Top 10 reasons why First Shaughnessy should be declared a heritage area

B.C. has 70 Heritage Conservation Areas — 10 in Victoria alone. Yet Vancouver, where more than 1,000 homes are demolished every year, is struggling to establish its first.  

First Shaughnessy map and former character home
LOSS OF LOCAL CHARACTER: This home was demolished in 2013. A total of 56 houses have been lost since 1982 in the architecturally and historically important neighbourhood of First Shaughnessy. Submitted photo

This beautiful house at 3738 Hudson St. was built in 1910 for George Hobson, secretary of the Hobson and Co. Fire Insurance Company.

Richard Keate, a fourth-generation First Shaughnessy resident and chair of the Vancouver Heritage Commission described it this way: “It [had] what we call the English picturesque aesthetic… a large but simple 3-owner home in original condition — corbeled and coffered and wainscotted and fireplaced.”

According to the real estate listing: “This desirable property, priced for land value, is an opportunity to acquire almost three quarters of an acre in First Shaughnessy, Vancouver’s most prestigious neighbourhood. Also ready to go are architectural plans for a gracious new 14,000 square foot mansion.”

It was demolished in 2013, one of the 56 houses lost since 1982 in the architecturally and historically important neighbourhood of First Shaughnessy.

Of the remaining 317 pre-1940 homes, only 11 are protected. In the 18 months before the June 2014 temporary moratorium on demolitions in the area there were a further 19 inquiries to demolish. Clearly this city, which likes to describe itself as “world class,” is on its way to losing its historic mansion district.

Older cities, particularly in Europe, unquestioningly value their built heritage, but in a newer city like Vancouver it’s a harder sell. The homes in First Shaughnessy are some of the finest ever built. They’re more than homes; they’re cultural artifacts. Yet they’re purchased as building lots. 

Ironically, one of the oldest buildings in Canada is in Vancouver, owned by Larry and Sherry Killam, in Southlands. It’s a 17th-Century English dairy barn built in the Norman style, painstakingly deconstructed, shipped here, and reconstructed.

This extraordinary structure still exists for one reason: because when it was about the age of the homes in First Shaughnessy no one destroyed it. Then it stood for another 100 years and no one destroyed it. Then 150 more years passed and still no one destroyed it.  For a building to reach such an age where it is universally respected and beloved, where the very fact that it still stands helps ensure its survival, it must first be allowed to be 75 years old, then 100, then 200. This is highly unlikely in Vancouver without a Heritage Conservation Area (HCA). 

A HCA doesn’t seem a particularly radical measure to me. Ottawa has 18, Toronto 16. I recently visited New York, which has 114 Historic Districts and 20 Historic District Extensions across its five boroughs.  In fact, B.C. has 70 Heritage Conservation Areas — 10 in Victoria alone. Yet Vancouver, where more than 1,000 homes are demolished every year, is struggling to establish its first. 

A third public hearing on the establishment of a Heritage Conservation Area (HCA) in First Shaughnessy will take place on Sept. 15. The first two public hearings on July 21 and 28 were packed with opponents, people whose main argument seems to be that property values would decline and they would suffer financially if this important neighbourhood was protected from demolition.

Given Vancouver’s ever-increasing house prices, it seems doubtful to me that anyone owning a home in First Shaughnessy will lose money; nevertheless, I contacted the City of Victoria to find out how property values have fared in their Heritage Conservation Areas.

"What has been the general trend, if anything, is that property values have increased," senior heritage planner Murray Miller told me.  He put this down to the "value placed on stability" as well as the "reasonable approach to infill and development" which occurs in HCAs. He also reported that the "properties that have fetched the highest prices in Victoria are heritage-designated properties."  

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