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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Love Fire Insurance Maps!

A while back I had the good fortune to be hired to research a property on the corner of West 11th and Columbia for contractor Joel Massey from Ronse Massey Developments. Joel's company focusses on the rehabilitation and restoration of heritage houses and has hired me a number of times to do the research on properties for which he needs a Statement of Significance (SOS) in order to get a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) from the City.

The focus of the project for Joel was 204 West 11th Avenue. It was built on Lot 6 of Block 0 of District Lot 526 in 1909  by Verulam Township, Ontario-born merchant James Jordan Wetherup. Wetherup applied for water service for the house on March 5, 1909. His building permit application was made a month earlier on February 17, 1909. Estimated cost to build the house was $1800. Wetherup, spelled Weatherup on the application, is listed as the owner, architect and builder.

The first time the house appeared in the city directory was 1910. James Wetherup’s name is listed, but without any information on what his profession was. Often people who were retired or who were living off their fortunes were listed this way.

In the year the house was being built, 1909, the city directory lists James Jordan Wetherup as living at 2833 Westminster Road (Kingsway). There is no listing for the family in the 1908 directory. What we do know from various census and other official records is that James Jordan Wetherup was born in Verulam Township in Victoria County, Ontario on April 24, 1840. He was the son of James Wetherup and Martha Jordan. The 1901 Census has him living in Lindsay in Victoria County, Ontario with his wife Jane (b. August 2, 1841). In 1901, James was a merchant and 60 years old. Jane was 59. Jane must have passed away because on March 10, 1904, 63 year-old merchant James Jordan Wetherup married 35 year-old Surrey, England-born Kate Elizabeth Snelling, daughter of Walter Snelling and Edna Worsley. Witnesses were W. J. Carlisle and Eleanor Snelling. By 1906, the Wetherups had moved from Lindsay as by that time a newspaper report on new buildings in Lindsay in 1906 reported, “.Dr. A. E. Totten’s new home on Peel Street, south side, on what was Mr. J. J. Wetherup’s property, when finished will be a handsome dwelling. Mr. Forsyth is the contractor.”

It is likely that the Wetherups honeymooned or temporarily moved to England as census records tell us that their daughter Hilda was born there in November of 1905. According to the 1911 Census and records from the BC Archive Vital Events listings, Kate Elizabeth Wetherup was born in London, England in February of 1869 and (in 1911) was 42 years old. Kate’s parents were Walter Snelling and Edna Worsley. James and Kate’s daughter, Hilda, was born in England in November of 1905 and (in 1911) was five years old. The Wetherup family was apparently Methodist.

The Wetherup family hadn’t been living in their new house at 204 West 11th for more than a few years when James Jordan Wetherup died of diabetes on May 26, 1911 at the age of 71. James Wetherup is buried in the Jones Section of Mountain View Cemetery in Plot 04/024/0006.

Kate and Hilda Wetherup continued to live in their Mount Pleasant home until late 1920 or early 1921 when they sold the house to the Kennington family. The Kennington family moved to 204 West 11th from a house at 4081 Miller. The head of the family, Albert Robert Kennington, was born in the Indiana on March 3, 1872, the son of Robert Kennington. He was a Mason. His wife, Minerva Prather was born in Indiana on September 2, 1872 the daughter of South Carolina-born William Prather and Indiana native Nancy Stuteman. The Kenningtons had three children: Richard, Russell and Helen. The Kennington family came to Vancouver in 1911 but seem to have returned to the USA for a while as their son Russell was born in Portland in 1912. 

Albert R. Kennington was a saw filer working in various sawmills. Son Richard was also a saw filer. Helen Kennington worked as an operator for BC Telephone Co., while Russell went on to become as travelling salesman for a variety of companies. Russell Kennington was a basketball player of some renown. Russell was a star on the Daily Province basketball team when it won the national amateur championship in the 1930s.

After Mrs. Kennington died in 1948, her widowed husband Albert moved out of the house in 1949 and lived with his daughter Helen’s family on West King Edward. If the directory information is to be believed, the house was sold in 1949 or 1950 to a Mrs. Evelyn Regelous, who ran the house as a boarding house for a number of years. The directories usually indicate ownership by putting an asterisk beside the assumed homeowner’s name. Despite the fact that Mrs. Regelous’ name has an asterisk beside it, Richard A. Kennington, a life-long bachelor, continued to live in the house until 1957. The mystery of who actually owned 204 West 11th during the years that Richard Kennington continued to live in the house can easily be solved by a title search. 

