If you’re looking to explore Vancouver’s heritage, there are plenty of places where you can find some of the oldest buildings in town. Take a look at these 10 old houses in West Vancouver that are worth visiting!
Built by businessman and politician Alexander Duncan McRae in 1911, Hycroft Manor is the oldest house in West Vancouver. It is located in Shaughnessy, a posh neighbourhood of the city that is home to many grand old mansions.
When McRae settled in Vancouver, he enlisted the services of famed architect Thomas Hooper to build Hycroft Manor. The 30-room, 5.5-acre property boasted a ballroom, a swimming pool and an indoor wine cellar. It also included stables, a tea house and an Italian garden.
It was also the location for legendary parties and balls that were attended by some of the social elite of Vancouver. It was so popular that its guest book read like a Who’s Who of the city, and was filled with names of the high-society members who frequented it.
In 1942, after the death of McRae’s wife Blaunche, Hycroft Manor was donated to the Canadian government for a dollar to be used as a veteran’s hospital. It was later turned into a 130-bed convalescent hospital, known as the Shaughnessy Military Hospital.
Today, Hycroft Manor is owned by the University Women’s Club of Vancouver. Founded in 1907, the Club promotes education and opportunities for women. It also hosts a number of public events including stimulating talks and presentations, musical concerts, themed dinners and fashion shows.
The UWCV purchased the mansion in 1962 and it took them five years to restore the house and its gardens. It is now a first-class venue for their events, weddings and other special gatherings.
One of the most distinctive features of Hycroft Manor is its two Bridal Party Suites. Each of these suites is designed with a separate room where the bride and groom can get ready for their big day.
This unique feature is a rare addition to any venue and allows couples to create a truly memorable experience for their guests. It is ideal for those who want to have a romantic ceremony before their reception, or for couples who prefer to have both a ceremony and a reception at the same location.
Hycroft Manor is also rumoured to be haunted by several ghosts, including a soldier and a woman who enjoys attending parties. A black orb is also reported to be spotted in the mansion at times.
Navvy Jack House
West Vancouver’s oldest house is a treasured piece of the community’s past. It was built by John “Navvy Jack” Thomas, who came from Wales and played a key role in British Columbia‘s pioneer history. He was a ferry operator, a gravel businessman and held gold claims on Jack of Clubs Creek in Barkerville.
Navvy Jack and his wife Row-i-a lived in the house from about 1873 to around 2017. It was their home and where they raised their four children, according to the West Vancouver Historical Society.
The house is located on Argyle Avenue, in John Lawson Park. It’s a popular location for local residents who want to spend time in the park and watch the tides come in and out.
Council had previously voted to have the house demolished, but a group of local residents called the Navvy Jack Citizens Group convinced the district to give it a second chance. The group argued that the house should not be demolished, because it has a significant Indigenous history.
They said it’s important for the district to preserve its heritage buildings, which are a part of the city’s cultural fabric and an expression of our shared history. They also wanted to save the house from being a potential eyesore.
After hearing the arguments from a large crowd, West Vancouver council voted to halt the demolition process. They also decided to allocate $150,000 of public money to work with a heritage consultant on the project.
The heritage consultant will conduct a hazmat assessment, deconstruct the house, and determine its cost to restore it back to its 1907 form. The cost for relocating the house to another site on district-owned property will also be determined.
A group of local residents called the Navvy House Citizen Group has until March 2024 to raise $1.6 million to help cover that cost. They have already secured funding to help pay for a temporary coffee shop at the existing location, but the project is expected to be expensive.
On Monday, council voted to halt the proposal to destroy Navvy Jack House and start the process of giving it a formal heritage designation. They agreed that the house has a unique and fascinating Indigenous history and that it shouldn’t be destroyed.
The oldest house in West Vancouver, the Spencer House, was built in 1913. Its presence in the community provides a direct link to the early settlement of West Vancouver, and to the creation of neighbourhoods within it.
