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

Monday, April 11, 2011

Three More Old Strathcona Houses on the Chopping Block?

Last Friday I was honoured to have a piece I wrote featured in the At Home Section of the Vancouver Sun. The story was called Mill Town Memories and talked about three 1880s houses: 385 East Cordova, 414 Alexander and 417 Heatley in Strathcona, (the old East End) Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood. 385 East Cordova may in fact be Vancouver's oldest house still standing. It was shown in this 1887 picture taken by J. A. Brock.

CVA Str P223 J. A. Brock 1887
Here is a close up.

In the same article I mentioned a row of houses on the 600 block of East Cordova. There are a number of 1880s houses in that block which includes two houses built by Italian-born hotelier Angelo Calori, the builder of Vancouver's landmark flatiron Europe Hotel at Carrall and Powell.

357 East Cordova, built by Angelo Calori in 1907
Just around the corner from these old houses is a wonderful intact row of three circa 1905 houses built by A. McRae.

313, 311, and 305 Heatley
The first time the houses are listed is in the 1906 directory, but they are vacant. The first time they are shown as being occupied is in 1907.

305 Heatley was home to English-born lumberyard foreman Stanilaus Brereton, hi wife Ada and their family.

305 Heatley
311 Heatley was home to Ontario-born journalist Victor W. Odlum, and...

311 Heatley
313 (then 319) Heatley was home to carpenter James Reid.

313 Heatley
Of particular interest to me is the name Odlum. My current career path, if you can call it that, as a house history researcher and neighbourhood history walk guide began when I moved from the West End in 1995 to a house on the 1000-block of Odlum Drive in the East End. Odlum Drive is named after Professor Edward Odlum. Professor Edward Odlum (1850-1935) has an amazing history. His mansion on Grant Avenue near Commercial Drive still stands (see below). Here is a link to the Wikipedia Article on him.

CVA 447-314 Professor Edward Odlum's house on Dec 26, 1935 by Walter Edwin Frost
Victor Wentworth Odlum (21 October 1880 – 4 April 1971) is Professor Edward Odlum's son. He has an even bigger write-up in Wikipedia than his father. As the Wikipedia article points out, Victor W. Odlum was a journalist who went on to become a rather controversial newspaper publisher, a temperance activist, a soldier who went on to attain the rank of Brigadier General, and later a diplomat. There are a number of pictures of Brigadier General Odlum at the City of Vancouver Archives. I have included two: one showing him in full military regalia in the ocmpany of US President Harding during the presidential visit to Vancouver in 1923, and another showing him laying a wreath on the grave of Capatin George Vancouver in England on May 10, 1941.

CVA Photo Port P941.3 President Harding with V. W. Odlum at right - July 26, 1923

CVA Photo Mon P54 - Maj.General Odlum at George Vancouver's Grave
Read over the article in Wikipedia. Victor W. Odlum was certainly an interesting and controversial figure--a fascinating combination of brave war hero, financier and business leader, stubborn anti-unionist and at times unscrupulous journalist. Odlum's paper, The Star, seems to have been largely responsible for whipping up the anti-Chinese sentiment during the Janet Smith murder case in the 1920s by insisting that Janet Smith was murdered by Wong Foon Sing.

Odlum only lived at 311 Heatley for a year, but it is interesting to see just how much history can be locked into these old houses north of Hastings.

Currently, there is an application for demolition for the three houses on Heatley but I understand that the owner would as likely sell the houses is he/she could get $500,000 for each of them. Any takers?

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.