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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

46 East 12th Avenue - A Mt. Pleasant Holdout with a Secret

When you have researched as many houses as I have, you come across some amazing stories about the people who built and/or lived in the houses you are investigating... This house on the unit block of East 12th Avenue in the heart of old Mt. Pleasant has been whispering its secret for close to a hundred years.

I was hired by its owner to help write an S.O.S., a Statement of Significance for the house. 46 East 12th stands on a rise of land on the south side of East 12th between Ontario and Quebec, just a stone's throw from Main Street, old Westminster Avenue up until 1910, and even closer to the course of Brewery Creek, the soul of Vancouver's first across-the-water commuter suburb. 

It is one of five remaining historic houses on a block that has lost most of its original heritage houses to redevelopment... and unfortunately for this remnant of original Mount Pleasant Edwardian streetscape, there is pressure to sell for more.

The owner had taken a course on researching heritage houses, most likely offered by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, and had done a pretty thorough job of researching the first half century of the house's existance. What she wanted me to do was to do a bit more digging, combine her research with mine, and come up with a Statement of Significance that might help the house to escape future demolition.

My client's house was built in 1907 by an American-born carpenter and contractor named Robert Fred Hartman.  On October 17, 1907 a building permit application was made for this house by G. Hartman who is listed as the owner. Estimated cost to build the house was $1300.00. G. Hartman was Gertrude Hartman, Robert Fred Hartman's wife. The same day Gertrude applied for a building permit, she also applied for water service for the house. Since Robert is listed over the years as a carpenter, builder and contractor, it is very probable that he built his own house...

1908 Directory Listing for Robert Hartman
The first time the house appears in the directory records is in 1908. Robert Hartman is listed as a carpenter. According to the 1911 census and other records, Robert F. Hartman was born in the USA in May of 1880. However, we know from subsequent US records that Robert Fred Hartman was actually born in Chester, Pennsylvania on May 4, 1884. His wife, Gertrude Hemminga was born in Holland on May 14, 1880 the daughter of Jan Hemminga and Wilhelmina Leestra and came to Canada in 1907. Their daughter Bessie was born in Vancouver in October of 1907, shortly after their arrival.

The 1909 and 1910 directory listing for Robert Hartman show no change in his address or occupation, although there is a slight anomally in the street section which shows the house being occupied by a real estate agent named Richard A. Hodgins and a carpenter for general contractor J. H. Vickers named Harry Hartman. We know from the 1911 census that the Hartmans had lodgers in the house. Hodgins may have been a lodger. Whether Harry Hartman was actually Robert, or if there was a Harry Hartman actually staying at the house in 1910, we cannot know for sure. 

The 1911 lists Robert Hartman as a cement worker for the city of Vancouver. The 1911 directory lists him as a laborer. Sometime after the census, a second daughter, Doris Roberta Hartman is born.

The 1911 census also lists three other people living in the house with the Hartmans: Fishmonger Victor Francis Johncox, his wife Mary Jane Joncox and a four year-old boy, Reginald Johncox.

1911 Census Record for 46 East 12th Avenue
Victor Francis Johncox was born in Portsmouth, England in April of 1887 and came to Canada in 1909. His parents were John and Mary Anne Johncox. His wife, Mabel Alice Scott was born in Hereford, Herefordshire, England in July of 1887 and came to Canada in 1909. They were married in St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Revelstoke, BC on October 11, 1910. There were both Anglicans. Reginald Johncox, according to the Canadian census was born in England in August of 1906. He may have been Victor's son from a previous marriage, or may have been a nephew.

The 1912 and 1913 directories also show the Johncox family living with the Hartmans for those years. Then in 1914 the Johncoxes moved to a house at 15 West 8th Avenue. The 1914 directory lists Victor F. Johncox as the manager of the London Fish Market Company.

The   1912 and 1913 directories list Robert F. Hartman as working as a conductor for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The 1914 directory lists Hartman as a builder, while the 1915 directory lists him as an employee of the City of Vancouver. The 1916 directory expands on this, listing him as a carpenter for the City of Vancouver. The 1917 directory lists him as a contractor. The 1918 and 1919 directories list him as a carpenter. Then from the 1920 directory onward, Robert Hartman disappears from the directory record and from 1921 until 1953, the year she leaves the house, Gertrude Hartman is listed in the directories as the widow of R. F. Hartman.

Over the following years sometimes Gertrude Hartman is listed as a saleswoman for Woodward's Department store. Bessie and Doris Hartman grow up. Bessie gets a job as a steno for the National Paper Box & Carton Company Ltd. at 160 West 3rd Avenue. Doris is the first to marry. Sometime in 1929 or early 1930, she marries warehouseman Almer Van Meer. Almer moves into 46 East 12th and live there for a few years before moving out to another house at 1927 East 39th Avenue. Sadly, Doris Van Meer died very young at the age of on May 28, 1944 in Vancouver. She is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in plot Horne2/*/01/043/0003 (330).

Bessie Hartman married Alfred Windsor and after living at the house for a year together, moved to a house at 2445 Windsor. 

From 1936 to 1952 Gertrude Hartman continued to live at 46 East 12th Avenue, always listed as the widow of R. Hartman... It may be, rather it is most likely that Gertrude had a number of boarders stay in the home with her but they are never listed in the street section of the directory.

