143 Dunlevy Avenue

Sareena’s Place is nothing much to look at, but it’s a valuable facility within the Downtown Eastside.  The structure dates back to 1909, although we’re willing to bet that the stucco dates from around 1950. It’s changed colour many times – back in 1979 when our ‘before’ image was taken it was the Wings Hotel, and pale blue. In the early 2000s it was pink, and the New Wings Hotel. Today it’s name reflects the clientele; a privately owned SRO housing building with 56 rooms now managed by Atira for women facing multiple barriers and challenges, paying welfare rates. It’s now named after Sareena Abotsway, one of six women identified as victims in the Pickton trial. Atira took over management after the City of Vancouver closed the property in 2005, a year that saw three murders in the building. The owner spent a million dollars in repairs before it reopened.

Vancouver Public Library have an image of the building when it was much newer, from around 1910, and it was known as the Dunlevy Apartments. When it opened Frank Vandall was the proprietor, but he just managed the property; the 1908 building permit was issued to Parks & McDonald. John Parks and Donald Bain McDonald were miners, and obviously pretty successful as a couple of years after this building they built another on West Pender. We know they retained this building from subsequent repairs to the building submitted by John Parks and Parks & McDonald in 1921. By 1930 the Dunlevy Rooms had become part of Japantown, managed by K Kaminishi. The building was still listed as the Parks and McDonald Block in the 1940s street directories.

Donald Bain McDonald was Scottish and about 10 years older than his Irish partner, and in 1911 both lived on Jackson Street. We traced them to the ‘Unorganised Territories’ in the 1901 Census – they were both miners, working on ‘their own account’, lodging with Charles Redmond and his wife, Ella, at Bonanza Creek in the Yukon. They had arrived in Canada in 1894 and 1893.

Mr. McDonald was involved in a curious case that led to the dismissal of the Gold Commissioner for the region. In 1902 the Dawson Daily News told the story of two women who started an action that led to the dismissal. “No. 13 (on upper Dominion) was originally staked by H. J. Burt, the packer, but he having left the country, it lapsed by non-representation and was subject to relocation under the proclamation of Gold Commissioner Fawcett. Burt’s title to the property lapsed at midnight August 31, 1898, and Mrs. J. T. Kelly and Mrs. E P Minor were on the ground ready with stakes prepared beforehand. At exactly midnight they drove their stakes, Mrs. Kelly staking the lower half and Mrs. Minor the upper half. Ladies First. Alex McDonald held Burt’s note for $2,000 and it was alleged he was given permission to relocate the ground. The relocation was made by Alex’s brother, Donald McDonald, the staking, however, being a few minutes subsequent to the staking by the ladies. The ladies, by having provided horses near the claim and a boat at the mouth of the Hunker, outstripped Mr. McDonald in the race for this property, he having chosen the Bonanza trail overland. Although both their staking and their application for record were prior to McDonald’s, Fawcett refused to allow them to record. His reason for refusing being that he recognized McDonald’s right to relocate. On October 11 the ladies compromised with the McDonald interests and were permitted to record. Through this claim and through these facts came about the famous Minor Case, which resulted in the Royal Commission being appointed to examine Commissioner Fawcett’s case. Mr. Fawcett was afterward dismissed from the office of Gold Commissioner.”

By 1920 the building was known as the Dunlevy Rooms, a name it retained until at least 1955. We think Mr. McDonald died in Burnaby in 1952, aged 91, single. There’s a John Parks, retired, living on Water Street until 1941, but we can’t be sure if it’s the same John Parks.

Image sources; City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-323 and VPL.

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Posted June 29, 2017 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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