Bulletin - Heritage Vancouver Society

Heritage alert - August 17, 2012

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Proposed Imouto Housing for Young Women and the
Threatened Demolition of a Heritage House at 502 Alexander St.


Image - 502 Alexander

Images: Left - front; right - rear; courtesy of Flickr member SqueakyMarmot

Atira Housing has just applied this week for a permit to demolish one of Vancouver's oldest surviving houses, located at 500-502 Alexander Street in Japantown. This house was built in 1888, and is listed on the City of Vancouver's Heritage Register.

The site of Atira's proposed Imouto Project, which will provide Housing for Young Women, is in the Downtown-Eastside / Oppenheimer District. The City's Development Plan By-Laws incorporate several "Goals" to form the basis for planning and development of the District. The Housing Goals encourage the retention of existing housing and the provision of new affordable units for local residents. The Heritage Conservation Goal is to "Preserve and enhance the heritage character of the District and recognize its historical significance in the evolution of Vancouver."

Overall, we are impressed by the Atira Women's Resource Society's project for the site that aims to achieve two of the City of Vancouver's goals, namely to create social housing for vulnerable young women and to save a heritage building, by renovating it to accommodate new housing. This also represents an all too rare improvement to this struggling area of Strathcona, located north of Hastings, which has not benefited from the ongoing public and private sector investments seen in the Strathcona neighbourhood south of Hastings.

The attractive 1912 brick building at the corner of Alexander Street and Jackson Avenue that is being retained is a significant structure and an important part of the character of this block. Regrettably, the fate of the small wood-frame house next door at 502 Alexander is threatened by this development.

This house is significant for a number of compelling reasons;

First, its age, and the rarity of any buildings that survive from this very earliest time in Vancouver's history.

Secondly, this neighbourhood was part of Vancouver's first development and its historic building stock illustrates our early connection to the railway, the port and the original momentum of settlement.

Thirdly, it is connected to an important early settler, John Baptist Henderson, who built the house in 1888. Henderson, who was born in Ireland in 1849, was a true pioneer adventurer who changed jobs and homesteads numerous times during his career, J.B. Henderson came from a practical background, and used a wide variety of skills related to carpentry, contracting and design, to survive on the frontier. After pursuing an architectural career in many communities throughout western Canada, Henderson settled in Vancouver again where he died in 1931. His life, and his connection to this very early Vancouver house, typifies the pioneering spirit of those who first settled our city.

Heritage Vancouver is on record as stating that it would be a truly unfortunate outcome if one of the oldest houses in the city is torn down: "Our earliest buildings are the story of Vancouver being carved out of the wilderness. This house dates from the time when the train was just arriving and the city was growing there was nothing here when this house was built."

We feel strongly that this significant early structure can be retained, as originally planned, without any difficulties to Atira Housing or its worthwhile project, or else relocated to another site.


Resources/links for 502 Alexander

Heritage Vancouver letter to the City of Vancouver;
September 21, 2011

> View PDF (204k)

Our Top 10 Endangered Sites for 2012:
Strathcona North - Vancouver's First Neighbourhood

> View Top 10 Entry

"City's second-oldest house to be demolished"
Vancouver Sun article, by John Mackie; September 6, 2011
> View article at Vancouver Sun

"Vancouver's second oldest house to be torn down"
Global BC news (video); Sept. 14, 2011
> View video at GlobalTV BC


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Heritage Vancouver Society
PO Box 3336, Main Post Office, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3Y3
604 254-9411 info@heritagevancouver.org

Creating a Future for Heritage – Heritage Vancouver encourages the community to preserve, restore, and appreciate Vancouver’s heritage structures.