasized that asbestos is inert and harmless when “locked into” walls behind paint and only becomes a hazard when it’s disturbed, for example by drilling or sanding, when dust can easily be created and inhaled.

• The balance of the meeting focused on the issues of demolition of the neighbourhood’s roominghouses. It was prompted by the recent demise of 1723 Napier (mentioned in earlier posts), the loss of human diversity as affordability decreases and the question of whether city policy changes could or should stall the gentrification juggernaut. As a group, the GHG has been interested in both cultural and architectural history, recording the passing parade of diverse peoples while promoting the retention of vintage buildings. When roominghouses disappear, the building might stick around and be renovated but it’s unlikely that new occupants will be as … uh, interesting or numerous.

Michael Kluckner presented some slides on the history of gentrification in the city, identifying a number of events that accelerated change. [A definition: gentrification is the displacement of people from a neighbourhood by others with more money.] Historically, the rejection of urban renewal in the 1960s set the stage for gentrification, in Strathcona in the Vancouver example – urban renewal would have kept the same people while giving them new housing; gentrification did exactly the opposite. Another key event was the Strata Title Act, passed into legislation in 1966 and becoming a tsunami in the early 1970s due to conversions of rental apartments into self-owned ones and construction of new condos; combined with changes to the Income Tax Act in 1972 which made the owning and operating of residential rental buildings less attractive, and rent controls enacted in 1974, the Strata Title Act created “a social space of gentrification, brought about by an economic restructuring that increased the affluence of some, but displaced others,” in the words of UBC law professor Douglas Harris.

What would make it easier to retain Grandview’s roominghouses? Suggestions were:

- extending capital gains exemptions so resident owners who rented out much of their principal residence in separate suites would be able to claim the 100% exemption of the building as their principal residence;

- modification of the onerous building codes that plague anyone trying to renovate an old buiding: somehow, a better balance has to be struck between obvious life-safety issues and the affordability of existing houses;

- increased awareness of alternate forms of ownership to get poorer people into the market: “ownership in common,” fractional title arrangements, co-ops both non-profit and for-profit (aka apartment corporations);

- extending the city’s rental-replacement bylaw, which forces owners of buildings containing 6 suites or more to create as many suites as they are removing in a demolition or conversion, into the RT areas; currently, the bylaw only applies in the RM areas (in Grandview, west of The Drive and northwest of Adanac and Victoria approximately).

There was much discussion and analysis of a current assembly of 3 rooming houses in the 2200-block of Triumph, interesting because of the number of affordable suites in each of them and also the potential profit for a developer. This is one of them:


• The meeting ended at 9 with some discussion about a possible strategy for the upcoming November 15th civic election.

Next meeting: October 16th, 7 pm, which according to the calendar is “National Boss Day.”

Meeting Agenda for September 18th, 7 pm….

… at Britannia Info Centre, as always.

* Jak/Michael: discussion of a strategy for presentation to the Citizens’ Assembly

* Michael/Bruce: debrief on the funeral for 1723 Napier and general discussion of rooming house/heritage house issues. Michael will present a few slides from his gentrification talk to spur the discussion.

* Eric: some comments on asbestos in plaster, as part of his ongoing series on the Mechanics and Materials of vintage houses.

* Bruce: another interview from his collection of conversations with long-time Grandview residents.

* New Business?

The Funeral for 1723 Napier

A record of the event the GHG held on Sunday, September 7th, which turned out to be the last day for the house. About 25 mourners attended, plus cameramen from CityTV and Global. Impromptu but very good.


Pictures of the funeral from Jak’s blog

Global TV evening news: the funeral is from 8:28 to 9:08 (not sure how long this link will last):

The eulogy of Rev. Mullins and some words from Tony Poulsen, the last tenant of 1723 Napier:

Bruce Macdonald speaks about saving this type of affordable accommodation:

The eulogy delivered by the Rev. Mullins (a.k.a. Garth Mullins) in print:

We gather to mourn the passing of 1723 Napier (1922 – 2014.) It will soon fall to the wrecker’s ball, making way for million dollar homes.

