The Changing Landscape of North Vancouver

Burrard Dry Dock and North Van Ship Repairs converted their facilities to meet wartime production of large ships and repairs to vessels damaged at sea. Work at the shipyards ran day and night. The war demanded a large labour force and North Vancouver soon became a destination for men and woman seeking employment from across Canada. The growing volume of workers (and their families) required an equal amount of housing; however, North Vancouver was in the grips of a housing shortage.

Wartime Housing Limited (WHL), a federal Crown corporation initially built 200 houses for shipyard workers. WHL purchased tax sale lands from the city for an annual fee of $24-30 based on the value of the house. The houses were intended as temporary rentals, with the expectation that workers would leave after the war. As a result, the design was simple and the buildings had no basements. The supervising architects were, McCarter and Nairne (Vancouver).

Ultimately, Wartime Housing built 400 additional houses and 2 barrack-like buildings; the latter aimed at housing single men. New opportunities for women to join the industrial workforce resulted in unforeseen challenges to wartime housing. With over 750 women working at the shipyards in North Vancouver, Burrard Dry Docks had to make plans to accommodate their female employees. At the end of the Second World War, close to 700 houses were built by WHL in 3 areas of North Vancouver:

  • Lonsdale Ave. to Queensbury Ave. between 2nd & 6th St.
  • Bewicke Ave. to Lonsdale Ave. between 1st & 4th St.
  • MacKay Rd. to Mosquito Ck. (referred to as “Skunk Hollow”)

Although intended to be temporary, 135 houses remained in January 1992, nearly fifty years after construction.

Three house sizes were available:

  • 2-bedroom (24 ft. x 24 ft.)
  • 2-bedroom (24 ft. x 28 ft.)
  • 4-bedroom (24 ft. x 28 ft.) Second floor to accommodate extra bedrooms.

The rent ranged from $20-27 per month, with an extra $1.35 for water.

“…it was a small house, but houses were small in those days. So it was no smaller I guess than anybody else’s house – a working class family. And it had a kitchen, and two bedrooms, and a living room, and a sawdust burner in the kitchen. And there was a sawmill down in the harbor; you got your sawdust and you hoped it was dry. And you had your shed at the back where you’d keep your sawdust, and then you had an oil heater in the living room. Uh, they weren’t well insulated. And in winter we lived in the kitchen. And mom used to put her clothes in the oven, and then it would be warm and we would jump out of bed and run into the kitchen and dress.”
~ Darlene Jacobi

Oral history excerpt, Darlene Jacobi, 5 April 2011. NVMA #201-19