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.

A rooming-house funeral and other events


4 pm today, Sunday, September 7th, at 1723 Napier. Dress: funereal

A piece of performance art to celebrate the history of and bemoan the loss of one of Grandview’s historic houses, at 1723 Napier, as much for its cultural history as its architecture. With all of the problems involved in keeping old rooming houses going, in keeping them maintained, safe and affordable (often mutually exclusive goals for landlords), our neighbourhood is evolving away from the diverse, arts-friendly, densely populated, weird vibe that drew many of us here in the first place. This old house will be replaced by a duplex.

A Mount Pleasant event: the Heritage Lounge, Sunday, September 12th


A vintage film: My House is Your House, Saving the Salsbury Garden

A 10-year-old film by Ian Marcuse describing the efforts to save the informal garden at Salsbury and Napier which occupied the sideyard of two BC Mills cottages and became a neighbourhood sanctuary; two duplexes now occupy the site.

It’s on YouTube here.