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.]

Meeting Notes — September

We had a splendidly full and interesting meeting last night.

Michael Kluckner led a discussion about how best we can approach the preservation of historic signs in Grandview.  These would include the Shelly’s sign at the Via Tevere Pizza restaurant on Victoria, and the Cozy Apartments sign on Commercial. It was noted that there are other signs on the Drive that are beneath thin veneers of whitewash. It was agreed that we should meet with the Tevere owners and discuss a possible repainting in the spring.

While we are talking about the Shelly’s sign, it is worth noting that the excellent images of the sign by one of our members, Egon Simons, are being used by the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan folks.

The talk of signs led us inexorably to the question of the Little Theatre sign that has been revealed by the redevelopment of the York Theatre.  The development plan shows that the wall is supposed to be covered by what appear to be white metal sheets.  However, we all agree that retention and diaplay of the sign would be a desirable outcome in what is an otherwise non-heritage renovation.  It was agreed that we will write to the developers to ascertain their plans for the sign and lobby for its continued public display.

We then turned to the matter of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan.  Many of the people at the meeting are also members of the Community Plan PACE group and we discussed the first meeting of that Process Advisory and Community Engagement group that took place on Tuesday.  It was noted that heritage was a key factor in the discussions, especially in what the planners were keen to call “the Heritage area” east of Commercial Drive.  It was agreed that there are also pockets of important heritage value west of the Drive, many of which offer affordable housing options, and these need to be protected from any sweeping apartment-zone changes that may be contemplated in the new Plan.

There was a long and interesting discussion about the creation of a mixed cultural-industrial zone along and to the east of Clark Drive.

Talk of the area west side of Commercial was also timely because the next of our Walk & Talk series will feature that area.  One of the City’s most experienced guides, Maurice Guibord, will be leading the walk on October 20th and we’ll be publishing more details in the next little while.

Finally, we spent some time discussing additions and improvements to this website of ours.  It was suggested and agreed that we should have a page about resources for heritage home owners looking to repair and renovate their houses, and we will be gathering data for that.  We will also include a page with pointers for those looking to research the history of their homes, and this will tie in with our scheduled Talk in January on the same subject.  So, look for changes coming here soon!

 

 

GHG Meeting: 20th September

The next meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group is this coming Thursday, 20th September, from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Britannia Board Room.

As usual the agenda is open;  we can anticipate a lively discussion about a wide range of heritage and historical issues that may include the fall schedule of walks and talks, the ongoing Grandview Community Plan, ideas for the 2013 Birthday Signs campaign etc etc.

Everyone is welcome. Please come and join us!

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“.

The Cozy Apartments

When the Rodway Building was erected in 1911 for tinsmith Joseph Rodway at 1618-1620 Commercial, the suites upstairs quickly became popular.  They were sometimes known as the Rodway Apartments but, more usually, they were called the Cozy Corner (or just Cozy) Apartments.  The name was no longer used in the City Directories after about 1942 but their sign is still a prominent feature on the south-facing wall of the building.

Given its age, it is a joy to have it still with us at all. Hopefully, it can be preserved and protected from the elements.

Building Our History

One of the items we are most proud of here at the Grandview Heritage Group is the unrivaled collection of historical photographs of the neighbourhood that we are happy to display as the Pictorial History of Grandview.  But there must be many more, probably in family albums and personal collections.

The history of Grandview overlaps the period that — before the introduction of digital cameras and cameras in cell phones — created the consumer camera market with the ever-improving Brownie and similar point-and-shoot models. Commercial Drive, for example, was never without a local photo finishing business serving all the family’s film and developing needs. That being said, there must be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photos of Grandview from before, say, 1980. Perhaps they are sitting in your old family albums, or in shoe boxes in the storage closet.

As historians of the neighbourhood, and as custodians of Grandview’s heritage, we would love to see them and add them to our display. They will help in the Heritage group’s inventory of potential heritage buildings, they will help illustrate changes in buildings and gardens over time; and they will help us share the importance of that heritage with everyone.

The idea is to collect these images, scan them for our use, and then return them straightaway to the owners.  No images would ever be published without the express written consent of the owner. If you think you have photographs that may be useful, please contact us at grandviewheritage@gmail.com and we’ll be in touch as soon as possible.  Thanks in advance!

History & Heritage Walk: Bruce Macdonald

Eminent Vancouver historian Bruce Macdonald (“Visual Vancouver“) will be giving a walk and talk this month:

Saturday, September 15th at 2pm: “The Top of Commercial Drive — Where Grandview Began”:  Meet on the front stairs of the home of Vancouver historian Bruce Macdonald for a walking tour of the area where Grandview began in the 1890s – Grant and Commercial Drive. Bruce lives at 1730 William Street, just off the Drive by Havana Restaurant and Joe’s Cafe.

We will be seeking voluntary donations to support the work and projects of the Grandview Heritage Group.  $10 is suggested, but pay as you can.