The Dales House at 414 Alexander Street circa 1890 CVA Photo SGN 490

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

831 East Georgia: East End Newfoundlander Houses and Strathcona's RT3 Zoning

A while back some neighbours of mine came to me with a notice that had been mailed to them about a development permit application for a house around the corner on the 800 block of East Georgia. The site in question was occupied by a quaint little two-storey, turn-of-the-last-century house with beautifully faded blue shingles and white and cream trim.

The proposal was for the historic little house to be demolished and a quite modern-looking new house to be put in its place. The drawings of what the new house would look like and how it would "fit in" with the historic houses on either side were included. To be honest, the new house looked sorta neat in a Phantom of the Opera mask sort of way (half of the front elevation was a nod to the historic houses of the neighbourhood while the other half looked modern). In another location I would have thought, now there's an interesting house... an exciting piece of architecture... but in the middle of a relatively intact historic streetscape that includes some amazingly restored old beauties, including 827 East Georgia, the house where Jimi Hendrix's grandmother lived for a number of decades, to me at least, it was all wrong. The city was asking for feedback on the plan, but their community consultation survey had not been sent to me at all and I live close enough to see the house from my home office window. What was I to do?

My neighbourhood, known as Strathcona for the last 50 years, is actually the old East End, Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood, and it went through some very rough times at the hands of the City Planning Department in the 1950s and 1960s.

As part of a plan to rationalize the city after amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver in 1929, Vancouver enacted its very first zoning by-law in 1931  zoning the East End from Dunlevy to Clark as six-storey industrial. With this change in zoning, the neighbourhood went through a number of decades of forced deterioration.

The combination of the effects on the bylaw--banks refused loans to people wanting to do upkeep on homes in an industrial zoned area--on one hand, and neighbourhood demographics on the other, resulted in the neighbourhood looking worse for wear here and there.

The situation in the East End came to be seen as a textbook example of "urban blight" and well meaning minds at City Hall thought the problem would be best solved with a drastic neighbourhood makeover.

This makeover involved the complete demolition of all of the neighbourhood's housing stock, from pioneer cabins, to carpenter gothic and Queen Anne Victorians, a broad spectrum of row houses and tenements interspersed with beautifully porched and columned Edwardian boxes, and replacing it with multi-storied concrete project housing.

Here are two links to a rather interesting NFB CMHC video called To Build A Better City:

Long story short, the whole plan was initiated without any serious consultation with, or input from, the people most affected by this plan, the people who lived in this neighbourhood. As you can see in the video, the first part of the neighbourhood to go was our one and only park, Maclean Park, bounded by Dunlevy, Union, Jackson and East Georgia. An entire block of historic homes and apartments bounded by Hawks Avenue, East Georgia, Heatley and Keefer was demolished to replace this park.

The entire neighbourhood between Campbell and the railway tracks was demolished and replaced with more project housing and moves were being made to demolish large swaths of historic Chinatown and Gastown and all the houses and buildings between Prior and Union to create a freeway that would connect the Trans-Canada with downtown Vancouver.

If you travel over the Georgia Viaduct (opened January 9, 1972) from downtown towards the East End, you can see how it was originally designed so that the traffic would go straight ahead on a six lane freeway running between Union and Prior instead of vearing off on to Prior as it does now. Most people don't have a clue when they use the viaduct now but whenever I come home from downtown on the viaduct and see my car aim right at the houses on Gore Avenue I am still creeped out. Here is another great video.
The neighbourhood, under the leadership of Shirley and Mary Lee Chan, organized to fight against city hall and won! How it all happenedd is beautifully laid out in a chapter called Saving Strathcona in a book called CITY MAKING IN PARADISE: Nine Decisions That Saved Vancouver, by Mike Harcourt (who figured prominently in the struggle), Ken Cameron and Sean Rossiter.

After the neighbourhood was saved, measures were taken to salvage and protect the remaining houses that were left, first by providing grants for people to stucco their houses. Next, the community worked with the city to establish a special zoning for the neighbourhood, one that would provide incentives to homeowners to restore, rehabilitate, and or renovate, not demolish, what was left of the neighbourhood's heritage housing stock.

