Heritage advocate urges Victoria to protect its older houses

Vancouver’s Caroline Adderson is a champion for old character homes, mourning whenever another one is lost.

The heritage advocate and author is speaking to Greater Victoria residents this month on why these houses matter and ways to save them.

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“I would like them [Greater Victoria citizens] to get ready and to take preventative measures,” she said from Vancouver.

Adderson runs a Facebook page called Vancouver Vanishes, where she documents houses built prior to 1940. She has co-written a book called Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival. Spurred by the loss of thousands of character homes in the city of Vancouver, Adderson is trying to raise public awareness about the role such houses play in creating a community.

Between 2005 and early 2015, more than 8,700 houses were demolished in Vancouver.

During an interview with the Times Colonist, Adderson could hear the sounds of a nearby house being taken down. On the street next to her, another house was recently demolished, leaving just one original house on that street.

“You can’t put a monetary value on a sense of community, on a sense of history,” she said.

Often, the house coming down is considered “under-built” for the size of its lot, she said. “When these houses were built, building materials were expensive, land was cheap.”

Someone who wants a newer, bigger home will see the potential to build on the lot, even if the existing house is in good condition, she said. “The house is irrelevant and they are going to take it down.” But that new house will affect housing affordability because its value will likely be worth more than what it has replaced, Adderson said.

The old houses were built with old-growth timber that has hardened over the years. “Time was spent building them. They were incredibly well-crafted.”

Trees come down when larger houses are built, she said.

And it may be that the builders do not live in the city or only live there part-time, thus affecting the number of customers at small local stores, she said.

As one solution, Adderson pointed to Vancouver council’s decision to designate a neighbourhood called First Shaughnessy as a heritage conservation area.

“First Shaughnessy is one of our most historic neighbourhoods, and in a city as young as Vancouver it’s important that we protect its unique heritage,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said in September.

“By designating First Shaughnessy as Vancouver’s first Heritage Conservation Area, we are taking a balanced approach that will prevent the demolition of these historic homes while providing new opportunities to add very modest density where appropriate.” Of the 595 properties in that neighbourhood, 315 were built prior to 1940. Many are on large lots.

While protecting older houses, the new zoning will allow homeowners to add more residential use including secondary suites, coach houses, infill buildings, and multiple-conversion dwellings.

Not only old houses are coming down. Vancouver residents protested Sunday outside a $6-million mansion that is only 20 years old and went through a $350,000 renovation three years ago. Its owners want to replace it with another single-family house.

Victoria Coun. Pamela Madoff is hoping people turn out for Adderson’s talk, saying precious local buildings are already being lost.

Ken Johnson, president of the Hallmark Heritage Society in Victoria, said people want to live in a neighbourhood.

“They want to live there because of the ambiance that has been created by the existing houses.”

He notes that heritage maintenance grants are available in some municipalities to preserve older homes.

“It is a matter of starting the discussion because if you don’t, before you know it, it will be gone.”

Adderson’s illustrated lecture is Feb. 15 at Craigflower Schoolhouse, 2755 Admirals Rd., from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is free to Hallmark members and by donation for others.

— with file from Vancouver Sun

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