Featured image courtesy of Barbara Wilson and the Vancouver City Archives
Finding a Victorian home in Vancouver today feels special. As most of these houses have been demolished, the ones still standing today are rare, like a precious gem that deserves the utmost care.
But how did these homes come to be in the first place? We try to trace the history of the Victorian home in Vancouver, why they look the way they do and find where you can still see them today.
The Victorian era
Famously named after one of the longest-reigning monarchs in history, Queen Victoria, the Victorian era was known as a time of exploration, industrial expansion, and economic progress.
For Vancouver, it was the Fraser River Gold Rush that brought in settlers from all over the globe. The discovery of gold in 1858 triggered a mass migration by land and sea bound for Fraser River. The population at Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island doubled overnight, thanks to miners hoping to get lucky.
As more settlers came in, new businesses followed. The opportunities brought by businesses like lumber mills, fur trading posts and the railway, attracted even more people to the area, forming new communities that call Vancouver their home.
Unsurprisingly, homes in the Victorian era were also impacted by all this change. The rapid industrialization and growth offered new options in lumber (from heavy timber to lighter frames), which affected housing design and construction. When before homes were just simple, efficient cottages, the late 1800s saw new innovations in construction that could allow for more complex designs.
The Victorian look
In general, Victorian homes can range from simple yet detailed homes to stylish landmarks. But according to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation (VHF), a typical Victorian house would have the following features:
- A front-gable with cross gables
- A steeply pitched roof
- Two to 2 ½ stories
- An asymmetrical façade
- A prominent bay on one side
- A half-porch with classically-inspired columns
- Elaborate fretwork on porches, bays and eaves, and
- Decorated surfaces
The resulting look is a highly intricate, highly decorative structure with varying heights and depths. It’s a unique yet familiar aesthetic; one that now feels classic, elegant, and rich in personality.
As for materials, Victorians were made from first growth Vancouver wood. When painted with the oil-based pigments of the period, the wood reveals a sleek, glossy appearance on each surface. Steam-driven band saws helped create hand-cut detailing on the wood, sometimes known as “gingerbread” ornamentation.
Other embellishments include stained glass windows and solid brass hardware, which further accentuate the overall décor.
Where to find Victorians
Mole Hill in the West End of Vancouver showcases great examples of authentic Victorian homes. The Mole Hill Community Housing Society boasts of the oldest, well-preserved and fully restored square block of heritage homes in Vancouver. Dating from 1888 to 1908, these houses have all had their front facades restored, down to their original paint schemes. VHF offers a handy map here for those who feel like a trip down history.