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

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Oldest House Standing in Vancouver?

As part of their efforts to celebrate Vancouver's 125th birthday The Vancouver Sun hired me to write an article on the oldest houses in Vancouver. This was a great assignment as I was able to focus on three houses in a very vulnerable section of my East End neighbourhood. (The article came out in the Friday April 8th edition. Here is a link to the article online). Though there may be one as old elsewhere in Strathcona, as far as my research goes, the prize for the oldest house still standing in Vancouver on its original location goes to a house on the corner of East Cordova and Dunlevy Street.
CVA Photo Str P223
The East End, along with the rest of Vancouver, burned to the ground in the Great Fire of June 13, 1886 The photo above taken by J. A. Brock in 1887 from near Jackson and Hastings shows just how quickly the East End bounced back. The quadrangle of undeveloped land to the centre right is the Powell Street Grounds, now known as Oppenheimer Park. Of all buildings shown in this photo only one still stands: 385 East Cordova — originally 333 Oppenheimer — on the northwest corner of Cordova and Dunlevy, seen below.

Given the date of the photo, and the time it would take to build not only one house but hundreds of houses after the fire, we can safely assume that construction of the building began in1886. Today, it is owned by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, but when this photo was taken it was home to pioneer hardware merchant Thomas Dunn, also one of Vancouver’s first aldermen.

CVA Photo Port P179 Studio portrait of Thomas Dunn & Family 1880s
There is a good biography of Thomas Alexander Dunn in the book Vancouver Voters - 1886 compiled by the BC Genealogical Society. He built a number of retail blocks in the city. The most famous still standing is the Dunn-Miller Block, the part of the Army & Navy Store that faces Cordova Street near Carrall. Thomas Dunn was one of the original ten Alderman elected after Vancouver was incorporated in 1886. He is shown standing with third from the left, just under the City Hall sign, in this photo that recreates the first City Council meeting after the Great Fire.

VPL Photo 508 - 1st City Council Meeting After The Great Fire 1886 by H. T. Devine
In 1889, the house was bought by Vancouver City Foundry manager Richard P. Cook, who had the house hooked up to the city’s water system in June of that year. By 1894, the house was home to another Scot, Archibald Murray Beattie, and his family. The 1895 city directory lists a number of job titles for Beattie, including notary public, auctioneer at Vancouver’s Market Hall (see below), as well as the Hawaiian consul.

CVA Photo City N12 Old Market Hall by W. J. Moore. Sept. 18, 1928
Beattie was followed by a superintendent for the Hastings Sawmill, a retired Presbyterian minister and a couple of shoemakers, before being run as a boarding house for a number of years. From the outbreak of the First World War onward, a number of Japanese families moved into the block. (The directories say a fireman named Samuel Koniko lived at the house from 1914 to 1921. Koniko, however, may be a misrendering of the Japanese surname Kaneko, written 金子 or sometimes 兼子). From 1922 to 1927, the house was run as the Japanese Seamen's Home, and in 1928 became the new home of the Catholic Japanese Mission run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement who are still there serving the needy in the East End and Downtown East Side.


  1. Hi... that was great stuff.. I really like reading on this subject Could you tell me more on that.

  2. Thanks for sharing. We'll have to come for another tour with you. Last time it snowed...