Ask anyone in Strathcona and they’ll know the green queen perched a storey below the corner of Heatley and Pender. Much of the early “east end” was lower in elevation, the raised streets coinciding with the leveling of the area to make way for public transportation in the early 1900’s. The 14 foot ceilings in the basement may have not been a morgue for early pioneer and undertaker, Edward Thomas but “in 1918 the world is in the grip of a horrible influenza epidemic that kills thousands. Hundreds die in Vancouver. Rosa Pryor remembers seeing the bodies stacked under a tarp in the alleyway north of the undertaker’s home on Heatley and Pender” – https://www.vancouvergunners.ca/the-1910s.html

Working in old homes you sometimes get that “feeling” in certain rooms and we needed to do him right by restoring the exterior of this late Victorian Queen Anne to his murmuring satisfaction. Not only was Edward Thomas an entrepreneur of death, he was also a master carpenter.

As a contractor bidding against other contractors you’ll quickly learn that you don’t win every bid. Multiple meetings and midnight budget estimating to the best of your abilities don’t always win you the project. We initially lost the chance to do the heavy lifting on this one but on the plus side, the previous contractor was dismissed and we got called in to do the fun stuff! This started with weekly consulting meetings to determine and correct existing issues that occurred during the renovation. We also assumed ownership for the remaining heritage scopes which thankfully were left to be completed. 

Windows can make or break a house and the owners decided on some handsome units built by a quality window manufacturer here in Vancouver. The windows are strain grade vg fir, double hung operation and flank both the west and south elevations. 

Period bed moulding was run to match the untouched profiles above. This nestled under a water table we made out of locally sourced fir. 

The installation of these units allowed the exterior cladding and detailing to commence. The windows would cap the storefront panels which were being sketched up as we waited for more clement days.

Always a pleasure working with clients that appreciate the bit of extra work involved with using materials original to the home and of the same quality from that era. Sure they will need to be sorted, denailed and scraped clean but there’s nothing quite like reusing an old piece of wood. Together we picked through what we had left in the morgue and took it to the shop for processing.

Next we built the borders of the agreed upon storefront design. We then wire brushed clean the dirt from the tongues and grooves of the original fir. A quick pass of the metal detector to make sure we got all the bits of metal before passing through the shaper, cutting us a period approved v-notch profile. This repurposed flooring would become vertical panels landing on the bottom rail at a 10 degree slope to shed water away from the house. A track saw made the 10 degree bevel cut over a 12 foot slope in the exterior grade. From there we installed the stiles and began infilling the panels with the freshly processed material.

Getting custom dentil moulding to match the original wasn’t going to be quick or easy. Almost all dentil mouldings these days are plastic based with long lead times. The undertaker would not approve. Fortunately a carpenter friend jumped in to help make us an exact match in clear lengths of yellow cedar. After a month of piecing it all together it started to really look how it may have originally looked. Proportionally correct in all the right areas with all of the missing pieces put back where they belong.

We restored the ground level to the neighborhood’s approval and await the green light to tackle the remaining upper storey. Personally working on this project was a reminder to stay active on the tools. It’s easier to talk about the heritage than it is to actually put the heritage back together. Also wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my carpenter’s helper, a recent graduate in the woman in trades program.