Online Resources for Researching the History of Your House

You can begin your research in your slippers and with a cup of tea, because there are good resources online. You might even find all you feel you need online. But once you start finding tantalizing tidbits of information, you will likely want to delve deeper; this will involve actually visiting the Archives or the VPL Special Collections on the 7th floor of the main branch.

To get you started, however, here is a list of the key resources you will find online — with links. When you click on a link, it should open in a new window. When you’re done with that site, you can return to this page and move on to the next one.

First, you probably already know if it is or not, but check to see if your house is on the Vancouver Heritage Register! Few houses are, so don’t be disappointed if your house isn’t on the list, which is a downloadable pdf file.

Another downloadable and searchable pdf, the next resource we recommend is a very useful short book called Street Names of Vancouver, by Elizabeth Walker. You can find out if the name of your street has changed over the years, and also what the origin of its name is.

Next, visit the City of Vancouver’s VanMap. You type your address number and street name in the search boxes and then when the map appears with your lot highlighted, double click on the lot to see details. (This will give you your property’s legal description — the District Lot (DL), Block, and Lot. The year VanMap gives for when the house was built is often wrong, but it does give you a ballpark.)

The British Columbia City Directories are online at the Vancouver Public Library Special Collections. Check years forward and backward until you find the year before anyone lived at your address and then work your way up…. You can check all your neighbours’ houses too and see which houses were built before yours and which came later. Note that street names and/or addresses may have changed. My address was 1764 Napier and later became 1760. Once you have the residents’ names, you can look them up in the alphabetical section and probably find their occupations and employers.

Heritage Vancouver has begun the painstaking process of putting all existing building permit records online in a searchable database. There are now almost 25,000 records, so you may be lucky and find your house there. If you cannot locate a record by entering your address and street name, try it with your legal description. Or even just the District Lot and Block. You may get the name of the owner, architect, and builder and a reliable date. Just because a building permit was issued doesn’t necessarily mean that a house was built, but it’s a good indication. Note also that the official records for the years 1905 through 1908 are missing, but HV researchers are apparently confident they’ve filled most of the gaps in that period using the Building Record, a trade paper of the time.

You will want to check the Census of Canada, 1911 (on the Library and Archives Canada website) to see if anyone was living in a house at your address in 1911. It’s an intimidating site, but Jak King has provided a very useful Census Finding Aid for Grandview and it’s on our website; if you do use the Census, Jak’s aid will save you countless hours. As he says, it’s relatively easy to find people in the Census, but difficult to find addresses. If the address you are researching is in Grandview, search for District 12 and one of the sub-districts suggested by Jak for your street. It’s all handwritten and, as you will find out, some pages are devilishly hard to read.

At the Vancouver Public Library Special Collections there is also a searchable collection of Historical Photographs. At the City of Vancouver Archives you can also search for whatever they might have online— news clippings, photos, etc. This is where you need to get creative in your search. There may be a photo of your house, but it may not be listed under your address. Try just the street. Try the owner’s or builder’s surname. Try the cross streets. Experiment!

One of the best maps, Goad’s atlas of the City of Vancouver, December 1912, is available online at Collections Canada. It was created to show existing structures (number of storeys, building materials, location on property) for fire insurance purposes. Jak King says he uses this resource just about every day, but it can be very difficult to use. Here’s a link to Plate 83 of Goad’s Map. If your house shows up on Goad’s Map, you can be sure it existed by the end of 1912.

— Happy Hunting!

(This was also a handout at the workshop given by Penny Street on March 23.)

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