Goad’s 1912 atlas now a VanMap layer

Regular readers of this blog, and researchers of local history, will be aware of the 1912 Goad’s Fire Atlas, which has been available in low-res images on the national archives website for the past few years.

As part of the fantastic digitization efforts undertaken by City of Vancouver Archives, the atlas is now available in much higher resolution as a layer on VanMap, the city’s on-line data pool of everything from lot sizes to zoning to dog parks.

Read this post on the Archives’ blog to find out how to use it!

The green house next to The Cultch

After a hiatus of a couple of years, I’ve begun to take my sketchbook out into the city looking for derelicts – looking for pending change. One place that’s been on my mind is the house at 1885 Venables that was used as rehearsal and administration space next door to The Cultch.
vvgreenhouse
The house was built as part of the church compound, as a manse or rectory (whatever the term Methodists used), in 1912. Here are images of the building permit (from Heritage Vancouver‘s permit database) and the site as it appeared in the Goad’s 1912 atlas.

1885venables2
1885venables
I’ve watched the blue tarp on its roof, put there to protect the interior from leaks, deteriorate to the point of uselessness, and heard the rumours that The Cultch will demolish the house rather than adapt it to its needs, arguing that it is too far gone to be rehabilitated affordably. And I wonder, is this an example of the prudent use of scarce arts-and-culture funds, or is it an example of cultural vandalism, the sort of thing we deplore when developers turn their backs on heritage stewardship? Just curious….

Notes from the January Meeting

On Thursday evening we had a grand turnout for our monthly meeting.  It was, I believe, the largest gathering of its kind that we’ve had.  There were lively discussions about a wide range of topics.

  • We began by discussing the Heritage Workshop put on by the Community Planners that many of us had attended during the previous week. It was generally agreed that some useful debates took place there, and the availability of the City’s heritage planners was valuable — hopefully they listened to what was being said.  However, we noted that they seemed to be trying to steer us in certain directions (picking individual sites of value rather than recognising the holistic nature of the neighbourhood, for example).  The general consensus was that the summaries given at the end of the event did not include several of the major points mentioned at the tables.  We look forward with great interest to see how accurately this workshop will be reported out.  It was further noted that heritage plays an important role in the future workshops on Housing and Transportation.
  • Further to the Workshop, it was noted that the Planners’ survey seemed to indicate that the “value” of heritage was not high on respondents’ concerns.  It was agreed that the question was skewed and thus the result is meaningless.  Further, the value of Grandview’s heritage to the rest of Vancouver has so far been ignored in the process.
  • The role that GHG could take in the expansion of the Heritage Register was discussed.  It was noted that the recent “Waldorf crisis” seems to have awakened City Council to a possible expansion of the Register.  GHG could take a role in identifying properties not yet on the Register, and could assist City staff by our contacts with relevant owners.
  • The creation of a Visioning Report by the Commercial Drive BIA was noted.  We will try to get hold of a copy for study and comment.
  • Eric Philips presented a fascinating slide show on the use of concrete blocks in Grandview’s early days.  He also circulated a catalog of early 20th century block-making machines. At a later date Eric will give a further presentation on the local use of concrete foundations.
  • We discussed the wrap up to the 2012 Centenary House project.  Penny has drafted a letter to the 2012 recipients which mentions that she and others will be collecting the signs soon and cleaning them up ready for this year’s project.  At the November meeting we agreed to look into the creation of a more permanent sign that could be offered to participants.  Lance has begun this exploration and he is currently looking at printing moulds on a 3-D printer and casting them in pewter.  It was agreed that our permanent signs should look different than the City’s Heritage plaques.
  • We then moved on to the 2013 House Signs project.  We had a list of about 150 houses we believed were constructed in 1913; however on further research many of these turn out to be earlier or later.  Given this, and the future problem of finding any houses for 1914 through 1916, we agreed to explore a change to our signs that would indicate the houses are over 100 years old rather than a specific age.  A date for a walking review tour of the 30+ possibles on our list was agreed.
  • The City’s 2013 Heritage Awards programme was discussed and we hope to be nominated both for the House Signs project and advocacy/education through the website and walking tours.  Deadline for nominations is January 28th.
  • Planning for the House History Workshop on March 23rd was moved ahead. Penny will present the workshop at the Eastside Family Place at 3pm.  Further details will be posted in the next few weeks.
  • Ann noted that there is a Community Small Grants program for Hastings North ( an area that covers Victoria Drive to Boundary, docks to First Avenue.)  It was suggested that we could apply for a grant to refurbish the heritage advertising sign on the side of the Via Tevere Pizza building on Victoria.  Various options regarding the future of the sign were discussed.  Ann will look into the grant possibility.
  • Michael noted that the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is seeking new locations for its Open House tour in early June.  A number of suggestions were made which Michael will forward to VHF.

