British Columbia

82-year-old tours grandfather's tenement building for 1st time

The Yada apartments is one of 10 historical sites on Heritage Vancouver's list of endangered places for 2018. The organization took members of the public on a tour to each of the landmarks on Saturday.

The Yada apartment building is one of 10 endangered landmarks spots on Heritage Vancouver's annual list

The Yada apartment building is only five metres wide, but 33 metres long. (Heritage Vancouver)

Berry red and six times long as it is wide, the Yada apartment building sticks out in Vancouver's Fairview neighbourhood.

Ken Yada's grandfather built the tenement as housing for Japanese labourers working in the False Creek sawmills in the early 20th century.

On Saturday, Yada, 82, went inside the thin wooden building on West 7th Avenue for the first time.

"It was unbelievable," he said afterward. "I couldn't believe I got to see."

The apartment is one of 10 historical sites on Heritage Vancouver's list of endangered places for 2018.

The organization took members of the public on a tour to each of the landmarks on Saturday, detailing each site' importance and threats they face.

Ken Yada, 82, went inside the building his grandfather built for the first time on Saturday. The Yada apartments are more than 100 years old. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Yada knows the significance of the apartments more than most.

His father was born in the building, known as "the long house" for its narrow shape. Genichiro Yada was one of hundreds of Japanese-Canadians who worked at the sawmills during the industrial boom of the early 20th century.

He made a little over $16 a week.

The family — which included Ken by then — was sent to the Bridge River Japanese-Canadian internment camp north of Lillooet in 1942. The apartments were seized, but largely preserved.

The Yadas moved back to the coast in 1949.

The Yada apartments in 1985. The building survived, even as the Fairview Slopes neighbourhood was heavily developed during the '70s. (Heritage Vancouver)

Heritage Vancouver says the building is the only surviving workers' tenement in the area from the early 1900s. The original apartments have been converted into seven modern-day suites, with a spectacular view out the back windows.

The building is currently for sale and Yada is worried developers will tear it down.

Other areas on the list — including the entirety of Chinatown and Gastown — are on Heritage Vancouver's endangered list for similar reasons.

A narrow walkway connects the suites in the building today. (Vancouver Heritage Foundation)

Bill Yuen, the organization's executive director, said advocates may need to collaborate with developers to preserve the sites.

"The thinking nowadays is heritage and development are not necessarily at odds," Yuen said. "Development can help heritage and conserve places."

Heritage Vancouver is urging city officials to include the endangered sites in its updated Heritage Action Plan.

Councillors have already taken steps to preserve several spots on the list — including Chinatown, where officials are considering an outright ban on high-rise towers.

Find Heritage Vancouver's full list here.

With files from Jon Hernandez