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Heritage houses: Vancouver’s Dorothies move down the road

People watch as one of two heritage homes is moved to a new lot in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood of Vancouver, B.C., on Monday March 17, 2014. Two homes built in 1931 that were on separate lots were relocated to a new location a few blocks away where they will sit side-by-side and become part of a redevelopment that will include two new townhouses. The properties the houses were located on were purchased by two separate buyers with the intention of tearing them down and building new homes. Because they were designated as heritage homes, demolishing them wasn't an option.


The Dorothies moved with care on Monday morning as they navigated suburban streets at the pace of a slow walk, leaving their perches on West 43rd Ave. for the first time in 83 years.

For three hours the Tudor-style homes rested on crude cradles of steel beams and thick pieces of timber. After months of concern the heritage homes would be destroyed, the twin structures were loaded onto specialized flatbed trucks and moved two blocks to the north.

The convoy stopped and started as the rear wheels of the large machines constantly adjusted to keep the houses level. The windows were boarded over. A month earlier, the chimneys were removed. On Monday, tree branches were pushed aside and the myriad wires overhanging the streets were removed as the two-storey structures moved past.

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"It went really well, better than clockwork," said Rob Chetner, the developer hired for the construction project. "It was somewhat unprecedented in this city and it isn't likely we'll see twin homes marched down a street again."

Built in 1931, the houses formerly at 2827 and 2837 West 43rd Ave. were named after the wives of the men who commissioned their construction. The first owners were Alex E. MacMillan, a factory agent, and Duncan C. Smith, the local head of the Lever Brothers Soap Company.

Known to locals as the two Dorothies, the houses were slated for demolition through most of 2013.

New owners of the property weren't interested in living the old houses. Although they were heritage-listed, demolition was not forbidden.

Heritage issues are paramount in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood, an eclectic mix of new homes and old, well-maintained and rundown. A block in either direction of the Dorothies, new homes are being built while older structures are knocked down. An estimated 850 Vancouver homes are demolished annually.

Public outcry over the plans soon followed. In response to the proposed demolitions, a local citizen's committee sent a letter to the city bemoaning "the continuing loss of character homes." A compromise was found: New homes would be build on 43rd Avenue, while the Dorothies would be moved to a site on 41st Avenue, where the developer would be permitted to place eight housing units instead of the original six.

Mr. Chetner was not opposed to plans to save the buildings and credits the City of Vancouver for much of the success.

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About the Author
Ontario legislative reporter

Based in Toronto, Justin Giovannetti is The Globe and Mail’s Ontario legislative reporter. He previously worked out of the newspaper’s Edmonton, Toronto and B.C. bureaus. He is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University and has also worked for CTV in Quebec. More


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