As friends and neighbours, we commemorate the life of this heritage building, which gave affordable shelter to artists and those of more modest means. Such places are of an increasingly rare breed in East Van. And so we mourn the passing of our community as well.

At times like this we take solace in scripture. John 14:2 tells us: “my father’s house has many rooms.” And so did this rooming house off Commercial Drive — seven bedrooms and two suites at about $500 each — an example of density before it was a buzzword on the tongues of City planners. The duplex that will rise in its place will have room for only two, wealthy households.
“Density,” brothers and sisters, is that fork-tongued rationale the City fathers use to justify upscale condo towers that practically reach up to Heaven itself.

But let us not remember 1723 Napier as we see it now: empty, without windows or walls; awaiting demolition. Let us remember the generations who lived, laughed, loved, created and cried there. They nestled in the embrace of beam and timber, harvested from old growth Douglas Fir — the finest lumber of its time, now all but gone. Are those faithful old timbers headed for the landfill?
It is rumored that Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong fame) was once a co-owner. So was Bonnie Beck-woman, who also runs a store on the Drive that exemplifies the concept of density in the sheer quantity of stock, shoehorned into every square foot.

And so, as we mourn the passing of 1723 Napier, do we also mourn the passing of our East Vancouver? Are we now seeing a new era where the City gates are only open to those who can afford the down payment?

We watch this generation of rambling houses, once sheltering many households replaced by upscale lifestyle spaces for young, upwardly mobile urban professionals.

Oh! The hubris of Man! Dwelleth close to the earth, with thy brothers! Dwell not in the sky, in cells of gold!

Woe to he who celebrates the demolition of these affordable, green, heritage homes!

Woe to he who builds not shelter for his brothers and sisters, but shelter for his investments and those of his fellow speculators.

Let us pray, yes, but let us also be angry – and may our anger be righteous!

Let them hear in City Hall not the splintering of old timbers, but this congregation’s clarion call for social justice!

Let this not be a world for the landed gentry alone, but for us all.

Ashes to ashes, sawdust to sawdust.

And a blog post from Michael Price:

Working, can’t make it, but ‘In Memoriam’. Lived in that building thirty-some years ago. Had a folk-singer in one room, a playwright in another, and a Vancouver Sun editor in another. And me there, a so-so poet to pull down the average. The editor was named Bernard, a Brit with coke-bottle glasses and a hilarious wit. The playwright was Ron Weiss, who wrote plays/musicals about Jack Miner and other BC subjects for the horse-drawn Caravan Theatre, and rehearsed his fiddle-work. The folkie was Diane last name I forgot. Often performers on the folk-song circuit would stay in the house, and there were some nice impromptu jams in the backyard and kitchen. Sic transit…

And from Oliver…

I have attended many such funerals in my time, as I used to salvage material from doomed houses. Once I was able to build a small house from the salvage of mostly one other house, but that isn’t happening much anymore as the building codes basically make that impossible now, even then it was a nightmare getting it passed because, for example, the old growth floor joists didn’t have a grading stamp from the mill (even though they were so obviously better than anything coming out of a mill now). If it hadn’t been for one particular inspector who “overlooked” things I would have not been able to finish the house.

Advocates need to know that the biggest problem is building codes and zoning bylaws and bureaucrats. Sad.


Anyone interested in photos of an earlier mock funeral? The one for the Birks Building in 1974? Here.

A rooming-house funeral and other events


4 pm today, Sunday, September 7th, at 1723 Napier. Dress: funereal

A piece of performance art to celebrate the history of and bemoan the loss of one of Grandview’s historic houses, at 1723 Napier, as much for its cultural history as its architecture. With all of the problems involved in keeping old rooming houses going, in keeping them maintained, safe and affordable (often mutually exclusive goals for landlords), our neighbourhood is evolving away from the diverse, arts-friendly, densely populated, weird vibe that drew many of us here in the first place. This old house will be replaced by a duplex.

