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Fast work saves old Esquimalt home from demolition

A 120-year-old Esquimalt house has been spared the wrecking ball and will start life anew in the region after a young couple, a sharp-eyed mayor, a conscientious developer and innumerable departments and contractors came together in the nick of time
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This 120-year-old home on Nelson Street, Esquimalt, was saved from demolition at the last minute after a flurry of negotiation. Aquila Pacific, which is putting up a 10-storey building on the property, has given the house to a couple who used to rent it, Dave Dick and Mandalena Lewis. The house is being lifted this week in preparation for moving in the coming weeks. Outside the home on Thursday were, from left: Jim Connelly of home-moving specialists Nickel Brothers, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardin, Coun. Ken Armour, Aquila development consultant Mark Holland, and councillors Tim Morrison and Lynda Hundleby. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A 120-year-old Esquimalt house has been spared the wrecking ball and will start life anew in the region after a young couple, a sharp-eyed mayor, a conscientious developer and innumerable departments and contractors came together in the nick of time to find an alternative to demolition.

The home, at 619 Nelson St., was slated to be demolished in the next two weeks to make way for Light House, a 10-storey, mixed-use project with 129 rental units.

But a call from Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins put a temporary stop to those plans and breathed new life into the home, which will now belong to Dave Dick and his partner Mandalena Lewis, who were given it for free.

“I really just connected a couple of people, this is about the parties that made this happen,” said Desjardins, who put the developer, Aquila Pacific, in contact with Dick and Lewis, who had, at one point, rented the house and had been in discussions with a previous developer about buying and moving it.

When those discussions didn’t bear fruit and seemed to lead to nothing, Dick took to social media to vent frustration. Desjardins caught wind of that and decided to play match-maker. She contacted Aquila Pacific, which bought the property and other assembled lands but wasn’t told about the failed negotiations with the previous owner.

“I connected the new developer with Dave and they have been working hard on this to make it happen,” Desjardins said.

Mark Holland, Aquila Pacific’s local development consultant, said they had no idea the couple had been negotiating with the previous owner to buy the house. By the time Aquila found out about it, demolition was impending.

“We realized this thing could get bulldozed in a week or so, so we all got around the table to save it,” Holland said.

Holland said it took a lot of give and take from various parties including Esquimalt, the developer, the would-be buyers, contractors such as VanIsle Hazmat and Baumler Contracting and home-moving specialists Nickel Brothers to find time to work on short notice.

Aquila Pacific moved schedules and contracts around to help save the house, which it gave to Dick and Lewis, Holland said.

If Aquila had known earlier — it has owned the property for about a year — it could have worked with Dick and Lewis much earlier to make it happen, he said.

“It has been exciting to see everyone work together to save this house,” said Holland. “It’s one of those things that can only happen when everyone gets around the table and they all agree to achieve this end, and then make the changes they need to make it happen.”

Harsimer Rattan, a founding partner of Aquila Pacific, said the company was pleased to adjust its demolition schedule after learning about the possibility of saving the house.

“We are investing in Esquimalt with two new rental buildings approved in the area and we are starting the rezoning of a third this week,” he said in a statement.

“We care about the community and believe Esquimalt has a great future and we are pleased that we could help save some of its past.”

Desjardins said she is thrilled for the young couple that the home will get a second life and also for Esquimalt, which has made diverting material from landfills a priority.

“This highlights what can be done with give and take on all sides,” she said.

Nickel Brothers is lifting the house this week in preparation for moving in the next couple of weeks.

aduffy@timescolonist.com