Heritage can be a tricky thing to define. According to Heritage BC, “there are no hard and fast rules that determine what is, and what is not, heritage … heritage is whatever a community, past or present, values and would like to pass on to the future.”
Heritage comes in many forms. It can be tangible like a building, an artifact, or an archival record or it can be intangible like a cultural practice, a performing art, or an oral tradition.
This exhibit focuses on Coquitlam’s built heritage. It highlights archival records that can help uncover the history of houses in Coquitlam.
In British Columbia, there are four levels of heritage recognition available to municipalities. Firstly, there is the Heritage Inventory, which is used to acknowledge local heritage properties. A municipality can also create a Community Heritage Register to formally recognize the value of heritage buildings. To provide increased protection, the municipality and a property owner can enter into a formal Heritage Revitalization Agreement approved by Council through a bylaw. Finally, a Heritage Designation provides the greatest amount of protection to a heritage building or property. Heritage Designations are approved by Council through a bylaw, following a public hearing.
Over the years, Coquitlam has designated 27 buildings through heritage designation bylaws. The designation means that the structure or property cannot be altered, moved, or subdivided without a heritage alteration permit. The following properties have been protected (listed in the chronological order when they were approved):
Here are two examples of successful projects in Coquitlam that have integrated past and present effectively:
“The Bédard Residence is valued as a physical representation of the initial settlement of the French Canadian population in Maillardville…Built for the Bédard family in 1913, it is situated at the core of the original French-Canadian community in Laval Square and is one of the few remaining French-Canadian mill worker houses in the area.”
(Source: Statement of Significance, Donald Luxton & Associates Inc., 2007)
The restoration of 311 Laval Square was one of the first residential heritage projects undertaken in Coquitlam. In accordance with the Heritage Revitalization Agreement (Bylaw No. 3949, 2008), the heritage home was integrated into a larger residential development across several lots around Laval Square.
“The Paré Residence has architectural and historic value as part of an ensemble of historic structures that defines the Maillardville neighbourhood of Coquitlam. It illustrates the history of Fraser Mills and its important socio-economic impact on the region.”
(Source: Statement of Significance, Donald Luxton & Associates, 2011)
In accordance with the Heritage Revitalization Agreement (Bylaw No. 4211, 2011), 307 Begin Street was restored and integrated into a large residential development at the corner of Begin Street and Cartier Avenue. The house was maintained in its original location with the added density in behind on the plot.
The path to a heritage designation begins at the City of Coquitlam Archives. The first step for a property owner is to hire a heritage consultant who will conduct the necessary historical research. Archives staff work with the heritage consultant to identify relevant records that can help to tell the story of the property.
Researching the history of a property is a lot like a treasure hunt—you never know what you might uncover. So let’s dig deeper into the process of researching the history of a house in Coquitlam, using 907 Walls Avenue as our example.
Every property search starts with a property assessment card. These 5x7 tan cards were compiled by staff in the Corporation of the District of Coquitlam’s Assessment Department in the 1950s and 1960s and are now preserved at the City of Coquitlam Archives. The cards provide the legal description of a property, structural details about the house, and a suggested build date. The back of the card also tends to have a basic sketch of the building, which can help identify any additions or alterations made over the years.
Unfortunately, there are no official records that say exactly when a house was built in Coquitlam. The build date on the assessment cards is a helpful starting point, but we have discovered that these dates are often inaccurate or provide too broad a timeframe. This was the case for 907 Walls Avenue.
It is important to make sure that there are multiple records that confirm important details. This is standard practice for historical research. When it comes to researching the history of a property in Coquitlam, we can use a selection of records to help us get as close as we can to the correct date.
To try to confirm the build date of a property, we turn to the Tax Assessment Rolls preserved at the Archives. These large ledger books were used by municipal assessors to keep a record of property tax assessments and payments. The Corporation of the District of Coquitlam began collecting property taxes in 1892, the year after the district was incorporated. The responsibility for property assessment fell to each municipality until 1974 when the province created the British Columbia Assessment Authority (now BC Assessment).
When the Lower Mainland area was surveyed by colonial settlers in the mid-1800s, the land was intellectually divided into large chunks called District Lots. The tax assessment rolls from the late 19th century were arranged alphabetically by the owner’s surname, but from 1912 onward the assessment rolls were arranged by district lot according to the legal description.
In order to search for properties in the tax assessment rolls after 1912, we need to know the legal lot description. This can be found in the top left corner of the property assessment card. For example, the historic legal description of 907 Walls Avenue was:
“District Lot 3 etc., Block 110, Lot 14 of A.”
Once we have the historic legal description, we can find information about owners, tenants, property values, and tax payments. The amount of tax owed was based on the value of the property, which was noted in two separate columns—one column for improved land and one column for wild land.