A Mount Pleasant event: the Heritage Lounge, Sunday, September 12th


A vintage film: My House is Your House, Saving the Salsbury Garden

A 10-year-old film by Ian Marcuse describing the efforts to save the informal garden at Salsbury and Napier which occupied the sideyard of two BC Mills cottages and became a neighbourhood sanctuary; two duplexes now occupy the site.

It’s on YouTube here.

August 21st meeting recap

There was a full house again for the GHG’s monthly meeting, held (as always) in the boardroom at Britannia at 7 pm on the third Thursday.

Cynthia Low, the executive director of Britannia, gave a Powerpoint presentation and listened to questions and comments about the ongoing planning process to replace the current Britannia Community Centre buildings. She focused on the desire to increase the visibility of the east and west facades of century-old Britannia school, which are largely hidden by the jumble of buildings, and mentioned the possibility of giving the new centre a presence on Commercial Drive, probably at Napier Street. She urged GHGers to become involved in the planning process and directed us to their website for further details on the Capital Plan and the various consultative stages that lie ahead.

Bruce Macdonald presented two of the interviews he has been filming with senior citizens – specifically those involved in the workforce in the 1940s and 1950s – who have a connection with Grandview and East Vancouver. Marjorie McKeown Agnew, aged 98, spoke of her youth growing up in the blocks around St. Francis of Assisi Church when that property was home to Australian real-estate speculator William Miller, her friendships with the children of the Odlum family of Grant Avenue, and her connection to the recently restored Hawkins-Agnew house on Victoria Drive between Napier and Parker. Several months ago, a few members of the GHG met with Marjorie’s daughters Susan and Barbara and received a lot of information and photographs of the family’s years living in Grandview.

Bruce then presented a brief excerpt of his hours of recordings of Bob Williams, the legendary planner and politician who became Premier Dave Barrett’s right-hand man in the NDP government of 1972–5. Mr. Williams told a fascinating story of his early years, from his birth in the Sally Ann unwed mothers’ home, his childhood rag- and bottle-picking on an old dump site where the Italian Cultural Centre now stands and his summers spent with his grandmother, who lived “a short walk” away in Capitol Hill in Burnaby and who had a cabin/shack on the Dollarton mudflats in North Vancouver near the sometime home of novelist and legendary alcoholic Malcolm Lowry.

Bruce intends to sort out the technology so this set of interviews (25 of which he’s done so far) can be streamed from our website.

Finally, Eric Phillips took a second look at floorcoverings in vintage houses, focusing on linoleum and its numerous imitators and adding new images of linoleum and wood carpets to what he presented last month. He brought a number of samples, including a strip of battleship linoleum and several handmade hooked rugs dating back to his own family’s homesteading and farming days.

Eric also drew everyone’s attention to the large number of upcoming lectures and events pertaining to heritage and history:

•the 5th annual Autumn Shift in Mount Pleasant, taking place on September 14th from 12–6.


•lectures on Heritage and Gentrification (September 30th), architect Samuel Maclure (October 21st) and Vaudeville (November 4th) offered by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation at Hycroft.

•walking tours and other programs offered on August 23rd, September 7th and 27th by Heritage Vancouver.

The next meeting will be held on Thursday September 18th at 7 pm!

Meeting this Thursday (Aug 21)

Just a reminder that we will be having our regular Grandview Heritage Group meeting, this Thursday — tomorrow! — Aug 21st, in the Britannia Board Room (in the Info Centre), 7:00.

On our agenda we have invited Cynthia Low, the executive director at Britannia, to fill us in about Brit’s current plans for revitalization of the Britannia site (including preservation of both heritage buildings and heritage view corridors!), Eric Phillips to expand on his talk last month on historical linoleum, Bruce to talk about and and give us some examples of his interviews with Grandview’s old timers. Plus the usual free-wheeling conversation on all sorts of other heritage matters.
Please join us if you can! Everyone’s welcome.