From 1950 to present, 204 West 11th has been operated as a boarding house and later as an apartment building with first five, and later six suites. The directories started labelling the house as “apartments” in 1976.

Another house that was included in the study was to the east, across Columbia Street at 174 West 11th. This house has a very interesting history in that it started slightly off its current location as a one storey house in the middle of what is now the intersection of 11th and Columbia and that brings us back to the subject line, Fire Insurance Maps. Take a look at the intersection as it looked in 1901.

CVA Map 384, Plate 36, 1901
You can see 174 West 11th, on the edge of civilization as it were, just inside the borderline of District Lot 302. CPR owned District Lot 526 is still "thick bush". Note the greenhouse across the street beside the house on the east side of Columbia.

It is interesting that someone would build a house on what would clearly end up being a city intersection sometime in the future. Maybe there wasn't a street grid when gardener Frederick E. Sargent built his house there in 1896. 

According to the 1901 census records, Frederick Edwin Sargent was born in Sussex, England on July 6, 1836 and came to Canada in 1885. His wife, Mary Ann, was also born in England. Mary Ann died of peritonitis and pneumonia in Vancouver on November 26, 1897 at the age of 62 and was buried in the Old Section of Mountain View Cemetery in plot 3/01/011.0012. By 1901, Frederick Sargent was still living alone. The census records indicate he was Church of England and made $300 working as a gardener.
Fred and his son Fred J. Sargent continued to live in the house until 1906 with a short interim when painter William Piner Jones and his wife Adelaide lived in the house. According to the 1901 census records, William Piner Jones was born in England on October 2, 1862. His wife, Adelaide Wood, was born in England on April 1, 1861 the daughter of James Wood and Mary Morris. Both came to Canada in 1884 and to BC in 1898. The 1901 census lists four children: Eliza M. Jones (born in Ontario on September 4, 1889), Adelaide Jones (born in Ontario on February 9, 1891), Gertrude Jones, (born in the USA on March 20, 1896), and Grace E. Jones (born in Vancouver on July 11, 1900). Beside Gertrude’s name on the census is the date 1897, the year the family re-entered Canada. Also listed in the census is Esther Wood, Adelaide’s sister. She was born in England on October 11, 1874 and came to Canada in 1884. The Joneses were Anglicans. The census also indicates that William P. Jones made $500 in 1901 as a painter.

By 1905, Fred Edwin Sargent and his son had moved back into the house. Frederick Edwin Sargent died at home at 174 West 11th on March 27, 1906 at the age of 69 and was buried beside his wife in Mountain View’s Old Section in Plot 3/01/011/0011.  

From 1907 to 1928, 174 West 11th was home to the Walker family. Prior to moving to 174 West 11th, Thomas William Walker and his wife Myra had lived at 9th and Birch. Until his retirement just prior to moving to his new house, Thomas had worked as the Chief Steward of the Empress of India.  

It was during the time the Walkers lived at 174 West 11th, possibly the year they moved in, that Frederick Sargent's rambling one-storey house on the Columbia Street right of way was replaced with the current two and a half-storey house on the SE corner. Here is the fire insurance map for 1912.

CVA Map 342 Volume 1, Plate 28, 1912
In August of 1912, Thomas William Walker had an accident in which he fell from his verandah fracturing his forearm and injuring his head and back. He spent the next six months or so in the hospital. Thomas died on March 19, 1913 at the age of 64 and was buried in the IOOF Section of Mountain View in Plot 016/0003.

Myra Walker continued to live in the house until 1928. She died at her sister Annie's house at 1427 Laurier Avenue in Point Grey on June 2, 1928. She was 75 at the time of her death and was buried beside her husband in the IOOF Section of Mountain View in Plot 016/0004.

In 1928 the house passed to Myra's sister and brother in law, Annie J. and Peter G. Drost. Peter Grant Drost was the founder of Vancouver's historic social services provider Central City Mission. Peter and Annie's son, Herbert Mason Drost, went on to found and conduct the Vancouver Bach Choir. The Drosts lived at 174 West 11th until 1931.

CVA Map 599 Volume 2 Plates 272 & 273 July 1927
CVA Map 599 is fun to use. Of all the fire insurance maps, it gives the most in terms of architectural detail, such as the footprint of the house and information on the out buildings around the houses. 