The Spencer family were pioneer retailers and department store owners in British Columbia. They moved to Canada in 1861 and settled in Richmond, Ontario, but they later relocated to Vancouver. They eventually purchased the property at 2089 Westdean Crescent.
This historic house was commissioned by John Spencer, Lord Spencer of Leigh, and is considered to be a notable example of Palladian architecture. The design was undertaken by the architect John Vardy, who was a pupil of William Kent. He was responsible for the design of the exterior elevations and the interior decoration, mainly using Greek detail and Siena scagliola.
In 1758, James ‘Athenian’ Stuart was commissioned to work on the design of the house and he superseded Vardy as Lord Spencer’s architect. He redesigned the building, including the addition of the Oak Room on the West Facade and the elimination of the hall fireplace and inglenook. He also enlarged the kitchen, adding an inglenook and a fireplace in the dining room and changing the staircase from the corner of the main building to the centre of the East Facade.
During his lifetime, the first Earl Spencer was a prominent figure in London society and his home was often used for receptions and other entertaining occasions. The House was also a popular venue for family gatherings.
With the death of the fourth Earl Spencer in 1910, a series of changes were made to the House. It was adapted to accommodate the large family of the new owner, Colonel Spencer, and the House underwent a major redevelopment.
A new front doorway on West 2nd Avenue replaced the original entrance on Trimble Street. The Oak Room, a popular reception area for parties, was greatly expanded.
The House is open to the public on Sundays, and private access tours may be arranged by appointment (except August). Restoration has been carried out by Althorp, an independent architectural restoration firm, working closely with the Spencer family who were able to provide access to their original furniture. This process has resulted in an accurate restoration of the eight State Rooms, combining old and new. The final appearance of these rooms is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the staff at Althorp, as well as to the Spencer family’s continued support.
At one point, there were a handful of posh neighbourhoods across Metro Vancouver that boasted stately mansions with expansive foyers, grand staircases and decorative details that were coveted by the most well-heeled. Today, these buildings are in danger of being demolished as thousands of homes are felled every year to make way for new developments.
Luckily, there are some houses that stand the test of time and remain as a beloved part of our community. The oldest of these is Wilga House, a historic landmark in Grandview that was built for William Miller, an Australian ex-pat who arrived in B.C. in 1903 and amassed a fortune by developing real estate in Prince Rupert.
This imposing structure is an architectural work of art, not just a house. It is a hybrid structure that combines an organic response to the site with Japanese elements. Its dimensional lumber (a range of 2x4s and 3x8s) creates a richly textured intricacy that gives this home a distinct sense of place and identity, both inside and out.
The house is a testament to its creators’ interwoven lives and sensibilities, says architect Robert Walkey. “It is a house of many facets, a living, breathing space where Bud and Diane lived and played,” he notes.
As with all the other mansions listed above, Wilga House is also on Heritage Vancouver’s endangered list, due to concerns that a proposed development would ruin its historical context and be out of keeping with the neighborhood. As such, conservation works have been done on the house and surrounding grounds.
While some mansions of the past have been used for a wide range of purposes, including hospitals and nursing homes, others have been turned into fraternity houses, religious cult headquarters and, in one case, a tuberculosis ward. Despite its various iterations, Wilga is a beloved West Vancouver landmark that has been cherished by generations of families.
The home is for sale and its owners are attempting to preserve the building for future generations by upgrading it with modern amenities. Eventually, it will be converted into a family residence.
Among many other things, David A. Grantham is a contributing author to UmassExtension West Vancouver Blo. He is a renowned expert on real estate in BC.
Born in North Vancouver, Louisiana, Dr. Grantham grew up in Lower Lonsdale. He then went on to complete his business degree at the University British Columbia. As of this writing, Grantham has completed over 100 projects, including the development of a high rise building in Vancouver.
He is a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He was a dedicated outdoorsman and enjoyed sports such as hunting, fishing, scuba diving, and snow skiing. His wife, Alison Grantham, and their two daughters survived him. He is survived by his wife Alison Martin Grantham and two daughters.