It was another busy and productive meeting.

James Guinet: A Builder of Grandview

Between 1908 and 1912, during the boom that essentially created Grandview,  James Guinet was responsible for building at least 45 houses in the community, and probably more. But only the barest of facts are known about him.  These are notes for a biography of what might be one of the most important figures of Grandview’s early history.

James Edward Guinet was born in North Orilla, Ontario, just before Christmas 1873.  He was the second son of a Quebec Catholic father, Mitchell, and an Anglo Methodist mother, Elizabeth.  The family would eventually comprise four boys — James, Victor (b. 1872), Michael (1876), and John Davis (1879) — and a girl, Mary (1886.)

Family history has it that the Guinets were house builders in Muskoka but sometime in the 1890s the family moved to British Columbia, settling in New Westminster where, by 1901, all the males were working in the building trades.  The father, Mitchell, and James were carpenters, while Victor, Michael and John were employed as labourers.  In the twelve months prior to the census that year, James had worked every month and earned $650.  His brothers were making $480-$500 each.

By 1904, the youngest brother, John Davis Guinet, had moved to Vancouver, finding lodging at 242 Barnard (later Adanac) Street. In the following year he had been joined by James and Michael and they all took rooms together at 1155 Denman before moving again to 911 Drake Street. In 1906, James, then 33, married the 22 year old Margaret McInnes.  The couple stayed on in Drake Street, while the brothers took a place at 1503 Venables Street where they were joined by their father and mother.

1556 Grant Street as it is in 2012

There is a “dark ages” of Vancouver development between 1905 and 1908 during which period the building permits have disappeared.  James Edward Guinet took out a building permit for a house on Seymour Street valued at $1,000 in December 1904, the first known in his name, and he re-appears, as we shall see, as a busy builder in 1909.  However, we are left simply assuming that he was developing houses during this dark period, perhaps in Grandview.  He certainly listed himself as a contractor in the Directories for those years, and by early 1909 he and his wife had moved into the neighbourhood, to a house at 1556 Grant which he may well have built himself, though the permit is missing.

January 1909 saw Guinet receive a building permit for four “cottages” at 1128-48 Odlum Drive.  These still stand.   In March he was working on two more houses at 1133 and 1143 McLean Drive.  These first six houses for which we have records were each valued at $1,000.  His next set, four houses comprising 1704, 1710, 1716 and 1722 Cotton Drive, for which he received permits in April, each cost $1,500.  This run of buildings is also still in place today.

1718 and 1722 Cotton Drive today

By June 1909 he was building a $1,500 house at 2156 Napier Street, and another set of four houses in the 900 block McLean Drive.  These last were valued at $1,800 each and survived until the Britannia expansion in 1970.  August and September brought forth 1141, 1143, 1145 and 1149 McLean, along with another row of four houses along the 1700-block of Cotton Drive.  He closed out the year by building four more houses across the street from his own home on Grant Street. All 13 of these houses survive to this day.

1737 Charles Street in 2012

By 1910, several of Guinet’s new houses were being valued at $2,000 a piece.  In January he recieved permits for 1316 and 1322 Cotton Drive and 1216 and 1222 Woodland Drive.  In February he built a smaller house at 1953 Bismark. April saw new permits for 1423 Woodland Drive, and a series of three houses along the south side of the 1400-block  Parker Street.  In May he retuened to McLean Drive, building four more houses along the west side of the 1000-block.  He closed out the year, in October, with a permit to build 1737 Charles for $2,600.

1521 Victoria as it is in 2012

The only permit available for James Guinet in 1911 is for the four houses that make up the double corner at Victoria Drive and Graveley Street.  However, these were the most expensive series of houses in his resume to date at a cost of $2,500 each.  The four houses — 1521-1541 Victoria and 1885 Graveley — are still a part of the neighbourhood.

More importantly for James Guinet was the purchase that year of a 1905 house at 2575 Cornwall Avenue where he moved his wife and young son, Allan. Perhaps he needed more space for his family or, perhaps, the view over English Bay seemed better than that at Grant Street.  He built himself a garage and settled in.

In 1912 he built the lovely Belmont Building at 1435 Commercial Drive, and four houses on Keith Drive in Cedar Cottage.

The Belmont Block at 1435 Commercial Drive

These are the last of the permits we find in his name although he continued to be called a contractor in the 1913 Directory.  By the middle of 1914 he was working for Waghorn, Gwynn & Company as a real estate valuer.  It seems likely that he was the victim of the global economic crisis that struck in the lead up to World War One and which effectively put a stop to speculative building in Grandview and most places in Vancouver.  However, he must still have had some capital as in 1915 he purchased the John Denholm Farm on Fairfield Island in Chilliwack, moving there with his wife and son and taking up farming.