The July 17th meeting

About 20 people packed into the surprisingly cool boardroom at Britannia for the monthly meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group. A surprise visitor was a Vancouver Sun photographer/reporter, attracted by the Burnaby Lake tram presentation.

Michael Kluckner began the meeting with a brief update on the city’s Heritage Action Plan. The city’s heritage commission, at its last meeting, heard a presentation on “best practices” and heritage tools used elsewhere in North America and in Australia for urban heritage conservation. Vancouver’s toolkit is just about as comprehensive as anywhere else, using zoning, density bonuses, bylaw relaxations and a density bank to try to support building conservation; unlike a few Canadian cities (Victoria being one), Vancouver doesn’t use municipal tax relief to a very great extent; and, unlike in American cities, Vancouver commercial building owners can’t receive personal or corporate income tax relief for conservation activities – in the USA, building owners get accelerated capital-cost writeoffs for heritage work, a program that goes back more than 30 years. Vancouver also uses Heritage Conservation Areas, which in the USA are usually called HCDs or Heritage Conservation Districts, to achieve some of its aims, but these are zoning districts to control the rate of evolution and the design of neighbourhoods rather than real “conservation districts,” where you would presume (if you have a fairly linear understanding of the English language) that few if any buildings could be demolished. There are four Heritage Conservation Areas in Vancouver: Gastown and Chinatown (both designated provincially in 1971), Yaletown and First Shaughnessy. The city considers its RT areas – the duplex zones which include much of Grandview east of The Drive – to be de facto Heritage Conservation Areas, and to a certain degree they are working in that way with design control and a fairly slow rate of change.

There was also a brief discussion of pending changes to building bylaws to make older residential buildings more energy efficient. 19% of the city’s GHGs (greenhouse gases, not Grandview Heritage Groups) come from the RS and RT areas – the single-family and duplex zones.

Michael Kluckner then gave a Powerpoint presentation on the old Burnaby Lake interurban line.


The highlight was some vintage film that can be seen in its entirety on YouTube, showing interurbans leaving the Carrall Street depot (sw corner of Hastings and Carrall across the street from Pigeon Park), heading along Hastings to Clark, Venables and Commercial Drive at 5th…


… where the motorman switched onto a branch line that followed a loop northeast across what is now the edge of McSpadden Park and made its way to 1st Avenue at Nanaimo, where it ran down the median of 1st to the gully where the freeway now heads east into Burnaby. Like its modern counterpart, the Millenium Line, it wasn’t as heavily used as the Central Park Line (the Skytrain’s Expo Line) and there was never the population density to justify its existence. When the consumer economy finally got going in the late 1940s, consumers wanted automobiles. B.C. Electric shut down its interurban system in the early 1950s; both the Burnaby Lake and Central Park lines closed on the same day in October, 1953.

Eric Phillips then gave a presentation on the history of linoleum, showing many images of patterns from the 1900s through the 1950s and explaining the differences between it and other types of flooring and the various types of linoleum that were manufactured. Durable, made of natural materials, naturally sanitary, linoleum continues to be a favorite in hospital settings and high-traffic commercial applications.

Finally, Bruce MacDonald gave a brief presentation, thwarted somewhat by the lack of good audio speakers, on the project to interview Grandview seniors and record their memories of the city and neighbourhood in the 1930s–1950s era. He personally is trying to record 20 interviews; the larger, city-wide project will gather about 100 oral histories. At a later meeting, Bruce will do it again.

The next meeting, with agenda to be announced, will take place August 21st (the third Thursday) in the boardroom at Britannia.

Next meeting Thursday July 17th, 7 pm

We’re having our regular monthly meeting, time and date above, location same as always (the Britannia boardroom) for all who are in town.

