Online Resources for Researching the History of Your House

You can begin your research in your slippers and with a cup of tea, because there are good resources online. You might even find all you feel you need online. But once you start finding tantalizing tidbits of information, you will likely want to delve deeper; this will involve actually visiting the Archives or the VPL Special Collections on the 7th floor of the main branch.

To get you started, however, here is a list of the key resources you will find online — with links. When you click on a link, it should open in a new window. When you’re done with that site, you can return to this page and move on to the next one.

First, you probably already know if it is or not, but check to see if your house is on the Vancouver Heritage Register! Few houses are, so don’t be disappointed if your house isn’t on the list, which is a downloadable pdf file.

Another downloadable and searchable pdf, the next resource we recommend is a very useful short book called Street Names of Vancouver, by Elizabeth Walker. You can find out if the name of your street has changed over the years, and also what the origin of its name is.

Next, visit the City of Vancouver’s VanMap. You type your address number and street name in the search boxes and then when the map appears with your lot highlighted, double click on the lot to see details. (This will give you your property’s legal description — the District Lot (DL), Block, and Lot. The year VanMap gives for when the house was built is often wrong, but it does give you a ballpark.)

The British Columbia City Directories are online at the Vancouver Public Library Special Collections. Check years forward and backward until you find the year before anyone lived at your address and then work your way up…. You can check all your neighbours’ houses too and see which houses were built before yours and which came later. Note that street names and/or addresses may have changed. My address was 1764 Napier and later became 1760. Once you have the residents’ names, you can look them up in the alphabetical section and probably find their occupations and employers.

Heritage Vancouver has begun the painstaking process of putting all existing building permit records online in a searchable database. There are now almost 25,000 records, so you may be lucky and find your house there. If you cannot locate a record by entering your address and street name, try it with your legal description. Or even just the District Lot and Block. You may get the name of the owner, architect, and builder and a reliable date. Just because a building permit was issued doesn’t necessarily mean that a house was built, but it’s a good indication. Note also that the official records for the years 1905 through 1908 are missing, but HV researchers are apparently confident they’ve filled most of the gaps in that period using the Building Record, a trade paper of the time.

You will want to check the Census of Canada, 1911 (on the Library and Archives Canada website) to see if anyone was living in a house at your address in 1911. It’s an intimidating site, but Jak King has provided a very useful Census Finding Aid for Grandview and it’s on our website; if you do use the Census, Jak’s aid will save you countless hours. As he says, it’s relatively easy to find people in the Census, but difficult to find addresses. If the address you are researching is in Grandview, search for District 12 and one of the sub-districts suggested by Jak for your street. It’s all handwritten and, as you will find out, some pages are devilishly hard to read.

At the Vancouver Public Library Special Collections there is also a searchable collection of Historical Photographs. At the City of Vancouver Archives you can also search for whatever they might have online— news clippings, photos, etc. This is where you need to get creative in your search. There may be a photo of your house, but it may not be listed under your address. Try just the street. Try the owner’s or builder’s surname. Try the cross streets. Experiment!

One of the best maps, Goad’s atlas of the City of Vancouver, December 1912, is available online at Collections Canada. It was created to show existing structures (number of storeys, building materials, location on property) for fire insurance purposes. Jak King says he uses this resource just about every day, but it can be very difficult to use. Here’s a link to Plate 83 of Goad’s Map. If your house shows up on Goad’s Map, you can be sure it existed by the end of 1912.

— Happy Hunting!

(This was also a handout at the workshop given by Penny Street on March 23.)

Notes From The March Meeting

Nineteen people jammed the Britannia boardroom for our latest meeting, including first-timers, some of whom had been contacted about hosting a centenary sign on their front lawn. The highlight was Eric Phillips’s excellent talk on the esoterica of knob and tube wiring, early electrical codes and how Grandview houses fitted seamlessly into the modern age a century ago. At the next meeting, April 18th, Eric will continue his series of “house mechanic” talks with one on framing methods for vintage houses.

The group discussed possible upcoming walking tours: Cedar Cove (foot of Victoria Drive) and Venables/Prior would take us away from the familiar “heritage” area around The Drive/Victoria. There was also discussion of the possibility of night-time walks – the best time to observe the leaded glass in a lot of old houses and apartment buildings.

The group heard updates from Michael Kluckner on the progress (slow) toward raising funds to restore the Shelly’s 4X Bakery sign on the sidewall of the Via Tevere restaurant at Victoria and William; Penny Street told the group that 22 homeowners had committed to hosting the 2013 centenary signs on their front lawns. The signs will be distributed within the next few weeks and we anticipate a launch/community celebration, perhaps in May.

Don’t forget!: this Saturday (the 23rd) at 3 pm, at the Eastside Family Place, 1661 Napier Street, just north of Grandview Park, by the playground, Penny Street will be conducting a seminar on how to research the history of your house. All are welcome – we will be asking for a $10 donation to the Grandview Heritage Group at the door.

An Early “Wikipedia” on The Drive

Some while ago, and in another place, I posted about an early version of Craig’s List from way back in 1952.  I have now found another example that, far more elaborate, could be a precursor of Wikipedia operating from a storefront on Commercial Drive.  Here is the story as reported by The Highland Echo on 23rd January 1975.

Have you ever been doing something that you take completely for granted, when someone came up to you and said: ‘Hey, where did you ever learn to do that?” Everybody has such a skill, something that is a very commonplace thing to him but that other people think unusual … And there is probably someone somwhere who would like to know how to do this.  If there is, and I wanted to teach them, how would we ever get together were it not for the Learning Exchange at 1320 Commercial Drive.