Although the rest of the family remained at 1503 Venables for several years, James’ brother John Davis also moved to Chilliwack, and it was from there that the two brothers enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1916.  They both survived the experience, James Edward Guinet not dying until 17 February 1958.  His son, Allan Guinet, became a lawyer and magistrate in Chilliwack, co-founder and benefactor of the Chilliwack Historical Society which holds his papers.

This is probably the longest post on this website but it still seems like so little information about a man who contributed upwards of 50 buildings to the Grandview community.  We need to know more about James Guinet and pioneers like him. What inspired him to choose Grandview?  How did he develop his first capital?  Why did he build the styles of houses that he did?  What really caused him to stop building in 1912 or 1913?  He and his kind are far too important to be forgotten.

[Note: I have written above that Guinet built four houses in the 1100-block McLean in August 1909.  The permits list just two houses, but the four that we see today were all built at the same time and the lot numbers in the permit include the full run.  I suspect there was a second permit or the original was adjusted later.]

The Birthday Signs Launch!

This morning we formally launched our Centenary Birthday Signs campaign in front of the wonderful series of 1912 houses on the south east corner of First and Victoria.  Twenty-five or more local residents — including a number of owners whose heritage houses now sport our signs — helped us celebrate the glorious heritage houses that are such a feature of our Grandview neighbourhood.

Historians Bruce Macdonald, Jak KIng and Michael Kluckner each had a few words to say about the project, the houses and the relevance of heritage retention in the modern world.  Then Don Smith, owner of two of these houses, talked about the pleasure they had given him and his family.  Finally, he and his wife formally accepted their signs.

With the formal business out of the way, everyone helped us eat our way through a wonderful birthday cake.

Historian Bruce Macdonald talks about the Edwardian Village of Grandview

Susan and Don Smith take possession of the 100th birthday sign for their house

The 100th Birthday Cake that was enjoyed by all

This has proven to be a wonderfully successful project and all of us in the Grandview Heritage Group are heartened by the interest shown by so many in these houses and their relevance to our community.  As we work our way through the ongoing Grandview Community Plan that will affect the future of our neighbourhood for a generation, we hope that this interest will help ensure the survival of the community we love so well.

Centenary Birthday Signs Campaign Release

In recognition of the heritage-rich character of the Grandview neighbourhood, the Grandview Heritage Group (GHG) is officially launching its Centenary Houses celebration campaign at 10:00 am on Saturday 18th August with a sign-posting and birthday cake event at 1710 and 1718 Victoria Drive, just south of 1st Avenue.  The public is warmly invited to attend.

There was rampant real estate speculation in Grandview in the first few years of the twentieth century; after all, it had a “grand view” of downtown and the mountains. Many people thought it would end up as the fanciest neighbourhood in the city. Eventually, that prize went to Shaughnessy, but not before some splendid houses were built in Grandview.  During the next few weeks, the GHG will be placing up to two dozen signs on houses and buildings that were built in 1912 or earlier.

We already have approvals for signs at various houses on Venables Street, Pandora Street, Adanac Street, Lakewood Drive, Victoria Drive, Franklin Street, Charles Street, and Napier Street, and permissions from additional owners are currently being obtained.  The GHG is also planning to extend the celebration to a number of buildings on Commercial Drive that were completed in 1912.

“The year 1912 was an important one for Grandview,” said GHG spokesperson Jak King, author of several books on the history of Commercial Drive.  “It was the peak year for the building boom that had begun in 1908 and that would burst in the pre-war recession of 1913–1914.  1912 saw the largest increase in population for any year since the opening of Grandview as a suburb in 1902.  The houses built that year ranged from mansions and apartment blocks to more simple workers’ homes. Through this campaign, we hope to highlight many of the houses that have served the neighbourhood so well for a hundred years and more.”

The GHG Birthday Signs campaign has been financed by local fundraising and grants from the City of Vancouver’s Grandview Woodland Community Plan team and the Neighbourhood Small Grants Project of the Vancouver Foundation.  We sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to this celebration of our heritage.

The Alvarado Block

The Alvarado Block, which still dominates the corner at Commercial & Graveley, opened for business one hundred years ago in 1912.

Owners J.Y. Griffin and J.M. Brown received a building permit on the 7th April 1911 and they hired architects Townsend & Townsend to design a $16,000 three-storey brick edifice with stores and apartments.  Townsend & Townsend are listed as architects for more than fifty buildings right across Vancouver before the First World War, including 1515-1517 Commercial across the street which they had finished the year before.  Builder A.D. Abel completed the work on the Alvarado Block early in 1912.

The apartments were listed as 1715 Graveley Street and for a while there was an additional store front at 1719 Graveley which was taken up by Louis J. Ford who delivered milk in the newly-booming Grandview residential district.

