Meeting Notes: October

Even the torrential rain couldn’t keep us away from the latest meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group last night!

We began by reviewing the latest news on rezoning following Council’s approval of the recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force of Housing Affordability.  There was a spirited and articulate discussion that noted the economics of the recommendations are not yet clear.  However, a heritage-dense neighbourhood such as Grandview is at peculiar risk from the upzoned designations now allowed at certain distances from arterial roads and shopping areas.

Maurice Guibord gave us more details on what will be the first ever historical/heritage walk along the slope west of Commercial Drive.  The tour will go ahead rain or shine at 10:00am on Sunday morning.  Maurice promises us that it will finish at the Gelato place at Venables and Glen.

We also discussed dates for the November talk.  In the end (after the meeting) it was agreed Jak King will talk about the early history of Commercial Drive on the afternoon of Saturday 8th December in the Learning Centre at Britannia.

Finally, Jak displayed his now completed database of the building stock in Grandview (some 4,100 lots) and the maps and graphs associated with the database.  There was a long discussion about the uses to which the database can be put, and the additional data that can be added.   The following is an overall map showing the age of the building stock in Grandview: the darker the colour, the older the building.

The maps — which are searchable by decade and lot-by-lot — need some informative and analytical text to make their interpretation as valuable as possible.  Perhaps more immediately useful are graphs produced by an analysis of the database, such as this one:

… which shows that 50% of the current building stock in Grandview was constructed by the end of the 1920s.  Talk about heritage-dense!

Once again it was an excellent meeting with a lot of information and ideas shared.



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 Wealthy Barber and The Tin Man

Just the other day I was standing on Commercial Drive looking across at two of my favourite buildings which are in the centre of the east side of the 1600-block.

The building on the left is the Odlin Block and the building on the right is the Rodway Block.  My interest was piqued because these buildings were erected at essentially the same time, on the same size lots, and were designed to service the same marketplace — retail stores with apartments above — and yet their designs are so different. That intrigued me enough to look deeper into their histories, wondering whether these designs reflected their original developers.

Harry N. Odlin was a barber downtown.  He first appears in 1896, working for John Lambert at 530 Georgia Street, and by 1900 he was at the Elite Barber Shop at 617 West Hastings.  Between 1902 and 1914 he worked in partnership with another barber, Charles Herman, at various addresses on West Hastings and Granville Streets, and he lived at 1123 Nelson Street. He appears to have been wildly successful (perhaps not just from barbering) because by 1911 he had purchased an expensive waterfront lot where he built a fine two storey $3,700 dwelling at 3197 Point Grey Road that, much enhanced, still exists.

Odlin was also able to buy a 33 foot lot in the 1600-block of Commercial Drive (then known as Park Drive) at the height of Grandview’s speculative bubble.  Lots of this size were selling for about $10,000 that year, although he may have purchased it earlier. He was issued two building permits for the site in April 1911 to erect a building valued at $7,500 designed and built by W.W. Brehart.  When it was completed by the middle of 1912, one storefront was taken up by Philip Timms, a photographer, the other by a confectioner, and the apartments began to be filled.

In 1912, Harry Odlin listed himself in the Directory as a realtor.  However, he was in fact still a barber, operating as the St. Regis Barber Shop on Dunsmuir Street until the late 1940s. His long and rather uneventful career suggests a steady conservative man, and his building — the Odlin Block at 1608-1612 Commercial — reflects that same conservatism with its flat unadorned brick facade.

Next door the situation was very different.

Joseph Rodway was a sheet metal manufacturer who had been born in Manitoba in the 1850s.  He moved his large family first to Alberta and then to Vancouver where he took up residence at 1644 Woodland Drive.  He found the money to buy the lot next to Harry Odlin’s and in July 1911 he was issued a permit to erect a $10,000 building.  He hired W.G. Thomas to design it and a Mr. Wood to build it.