One of the basic ideas of the Exchange, says Saul Arbess, the man who runs the place, is that people should respect their own skills, share them with others, and realize they don’t need credentials to teach…

The Exchange was begun in August [1974] by Vancouver Community College Almost anything you can think up, the Exchange will list.  And with the aid of six assistants, acquired through a recent LIP grant, Saul is currently canvassing the city for more information …

How does Saul keep track of all this information?  Well he has a hand dandy computer terminal connected to a central computer at UBC.  Called the Community Memory, the system allows you to quickly find information on any subject you are interested in.

VCC moved its office in 1976, but once again Commercial Drive had shown it was ahead of its time!

A Lively Week In Grandview Heritage

This is an interesting week for heritage in Grandview.

Next Saturday afternoon, we have our hands-on seminar on tracking down the history of your houseSee here for full details.  This will be a fascinating event and we look forward to seeing many of you there!

Before then, we have our regular monthly meeting that is also open to everyyone to come along.  This is on Thursday 21st at 7:00pm and is held at the Britannia Board Room on Napier Street.

One of the highlights this month will be the second in Eric Philip’s illustrated series on the Mechanics and Materials of Heritage Houses.  This edition is about the mysterious knob and tube electrical system.  In addition, I am sure we will update plans for our 2013 House Celebration campaign, and there will be an update on plans to revitalize the Shelly’s flour sign at the Via Tevere Restaurant.  With luck, we will also start to plan some walks and tours for this summer.

Come along and join the conversation!


The Business of Heritage

Input MagInput Magazine“, the journal of the Real Estate Institute of British Columbia, has published a number of interesting articles about heritage in their Winter 2013 edition.  To quote the Executive Director’s introduction:

“We have an article that I am sure will make you smile, all the while asking “Who owns heritage?” It gives great background about heritage conservation and the thorny issues of ownership and use. We have an article that asks where heritage fits in a changing city like Vancouver, which uses new research from a recent Vancouver Heritage Foundation survey to help find the answer. The City of Victoria’s Tax Incentive Program has brought it terrific success, generating renewed interest in heritage buildings and downtown development. We also explore whether “the greenest building is the one that is already built.”


These articles are interesting and, while slanted to the realtor, they are no less informative for that.

Many thanks to Monica for pointing these out to me.


International Women’s Day: Mary Lindfield

Mary Lindfield was one of the many women who have made Commercial Drive such a wonderful place to live, and it is through her that we celebrate International Women’s Day 2013.

P001-1Mary Lindfield was born in Mosside, Alberta, where her parents were visiting from South Africa.  By the mid-1940s she was travelling supervisor for Harriet Hubbard Ayer Cosmetics.

In June 1947, she and her sister, Kathleen Thoreau, opened Bo Beepe Baby Shoppe at 1303 Commercial Drive.  When it opened, selling an odd mix of baby clothing and ladies lingerie, the Highland Echo called it “one of the most luxuriously equipped shops” on the Drive.  In October 1948, they doubled the interior space of the store and added a “confidential desk” for men seeking to buy lingerie for their wives.

Mary spent much of the early years travelling in Toronto and Chicago seeking stock for the store.  However, by 1952, her sister seems to have left the business and Mary ran it full time with a clerk, Vivian Hughes, who would stay with her for the next thirteen years.  As a sideline, Mary and Vivian raised pedigree Irish setters.

Mary Lindfield was an avid hunter and fisher, spending her holidays at sport in the Cariboo country.  But she was also a concerned businesswoman and felt strongly for the deelopment of Grandview.  In 1953 she was elected to the executive of the Grandview Chamber of Commerce and, breaking the old boy’s network, she was elected the Chamber’s first female President in 1956.

In January 1956, Mary moved her shop to the new Bentholme Building in the 1600-block Commercial, where she and Miss Hughes continued doing business until ill health forced her to close in late 1965.

See also: International Women’s Day 2012.



The Importance of Heritage

VHF graphicThe Vancouver Heritage Foundation has published a very interesting piece of research that shows “the importance of heritage to both public and professionals. It gives an overview of past and present municipal heritage conservation programs and policies, and suggest[s a] strategy to ensure that heritage remains an integral part of the urban environment and landscape.”

The Introduction to rthe Report notes that

there is strong public support for the conservation of heritage buildings. Thepublic does believe heritage buildings are important to retaining the character of theircommunities and that 50% of Vancouverites would prefer to live in retrofitted olderbuildings rather than new buildings. They also want less demolition of heritagebuildings in their neighbourhoods.


These findings match very well with the ideas expressed by the Grandview Heritage Group in its submission to the Grandiew-Woodland Community Plan, and to comments made at the various Workshops that have accompanied the Community Plan.

This is very useful and timely research from the VHF and we would encourage everyone to download and read the entire Report.


Historic House Mechanics & Materials #2

Another one for the diary in March!

At the next meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group, Eric Phillips will present part two of the Grandview Historic House Mechanics and Materials series.  This edition of the fascinating presentations will provide a look at early residential electrical systems and will focus on knob and tube wiring, including a comparison to current wiring practices.

knob and tube

Our next meeting is at 7pm on Thursday 21st March at the Britannia Board Room.

Hunting The History of Your House

Here’s one for your calendar!

Penny Street, long-time history buff, heritage advocate, and one of the founders of the Grandview Heritage Group, will be leading a workshop on how to research the history of your house.   She will be covering the use of building permits, water permits, City directories, Census entries and who knows what else. If WiFi access is available (not entirely under our control), she will also walk participants through a live search using an address proposed by the audience.

The workshop will be at 3:00pm on Saturday 23rd March and will take place upstairs at the Eastside Family Place, 1661 Napier Street, just north of Grandview Park, by the playground,  We will be asking for a $10 donation to the Grandview Heritage Group.

This will be both fun and informative, so mark your diary and come along!