Eric Phillips on Asbestos in Older Houses…

Almost any house built prior to the 1990s will contain some asbestos. This WorkSafe BC link will show you some of the more common places and give an overview of asbestos in the home.
It is interesting that the diagram uses a relatively modern house as its example. Asbestos, as the miracle do-anything product, came into full prominence after our houses were built, but there will still be some asbestos used either during original construction or during subsequent renovations/maintenance. The most common places to find materials which may contain asbestos are in vermiculite insulation (one common brand name is Zonolite, which looks like small brown popcorn), “popcorn” textured ceilings (sometimes called Spray-Tex), duct tape (asbestos tape was used to seal joints on hot-air ducts and also on furnaces and fireplaces), asbestos-board siding, flooring, drywall & fillers, and electrical boxes. We had a local Grandview example where asbestos was found in the plaster as well but it was not clear if it was in the original plaster or came from post-construction renovations (filler with asbestos). The reason for the asbestos concerns is that once disturbed, the fibres will stay airborne for a long time and the long-term consequences of inhaling them will not be immediately evident. To confirm I was not misleading you, I talked to a carpenter friend who has been through the working-with-asbestos course and he gave a few examples. He had a job of re-placing some old flooring. The 9×9 tiles and the adhesives almost certainly contained asbestos. To avoid the cost of dealing with their removal, the tiles were left undisturbed and were covered with floor-leveling compound and then with sheet flooring with the edges sealed. An engineered wood floor could also have been used with the same sealing precautions.
How do you know for sure if there is asbestos in a material to be removed during renovation? Testing in the only way to know for certain. For example, I have some vermiculite insulation in my attic. If I simply wanted to increase the amount of insulation, I could have added more insulation on top but since I needed to move some to get access to wiring, I took some samples to a lab and had it tested. Although my insulation does not look any different from any other vermiculite I have ever seen, it did not contain appreciable amounts of asbestos. While on that topic, if you are planning a renovation, someone in our ad hoc group is completely renovating their house and therefore had samples analyzed but found the City would not accept self sampling and required sample collection by a certified testing group. This is contrary to the information provided on the City’s website.

Eric Phillips
“Amateur House Mechanic”, Grandview Heritage Group

Meeting Notes from November 20th

A full house of about 25 for our November meeting…

• Our Geography 429 student, Kevin Shackles, introduced himself to the group. He will be working on a project in the Spring to map the old grocery stores and other commercial storefronts of “back-street” Grandview (that is, not The Drive, not Hastings Street) and investigate their histories to try to determine the ethnicity of the owners, the length of their tenures and any other information that can be gleaned from archival sources. At the end of the project, we should have a complete picture of this largely vanished aspect of our community.

Realtor David Campbell, who has lived and worked in Grandview for about 35 years, talked and answered questions about the real-estate market here, focusing on the heritage buildings that are in such high demand from new buyers. He noted the shortage of supply of new listings because people are staying put in the neighbourhood, resulting in bidding wars for the few old buildings that come on the market. He described how people who bought into Grandview wanted to reside here – i.e. they aren’t investors living elsewhere – and how many buyers have good incomes and little fear of the huge mortgages they have to assume. The current “tear-down value” in the neighbourhood is around $900,000, he said, making most old houses that come on the market too valuable to be bulldozer-bait; the exceptions are dilapidated rooming houses, such as the one we highlighted in the summer on Napier Street, where the cost of upgrading exceeds any final value that a renovator or owner could attain. He also noted that the high cost of new half-duplexes, about $900,000 or so, was making the area’s cottages and interwar bungalows attractive to some buyers, who reckon they can get an entire lot in fee simple with a needy house on it for the same price as a small place with modern bells and whistles on a strata lot. He noted that buyers were willing to go through the city’s heritage process to save significant houses, such as the Georgian at 2185 East 3rd that was on our agenda last month, and that neighbours appeared to be supportive regardless of the added infill density that the projects will trigger.

Michael Kluckner gave an update on the city’s Heritage Action Plan, explaining some of the intricacies of the character-house policy that is being developed for RS3, RS3A and RS5 areas on the west side of the city, and suggesting that the policy might eventually be extended into the RS1 areas of East Vancouver (including the southeast part of Grandview). He also noted that there will be a public nomination process in the Spring for additions to the heritage register.

Dorothy Barkley talked about an art show fashion project with the Museum of Vancouver involving models in vintage costumes staged in front of vintage houses. Grandview is a logical spot for Edwardian and some interwar tableaux. There will be an opportunity for interested members to get involved.

• We had a brief discussion about land assembly on The Drive and the need to work with the city zoning regulations to ensure that change there respects the fine detail and architectural diversity of the street. Comparisons were made with the long strips of shopfronts below condo/apartment blocks that are homogenizing Hastings around Nanaimo and Main Street south of 16th.

Eric Phillips presented more information about the hazards and horrors of early houses, drawing on material from a British series on Victorian homes. Arsenic in English wallpaper, dangerous early electrical wiring, nutbar-quality products like electric tablecloths and hairbrushes, and odorless coal gas stoves were among the items he talked about. Time was tight so he will present more material at the January meeting.

No meeting in December, eh? Merry Christmas to all…. We will meet again on Thursday, January 15th.

