451 East Pender Street

This is one of the earliest houses still standing in the city, and our 1986 image shows it was in pretty poor condition when the picture was taken. Everything was straightened up and repaired in 1999, when it was rebuilt, extended, and turned into a 3-unit strata, designed by Alan Diamond Architects.

It started life in 1889, and was built for Joseph Cameron. It might even have been built in 1888, as the 1889 insurance map shows the house, although the street directory clerk only caught up in 1891 when Joseph Cameron was shown at 523 Princess (the name for East Pender then). In the census that year 31-year old Joseph, his wife, Jennie (a year younger), and their daughters, listed as Tillie, aged 4, and Olive, 2, were recorded, but Joseph’s profession has been obscured in the record. He was shown being born in New Brunswick, as was his wife, and her brother, James McIntyre a general labourer who was also living with them (and shown as a lumberman in the directory).

Joseph and Jeanette (as she was christened) had arrived very soon after the fire, as Tilly was born in Vancouver in February 1887. This was confirmed in an article when they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, and in an interview with Major Matthews, the archivist, in 1937. They arrived in November 1886, having been married in 1879. After farming for a while, Joseph had a carriage business in Dakota, then headed west via Winnipeg on the newly completed railway to Port Moody, and then on a paddle steamer into Vancouver. They managed to find an empty store on Alexander Street to rent, but their water came from a well at Main and Alexander. Tilly was born in the store, and they found a house on Carrall Street to rent, over the False Creek tide water. Not long afterwards they built the house in the picture, paying $200 for the plot..

Joseph was listed in 1888, working for the Royal City Mills (that despite its name was on Carrall Street). Olive’s wedding certificate said she was born in New Brunswick in 1889 rather than in the family home. The family had been in their house long enough that they had established a garden by 1890, which attracted the attention of a vandal.

In 1892 the home address was changed to 425 Princess. In the 1901 census the family were still here, and had added Grace, who was five and Gordon, two. Joseph’s obituary said he was associated with the Royal City Mills for 25 years, then was a partner with the W W Stuart Lumber Co. for eight years, before he joined the staff at the Provincial Court House as engineer, where he worked for 25 years. After over 25 years in the same house, the family moved to Bayswater Street in Kitsilano. The Province recorded a tea party at their new home in 1913, when Mrs. F Rolston helped her mother receive guests; that was Tilly. Olive Cameron married Francis Prior in 1907, and her sister Tilly married Fred Rolston in January 1909, and William was born in November that year. Audrey followed in 1912, and Ethel in 1914. Gordon married Zelda Hamilton in 1924.

Jeanette died in 1941, and when Joseph died, in 1944, his death certificate suggested he was 4 years older than all the census records, but may have been recorded inaccurately.

Mrs Fred Rolston, as Tilly was called in the press, moved away to Brandon, Manitoba in 1929, and then briefly in 1930 to Winnipeg. She had studied at UBC in 1909, and at the Normal School, and was a teacher until she married Fred Rolston and started a family. He would become the first president of the BC Motor Dealers’ Association, and was associated with the Mutual Life of Canada before he retired. Once her three children had grown up she looked around for a more active role in the city. She was already a Sunday School teacher and was involved with numerous community associations including the Vancouver Council of Women. She was particularly active in the Candian Society for the Control of Cancer. (Her sister, Olive, had died in 1936). She was also a Director of the PNE and the VSO.

Tilly was elected to the Parks Board in 1938 on the NPA ticket, and was the founding chairman of the Theatre Under the Stars in 1940. She entered Provincial politics as the Conservative member for Vancouver-Point Grey in 1941 at the age of 54. She was re-elected in 1945 (the year her husband Fred died, at the age of 60) and in 1949 as a member of the Coalition party. She had been diagnosed with cancer in 1951, but nevertheless stood, and was elected again in 1952 as a member of W A C Bennett’s first Social Credit government. In that same year, Bennett appointed her to the position of Minister of Education. She was British Columbia’s first woman cabinet minister to hold a cabinet portfolio (and also the first in Canada).

In her first year in cabinet, she had to defend a school curriculum guide entitled Effective Living, that newly published “contained instruction for teachers to discuss teen-age activities, such as “dating,” and “modern expressions and practices” – including blind dates, Dutch treat, going steady, petting, good night kiss, pick-up dates, wearing a boy’s (or girl’s) school or class pin, cost of dates, etc.” Many parents, (and some teachers) objected to the guide, but Tilly defended it, saying “We must be vitally concerned with the kind of person the pupil is becoming“. In March 1951 she made a motion in the BC Legislature that the prices of butter had become prohibitive and the  restrictions that controlled the colour of margarine should be removed. Her motion was defeated but she didn’t give up; she continued to campaign and in 1952 a bill was passed that ended all colour regulations for margarine. She voted for the Equal Pay Act, but was often heard saying ‘the woman’s place is in the home’ (which has a certain irony as it’s hard to imagine she had much time to see her own).

A 1952 Macleans article described her style: Tilly, an ebullient grandmother, stood out like a red sail. She liked a cocktail, smoked (and once set fire to her hat while lighting a cigarette at a civic meeting), administered her Vancouver home according to the tenets of an Esquire Handbook for Hosts, loved bridge, costume jewelry and making annual tours to just about every part of the world except Alberta”. Her death in October 1953 was a shock, although it was apparently obvious that her cancer treatment was taking a lot out of her.

She was the first woman in British Columbia to receive a state funeral, and in 2011 the City of Vancouver named a new Downtown street, Rolston Street, in her honour.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 791-1256

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Posted 7 November 2022 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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