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.]

16 thoughts on “James Guinet: A Builder of Grandview

  1. With the exception of 1737 Charles, in the examples you show he favours a hipped roof rather than a gabled one, an unusual choice. I must check out his other houses. Two-storey buildings with hipped roofs, sometimes with dormers, are pretty common in Ontario, especially in the older colonial towns like Niagara on the Lake. I don’t know Orillia but wonder whether he brought the memory of that style of house west with him?

  2. That’s an interesting thought.

    When I went round yesterday to check each of the existing houses I was expecting, in the several instances where he built four houses together, to find a row of exact duplicates side by side. This didn’t prove to be the case. I am not enough of an architectural historian to figure out whether they started out the same and were later modified; but I don’t think so in all cases.

  3. In your last paragraph you mention Guinet’s 4 houses in the 1100 block of McLean. Thanks to the 1911 census being made public and online last year, my family was amazed to find out our great-grandparents were living in one of 4 identical houses in the 1000 block of McLean, not at 6th and Macdonald as we were always told. Were they Guinet houses? They are not listed in the building register database under block 23, district lot 182, but I went to the archives today to check, and guess what?

    Water Permit 14305: 1003 McLean 16 May 1910 – J.E. Guinet
    Water Permit 14432: 1011 McLean 16 May 1910 – J.E. Guinet
    Water Permit 14496: 1017 McLean 16 May 1910 – J.E. Guinet
    Water Permit 14501: 1023 McLean 16 May 1910 – J.E. Guinet

    The last house, 1023 McLean, is now still in its original condition and facing Britannia High School. It is the Guinet house in which one my grandparents and four of my great aunts and uncles were listed in living in on the 1911 census. Thanks for all your interesting work on this!

    • Bruce – what was the legal address given for the water permits? The May 16, 1910 building permit for the four houses shows block 31 (J), which is correct for the 1000-block of McLean, and matches up with the 1912 fire insurance map; and the date matches up with the water permits. The listed lot numbers are off, but it could’ve been a sub-div, etc, clerical error, or who knows. Block 23 (B) would be the 800-block of McLean.

      Patrick/Heritage Van

  4. The green Guinet house you mention and show a picture of, at 1737 Charles, is near my house and I know a bit about it. Although it shows up as the only Guinet house listed on Charles in the building permit database, it is one of three identical houses on the north side of the 1700 block Charles with what you might call double-gable ends facing the street. All three can be seen above in the Grandview Heritage Group photo across the top of this page. The western most house, 1737 Charles, is directly beneath the “G” in the word “Group” in the title “Grandview Heritage Group.” However they alternate with houses of that are of a four square design with a small gable end on a hipped roof, for a total of 6 houses in a row. All Guinet houses? Apparently not! There is a building permit for the other 5 houses by the Western Home and Improvement Company taken out in March 1910, while Guinet got the permit for 1737 in October 1910.

    Note also in more recent times the green house at 1737 Charles has had one of its double gable ends removed, the decorative one.

  5. Thanks for all the new data. I’ll post a follow up as soon as I can. In the meanwhile, if anyone else has information, I’d be very happy to receive it.

  6. Pingback: 1500-Block Grant Street | Grandview Heritage Group

  7. Hello Jak and All,
    “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.”

    This covers the four houses on Victoria Drive starting on the corner of Graverley but does anyone know anything about the last house on the corner of Victoria and Grant Street? I think it was built nearly 10 yrs later in 1922. I wonder why? Thank you so much!

    • Hi Wendy: Many thanks for your interest. I don’t have a specific history for 1896 Grant (the house on the corner) but I think we can safely surmise what happened. The building boom in Grandview was between 1910 and 1912, and it was a boom that saw most lots in the neighbourhood get filled up. Then there was a long recession — almost a depression — that saw virtually no building in GV from 1913 to the early 1920s. There was a mini-revival in 1922 and another in 1926-30 before the Great Depression stopped everything once again.

      I would surmise that someone owned the three lots (DL 264a, Block 137 B-D 4, Lots 31-32 and 33) that are today 1884, 1890 and 1896 Grant. They were, perhaps, holding out for too good a price in the boom of 1911-12, but hadn’t managed to sell or develop them before the crash came. They were the only three lots left stranded in that way within that Block and when financing began to pick up again in 1921-22 they were obvious targets to be built, as all three were.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Thank you for this history – I have been curious about who built our house (pictured above at 1718 Cotton Drive). We purchased it in 2009 from the Young family, who had owned it since 1953, but we have had very little information about its history prior to that.

    I wonder if the set of four matching houses across the street from us would also have been built by him – they are also all still there.

  9. Hi there: Very glad you enjoyed this piece. Yes, James Guinet bult 1703, 1709, 1715 and 1721 Cotton Drive, based on building permits issued September 1909. Each of these four houses was valued at $1,800.

  10. I live in a house in Chilliwack built by James and Margaret Guinet (45723 Wellington Ave. Chilliwack). Several of my neighbours’ houses were also built by the Guinets’ from the late 20s to the mid 30s. I have been trying to find more info on my house for a while. The Chilliwack archives don’t have much.

  11. Hi Marcus: I had no idea that James Guinet continued to build once he moved to Chilliwack. I have copied your comment to his grand-daughter to see if she has more information.

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