Unlike the flat brickwork of its neighbour, Rodway ordered up a building with bay windows and significant amounts of ornamentation.  It is easy to believe that the pressed tin cornices, wall pieces and window parts were a deliberate advertisement for Joseph Rodway’s own business which eventually took over both storefronts. By the time the business opened at the new store, Rodway was already in his late 50s and the company was operated by his son Albert.  The Western Call reported at the time that the business was “prospering” under Albert’s “able management.”  However, it seems that sheet metal work wasn’t what the son wanted, and by 1914 the business had been sold to newcomer Fred Hamilton.  Joseph Rodway worked for Hamilton for a short while, but then retired and he was dead by 1922.

The Rodway Block in 1922

Fred Hamilton operated his hardware and plumbing business at 1618 Commercial until 1945 when he moved up the street to his own building at 1447 Commercial where the company stayed until February 1969.

So, is it possible that the conservative barber and the flamboyant sheet metal maker are memorialized in the very different designs of their neighbouring buildings?  I believe it is.

* * * * *

While I was researching this piece, Don Luxton kindly sent me this wonderful video of a tin shop in Missouri which gives a close look at the business and the pieces of architectural ornamentation that are possible to make.

Commercial Drive Photographers

In a previous post about photographs, I mentioned that the Drive had rarely been without a photographer and associated services.  Following up, here is a list of all those artists and stores from the founding of Commercial Drive through to 1999:

  • Philip Timms (1912)
  • Merchants Photo Co. (1912)
  • Grandview Studio (1915-1918)
  • Vancouver Photo Finishing (1921-1978)
  • Grandview Photo Finishing (1922-1930)
  • Fox Studio (1934)
  • Jay’s Photographic Studio (1938)
  • Beardmore Studio (1938-1939)
  • Vincent Studio Photography (1942-1954)
  • Illustra Photography (1955-1956)
  • McKenzie Photography (1955-1964)
  • Bowman Photography (1957-1968)
  • Zonta Photo Service (1960-1962)
  • Western Photo Service (1961-1962)
  • Philip Timm’s Workshop (1962-1968)
  • Grandview Studio (1965-1968)
  • Photo Monte Grappa (1965-1981)
  • McKenzie’s Grandview Studio Photography (1966-1967)
  • Tivoli Photo Services (1968-1971)
  • Album Photo Services (1968-1973)
  • Perfect Photo Finish (1976-1977)
  • Creative Portraits (1977-1978)
  • Winkler Photo Technology (1978-1981)
  • Vancouver Photo & Hobby (1980-1999)
  • Parmar Photo Finishing (1981-1989)
  • Photo Salon (1987)
  • Photo Shop (1987-1988)
  • Golden Crown Photo (1989-1990)
  • Photo Franco (1989-1991)
  • Ming Photoland (1990-1999)

Data from “The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive“.

Laura Bucci Artworks

Local artist Laura Bucci has a show this month at the Britannia Art Gallery (in the Library) that is of interest to those concerned by the history and heritage of Commercial Drive.  From her Artist Statement:

“Here Today is a mixed-media photographic project shown through souvenir pocket mirrors and focusing on landmarks and establishments connected to the Italian community in the Commercial Drive area and a little beyond … In this show I’ve combined photography, mixed-media, and a personal accessory as a way to increase the appeal of local history to a broader audience.”

I went to the opening last night and was impressed by her work.

Who Lived Here In 1911 (Part 2)

Back in May, I posted a first analysis of the 179 individuals who were counted as living on Park Drive (later known as Commercial Drive) at the time of the census in 1911.  In this second part, I’ll take a look at immigration patterns, employment, wages and the position of women.

Of the 179 people, at least 103 were immigrants from outside Canada.  We know this because we have the dates of their arrival into the country. We can see from the following graph that the vast majority of these immigrants had arrived after 1900, and that about 30% had only been in the country for three years or less.

Immigration by Date and by Nation (n=103)

It is interesting to note in passing the effect of the global recession of 1907/08 which reduced immigration almost to zero.

The residents of Commercial Drive in the 1911 census included 53 adult men of whom two were retired.  Every one of the other 51 were working.

