British Columbia

West Vancouver's Navvy Jack House spared from demolition

One of the oldest houses in West Vancouver has been spared from demolition and the district will begin the process of securing its future as a heritage home.

'I believe this is the right decision,' Mayor Mary-Ann Booth says

The Navvy Jack House in West Vancouver, B.C., stands empty. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

One of the oldest houses in West Vancouver has been spared from demolition and the district will begin the process of securing its future as a heritage home.

Councillors voted Monday to halt a previous proposal to tear down the Navvy Jack House and instead apply for provincial heritage funding.

The district will also allocate $150,000 to determine whether the waterfront home can be restored and moved up from the rising shoreline.

"I believe this is the right decision," Mayor Mary-Ann Booth said. "We really resolved as a council to commit to giving this our best shot."

John "Navvy Jack" Thomas was a Welsh deserter from the Royal Navy who married Rowia, a Squamish Nation woman, in the early 1870s. They raised their four children — Sampson, Christine, Mary, and Emma — in what is now called the Navvy Jack House. The house was continually occupied from 1873 to 2017, and is now owned by the municipality. 

The house is in dire need of repair and its future has faced months of uncertainty. 

After consulting with the public and the Squamish Nation, options up for consideration included a $2-million renovation, tearing the house down, or rebuilding it as a nature centre or replica.

The West Vancouver Streamkeeper Society has asked that the site be rehabilitated to ensure a safe place for salmon to rear in the nearby creek before swimming to the ocean. The house must be moved for this work to be done, and it has to be done by summer 2021 to comply with fisheries laws.

The district will try to accommodate these requests, Booth said. Fundraising and grants will be required to cover the costs, but the district will match those requests with a $1-million commitment, she added.

The total cost of restoring the home could be $2.5 to $5 million, Booth said. 

Dozens of people called into Monday's council meeting, Booth said, including descendants of Navvy Jack as far away as Churchill, Manitoba.

Booth has asked that collaboration with First Nations continue throughout the process of restoring the home. 

"This is a big deal for the community. It has a huge historical significance, but it also potentially has a huge price tag. And during COVID, it really highlighted financial vulnerabilities from the district perspective. So we have to be realistic about how much it's going to cost to to restore the house," Booth said. 

"It's a big commitment for the community. I think it's doable, but I think it's going to take some time."

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