British Columbia

Vancouver Vanishes book laments demolition of character homes and the histories they contain

“These houses could keep going for hundreds of years, and they’re being replaced by synthetic homes that are expected to be replaced within 30 years," says editor Caroline Adderson.

Collection of essays and photographs grew out of the popular Vancouver Vanishes Facebook page

One of many character homes that appears in the book Vancouver Vanishes. This 2857 West 32nd Ave. was built in 1936, and its first owners were salesman John R. Dudley and wife Florence. (Caroline Adderson)

When Caroline Adderson wanted to commemorate the character homes being torn down in her West Side Vancouver neighbourhood, she turned to Facebook in 2013 and created the Vancouver Vanishes page that now has over 7,000 likes.

That page has now transformed into a collection of essays and photographs titled Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival, with contributions from historians, journalists and poets.

"This book, in a very small way, is a record of what we've lost," said Adderson, who was both contributor and editor of the book, which will be launched at an event at Book Warehouse on Main Street on Nov. 23.

More than just buildings

The book contains essays by people including journalists Kerry Gold and Bob Mackie and poet Evelyn Lau, with photographs by Adderson and Tracey Ayton scattered throughout. 

The 'Dorothies,' two 1930s Vancouver West Side heritage homes, were saved from the wrecking ball and successfully moved two blocks from West 43rd Avenue to their new home on West 41st Avenue in March 2014. (Tracey Ayton)

As on the Facebook page, the pictures of the houses in the book — many of which are pre-1940 character homes — are accompanied by a caption stating when the house was built, the name of the first owner and their occupation, and the status of the house (always "demolished").

"I see these houses as repositories of narrative … so when you say, 'John Smith, barber, and wife Mary,' suddenly you see this man doing something and a story is there," she said.

"It makes it not only a horrible environmental waste when this is happening, but also such a loss of narrative, story, history."

Adderson said the homes were often handcrafted with wood from first growth forests and made to endure.

"These houses could keep going for hundreds of years, and they're being replaced by synthetic homes that are expected to be replaced within 30 years, and we're certainly seeing younger homes go down. There was one 11-year-old house in my neighbourhood that was torn down recently," she said.

"We'll end up being a city with no layers, and when we have no layers, I'll suggest we have no culture."

In September 2015 Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to make the First Shaughnessy neighbourhood a Heritage Conservation Area.

This designation, a first for the city, gives the city the the power to prevent First Shaughnessy homes built before 1940 from being demolished. 

To hear the audio click on the audio labelled: Vancouver Vanishes book laments demolition of character homes and the histories they contain


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