Note the house at 2720 Columbia just behind 174 West 11th. It was built in 1911 by Thomas Walker at an estimated cost of $3000. The Drost family lived there in 1927 before moving to Laurier then later moving to 174 West 11th. 

From 1932 to 1942, 174 West 11th became the home of engineer Charles A. Maddison and his wife Eliza. Prior to moving to 174 West 11th, Charles A. and Eliza Maddison lived at 205, 2545 Main Street. Charles was working as the janitor of Belvedere Court. Charles Arthur Maddison was born in Huntingdon, England on August 23, 1864. His father’s name was Charles Arthur Maddison. Charles came to Canada around 1909 and to Vancouver in 1921. His wife, Eliza Ayriss, was born in Croughton, England on January 112, 1865. Her father’s name was John Ayriss.

From 1933 onwards, Charles is listed as the caretaker of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church which was built right across the street on the NE corner of Columbia and West 11th, replacing the old house with a greenhouse that once stood on that location.

CVA Map 610 Volume 2 Plates 272 & 273 October 1955
Here is the fire insurance map from 1955 showing the new church across the street.

By 1943, Charles and Eliza Maddison were living at 555 East 54th. Charles died there on June 28, 1943 of a heart attack following a bought of influenza. He was 78. Charles Arthur Maddison was buried in Forest Lawn. Eliza Maddison also died at home on March 22, 1947 at the age of 82 and was buried in Forest Lawn.

From 1943 to 1948, 174 West 11th was home to VGH splint maker Edward J. Parker and his wife Ethel. Edward James Parker was born in England on May 22, 1883 the son of Benjamin Parker and Mary Ann Hulding. His wife’s maiden name was Ethel Newsom. Parker came to Canada in 1898 and to BC in 1923. The Parker family moved to 174 West 11th from 2675 Wall Street.

In 1949 the house was bought by Harry and Jessie Kleparchuk. They only stayed in the house for two years. The Kleparchuk family moved to 174 West 11th from 804 East 10th. Harry worked for Carruthers & Sons which did custom welding and sold supplies at 225 Kingsway.

After the Kleparchuks moved out, the house was rented out and up until recently, seemed to change hands every few years. from the 1960s, perhaps earlier, the house was divided up into a number of suites and run as an apartment.

This is only a fraction of the information I included in the full study for Joel. My main focus for this article was to talk about the Fire Insurance Maps. There are quite a few different sets covering different parts of the city from the 1800s to the 1950s at the City of Vancouver Archives and the VPL Special Collections. Most are on microfilm, but if you get a chance, ask to see one of the originals. Additions to the original map are pasted on in different coloured paper patches. It is a fascinating way to learn how a specific street block or neighbourhood developed over the years.

In the meantime, if you are looking to hire a great contractor for that special job on your heritage house, think of Joel Massey. He does great work, and hires great help. ; )


  1. I'm looking for maps like these to help me out in my hobby. Any chance of finding these online for the province of New Brunswick?

  2. Hi George,

    Tried to find an e-mail on your blog so hope you find this... Yes, there are online sources for Fire Insurance Maps for New Brunswick, and if you google that, a number will come up. Check out the National Library website too.

  3. I lived in that house from 1997-2008. It was put up for sale after the owner, Hubert Soomers, had a stroke in 2007. The new owner was shot outside the house in 2010- the house had been the "black sheep" of the block for quite a few years even before that, I'm sure the neighbours weren't too surprised when that happened. My girlfriend also died in the house in 2007 of natural causes. After that- and I'm not making this up- strange things began to happen. For instance, a rocking chair she used to sit in would start moving for no reason- no open windows to let in a breeze, no one near the chair. I saw that happen at least twice, once with a friend there who also saw it. I also heard after I moved out that a carpenter on the renovation crew came in one morning and found the tools he had thrown into a loose pile in one of the rooms the night before had been neatly arranged and my girlfriend's name written on the wall- there was only one way into the room, and the carpenter had the only key, AND he had never met my girlfriend or even knew her name. I didn't see this one first hand, so I can't really vouch for it, but still....
    All that aside, it's interesting to find out the whole history of the house posted here. And the neighbourhood is lovely- I live in Washington now, really miss Vancouver!

    1. From what I hear, it seems to be a happy house now...

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