Lefevre House – Howe and Cordova

Dr Lefevre

Dr John Lefevre was a city pioneer – he was one of the really early residents who arrived before it was a city. He was from Ontario, born either in Brockville or Belleville, and trained as a doctor at McGill University in Montreal. He practiced as a doctor in Brockville, was elected to the Town Council there, but almost immediately gave up his seat to take a new job with the Canadian Pacific Railway as surgeon for the Pacific Division. He arrived in Granville (the pre-Vancouver township) early in 1886 and set up his office above James Hartney’s store just off Maple Tree Square. Like everybody else he must have lost everything in the fire that destroyed the city, but he had already set up a hospital at the foot of Hawks Street on Powell. There’s no record of how Dr Lefevre survived the fire, but he soon had a wooden hospital in place (a CPR rather than a city enterprise). His wife, Lily, joined him 2 weeks after the fire, arriving on a train consisting of superintendent Abbot’s private railcar as far as Port Moody (before the arrival of the first official train) and then by boat as the rails hadn’t yet been completed into the city.

Six weeks after Lily arrived Dr Lefevre had built a cottage on Hastings Street, (on the north side between Seymour and Granville) In 1888 he was shown to be living on Cordova Street with offices on Cambie and in 1889 on Granville, on the corner of Cordova. There was a bit of confusion, as he’s shown in a different directory as living at Howe, corner of Cordova, but Mrs Lefevre talked to Major Matthews, and she was clear it was on the north-west corner of Hastings and Granville – over the cliff. However, checking the map it’s apparent that the directory was correct and Mrs Lefevre was right about the general location (and theirs was the only house on the block) but the actual corner was on Cordova (as it would have to be to overlook the cliff).

Lefevre & Station 1887This is the house in the picture;  way out of the old Granville township on the CPR’s land to the west. It was located high on a bluff with the cliff down to the beach and the first CPR station behind it. Here’s a picture of the house from beyond the station sitting high up – it’s the big house on the left of the image. We don’t know who designed it, but there were relatively few architects in the city at that time.

By December of 1886 Dr Lefevre had been elected an alderman of the city, and was an active member of council, involved in establishing parks and getting services to the new city. He was also an enthusiastic purchaser of land; Walter Graveley in conversation with Major Matthews in 1935 recalled the first sale of CPR lots “Ferguson had his hand on the handle of the door; Ferguson was first; Dr. LeFevre was second; F.C. Innes was third; then came R.G. Tatlow; C.D. Rand was next, and I was behind C.D. Rand. The first three, Ferguson, Dr. LeFevre, and Innes had sat up all night in Ferguson’s office in the same block; the Ferguson Block was the wooden block on the corner of Carrall and Powell streets, where the C.P.R. had their first offices in Vancouver; we were waiting for the C.P.R. office to open; that was why we were there; there was no rush; we just walked in when the office opened that morning; Ferguson was first; he had his hand on the handle of the door.” Ferguson built a house at around the same period as the Lefevres on the same bluff, a little further along Hastings.

Lefevre 1890 CVAIn 1890 Dr Lefevre built the commercial block bearing his name on Hastings Street designed by C O Wickenden. His house now had established gardens, as this picture from 1890 shows. He acquired an interest in the failed telephone company in 1886 and helped it achieve considerable success over the next 12 years when he arranged its sale to the Yorkshire Guarantee and Security Company. (It was suggested he threatened to establish a rival service if he wasn’t given control in the early days of the company). He stayed a director, reacquired the company (with others) in 1902, and by 1906 was the leading shareholder with William Farrell who ran the company, now known as the BC Telephone Company. Dr Lefevre also had significant investments in the new railway company who provided transportation in the rapidly growing city. He supported the idea of a tram in 1888, initially built as a horse-pulled system but quickly changed to electric as more capital was raised. Dr Lefevre’s father-in-law was in charge of the company. The railway amalgamated with the electric light company and new equipment was installed to power both systems. The first tram ran in 1890, but the system ran at a loss, although other investors (including David Oppenheimer) seem to have taken their losses harder. While retaining his medical practice, holding council office and managing his business interests Dr Lefevre also found time to become president of the Vancouver Board of Trade.

The Lefevre’s sold their house for $20,000 (if Mrs Lefevre’s memory was accurate) – presumably to the federal government who assembled three-quarters of the block and built three buildings over a number of years, starting with the Post Office in 1911. That sale would seem to have been around 1901; that year 1901 Dr Lefevre is shown as living at 1123 Barclay and from 1902 to 1906 at 1300 Howe Street. It must also have been unplanned, as in 1901 W T Dalton designed a $3,500 addition for the house built by Crowe and Wilson (although perhaps it wasn’t even completed).

From 1911 to 1913 the Customs Examining Warehouse was built where the house used to stand, designed by David Ewart, Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works. Although it looks as if it was built of brick, it actually has a steel frame with a reinforced concrete structure; a modern construction technique unique among Vancouver’s warehouses at the time. In 1983 the complex of four buildings became the Sinclair Centre with a glazed atrium covering the gaps and lane, designed by Henriquez Architects.

Dr Lefevre died in 1906 when he was in his early 50s. Lily Lefevre had McClure and Fox design a new house at Marine Drive in 1915, and lived in the city for over twenty more years, dying in 1938 aged 85. As a wealthy, childless widow after her husband’s death, Lily became a patron of the arts in Vancouver, helped found the Vancouver Art Gallery, and made her home, “Langaravine” a local gathering spot for writers, painters and academics. Her circle included poets, the editor of the Vancouver Sun and architects. She won $100 for the best poem with reference to the first Montreal Winter Carnival. She also wrote lyrics which may have been set to music, publishing three volumes of verse, and painted watercolours.

Image source; City of Vancouver Archives Bu P100, SGN 153 and Bu P101

Advertisements

Posted August 15, 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Tagged with ,

%d bloggers like this: