The Future of Navvy Jack House
Update on Navvy Jack House – March 2021
Navvy Jack House is the oldest continuously occupied home in the lower mainland, and its history is one of the beginnings of the municipality of West Vancouver and the shared history of First Nations and European settlers.
In 2020, Council decided to demolish the building due to its poor condition and high cost of salvaging it. A Citizens’ Group formed (which included WVHS) and requested Council not demolish the house. In November 2020 Council then subsequently deferred the demolition as part of a nine-part resolution that included submitting a grant application and completing a selective deconstruction of the building to allow for heritage assessment and cost estimates for restoration.
Next steps include:
- legally protecting the building via a Heritage Designation Bylaw
- working with the Navvy Jack House citizen group to advance the project
- engaging with First Nations on the appropriate commemoration of the house and site
- planning for the restoration of Lawson Creek Funding A grant application has been submitted to Heritage BC and an overall funding strategy will be required.
Council has allocated up to $1 million in matching funds from Community Amenity Contributions, and private fundraising is also being organized.
For ongoing updates on Navvy Jack House, please visit the District of West Vancouver website
Call to Action – Save Navvy Jack House
West Vancouver’s oldest building is threatened with demolition. The future of Navvy Jack House will be decided at the West Vancouver Council meeting on Monday, October 5, 2020. The staff report to council recommends demolition and site commemoration. This addition to the agenda was posted Oct 1, equivalent of four days public notice. This notice below “Call to Action” is the only way to inform the community of this late addition to the council agenda. Please inform West Vancouver Major and Council of your views. Your support is vital! Please encourage Mayor and Council to re-purpose the house as a useful, sustainable community asset, and celebrate its unique heritage value for its 1) age (in 2 years it will be 150 years old); 2) design (rare surviving example of housing of its time) and 3) stories.
Click on the image below for Navvy Jack House Update No. 3 – Call to Action to learn how to provide your support!
Navvy Jack House History
Navvy Jack House is the oldest building in West Vancouver and the oldest continually occupied residence in the Lower Mainland. Built circa 1873, Navvy Jack House is thirteen years older than the City of Vancouver.
The house was the family home of John “Navvy Jack” Thomas and Slawia (Magdeleine), granddaughter of Chief Kiepalano. Their union was one of the first between the local indigenous people and the incoming settler population, and their offspring continue to live in the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam lands of the Lower Mainland.
Research connected with the preparation of the Case for Restoration and Preservation of Navvy Jack House indicates the house was part of a land pre-emption Thomas purchased from James Blake in 1873, suggesting the house was built in 1872.
Other versions of its origin say the house was skidded down from a logging camp on Hollyburn Mountain or that it was barged to the site, original location unknown.
John Lawson owned the house next. Lawson established the first post office in the house and held council meetings there when he was reeve after West Vancouver was incorporated in 1912. He established the first general store and one of the first real estate offices west of the Capilano, laying the foundations for West Vancouver’s economic and municipal future.
New information about John Thomas, his origins, family connections and activities was also discovered and continues to emerge. The history of John “Navvy Jack” Thomas and his house is described in the Navvy Jack Citizen Group “Case for Restoration and Preservation – Appendix C: Historical Research” (see below).
There are other documents by local historians about John Thomas. The first is a draft document from a well-respected historian Hugh Johnson, prepared for the West Vancouver Historical Society in 1996. This is a draft research paper using information available at the time, for which no corroborative citations are included. Read more – John “Navvy Jack” Thomas Research Paper by Hugh Johnson.
An article by Lloyd Williams, the last private owner of the Navvy Jack House, notes his family’s connection with the first owner of the house, John Thomas. It was published in January 1987 in the WVHS newsletter – History-onics, as it was called then. History-onics newsletters are online at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. In addition, for more information about the Williams’ life at Navvy Jack House, here is a post by Eve Lazarus from 2017.
The chain of ownership succeeding John “Navvy Jack” Thomas is outlined in the brief prepared by Laura Anderson. Read here – Occupants of Navvy Jack House 1907-1971.
The Case for Restoration and Preservation
In June 2020 when the District of West Vancouver (DWV) decided at a closed meeting of Council to demolish Navvy Jack House, a group of citizens came together to advocate for a pause to this decision.
The citizens believed a case could be made to preserve and restore Navvy Jack House so that it would have a viable and sustainable purpose and use for the benefit of the community.
On July 20, 2020, the DWV Council passed a resolution supporting the pause, charging the group of citizens with responding to six key questions relating to purpose, use and finances by Sept 14, 2020.
Under the umbrella of the West Vancouver Historical Society, the Navvy Jack Citizen Group, comprising volunteers from the community was established and set to work.
The Case for the Preservation and Restoration of Navvy Jack House addresses each question in an Executive Summary followed by Appendices specific to those questions, concluding with recommendations and options for use and purpose.
In addition to the questions, the NJH Citizen Group added a section on the history of the house and its heritage value to the people of West Vancouver, and as the group’s research demonstrates, to the people of British Columbia.
Options and recommendations for each question include suggestions for highlighting the heritage value of the house and its history, and as far as possible given the resources available, a range of public and commercial uses.
Look for the history of Navvy Jack House and the people who made the house their home in Appendix C: Historical Research, and purpose and use in Appendix A: Adaptive Re-Use and Blue Sky Ideas.
The Navvy Jack House Citizen Group has prepared a strong case for conserving and re-purposing the house. Read the Report below.
Report on Navvy Jack House – the Case for Restoration and Preservation
- Navvy Jack House – Executive Summary
- Navvy Jack House – Discussion Appendices
- Navvy Jack House – Appendix A: Adaptive Re-Use and Blue Sky Ideas
- Navvy Jack House – Appendix B: Site Information and Background
- Navvy Jack House – Appendix C: Historical Research
Stories of Navvy Jack House
Rod Day, president of West Vancouver Historical Society (WVHS), wrote a letter to Council advocating for preservation of the house and a copy of the letter is attached here. Navvy Jack House Letter from Rod Day to WV Council July 20-2020.
An article in the North Shore News, highlights the issue, the path forward and an interview with Rod Day on July 21, 2020. Read here – Time Ticking for North Shore’s Oldest Building.
Video – A Future for Navvy Jack House
A video was produced on Navvy Jack House for the presentation to WV Council on July 20, 2020. The video can be viewed on the West Vancouver Historical Channel on YouTube – A Future for Navvy Jack House? The story in 3 minutes.