Friday, December 14, 2012

First and Last

This house is located at 121 West 11th. It was home to Mount Pleasant's first blacksmith and 1924 mayor, William R. Owen.

James William Armstrong was a man of firsts. He was born in Peterborough, Ontario on October 31, 1826 and came to B.C. in 1858. He was the first white settler in New Westminster. Armstrong was the first merchant - he ran a general store from 1859 to 1873. He built the first house on the Fraser and the first flour mill (1861-71). 

This flour and sawmill owner was also a politician. Armstrong was elected one of the first town councillors and served from 1860 to 1873. He left that office to take the position of B.C. Minister of finance and agriculture under Amor DeCosmos, a position he held from 1873-76. In 1881, James was named provincial secretary and two years later became sheriff of Westminster County. He died on December 18, 195 in New Westminster.

William Henry Armstrong was a bridge builder who came from Stratford, ON where he was born on September 18, 1857. He started as a railway switchman at the age of 16 before getting involved with bridge construction. He was a master mechanic in Winnipeg from 1877-1883. Armstrong came even further west in 1883 and settled in Victoria. He worked then for CPR until. 1887.

After 1902, Armstrong's firm- Armstrong, Morrison and Balfour - built the Fraser River Bridge at New Westminster, Great Northern Railway Bridge across False Creek as well as Granville and Main Street bridges. In August of 1912, the firm started seven bridges and all were completed by May of 1913. Armstrong and his team paved many of Vancouver streets too.

William Armstrong is known as well for being B.C.'s first automotive owner. He bought B.C.'s first gasoline powered car in Boston in 1899.

This house is next door, 123 West 11th. During the 1920's it was home to Bruce McKelvie who was editor of the Province Newspaper and eventually moved on to the Victoria Colonist.

Balwant Singh Atwal was a Sikh priest who was well respected in his community. He was the first priest of the 2nd Ave. gurdwara (temple). His son, Hardail Singh Atwal was born August 28, 1912 - the first Canadian born Sikh. 

After Balwant's wife, Kartar Kaur, become ill, the family moved back to India. En route, Balwant was mistaken for a revolutionary and jailed in Singapore. His temple sent a letter telling authorities who Balwant was but it was never received.

Balwant Atwal was hanged on charges of sedition and political agitation against the British government in Lahore, India in March of 1917.
140 and 142 West 11th is a fine example of the way many homes were built at one time. A modest bungalow would be constructed at the back of the property. Then, when finances allowed, a more impressive structure was built at the front. The rear property was either torn down or converted to a workshop or perhaps a guest cottage.

Jack (John Henry Patrick) Avison was born on April 25, 1914 in Vancouver. This future orchestra conductor played his first piano at the age of 6 at Grandview Elementary. At 11, he broke in as pianist- announcer at a local radio station.

Avison earned a BA from UBC in 1935, a B.Mus from the University of Washington in 1936 and studied with Paul Hindemith at Julliard. He was a pianist for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Nicknamed 'Big John', Avison founded and conducted the 35-piece CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. In 1971, he conducted the Canadian Arctic's first orchestral concert.

Jack Avison produced more than 40 recordings and is noted for his support for Canadian composers. He was part of 'the last generation of the pioneers of music in Canada.' He received the Order of Canada twice and died November 30, 1983.

All these people have helped to make Vancouver what it is. Once again, I have to express my appreciation for the website The History of Metropolitan Vancouver for the information. I got the information on the homes from a pamphlet produced by the Mount Business Improvement Area.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I lived at 204 W 11th from 1997-2008. I never knew there was so much history just down the street. Thank you!