After a lot of thought, much community discussion, and a lot of hard work, Strathcona's special new zoning, called RT-3, was put into place. It covers an area bounded more or less by Gore Avenue on the west, Atlantic and Prior Avenue on the south, Clark Drive on the East and the alley between Hastings and Pender on the north. Click here for details:

The neighbourhood celebrated, and slowly over the past couple of decades, a large number of the old East End's dilapidated houses have been saved from the brink and restored to their former glory. You see them here and there around the neighbourhood, the 600-and 800 blocks of East Georgia, the 600 and 700 blocks of Princess. There is a stunning example of late 19th century decorative carpentry on a little house at 775 East Pender. The beautiful rosettes and spindles had been hidden under some form of protective cladding for years.

Then there's 844 Dunlevy, a house which if it had been bought by anyone else but the present owners would probably been torn down; it was so damaged by rain damage and decades of accumulated dog urine.  But instead of becoming landfill, 844 Dunlevy was painstakingly and lovingly restored, board by board, brick by brick. Looking at it today, you would never think that it once looked like some dilapidated haunted house. The transition is that remarkable. (I will be devoting an entire post to this house's story).

As bits and pieces of the neighbourhood began to be restored, Strathcona, what was left of the old East End, began to be seen as a desirable, even cool place to live. Every year in November a neighbourhood-based arts festival called the East End Culture Crawl brings thousands of curious arts and crafts seekers from outside of the neighbourhood. Among the visitors are sometimes neighbourhood oldtimers who reminisce about how everything was and looked way back when. But obviously most of the people you see and hear have never before, or rarely, been inside the neighbourhood. Perhaps it is the enduring perception that the East End is an edgy, dangerous, place that causes them to ooh and aah the way they do. You can almost see the thought bubbles above their heads, "Who knew?". (Note: The neighbourhood's transformation has been such that it has even been written about in the March 15/16, 2008 edition of the Financial Times. The article's title is "How Murky Became Quirky".

The neighbourhood has an evocative charm that is hard to resist. For many years part of that charm and attraction was that it was an affordable place to live, within walking distance of shopping in Chinatown, and a short bike or drive downtown or to The Drive. For some decades after the neighbourhood was saved, the lore and legend of how the neighbourhood rose up, resisted, and eventually won against City Hall was much talked about. It was a point of pride in the neighbourhood, and newcomers were all schooled in the stories. The East End's legend was properly passed on.

This level of awareness was reinforced by two books, one by Strathcona-based historian John Atkin called Strathcona: Vancouver's First Neighbourhood, and by a fascinating collection of aural histories compiled and edited by Carole Itter and Daphne Marlatt called Opening Doors: Vancouver's East End. Sadly, both of these books are out of print. Lucky are those who find them in secondhand someplace. A reprint of both books is long overdue.

But back to 831 East Georgia and the development permit application. I was stunned, first of all, that something like the demolition of a perfectly restorable Strathcona house would be allowed or disallowed by the results of a survey of the residents of only one block. I decided to talk to my neighbours to find what they thought. Contrary to my expectations, opinions were quite split. There were some who felt, as I did, that the prospect of losing another of our neighbourhood's historic old homes, when there were incentives in place to encourage retention of the house, was unacceptable. There were others who felt it was the right of an owner to do anything with his property, plain and simple. and I am sure there was a spectrum of positions in between.

I had researched a number of houses on the 800 block of East Georgia some years back. In fact, the houses on the western end of the 800-block of East Georgia was one of my first paying jobs doing house history research. But I had not researched as far as 831 East Georgia and that is what I next set out to do.
I wanted to find out all I could about the house, when and by whom it was built, and what sort of people lived there over the years. I hoped that if I could get the information out to the people in the neighbourhood, that they would take interest in the house and what happened to it.

So this is what I found...

