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

Monday, March 7, 2011


Now that I have your attention, last night I watched the 2008 Angelina Jolie movie Changeling for the second time. A year or so ago when I saw it for the first time I was completely blown away. If you have not seen it, it is truly a riveting film, but I warn you, this is by no means a "family" show. The violence and the subject matter is disturbing in the extreme, especially when you know that the story actually happened. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.
According to the film, there was a Vancouver connection to the movie and later in the night, the evening I first saw the movie, I spent several hours doing online searches on the story and found that there is a house in Cedar Cottage, or was, that had a connection to the murderous Northcott family that was the subject of the film.

Gordon Stewart Northcott's mug shot
Many of you have seen the movie, and you can all click on the link above to read details of the murders. I won't go into too much detail here except to say that the murders involved young boys and took place in the late 1920s on an isolated farm in Wineville, now Mira Loma, California over the hills to the east of Los Angeles. The other piece is that the perpetrators were Canadians. 

Sanford Wesley Clark
Those of you who have seen the movie, know that it deals only with Gordon Stewart Northcott (seen above) and his young nephew Sanford Wesley Clark (yes, the Northcott's were Methodists), but if you read the Wikipedia article, you will learn as I did that Gordon's mother Sarah Louise Northcott was also involved in the murders. 

According to the Wikipedia article, Gordon Stewart Northcott was born in Saskatchewan in 1906 but had been raised in BC. Curious, I did an online search of his name in the 1911 Canada census and lo and behold, I found them living in the Cedar Cottage neighbourhood of Vancouver.

1911 Canada Census Page showing the Northcott's in Cedar Cottage
The writing may be a little difficult to see, but Gordon is listed on line 44 near the bottom, under his father C. G. (Cyrus George) Northcott on line 42 and his mother, Sarah "Louisa"  Northcott on line 43. Here is a cropped section of the page.

 The data indicates that Gordon's parents were both born in Ontario. You can see that Gordon's actual birth date was in November of 1907. As mentioned above, the Northcotts were Methodist. It would also seem that in 1911, at least, that Gordon's father Cyrus worked as a carpenter in the house building trade and had made $1000 doing that in the year prior to the census.

Cyrus G. Northcott
Sarah Louisa Northcott
I was quite frustrated with the census record. In most cases, the 1911 census actually includes the street address of the various households. This page did not include those details, including only that the Northcotts lived in the Cedar Cottage neighbourhood in South Vancouver.

I checked the 1911 City Directory to see if I could find them and this is what I found.

Of course, I was thrilled to find the Northcotts in the directory. The directory gave some more information on their location, the west side of Marshall Street, so I looked up Marshall street on Google Maps and was surprised to find that I knew it... 
My daughter and her Mom had lived very close to Marshall Street on East 19th for a number of years. It was just south of Trout Lake. But where was Lakeview Drive? Did they mean Lakewood? That didn't make sense.

I went to the old city directories again to see if the Northcotts were listed in the 1912 directory but they were not. I went back to the 1911 directory and searched through the street section and found that there were only five households mentioned on the street that year: those of Samuel Smith, George Adams, Robert Borrinow (most likely Boronow), Cyrus G. Northcott, and Ernest Marshall. Of these, Samuel Smith and George Adams lived on the part of Marshall close to the BC Electric Railway. Boronow's street address was listed as Bismarck (Kitchener) and Marshall's was listed as  Epworth Post Office.
Plate 92 of Volume 2  of 1912 Goad's Atlas of Vancouver
No clear house address seems possible from the directory records... but we do know that the Northcott house was on the west side of Marshall near Lake View Drive. So I went to look for a map of the area close to the time of the census and what we have is the 1912 Goad's Atlas of Vancouver. I looked at the map above and found that at the time of the map's drawing there were about thirteen houses along Marshall which had been renamed Haywood Terrace. but here is the interesting thing... Two actually... The arc of the BC Electric Railway can be seen  to the south of Marshall. IWhat we now know as East 19th was originally called Lakeview Drive. 

If the Northcott residence was on the west side of Marshall near Lakeview Drive it could only have been one of two houses: either 3521 or 3545 Marshall.

If you go on Google Maps and do a search for both houses you can see that 3545 Marshall does not look like a house that was built prior to 1911, but 3521 does.
3521 Marshall Street
Is this the house where the Northcott family lived at the time of the 1911 census? 
Gordon Stewart Northcott at his trial.
Various accounts of the Gordon Northcott trial seem to indicate that he was severely abused by his parents. In 1911, Gordon was only four years old. Did the nightmare start here, or elsewhere? Who knows...
Gordon Northcott with police at the Northcott farm in Wineville.
For those of you who want to dig further, here is a link that has links to quite a few other articles on the subject: The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders - The Real Story Behind Hollywood's Changeling

In the meantime, I will do some more snooping at the City Archives. Perhaps a water service or building permit application search will turn up some connection to Cyrus Northcott and one of the addresses on Marshall. If I find something, I will keep you posted.


  1. What a great read James. Makes me think of my great-grandmother and the relationships she had with carpenters and millwrights in East Vancouver during this period. I wonder if the Fitzpatricks knew the Northcotts?

  2. Do you know whereabouts the FitzPatricks lived in East Vancouver? Technically back then, this would have been South Vancouver, a separate municipal entity.

  3. Wow, some oldies but goodies. The Dales house is amazing, sure would like to live there. Even preserving Vancouver Specials is a popular venture now. I hope more people buy these older homes to restore, rather than tearing them down to put up ugly condos. ~Custom counters vancouver