As many of you already know, I do a number of things to keep a roof over my head besides researching the history of houses for people. I work part time in sales and customer service at the Gourmet Warehouse at 1340 East Hastings and on Saturday mornings during the summer I give two hour History Walks in four of Vancouver's historic neighbourhoods: The East End (Strathcona), Grandview, The West End, and Mount Pleasant.
I didn't get into the walking tour business on my own. I was prodded. Some years back, while I was on the board of Heritage Vancouver Society, the board asked me to do a walking tour of my East End neighbourhood as a fundraiser for them. Though I had lots of information and many fascinating stories on the houses and the people who lived in the neighbourhood through my house history research work, I hesitated at first. Neighbourhood walking tours were already being offered by my neighbour, renowned Vancouver historian and writer John Atkin, and also by the Architectural Institute of BC. Other parts of my neighbourhood were being covered by the people at the Vancouver Police Museum through their Sins of the City tours, while the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC also was offering fascinating tours that covered the rich Jewish history of my East End neighbourhood. I didn't want to step on any toes...
However, after some thought I decided that the content used in my tours would be information gleaned from my research, and that I would be speaking about the history of the East End from my perspective, using what I knew, focussing on the things that I found interesting. I concluded that my tours would be different than those offered by others and... what the heck.
Though I had files and files of information on close to 200 houses in the neighbourhood and the people who lived in them, it took hours of agonizing to come up with a route that I thought was interesting and that took the best advantage of the houses I had researched.
|Talking about S.P.O.T.A. and Mary Lee Chan's House at 758 Keefer. Photo courtesy of Patrick Gunn, H.V.S.|
Long story short, the tour was very successful, and I was left feeling that if a walking tour of the East End could make money for the Heritage Vancouver Society, why shouldn't I be doing tours to help look after me? So I started to do East End tours on summer saturdays. As time went on I developed routes for tours through my old neighbourhoods, the West End and Grandview, as well as one for Mount Pleasant.
No matter how much research and planning you do for a tour, there is always another interesting house, or two, or three that got left out of your original research that demands an explanation. It's okay not to know everything, but of course, seeing these yet unresearched buildings time and time again piques my curiosity and eventually goads me to do the extra research.
The other day I did a special West End History Walk for members of Brock House Society. In preparation for this group I did some extra research on some houses in the 1300 block of Barclay, the 900 block of Nicola, and some addresses on the 1000 block of Davie Street. It was great to be able to fill in these blanks. But the highlight of that particular tour was to find out some important information on a house in the 1100 block of Haro that I had only done some basic research on before. It always blows me away how amazing some of the information shared by my tour guests is, and how this information enriches my tours.
We were walking from Bute along Haro Street toward Thurlow. This block is today dominated by high and mid-rise apartment blocks, but here and there nestled in the shadows you will find four historic houses. Two of them, 1131 and 1143 Haro, both built in 1906, appear in this circa 1912 City of Vancouver Archives photo. Haro Street is on the extreme right. The brick Victoria Court apartments at the NW corner of Thurlow and Haro still stands.
Birds eye view of the West End and Downtown Vancouver with Haro Street Houses in foreground ca 1912 M-11-22
Counting carefully down and left from the apartment building, the two 1131 and 1143 Haro are the sixth and seventh houses with the lighter coloured paint. 1143 Haro, has been severly altered, possibly as the result of a fire. Gone are its peaked roof and its second storey bay window. 1131 Haro though still has its unique gable and curved bargeboards.
|Photo of 1150 Haro courtesy of VancouverPriceDrop|
Across the street from these two remnants stands a true gem, a beautifully restored Victorian, 1150 Haro Street. When I was doing my initial research for my West End tour, the City of Vancouver's VanMap service indicated that this house was built in 1901.
|Interior of 1150 Haro courtesy of Easy Rent website|
Taking this information at face value, I did some hasty research as to who lived in the house from 1901 onward. The City directories indicated that a retired dry good merchant named John Roland Stitt lived there.
|John Rowland Stitt's Wedding Certificate from 13 February 1873|
A quick check of the 1901 census brought up John, his wife Isabelle, and his four daughters, Winnifred, Isabel, Claire Edguarda and Nora.
The little I researched of John indicated that he was a retired dry goods store manager born in Ontario, and that is what I shared with my group from Brock House. Among that group was a couple who had been on one of my East End tours, Doug and Lisa Smith. Lisa is about to launch an amazing book on the story of Vancouver's Great Fire of June 13, 1886 called Vancouver Is Ashes.
I had the great priviledge to be able to see the manuscript before it was sent to the publisher. I can tell you this, that Vancouver Is Ashes is the Vancouver history book that I, and I believe you, have all been waiting for.
|City of Vancouver Archives picture AM1562- 75-54 - Sketch by City Archivist Major James Skitt Matthews|
It is an absolutely rivetting account of what happened on that fateful summer Sunday when Vancouver was wiped off the face of the map by a freak stump fire. The first hand accounts of the Great Fire's survivors are so skillfully woven together that you feel you are there. The heat and smoke of the fire seems about to jump from the pages... panic and terror too... almost to the point that you'll feel the urgent need to drop the burning book and run for your life.
|BC Archives Image PDP00815 Vancouver's Great Fire by Robert John Banks|
Anyway, John R. Stitt, the man who lived at 1150 Haro turned up in Lisa's research for her book. At one point he was manager of the Hastings Mill Store.