831 East Georgia (Harris Street until 1915) was built in 1900 by Newfoundland-born carpenter, William Hutchings. According to the 1901 census and other information I was able to glean from the BC Archives Vital Events listings, carpenter Henry Hutchings was born in Newfoundland on September 10, 1866. His wife, Leah Badcock, was born in French's Cove, Newfoundland on December 15, 1867 the daughter of sealer and cod fisherman Josiah Badcock and his wife Olivia. At the time of the census they had three children living with them: six year-old Mildred C. Hutchings, born in Newfoundland on February 21, 1895, four year-old Jessie O. Hutchings, born in the USA on August 21, 1896, and two year-old James C. D. Hutchings, born in BC on February 7, 1899.

Several of the houses on both sides of the 800-block of Harris were built by Brigus, Newfoundland-born  policeman Thomas Henry Butler. (There he is, seated at right in the 1903 CVA Photo POL P4). There may or may not have been a connection. Either way, the Hutchings lived at 831 Harris until 1909.

In 1909, the house became home to carpenter and real estate dabbler Peter Stanger and his wife Annie May. Stanger was born in Surrey, England on April 24, 1872. His father’s name was Peter. His wife, Annie May Daugherty, was born May 3, 1885 in Fort MacLeod, Alberta. Her Irish-born father’s name was John Daugherty. Her Ontario-born mother’s maiden name was Bader. Peter Stanger came to Canada in 1894 and to Vancouver in 1907. The directory lists Peter Stanger both as a carpenter and as a real estate agent for Bishop Brothers. The bold face listing for the company reads: Bishop Brothers (R. L. Bishop and James Bishop) SUMMER HOMES, REAL ESTATE, LOANS, INVESTMENTS. Bishop Brothers had offices at Suites 118-119 in the Loo Building.

There is an ad on page 60 of the directory indicating the summer homes they were selling were available on “beautiful Gambier Island on our Easy Payment Plan”. The Loo Building was on the corner of Abbott and Hastings. The following year the Stanger family moved to 1863 Triumph. He went on to work as a pattern maker, retiring in 1942. Peter Stanger lived to the ripe old age of 100 spending his last years at George Derby Hospital. He died on December 5, 1972 at Shaughnessy Hospital and was buried in Mountain View. Annie May Stanger lived in later life at 4125 Canada Way in Burnaby. She died at Carlton Private Hospital on May 1, 1981. Her remains were cremated at Mountain View.

In 1910, the house was home to real estate broker Ernest Milton Akerly and his wife Ellen. Akerly was born in St. John, New Brunswick on November 25, 1868 and came to British Columbia in 1910. 831 Harris was the first Canadian home for the Akerlys. Ernest’s wife Ellen Henrietta Akerly was born in New Brunswick, the daughter of Scottish-born Donald Cook and Margaret Murchie. She came to Vancouver in 1906. They had at least two children: a son named Gordon and a daughter named Caroline Henriett Akerly. It looks like the Akerly’s were Baptist. Ernest Akerly went on to work as the manager of Hunting Merritt Lumber Co. (VPL Photo 4143 above) The family moved up the valley to live in Whonnock, BC. Ellen Akerly died there on June 7, 1946. Ernest went on to live at 6950 Yew Street but later died at VGH on June 12, 1953 at the age of 84, Both Ellen and Ernest are buried in Forest Lawn.

The first long term resident of the house was teamster George H. Sanderson. He and his wife Pearl lived at 831 Harris from 1911 to 1923. (In 1915, Harris Street was renamed East Georgia when Harris and Georgia were linked by the first Georgia Viaduct shown below in CVA Photo PAN N221).

George Sanderson was born in Ontario in December of 1885. His wife, Pearl, was born in Ontario in February of 1885. Early city directories very often only listed the head of the family and did not list the names of spouses or children or boarders. We know from the 1911 census that, for that year at least, two roomers lived with the Sandersons: Augustus Carter, a car starter for BC Electric Railway who was born in March of 1883, and carpenter Norman Irwin, who was born in Ontario in March of 1882. George and Pearl Sanderson were Methodists. Sanderson worked for a number of years for Champion and White, a building materials company located at 1003 Beach. (CVA 99-1400 below)

In 1915 he is listed as their stable foreman. Later on, he worked as a teamster for Great West Cartage located at 480 Prior Street. In 1923, the last year George and Pearl lived at 831 East Georgia, he is listed as the company proprietor.

