British Columbia

In defence of history: Fred Soofi's crusade to save Port Moody's old homes

The arrival of the Evergreen SkyTrain line and accompanying condo boom means an uncertain future for many of Port Moody's historical homes.

"The whole Lower Mainland is changing, but Port Moody is changing in an even bigger way with SkyTrain coming"

In 2012, the restored Appleyard Residence was moved for a second time to make way for construction of the Evergreen SkyTrain line. The 1910 house is now part of the Port Moody Art Centre. (City of Port Moody)

The arrival of the Evergreen SkyTrain line and accompanying condo boom means an uncertain future for many of Port Moody's historical homes.

Fred Soofi thinks that's a shame, so much so that the restaurateur has been busy buying homes in the oldest part of Port Moody where the new transit line is under construction and moving them to new locations.

"The whole Lower Mainland is changing ... but Port Moody is changing in an even bigger way with the SkyTrain coming," said Soofi. 

Fred Soofi, seen here in front of the Appleyard Residence, says it's important to preserve the history and heritage of Port Moody, especially with the new Evergreen SkyTrain line driving rapid development in the city. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

So far, Soofi has purchased and moved two heritage homes. He hopes to do the same with five more.

The 1910 Appleyard Residence was his first project. Formerly the home of Port Moody postmaster, mill owner and city councillor Frederick Appleyard, Soofi saved it from the wrecking ball in 2000.

"I purchased it. I moved it. I restored it," he said. "The developer bought the whole block and wanted to develop it. At that time I had the land across the street and moved it there."

After the restoration, Soofi sold the Appleyard Residence to another entrepreneur who ran a successful pizza restaurant out of it for years. The home was then sold and moved again to make way for the Evergreen Line, saved from demolition a second time because of the work Soofi had done to have it registered as a heritage building. It's now part of the Port Moody Arts Centre.

"They did tear down lots of other buildings, but this one they could not," he said proudly. 

Considered a classic example of a Craftsman-style bungalow, Soofi bought and moved the Alexander Residence five years ago. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

In 2011, Soofi embarked on his second heritage project, buying the Alexander Residence and moving it from busy St. John's Street to a quieter location five blocks away. The 1923 Craftsman-style bungalow was built by former Port Moody mayor and councillor Arthur Alexander.  A mulit-storey development is now slated for its original location. 

Soofi says relocating the houses instead of just tearing them down preserves the city's history and the environment, saving truckloads of demolition waste from the landfill.   

Plus he's discovered there's hidden value in the pristine timber that was used to build Port Moody's first homes. 

"The type of wood was the best quality because they had the mill right here," he said. "My contractor couldn't believe it. The wood [in the Appleyard house] didn't have one knot in it."

Soofi admits to making a small profit on his relocation and renovation projects but claims money is not what's motivating him.   

"I believe you have to leave something for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, to see how we lived, how Port Moody started," he said. "If you just have everything new you have no idea."

With files from Kamil Karamali