At the western edge of John Lawson Park in West Vancouver next to the North Shore Seawall sits a dilapidated waterfront building that hides a very important history for both the indigenous people and early settlers to the region. It is known as the Navvy Jack House and it is the oldest home on the North Shore of Greater Vancouver. It was built in 1872 and its first owner, John Thomas, emigrated from Wales in 1860 and came to West Vancouver to extract "Navvy Jack" sand and gravel mix from the mouth of the Capilano River.
He acquired the property for his wife, Slawiya, who was the granddaughter of Chief Kiepelano of the Squamish Nation. Together they had four children (Emma, Christine, Mary, and Samson) and most of their descendants still live in the area.
Unfortunately, the home, which was continuously occupied from 1872 until 2017 has fallen into disrepair. It is owned by the District of West Vancouver and there were discussions about potentially tearing it down. Recognizing the historical and cultural importance of the home, a group of residents created the Navvy Jack House Citizen's Group rallied to restore it and turn it into an oceanside cafe and wine bar for the entire community to enjoy.
The estimated cost to restore the home is $2.6 million dollars and in March 2022 the District of West Vancouver agreed to provide $1 million from funds generated from developer Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) on new construction projects provided that the community can raise the remaining $1.6 million by March 31, 2024.
The Committee has therefore established this crowdfunding campaign with a goal to raise a minimum of $500,000 from local businesses, organizations and individuals as a first step toward raising the full $1.6 million. Donors who contribute $2,500 or more will be given permanent recognition on the property. Larger donations ($5,000+, $10,000+, $25,000+) will receive more prominent recognition. It is our hope that people who know someone who loved John Lawson Park and/or the North Shore seawall will make a large donation in memory or in honour of that person. All donations above $25 are eligible to receive a tax receipt from the West Vancouver Community Foundation. Please indicate on the checkout page that you want a tax receipt.
Some interesting facts about the Navvy Jack house
The house was originally built a bit further inland from its current location but was moved to its current location in 1921 to allow for Argyle Avenue to be extended. While the current building looks very different from the home pictured above, a significant amount of the structure (beams, joists and planking, roofing trusses) are original. Further, a significant amount of the siding still exists, which will permit an accurate reconstruction of the exterior.
John Thomas nearly lost the property in 1894 when a con man took out a mortgage on the property and tried to sell it to another party. John Thomas managed to discover the planned theft but the only way he could recover the home was to agree to pay the mortgage taken out on the property.
John Lawson, a prominent West Vancouver citizen, owned the house from 1907 until 1924 and ran the first post office and general store from the house. The home is also the location of the first recorded wedding in West Vancouver when John Lawson's daughter Elizabeth married William Pitman in 1914.
How will the restored house be used
The plan is to make the house into an important community asset by finding a restauranteur to outfit the main floor into a waterfront cafe and possibly a wine bar so that it can be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. The rents charged to the cafe operator will cover all the ongoing operating and maintenance costs of the property so West Vancouver taxpayers will not bear any future costs for the home. Further, the operator of the cafe will pay for all the costs to build out and furnish the cafe (no proceeds from this campaign will cover any private operator costs).
To maximize its use, large decks will be built on the front and side of the house. The hope is that indigenous art will be showcased on the property so that it has the potential to become a strong symbol of reconciliation with the first peoples on whose land the house rests. Below is a rendering of what the completed house and property might look like.
Please support this important community initiative
This initiative has the potential to become one of the most important cultural and historic initiatives in British Columbia. It will also transform a dismal looking eyesore into an outstanding community gathering place and civic amenity, which the entire community can enjoy for decades to come. Please give generously so that we can make it a reality.
The easiest way to make a contribution is to click on the donate now button. Alternatively, you can send a cheque to the West Vancouver Community Foundation. Please make the cheque payable to the West Vancouver Community Foundation and write "Navvy Jack Project" in the memo field. The address of the West Vancouver Community Foundation is 775 15th Street, West Vancouver, BC, V7T 2S9. Regardless, of your payment method, all donations will flow through to the West Vancouver Community Foundation less any third party processing fees. We will follow up with all donors to obtain details for tax receipts.