The corner store on Commercial was originally occupied by two failed clothing businesses but by 1914 a grocery store took over. Under various managements, including Piggly Wiggly, Safeway and Ray’s Stores, it would stay as a food store until the late 1950s when it became a manufacturers’ outlet and, later, a photo shop.

The Alvarado Block in 1939

In 1946, National Bakery president Ivan Grdina purchased the building from Orr’s Suburban Stores for $30,000. The building then had six suites in the apartments. Grdina may still have been the owner when the Alvarado Block was purchased by John Grippo in 1975. Thereafter, the Grippo family’s electronics business occupied at least one of the storefronts for more than a quarter century.

Goad’s 1912 fire atlas on line

Library and Archives Canada have recently added a copy of a century-old property atlas (used by the fire insurance industry) to its website — the perfect time-waster for a rainy day. Grandview is in Volume 2. Click on the link above and search on the archives site or use Google to search Goad’s + Vancouver + volume 2 and you should get it.

I was interested to see that, in my neighbourhood, there was an isolation hospital on the block just north of Templeton Park (block 9). There’s no evidence of it left at all (although I will check more closely). Templeton School ended up being built in the 1920s on Block 8, which was subdivided into lots but never sold, it seems.

You can see on the map a couple of early street names: Harris became East Georgia, and Union became Adanac on the section between Vernon Drive and Boundary Road, apparently because property owners in East Vancouver complained that Union Street near Main was notorious for its brothels and bootleggers. Adanac, now the east-west bike route, is ‘Canada’ spelled backwards.

Grandview Theatre — 100 Years Ago Today

On February 12th, 1912, Thomas Shiels opened the Grandview Theatre movie house at 1712 Commercial. It is the white-arched building in the middle of this image.

The building permit had been dated 10th October 1910, with J.J. Donellan as architect and Jones & Purvis as builders. In his opening advertizing in the Western Call, Shiels claimed that the theatre had “been built to suit the public regardless of cost.”

Understanding the audience’s desire for novelty, the Grandview Theatre changed its program every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

At the end of 1922, Shiels built himself a larger theatre a few doors up the block at 1730 Commercial. The old theatre was closed in November.


Shiels sold out to Famous Players in 1927 and the new Grandview Theatre became a central feature of Commercial throughout the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and into the 1950s. Not only did they show all the latest movies, but they made themselves available for fashion shows, relief concerts during the war, and even mass political meetings.

When the rival Rio Theatre opened at Broadway & Commercial in 1938, Famous Players spent $25,000 on renovations to the Grandview, including new floors, new seating, two new projectors and a brand new foyer. The front of the theatre was redone once again, this time in red and black, in early 1940.

Tommy Thompson, a wounded vet from WW1, was manager of the Grandview from 1943. A popular figure in the neighbourhood, he became a key figure in the formation of the Canadian Legion Branch on Commercial after the end of WW2.

Like many cinemas, the Grandview Theatre was threatened by the introduction of regular TV service in the early 1950s. They put in a brand new “VistaVision” screen in December 1954 in an effort to compete, but it was too little too late. The Grandview Theatre was closed at the end of 1957 and the building was immediately demolished.

1712 Commercial, the Grandview Theatre’s first home has survived to this day. For most of the last century it was part of Manitoba Hardware. Today it is a pet store.

4th & Commercial: 1912

In August 1911, T.A. Allan and his brother received a building permit to erect a three-storey brick apartment building on the corner of Commercial & Fourth Avenue. In the previous two years, the Allan Brothers had erected large buildings at 1872 Barclay, 1460 Bute, 1860 Comox and 3216 E. First. By the spring of 1912, the building on Commercial, then known as the Allan Block, was ready for occupation.

In this image (VPL 7418) note the condition of the unpaved 4th Avenue. The building included 1932-1938 Commercial and apartments at 1707 E. 4th.

The building was called the Allan Block until 1921 when, for reasons I have yet to pin down, it became the Henderson Block. However, it was once again the Allan Block between 1924 and 1928. In the latter year it was called Highland Block which is what is known as today.

As the image above shows, the building was designed with two storefronts on Commercial. The storefront at 1932 had a hard time finding tenants who lasted more than a year of so. Mrs. Flora Murray’s dry goods store was the first tenant but she was swiftly followed by electricians, a fish store, a meat market, several music stores, a couple of beauty parlors and an upholstery dealer. The storefront has not been used for retail since 1943.

The corner storefront had better luck. A series of real estate agents were the first tenants and they lasted until the mid-1920s. In 1930 Cut Rate Cleaners opened and the store remained a dry clearers (under the names Cut Rate, Uneeda, Steve’s) until the mid-1970s. Later, there were furniture stores and the return of a real estate agent. However, the store has been used by a series of cafes since 1998.

The Highland Apartments have always been very popular and “The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive” lists 497 residents from 1912 to 1999.
This image from 2011 shows the building with Prado Cafe on the corner.