The Leslie House, Hornby Street

This is one of Downtown’s oldest houses, although it hasn’t been lived in for many years. It was built by George Washington Leslie, who was listed at different times as both a carpenter, and a plasterer. He lived in the house with his family from when he built it soon after arriving in 1888 (the year he turned 38) to his death in 1924. Family members continued to live here until 1947.

George was born in Cape Breton in 1850, the third of nine children. He married Susan Bethune, also from Sydney Mines (a coal mining town) in 1872, and they started their family of 11 children a year later, when Charles was born, and ending when Susan was 45 and gave birth to Arthur. (Ermina died as a baby). Arthur (who seems to have been known by his middle name, Purvis) and Ernest were born in BC in 1895 and 1891. Life in the new house must have been tough going for the first few years; the water service was only connected in 1896.

George’s home is a rare remaining example of a ‘cottage’ version of a Queen Anne style Victorian house, modified to include some Italianate elements, and it was full! The 1891 census showed all eight children at home, with Charles  already a carpenter at 18, and Emma, who was a year younger, a dishwasher. By 1901 there were still seven children at home, but in 1902 Agnes married Sterling Grieve, and ten months later their daughter, Thelma was born.

In 1903 George applied for a permit to add another dwelling behind the house (identified as 1380 Hornby), and by 1905 Agnes and her family had moved in, with Amy born in October 1905. Sterling was from New Brunswick, and a brakeman for the CPR. They didn’t stay in the lane house for long, and in 1907 a four-week old son, Sterling, died. His father worked in the CPR yards and as a fireman, and the family moved around, but always close to Hornby.

George’s son Harold (also a carpenter) was the next to occupy the cottage, in 1906. He had married Mary Girvan in June 1905 and just over seven months later their son George was born. The family moved to West 12th, and a variety of lodgers moved into the cottage. In 1911 there were still six children at home, including oldest son Charles. He had married Emily Hagenbuch from Victoria (who was 14 years younger) in 1910, and they had a daughter, Adelene, in 1920, a year after George’s mother, Susan had died.

In 1921 Archibald Sloan was shown as head of household in the Hornby house, with his wife Isabella and their children, Pervis, Ruby and Ruby . Isabella’s father, George Leslie was still living here, as were two of her siblings, Arthur and Edith. Son Fred, and his wife Josephine were shown in the street directory living in the cottage, but the census seems to have missed them.

George Washington Leslie died in 1924.

Emily Leslie died in 1929 at age 41; her death was reported in the press, and at the time the family were living on Kitchener street, and she was described as a member of the Pythian sisters. Charles was superintendent of the Burrard Shipyard and Engineering Works. He remarried in 1931 to Ella Gill, who was from Winnipeg. The Sun reported the birth of a daughter a year later, although we haven’t traced any further records. His daughter, Adelaine, was only 20 when she died in 1941, and Charles died two years later.

Ernest Leslie and his wife Clare lived here until they sold the house to Wilhelmine Meilike in 1947. Ernest was a shipwright at the Pacific Drydock shipwright, and his bachelor brother, Arthur Purvis Leslie was living in the lane house that year. The Meilike’s converted the house into an interior design store, with their upholsteror Sid Toren living in the laneway house (until 1955). Around 1967 the house becomes a dress design business, Mano Designs, with the owners living in the laneway.

Umberto Menghi established his Italian restaurant, Il Giardino, here in 1973, and soon added the single storey building next door, operating as La Cantina in our 1975 image. It had been built in 1941, when it was the offices of Townley and Matheson, the architects. In the late 1990s Umbert was thinking of adding a boutique hotel tower to the site, and even obtained a development permit. To clear the site he donated the laneway house to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. The house was moved to a new location in the West End heritage enclave of Mole Hill in 2002.

Umberto never built the hotel, and eventually sold the site, moving his restaurant nearby. The purchaser was Grosvenor Americas, the North American arm of the Duke of Westminster’s property empire, who applied to build a slim 39 storey residential tower with 224 condominiums. The Leslie House, like the laneway, was picked up and moved, but in this case returned to just around the corner to the Pacific Street part of the lot. Fully restored as a commercial building with period details (but to contemporary code), it was sold in 2022.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-12

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Posted 23 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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