The 1953 directory lists the house as vacant. Gertrude has moved  
to a suite in a rooming house at 2666 Cambridge. In later life she lived at 2180 Harrison Drive. Gertrude Hartman died at Vancouver General Hospital on July 22, 1968 at the age of 61 and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in the same plot as her daughter. 

The interesting thing about Gertrude's death certificate is what it says about her marriage status... She is not listed as a widow, rather it shows that she is still married to Robert Fred Hartman.

Gertrude Hartman's July 22, 1968 Death Certificate
So what does that mean, I thought... In my research on the house and the family I could find no death certificate. Robert is not buried in Mountain View. His name is not included in the list of the war dead in Veterans Affairs Virtual War Memorial Webpage... Gertrude Hartman continuous listed herself as Robert's widow in the city directories, yet her daughter, Bessie Windsor who filled in the information on her mother's death certificate listed her as married, not a widow... Was this a mistake on Bessie's part? Or had Gertrude been hiding the truth?

None of this part of the story had anything to do with the Statement of Significance I had to write for my client. I had a deadline to make, but I couldn't focus properly on the task at hand. A key missing file delayed me completing the project in time. The stress was getting to me... I was agonizing over every word. I finally had to ask for an extension on the deadline.

Over the weekend I collected my thoughts and tried to complete the project... but Robert Hartman's disappearance kept bothering me. I decided to try and look for more information on

I had tried to research Hartman using the information I found on him in the 1911 Canada Census. According to the census records, Hartman was supposed to have been born in the US in May of 1880... But when I finally found Robert Fred (not Frederick) Hartman on the Robert Fred Hartman I found was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on May 4 of 1884, not 1880. According to the various resource material I was able to find, the story I was finally able to piece together shows that Robert Fred Hartman abandoned his wife and two daughters in Canada in 1917, two years before the Vancouver directories stopped listing him.


Hartman left Canada for the US on January 5, 1917 and settled in Tulsa Oklahoma with a woman he claimed as his wife, Vancouver-born Mary Alice Hartman. 

This September 1918 Draft Registration form show that he lived in Tulsa where he worked as a carpenter and that Mrs. R. Robertson of Tulsa was his next of kin.

 Despite having signed a declaration of intent to become a US citizen, Hartman still hadn't done so by April 18th, 1927 when he filled out this second declaration of intent to become an American citizen. If you look closely at the document, Hartman's wife is listed as a Vancouver-born Mary Alice Hartman. Evidently Hartman left Gertrude and his two daughters Bessie and Doris for another women from Vancouver...

Another interesting piece from this document is Robert F. Hartman's physical description. White. Fair Complexion, 5 feet 10 inches in height. 180 pounds. Dark hair. Blue Eyes.

But there is another piece I find interesting in this document. Robert had to sign that he was not a polygamist or a believer in the practice of polygamy. I wonder what went through Robert's mind (as a bigamist) when he signed that paper... Did he think of Gertrude and their children in Vancouver?

And who was this Mary Alice Hartman? So far, I have not been able to find any information on her. All I know is that eventually Hartman, his wife, and possibly even subsequent children moved from Tulsa to Los Angeles and Robert Fred Hartman died in Los Angeles on December 8, 1952 at the age of 68. He is probably buried there.

Again, none of this information can be used in the Statement of Significance... It is however a great story with a number of remaining mysteries. Just how many houses we see every day hold similar stories or hide similar secrets?

If you are interested in the stories that Vancouver's houses can tell, you might be interested in my History Walks, guided tours of a number of Vancouver's historic neighbourhoods. My 2013 schedule is now set.  

My first tour of the season is of Vancouver's Strathcona (Old East End) Neighbourhood. It starts at 10am on Saturday May 11th at 696 East Hastings (the SW corner of Hastings and Heatley). For further information on this tour, check out this link. 

Information on cost and how to contact me to reserve a space on my tours or get more information on them is included on the schedule page. 

And! If you happen to be a descendent of Robert and Gertrude Hartman, or Robert and Mary Alice Hartman and would like to share pictures or further information on your family's story, please do not hesitate to contact me using the comment box below. And if you are ever in Vancouver, drop by 46 East 12th and check out the house that your great grandfather or great great grandfather built... Hopefully, it will still be standing when you come and visit.   

Thanks for taking the time to read this post.


46 East 12th still stands and has recently been designated Class C Heritage status. In the course of recent kitchen renos, the owners found Robert Fred Hartman's signature on the ceiling and took this photo.

Now if we can only find a descendant with a photo of Robert Fred Hartman!




  1. Thanks for sharing. Love this kind d of history.

  2. Great research. I am going to share your post on our If You Grew Up in East Vancouver Share Your Memories Facebook page. I am sure many in the group will remember this house.

  3. Thanks Lori,

    And don't forget, my East End (Strathcona) waslking tour kicks off my 2013 Walking Tour Schedule this Saturday at 10am. 696 East Hastings is the departure point. Cost $20 per person for a two hour tour. Details:

  4. ジェームズさん、


  5. CSさま、ごコメント有難う御座いました。若し貴方の家の歴史の研究にお役に立てればコンタクトして下さい。電子メールのアドレスはhousehistorian (アット)yahoo.caです。

  6. I believe Almer Van Meer is my grandpa. After he and Doris divorced, he remarried my grandma.

    1. I'm the homeowner... I'd love to hear more about that... Doris died shortly after they split up.