Notes From Our October Meeting

We had another fine turn-out for our October meeting, with some new and welcome faces.

  • We began by discussing the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhood’s all-candidates meeting.  The candidates’ responses re: the Heritage Action Plan were discussed.  It was also noted that all parties other than Vision had stated their opposition to the current Grandview Community Plan process.
  • The GHG presentation (by Penny and Brice) to the Community Plan’s Citizens’ Assembly on 4th October was briefly discussed.  The CA’s next meeting is on 25th October.
  • The sale of 2185 E. 5th was next up. With an asking price of about $1.6m, it was finally sold for over $1.9m, to a developer.  We understand he will probably do an HRA with infill, similar to Jeffs Residence. We will approach the realtor for a discussion of this and similar sales.
  • Next on the agenda was Brookhouse, 1872 Parker.  This is still sitting, apparently unoccupied but with the occasional light to be seen at night. There is no fresh news but, a couple of weeks ago, James Evans suggested that perhaps the current owner was realising his asking price is too high. So, maybe there is a still a hope for a sale to someone like James and then an HRA.
  • The history of the Howe House at Lakewood & Kitchener, and our method of tackling the mystery through directories, building permits, and censuses, was described. The family was tracked from a hotel in the West End at the turn of the century to Lakewood in the 1910s, and to a farm Langley in the 1920s.
  • Bruce Macdonald presented a first cut of his new 40-minute presentation work that describes the history of Grandview in terms that are specifically designed to be useful for considering the future of our neighbourhood. Very good conversation ensued.
  • One particular point that Bruce raises is that Grandview has been cut off from its sea shore, and very recently too.  There was general agreement that we need to regain that shore in some way despite the heightened security at the Port.
  • It was noted that the next GWAC Meeting, on Monday 3rd November at Astorino’s, will be a presentation of changes to Commercial Drive from a bike-lobby group.
  • Finally, we reviewed a request from Prof. David Brownstein for us to take another of his students to perform a project this year.  Last year’s exercise did not go particularly well, but we discussed a limited-focus idea about corner stores in Grandview.  This idea will be discussed further with Prof. Brownstein.

So good, so stimulating to meet with these folks every month.  Come join us!

Next meeting October 16th, 7 pm.

Another full agenda for our upcoming monthly meeting, held as always in the Britannia boardroom from 7 to 9 pm. All are welcome!

• Progress on heritage presentations to the Citizens Assembly

• The sale for $1,750,000 of 2185 East 3rd at Garden Park, one of only two Georgian-style houses in Grandview; it sits on two lots and could be demolished, but evidence would seem to suggest that the new owner will go for a Heritage Revitalization Agreement and infill the lots behind the heritage house ….


• Update on the Brookhouse house at 1872 Parker, which has become terribly derelict since its new owner kicked out the tenants and set to redeveloping the double lot with duplexes. The photo below is from a year ago…


• A report on an interesting research project to track down the location of this house …


… occupied a century ago by Samuel Howe which, according to the family story related to us by Judy Webber, his great granddaughter, stood at Venables and Victoria.

Bruce Macdonald will present his slide show on Grandview history with the planning process in mind. This is important in the effort to preserve Grandview’s heritage buildings, and in the effort to ‘keep Grandview the way it is,’ the comment that Garth Mullins made last year which got the biggest response at the big public meeting on the new Community Plan.

Early Immigrant Walking Tours: Strathcona

Strathcona, Vancouver’s historic east end, has been home to generations of immigrants from around the world. In the 1930s the local elementary school was called “the Little League of Nations” acknowledging the 33 nationalities that attended classes there. In the surrounding neighbourhood, local churches reflected the diversity and the evolving nature of immigration; a Lutheran church established by the Swedes had in a few short years a Norwegian and then German congregation before becoming the American Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, home to the city’s growing black population.The streets and grocery stores were alive with Croatian, Russian, Jewish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese neighbours. A legacy that survives today includes grocery stores such as the Union Food Market and Benny’s Market, the pioneer Italian market. The Ukrainian and Russian community halls and a former synagogue, which was the city’s first, are also important sites in the development of Strathcona.

Join John Atkin or Maurice Guibord as we walk the streets and explore the rich diversity of this neighbourhood. The tour ends at Union Food Market which has been a traditional Portuguese grocery and bakery since 1962. Please note the October 16th tour will be given in French.

With John Atkin
Tuesday October 14th 2-4pm
Friday October 17th 4-6pm

With Maurice Guibord
Wednesday October 15th 2-4pm
Thursday October 16th 4-6pm (offered in French)

These tours are free of charge, however registration is required
Click here to register

The History of Gentrification

MK gentrification

There has been endless talk in Vancouver over many years now about the effects of gentrification on our beautiful city.  How endless, you say?  Well, Grandview’s own illustrious city historian Michael Kluckner will tell you at a lecture this coming Tuesday, September 30th, 7:30 pm at Hycroft, 1489 McRae Avenue.

As Michael writes:  “This is my lecture on Gentrification in Vancouver, its historical roots in the city and its relationship to heritage, urban renewal and The Big Picture of global economic changes in recent decades.”

Tickets are a modest $12 and are available from or by calling 604 264-9642.

Michael is an excellent lecturer, always erudite and amusing.  This will be a worthwhile evening for anyone interested in the subject.

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.