The Hastings Mill Store was the only building that now stands in Vancouver to survive the blaze. Relocated to the north foot of Alma in the 1930s after Vancouver's first industry was finally closed, this amazing pre-Fire relic now operates as the Hastings Mill Museum, and will be the venue for Lisa's book launch on Sunday May 25 at 1pm.
|VPL #3644 Hastings Sawmill Store prior to move to Alma in 1929 by Leonard Frank|
I was very grateful for this new piece of information. I decided to do a little more in-depth research to see what more I could add in terms of story to my West End walk.
According to some real estate sites I found online it looked like the 1901 date shown on VanMap might be almost a decade late. One of the sites indicated that 1150 Haro might have been built circa 1892.
I checked the 1897 Fire Insurance map for Vancouver looking for a house built on Lot 6 of Block 20 of District Lot 185 in the West End. Sure enough, there was already a house there, but the original numbering was 1120, not 1150 like it is today.
I was able to trace 1120 Haro back all the way to the 1892 directory which shows it to have been the home of Mrs. L. Francis, her two children, and a relative or perhaps maid named Maud Purvis, the the information on the real estate website was true. I wonder if the VanMap data is based on when water service went in because there were lots of houses in early Vancouver that were built before water was hooked up.
|CVA Photo Port P496.1 - Samuel Law Prenter March 5, 1925|
|CVA Photo Port P1187 - A banquet for leading citizens at the Vancouver Club circa 1920|
The group portrait shows Sir Charles Tupper, Frederick Buscombe, E.J. McFeely, Dr. A.S. Monro, Samuel Law Prenter, R. F. Marpole, E.R. Ricketts, J.B. Johnson, R.G. Macpherson, William Ferriman Salsbury, G.C. Tunstall, General J.W. Stewart, Richard Marpole, Robert Kelly, D.E. Brown, C. Gardner Johnson, H.B. Walkem, W.A. Turquand, George E. Macdonald, A. Whealler, J. Elliott, C.E. Meek, Henry Reifel, W.F. Brougham and Colonel E.G. Prior.
The Prenter family only lived at 1120 Haro for a year. The 1897 directory (which sadly lacks a proper street section) finally shows John Rowland Stitt and his family at 1120 Haro.
When John Rowland Stitt and his family moved to 1120 Haro, John had just finished his stint as manager for the Hastings Mill Store. Prior to moving to 1120 Haro, he and his family had been living at a small house on Alexander Street... 502 Alexander Street to be exact.
502 Alexander Street, if you remember, was in the news a lot this past year or so.
|502 Alexander photos courtesy Flickr member SqueakyMarmot via Heritage Vancouver Society|
Known as the J. B. Henderson House, it was built sometime in 1888 and was deemed to be the second oldest house still standing in Vancouver.
|1888 Directory listing for J. B. Henderson|
|1889 Directory listing for J. B. Henderson|
The J. B. Henderson House had been bought by Atira Housing Society, and supposedly was to have been restored or at least renovated and integrated into an innovative housing complex that combined the 1913 Dolly Darlington brothel/British Sailors Home at 500 Alexander, and a modern building made of recycled shipping containers. This unfortunately never happened. Incompetant mishandling of the removal of the rear portion of the house to make way for the containers left the already vulnerable house unstable. Several attempts by people in the neighbourhood to relocate the house were ultimately thwarted by red tape and the city's refusal to help fund the move.
In the end, despite passionate and well reasoned pleas on the part of Heritage Vancouver Society and other heritage advocates, this historic old East End house, which for a number of years had been the home of Hastings Mill Store manager John Rowland Stitt and his family before he moved to 1120 Haro Street, and which for a while was a brothel run by a madam named Ruth Richards....
|1913 directory listing the brothels on the 500 and 600 blocks of Alexander|
...and which by the late 1930s and early 40s was the home of another James Johnstone, Superintendent of the Vancouver Sailors Home at 500 Alexander, was erased from the map.
So there you have it... you just never know... I have found that every house has a story to tell. In fact they have many stories to tell, and often these stories have links to the stories of other houses...
When I take people out on one of my neighbourhood history walks I end up learning just as much from my customers as they do from me. It is a wonderful thing being around and connecting with people who have a passion for Vancouver's history. My scheduled history walks take place every Saturday morning at 10am. Every second Saturday I take tours through Vancouver's oldest and most fascinating neighbourhood, Strathcona, Vancouver's old East End.
|1890s era Bird's Eye View of Vancouver's East End with the Hastings Sawmill visible near the bottom left hand of the map|
Then on the remaining Saturdays I alternate between the West End, Grandview and Mount Pleasant. Click this link for information on my 2014 History Walk Schedule. I also offer private Neighbourhood History Walks for groups of five and over. These walks are now being rated on Trip Advisor, and have been the subject of a fun mini video documentary by Janelle Huopalainen called Time Traveler.
And while I am at it, be sure to be on the look out for Lisa Anne Smith's scorching hot new history book, Vancouver Is Ashes which launches on Sunday, May 25th. You won't regret it.
PS: If you are a descendent of John Rowland Stitt and have a scan of a picture of him and other members of his family that you would be willing to share, please contact me using the comments section.