The four items we have as an agenda so far are:

• a brief update from Michael Kluckner on some of the work the city is doing to look at heritage conservation tools elsewhere in North America, Britain and Australia in search of innovative strategies.

• an interview Bruce Macdonald recorded with legendary planner/politician Bob Williams, a Britannia grad and Dave Barrett’s right-hand man during the NDP government of 1972–5.

• a presentation by Eric Phillips on linoleum, part of his series on the materials and workings of early Vancouver houses; and

• a presentation by Michael Kluckner on the old Burnaby Lake tramline, which until the early 1950s branched off Commercial Drive at 6th Avenue (the post office site) and looped down onto 1st Avenue before heading east into Burnaby along the corridor now used by Highway 1; it includes some glorious Kodachrome film from the late 1940s of interurbans running on the line and on Venables and Clark.

Please join us! There are no formal memberships or other folderol. We’re just a casual group of local historians and other heritage enthusiasts exchanging information about our historic community.

Missing Block in 1921 Census

I have been doing more work on the 1921 Census for Grandview and have discovered that the north side of the 2000-block Venables Street was missed by the enumerator.

The south side of the block (house numbers: 2012, 2030, 2036, 2052, 2056, 2062 and 2076) is captured on pages 4, 5 and 6 of district 22, sub-district 74 of the Census.  But after several hours of looking, I can find no trace of the north side on any page in that sub-district or its surrounding neighbours.

To double check, I did name searches in the Census for the residents listed in the City Directory for that year and again came up blank.

Given that the Census in those years was reliant entirely on fallible human surveyors, I wonder how many blocks or partial blocks were missed across the country?


Our June 19th meeting

About 20 people showed up at the boardroom at Britannia Community Centre for the monthly GHG meeting.

the launch party for the 2014 Centenary Signs, with cake and refreshments, will be at 11 am Saturday June 28th at Mosaic Park at the corner of Charles and McLean in the heart of the “west of The Drive” area we’ve highlighted with this year’s set of houses. There will be an email reminder to everyone and we hope that the occupants of the houses who have agreed to host the signs this year can come along.

• Michael described the recent policy changes the city has instituted as part of its Heritage Action Plan: a one-year moratorium on demolitions of pre-1940 houses in First Shaughnessy; a new, interim checklist to determine pre-1940 “character houses” that the city is using while it formalizes an inventory of them; suggestions by city staff for carrots and sticks that would encourage house owners to retain character houses rather than demolish them; and, the implications of the city’s deconstruction and recycling policies that will force demolishers of character houses to divert 90% of the material from the landfill into salvage and re-use. There was a lot of discussion and questions. The policies, although city-wide, are specifically targeted to try to reduce the numbers of demolitions on the big lots of west-side neighbourhoods like Point Grey and Kerrisdale, where there is a considerable business opportunity (i.e. the ability to construct a much larger house) compared with that available on the standard 33 x 120 foot lots of Grandview and other east-side communities; the implications for communities like Grandview will, hopefully, be an increased awareness of the value of the smaller 1920s-1930s houses and more flexible city regulations to encourage their retention.

• There was a brief report on the plan, in abeyance for several months, to create permanent plaques for Grandview heritage houses and offer them to the 74 owners/occupants of the Centenary houses from 2012, 2013 and this year. More effort will go into finalizing research on the houses for the wiki and sourcing a plaque that will be durable (more so, at least, than the one installed at the Shelly’s sign at Victoria and William, which has faded badly after a year).

• Penny showed slides and offered hilarious commentary on her recent trip to Kansas’s depopulated towns of fine old buildings standing vacant under The Big Sky. And Eric, self-described “Amateur House Mechanic,” gave a brief presentation on the stone walls and foundations of vintage Grandview, including demonstrating how to split granite blocks with hand tools, part of his fascinating series of talks on the inner workings of early Vancouver houses.

The next meeting will be at 7 pm on Thursday, July 17th (the third Thursday of the month, right?) in the boardroom at Britannia Community Centre.