From 1924 on, the directory records are sadly fuzzy. From 1924 to 1928 a Japanese family, or families, lived at the house. The 1929 directory lists Chinese occupants. Then from 1931 to 1932 the directories list “orientals”.

In 1932, a Jewish junkman named Morris Baltman moved into the house from a house at 617 Union. In 1933, the height of the depression, the house stood empty.

In 1934, Irish-Canadian laborer Hector Alexander Halliday and his wife Mary lived in the house. Halliday was born on Richards Street in Vancouver the son of Belfast-born James Halliday and Liverpool native Minnie Hildbrand. His wife, Mary Dolores Giardin was born at 343 Prior Street in Vancouver, the daughter of Giuseppe Giardin (spelled Jardine in the directories) and Anna Del Soto. On September 30, 1929, 23 year-old cook Hector Alexander Halliday married 22 year-old Mary Dolores Giardin at 246 East 11th Avenue. Hector was Anglican and despite her Italian roots, Mary is listed on the marriage certificate as Presbyterian. The Rev. Duncan McDougall presided at the wedding. Hector Halliday and his wife Mary moved to 757 Prior by 1935 and the house stood vacant for the remainder of the year.

In 1936 and 1937, 831 East Georgia was home to miner Peter Holyk and his wife Annie. Peter Holyk was born in the Ukraine on September 3, 1899. Anna Holyk was born in the Ukraine on May 30, 1900. Her maiden name was Slepic. She came to Vancouver in 1928. In later life Peter and Annie lived at 2440 East 3rd Avenue. She died at VGH on November 27, 1973 at the age of 72. Her remains were cremated at Mountain View. Peter Holyk died at St. Paul’s Hospital on January 29, 1977. His remains were cremated at Mountain View. A son, Michael John Holyk is mentioned on the death certificate.

In 1938 and 1939, logger William Martin and his wife Katherine lived in the house. They were followed in 1940 by miner Nicholas Briggs and his wife Rose in 1940. Here is an example of an immigrant family of non-British descent adopting a British sounding name. Nicholas Briggs was born in Roumania on August 19, 1894. He came to Canada around 1911 and to Vancouver around 1935 where he worked mostly as a mixed farmer until 1951. His wife Rose was born in Gardenton, Manitoba on January 14, 1903 the daughter of Ukrainian-born Mike Horechka and Lena Zvisvak. They had at least one daughter, Marion Briggs. In later life the Briggs family moved to 2611 Clinton (Penticton) Street. Nicholas suffered from silicosis for 15 years of his life, no doubt due to his work in the mines. From around 1949 he caught pulmonary TB. Nicholas Briggs finally died of pulmonary TB at Pearson TB Hospital on April 17, 1954 at the age of 59. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. Rose Briggs eventually moved to 6237 Clinton Street in Burnaby. She died at Royal Columbian Hospital on April 19, 1980 at the age of 77. For some reason, she was buried separately from Nicholas in Ocean View Cemetery.

The 1941 lists the occupants as “Orientals” but the 1942 directory lists Joe Hing, driver for Pacific Produce. It may be that Joe lived in the house in 1941. Joe Hing was born in China around 1895. According to his death certificate, he was single all his life—not unusual for Chinese men of the time who were prevented from bringing over new wives or even pre-existing families by the discriminatory immigration laws of the day. Joe Hing moved from 831 East Georgia to 112 Lorne Street. He died of myocarditis—brought on by syphilis—at Mount St. Joseph Hospital at 236 Campbell Avenue at the age of 50 on January 3, 1945. Joe was buried in Mountain View Cemetery.

From 1943 to 1950, 831 East Georgia was home to the Oraskovich family: Martin and Kate Oraskovich and a Mrs. Rose Oraskovich. The Oraskovich family was of Yugoslav heritage. During the war, Martin worked in the shipyards, working as a stager for Burrard Dry Docks (CVA photo LP 171 above). After the war the directories listed him as a laborer. Mrs. Rose Oraskovich worked as a dishwasher at the Hotel Georgia.

