518 and 522 Keefer Street

522 Keefer

The description of this 1962 Archives image is “Two one-and-one-half storey houses with pseudo-brick facades”. The house in the centre sold a few years ago, and the realtor’s description clarifies that there are really three storeys here: a two bedroom suite on the top floor, a two-bed suite in the centre of the house, and a three-bedroom main floor. The pseudo-brick facades description was, and still is, correct. The hard-wearing material is printed onto asphalt – asphalt building siding was a popular building renovation alternative to painting weathered or rotted wood clapboard or wood shingle siding as early as the 1930’s and particularly in the 1940’s and the 1950’s in North America where it was used both for low-cost housing and for covering the deteriorated exterior walls of older homes. Coloured mineral granules are bonded to an organic or wood-product base with asphalt. The material seems durable for a surprisingly long time (as we don’t think it’s been replaced).

When the house on the left was initially photographed it was almost exactly half as old as it is today – it was built around 1908. The first resident was Captain Henry A Young in 1909. Captain Young was 38 when he moved in with his American-born wife and their daughter, Violet (aged 16). In 1911 we learn that Captain Young had been born in BC (relatively unusual at the time for Vancouver), and captained a tugboat. He was shown as being 41 years old. That year there were three lodgers in the houses as well as the family; George West, an English-born painter, Harold Perry also English, and an architect and Samuel Leonard a Russian tailor. Ten years earlier the census shows Captain Young to be 28 years old, and a decade earlier he was 19. That year, in 1891, he was living with his family in New Westminster, and was an engineer. His father, also Henry, was listed as an asylum keeper and the family lived at Sapperton; we assume this was Woodlands, opened in 1878 as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum.

Fortunately for us the street directory even tells us which ship Captain Young commanded: he was master of the Sea Lion. The Sikh pioneers website gives a full description of the tug. “Charles Robertson’s shipyard, at the foot of Cardero Street (now the site of the Bayshore), launched Sea Lion into the waters of Vancouver’s Coal Harbour on May 25, 1905. Her one-piece keel, cut from a 120-foot long fir log, had been curing on the way since 1904. The completed tug, with a length of 114 feet overall, a 22 foot beam, and a moulded depth of 19.5 feet, registered at 218 Gross Tons, was powered by a single Mckie and Baxter triple expansion marine steam engine that delivered a reputation for being one of the best pullers on the coast.

Sea LionRobertson built the tug for Captain George H. French, the first independent log tower to operate out of Vancouver. Ken Drushka’s Against Wind and Weather: The History of Towboating in British Columbia called Sea Lion “ the classic log-towing boat”. In addition to her power and her seaworthiness, the boat was designed with the comfort of the crew in mind. She had a spacious salon, equipped with a piano; and the whistle had a sliding scale upon which the crew played a somewhat haphazard repertoire of songs, learned and practiced during the long tows down the coast”. Drushka also records some less colorful, but significant details; “ she had a number of unusual features for a tug at that time: steam-powered steering gear and towing winch, a steel towline, dual steering and engine controls on the aft deck, and, somewhat later, the first ship-to-shore radio and searchlight in B.C.”

After first working for French and British Canadian Lumber Company , Sea Lion entered the fleet of Young and Gore, a towing firm founded by the tug’s first captain, Harry Young, and her first engineer, Lloyd Gore”. While under charter to Young and Gore in 1914 the Sea Lion was hired to escort the Komagata Maru out of Burrard Inlet, sending 376 East Indian Migrants back to an uncertain future. More recently the Sea Lion also faced an uncertain future: still afloat in 2008 she was sold at auction to a Winnipegger who planned to move her to Victoria – we can’t find a more recent reference to her than 2012 when she was sold by Living Planet Experiences, and was still based in Victoria.

Captain H V Wilbur lived next door in the identical house at 518. He was president of the Vancouver Shipmasters’ Association on at least five occasions, and represented the association on various Boards over the years. Hamen Wilbur was from New Brunswick, and in 1901 was shown as aged 47. His wife, Edith was two years younger, and his daughters, Georgie and ‘Hattie’ were aged five and three. He married ‘Eddie’ Nickerson from Nova Scotia in New York in 1878 when she was 19 and he was said to be 22. Georgie was born in August 1896 in New Brunswick, her sister – recorded on her birth certificate as Hallie, (and also on her marriage certificate)  nine months later in June 1897.

Glenboro In 1911 he was shown by the census to be aged 50, (actually he was five to seven years older – his birth date moved around between 1854 and 1856 on different records). Edith was 47 and the girls were 15 and 13. Rachel Fullerton, Edith’s mother was also living with the family in 518 Keefer and so were six lodgers; four of them carpenters, a labourer and a sheet metal worker. It was a United Nations in the rented rooms – two Swedes, an Englishman, an Irishman, a Swiss and a German.

Although he’s identified as a master mariner, we couldn’t find any specific ships associated with Captain Hamen Wilbur. However, as Hamen is such an unusual name there are many records that ‘correct’ it – wrongly – to Herman. (The street directories did even better – they almost always showed him as Heman Wilbur). The records tell us that Captain Wilbur, like Captain Young next door, operated a towing company. His ship, the Glenboro was smaller than the Sea Lion – she was only 64 feet long, built in Vancouver in 1912. She was shown to be owned by Herman Wilbur & Mrs. John H. Speedie, Vancouver BC. In 1918-1919 she was owned by Herman Wilbur and John Speedie, Vancouver BC. In 1927-1929 she was owned by Herman Wilbur, Vancouver BC. From 1930-1936 she was owned by Wilbur Towing Co. Ltd., Vancouver BC. She was still afloat, in Victoria, in 2014.

In 1916 Hallie Wilbur, aged 19, born in Albert City, New Brunswick married Harold Truswell from Suma in British Columbia. Heman Wilbur (sic) is shown in 1918 as a steamship agent, living on West 5th (daughter Georgie was there too, working as a bookkeeper) with a business address at Heatley Av Wharf. In 1920 he was Herman Wilbur once more, living on W 6th and described as ‘tugs and boats’. In 1925 he was in partnership with S S McKeen operating a towing company where Georgie Wilbur was the accountant and Leonard Wilbur the marine engineer. (We think Leonard was a nephew: his father was called Armon Spurgeon Wilbur, and he was born in New Brunswick in 1899). Hamen was still listed as proprietor in 1929, Georgie was a bookeeper and still living at home, and Leonard was master mariner. There’s no mention of Mr. McKeen. Captain Wilbur died in 1929, aged 75, and his daughter, Georgia took over running the Wilbur Towing Co and Edith lived with her in the family home. Leonard Wilbur became a baker, before becoming a mate with the Standard Towing Co, and eventually moving to Seattle as a tug boat captain. He died in 1954.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 170-24 (Copyright: City of Vancouver)

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Posted August 3, 2015 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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