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

Saturday, February 12, 2011

828 Royal Avenue Is Finally Gone

828 Royal Avenue Photo courtesy of Bob Hare
Last year I was hired to research the history of a dilapidated Royal Engineer sapper's bungalow at 828 Royal Avenue in New Westminster. New Westminster, which is so much older than Vancouver, and unfortunately has many gaps in its directory record, can be very challenging for a researcher like me. ...but with the help of the good folks at the New Westminster Museum and Archives and the New Westminster Public library, as well as some valuable input from past residents, I ended up putting together one of my favourite house history projects to date. Here is a link to my findings.

BC Archives Photo H-00332 Gilley Brother's Dray in front of 828 Royal Avenue
I will not go into the details of my findings here but there are a couple of things that I would like to mention. First of all, this nondescript little bungalow has an amazing history. Outside of Irving House, further down the street, this little house was the only house left standing south of Royal Avenue that survived New Westminster's great fire, and as such deserved to be preserved somehow.

Map showing extent of Great Fire of Sept 10, 1898 house under V in Ave. is 828 Royal
The two things I will mention are that I made a wonderful connection with a woman of Japanese heritage whose aunt and uncle lived in the house prior to World War II and was able to glean so many rich details concerning her family's time at the house that I would not have been able to find through my usual archival and online sources. Here is a picture of little Mitsue Lorraine Elliott with her uncle Sennosuke Nishi and his wife Shizu.

The Nishis were childless and at one time had hoped to adopt little Lorraine. This story is touched on in the older blog post. Anyway, the Nishi family lived at 828 Royal Avenue from 1925 to 1942 when they were forcibly removed from their home to a camp at Bridge River in the BC Interior. The removal to the camps was a huge tragedy to the Nishi family. Mrs. Nishi did not survive the ordeal in  1943. She was only 50. After the war, Sennosuke did not return to New Westminster but moved to Ashcroft.

There is so much more history about this little house in the longer blogpost on 828 Royal. It was such a shame that something could not have been done to preserve it or move it.

Back of 828 Royal last year

Same view on February 9, 2011 (Camera date is incorrect)
Two days ago, the little sapper's cottage had its day with the wrecking ball. Last year when I was talking with Lorraine about the impending demolition of her Aunt and Uncle's home I mentioned to her that I would try to salvage some bricks from the chimney for her. I didn't know how many I would be able to get, but we liked the idea of something of the house being saved. We are constantly expanding our (little) front patio using bricks I have salvaged from demolition sites. I thought it would be neat to have some of the bricks in my front yard and some at Lorraine's place, two little shrines to the memory of the little house that survived the Great Fire of 1898, and ended up touching so many lives.

On Wednesday when I went out to see if I could salvage some bricks, the house had been already torn down but the lot was still being cleared with heavy machinery. I checked with Heath, the foreman, and also talked to Mr. Krishan Anand, the owner of the property who originally hired me to research the property, to see if it was still okay to salvage some bricks. This afternoon, when I went to the site, the workmen had already left, but stacked neatly behind a piece of plywood off the back alley were about 30 bricks of various types and sizes. I braved the much and found about 10 more through the site.

Now there are two piles of bricks on my front patio. Very soon, some of those bricks will be part of my patio, and the larger pile will be somewhere in Lorraine's back yard,thelast tangible memory of her dear aunt and uncle's house.

Thanks again to Mr. Krishan Anand for hiring me to research 828 Royal Avenue. It is sad that the house had to go, but I am so glad that its history has not been lost. I would like to thank the management and staff at the New Westminster Museum & Archives, especially Colin Stevens, for remembering about Mr. Nishi's jacket, and introducing me to Lorraine Elliott. As always, a big thank you goes to the staff of the New Westminster Public Library for all their patient help with this and other projects. And a special thanks to Mr. Lawrence Chong who very generously shared the Chong family's photos, which formed such a large part of the original blog posting on 828 Royal Avenue.  Finally, I would like to thank my good friend and neighbour Graham Elvidge of Allan Diamond Architects who did such an amazing job measuring and drawing the house, both inside and out, and who saved me from breaking my neck when we were walking around in inside the house in the dark. Next time we'll take two flashlights, eh?!?

Graham and his measuring tape


  1. What little I know about the history of the Japanese people in BC is fascinating. Thanks for another bit of insight

  2. Wow, cool to read. I am a great grand-daughter of the Abrams' extended family that owned at The Royal City Laundry (approx. 1908-1960).
    We've been researching our family history - my grandma was Cora Prior (nee Abrams) and I see her sisters Pearl & Stella Abrams were mentioned in the earlier blog, as living in this house.
    Thanks so much for this research. I could send some photos of my grandpa driving one of the old laundry trucks if you'd like it for the records too.
    Nancy Wall (nee Prior)

    1. Hi Nancy,

      If you have some scans you could send me that would be really great. My e-mail is househistorian (a)

      Glad you liked the post.

  3. THANK YOU so much for the delightful blurb on this old house. Just loved it .
    Barbara on Cape Breton Island, NS