From 1951 to 1971 the house was home to Luigi M. Montico and his wife Emilia Pettovello. Luigi Montico was born in Italy June 26, 1903 the son of Angelo Montico and Angela Cancian. Luigi was a terrazzo worker. From 1955 to 1964 Luigi is listed as working for a company called Darlington Haskins & Co. Darlington Haskins & Co., located at 525 West 8th Avenue, were dealers and contractors in slate, ceramic, tiles, terrazzo, etc. Mrs. Emilia Montico is listed for a number of years as working as a dishwasher at The Italian Restaurant at 4411 Main Street. Luigi is listed as retired from 1965 onwards. Emilia continued to work at the Italian Restaurant until at least 1967.

Apparently Mr. Montico used to keep doves in a shed at the back of the house. Sometime in late 1971 or early 1972, Luigi and Emilia joined the eastward exodus of Strathcona’s Italian community and moved to 4545 Venables in Burnaby. Luigi died at St. Paul’s Hospital on May 13, 1976 at the age of 72 and was buried in the Horne 2 Section of Mountain View Cemetery in Plot BLVD/058/0001. Emilia lived until 1997. She was buried beside Luigi in plot BLVD/058/0002 in the Horne 2 Section of Mountain View on October 3, 1997.

According to the 1972 directory, 831 East Georgia was vacant. In 1973, the house was home to retiree Kit Seto and his wife Kinyee Woo. From 1974 to 1975, Kenneth Wong, a waiter at the Sheraton Hotel (probably the Landmark on Robson) lived there. Then from 1976 to about 1992 the house was owned and lived in by retiree Yui Qui Sem and his wife Chaukon. The current owners have lived in the house from 1993 to present.


As a result of a getting the news out to a broader spectrum of the Strathcona community, the city received a lot of letters regarding the demolition plan... And in the end, a significantly larger number of letters supporting retention of the house and against demolition was received by the city. The whole issue even made the pages of The Sun newspaper.  The reason for this, I believe, was that people in the neighbourhood saw that allowing the demolition of a perfectly restorable East End house would set a dangerous precedent... dangerous in that it had the potential to severely undermine the neighhourhood's hard won RT-3 Zoning. This was not being looked at as an isolated incident involving one house; rather 831 East Georgia was seen as standing in front of a long line of similar houses in the neighbourhood, and that if 831 was knocked down, the domino effect would have disastrous repurcussions for the neighbourhood.

Happily, the house that Newfoundland-born carpenter Henry Hutchings built at 831 Harris Street still stands. If you walk down the alley behind the house you will see a relocated and modified version of the house that was meant to replace 831 Georgia. The owners and their architect came up with a win/win situation within the guidelines of the RT-3 Zoning in which the owners got the modern house they wanted, and the Hutchings House--a little, but important piece of East End history was also saved. It is an interesting solution in that it reflects a two house on one lot tradition in the neighbourhood that goes back 100 years... except in most cases the older house is at the back of the lot.

* * *
Many thanks to Armida Beasley, niece of Luigi and Emilia Montico, for the photos of the Montico family and friends in front of 831 East Georgia, and to Patrick Gunn of Heritage Vancouver Society for the colour picture of 831 East Georgia. 

For those of you who read this far and care about credits, here's a special treat. The front porch of 831 East Georgia was closed in sometime after the Montico family moved away and was restored with the help of a community grant to restore the historical porches of Strathcona sometime after the current owners bought the house... The new pillars are beautiful, but if you look at Patrick's colour photo and Armida's B&W photo on the bottom left, you can see how the originals and the replacements are a bit different. (Remember you can enlarge each photo by clicking on them). Neat, eh?

2nd photo
CVA 780-361 showing apartment in Strathcona - location unknown
3rd photo
CVA 203-48 showing back of 248-250 Union Street
4th photo

CVA 780-310 showing back of a Strathcona house - location unknown
5th photo
CVA 780-307 showing interior of Strathcona house in 1960s - location unknown


  1. I found that quite interesting. 1936/37 Peter and Anna Holyk were my grandparents. Michael John is my Dad.

  2. The history of a house is actually a rarely known thing. But very beautiful. Thank you for doing this work.

  3. Just wanted to compliment you on the effort you have put into this have done a remarkable job...ty