Professional and office workers included three physicians, three realtors along with a druggist, an architect, an accountant, a clergyman, a nurse and two office workers.  The retail trades included a number of Commercial Drive storekeepers, butchers, bakers, tailors, a jeweler and their staff.  The manual tradesmen included 12 in the building trades, along with transportation workers, deliverymen and others in the logging business.  None were listed as “labourers”.

These figures show a significant difference between Commercial Drive and the rest of Grandview.  I have compiled figures for employment for Grandview residents between 1902 and 1914 which show that 72% of the working population in the wider area were in manual trades, with 16% in professional/clerical occupations, and 12% in retail.

The census also gives us information on the incomes of 26 of these men in 1910.  By dividing their given salaries by the number of weeks they declared they had worked that year, we can gain some idea of weekly wages at that time.

The lowest wage was earned by James Ingles, a 14-year old messenger, who was paid $5 a week.  His older brother, 17-year old Thomas, was next lowest paid at $9.23 a week as an express driver.  Physician George McKenzie and hardware merchant George Elliott both claimed the most — $2,000 for the year, or $38.46 a week.   Carpenters made between $11.17 and $23.88 a week, CPR brakemen made between $22.00 and $31.25, while John Dawson who was a jeweler received $24.00 a week.

Hours of work also differed widely. William Hallett operated his confectionery business for 70 hours a week, bakers and brakemen were on duty for 60 hours, while most of the manual trades worked just 44 hours each week.

The 1911 Census of Commercial Drive residents includes 64 adult women, only 7 of whom worked outside the home (3 others were housekeepers or servants in the household in which they lived).  Amanda Beresford ran a small millinery business, two others were bookkeepers, three more worked as stenographers, while young Elizabeth New worked as a cashier at a cafe.  Only two of the employed women were married.

One of the stenos made $6.00 for a 42 hour week, while another made $6.67 for 48 hours.  The third stenographer, who worked in a doctor’s office, was paid $10 for 42 hours a week.  Mrs. Ethel Mason was paid $11.54 a week for 50 hours as a bookkeeper, while Mary Burns, also a bookkeeper, made $20.00 for the same hours.  We only have financial data for one of the domestics: Amy Yates, a 17-year old servant to Mr. & Mrs. Charles Wood, was paid $360 a year, or $6.92 a week.

Source for all this data is the Canada Census 1911.




Meeting Notes

We had a marvelous meeting last night, with lively discussion on a wide range of topics.  These included:

  • our Centenary Signs project (the signs will be ready next week);
  • the age of the buildings on the 1200-block Lakewood Drive (1909 and 1910);
  • wallpaper stylings in early heritage homes;
  • the large number of “party hats” (or conical roofs) on the Queen Anne houses in Grandview (and how we can encourage their return on buildings that have lost them);
  • the development of radio and its impact on Commercial Drive retail;
  • early electricifation for homes and businesses; and
  • the history of bay and oriel windows (a signature style in Commercial Drive, for example)

We also determined on a series of walking tours for the fall and a lecture series in the winter.  More details on these will be forthcoming shortly.

It’s amazing how quickly two hours goes by!  Our next meeting is on the 16th of August and, as always, everyone is welcome.

Widening Commercial Drive

In an earlier post, we described how the Brandon Block on Commercial Drive was pushed back by seven feet when the street was widened in 1913.  Further to that, I have now found the Local Improvement Schedule that includes the widening.

The Schedule was published on 18th October 1911 and called for the widening of Commercial to 80 feet from First Avenue to 16th Avenue.  This required the acquisition of seven feet of land on either side of the street.  The estimated cost for the widening was $215,137.00 – a very tidy sum in 1911. 

Moreover, this was handled through By-Laws 563 and 838, which meant that the entire cost was to be paid by the “owners of the real property immediately benefited thereby fronting or abutting thereon.”  The cost was added to their taxes over a number of years. Many such local improvements were halted by petitions against them; but in this case no such petitions were filed.  I can only assume therefore that the business owners in the southern half of the Drive thought the widening was a valuable addition to the neighbourhood.

[Source:  CVA, 134-A-2 file 1, page 57]