“Improved” could mean that the land was cleared of trees or that some kind of structure was built on it like a barn, a shack, or a house. When we see a significant jump in the “improved” value column, that’s usually a good indication that a house was built. This is often the best way to determine a build date for a property.
Another clue we can look for is an indication of residency. In some assessment rolls, there is a separate column for this information, while in others there are small notations: “R” for resident, “N.R.” for non-resident.
Unfortunately, sometimes the records don’t tell us exactly what we want to know. For 907 Walls Avenue, the tax assessment rolls showed that Block 110 was originally 8 acres and was owned by Phillip H. Page of New Westminster. The lot was split in half in 1914 and the west half was sold to Mrs. Bessie Byrnes (née Eastman) of Langley BC. In 1918, Bessie Byrnes’ brother Henry Alfred Eastman purchased the property but he didn’t own it for long and doesn’t appear to have resided on the property. The property was purchased by James Alsbury in 1920 and he owned it until 1958.
The available tax assessment rolls show no significant jump in the improved value of Block 110 at any point in the property’s early history. However, based on the lot values in the improved column, it seems that there may have been some kind of structure on the property when Alsbury bought it. Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure. The best thing to do in cases like this is to search other records.
Library and Archives Canada provides online access to the 1921 Census records through a searchable database. The census records for Maillardville confirm that James Alsbury and his wife Cora Evangeline Alsbury (née Munday) were living in Coquitlam in 1921. We can be sure that James and Cora were living in a house in 1921 and, therefore, it is safe to assume that a house existed on the property at least by that point.
As a final check, we can try our luck with the BC Directories held by the Vancouver Public Library. VPL’s online collection contains digitized directories from 1860 to 1955. The directories were produced by private companies and include street and name listings for individuals and businesses.
It can be quite difficult to locate Coquitlam properties in the BC Directories. It is often easier to use the owner’s name rather than street name because streets in Coquitlam were described collectively as “RR2 New Westminster” for many years. Confusing, isn’t it? This was the case for Walls Avenue during the 1920s. James Alsbury is listed in the BC Directories in 1925, living on RR2.
At this point, we could suggest that the house was built around 1920 but there is a chance it was built earlier. This conclusion would be in keeping with the 1950s assessment card. Or perhaps James and Cora were living in a previous structure on the property and the current house was built at a later date. That conclusion would be in keeping with the 1960s assessment card.
Unfortunately, with the records available to us, we can’t determine a build date with absolute certainty for this property. Sometimes, we just can’t find the answer we’re looking for with the historical records that have survived. This is the challenge with historical research. Sometimes, an educated guess is the best we can do. In this case, the heritage consultant who worked on this property made an educated guess based on the available evidence and suggested that the house was built in 1920 when the property was purchased by Alsbury.
Determining the build date is just the beginning of the research into the history of a property. Once the owner(s) and the approximate build date of the house have been determined, there is still a lot of research to be done. The heritage significance of a building is not just about its location and its architecture. It’s also about the social history of those who lived there.
So who were James Alsbury and Cora Munday? There are a number of sources we can turn to in order to find out more about them.
Firstly, the British Columbia Archives has a searchable collection of birth, marriage, and death registers available online. These records can be incredibly helpful for piecing together the family histories of property owners.
According to their marriage certificate, James William Alsbury and Cora Evangeline Munday were married on December 20, 1918. At the time of their marriage, James Alsbury was a 27-year-old ship carpenter originally from Australia and Cora Munday was a 22-year-old “spinster” from New Westminster.
Cora was the daughter of George and Ida Munday and the granddaughter of George and Jane Munday who were the early owners of the land that is now Mundy Park. There is an account of the Munday family in Coquitlam 100 Years: Reflections of the Past, which is available at the Coquitlam Public Library or online. Why the spelling was changed from Munday to Mundy is a mystery that has yet to be solved.
Library and Archives Canada’s collection of First World War Personnel Files is another valuable resource for this type of research. Many of the young men from this area enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War and James Alsbury was one of them. According to his file, he enlisted in Vancouver on May 1, 1916. He served in France with the 72nd Battalion but was discharged in 1917 when he suffered from nephritis and was deemed medically unfit for service.
When Alsbury enlisted in 1916, his address was listed as 325 Knox Street in New Westminster. After the war, he returned to the house on Knox Street. If we look at the BC Directories for this time, the Munday family (including Cora) lived at 323 Knox Street, so it seems that Cora Munday married the “boy next door.”
The Munday Family owned a large amount of land in Coquitlam, but they never actually lived in Coquitlam. In fact, it was long thought that no member of the Munday family ever actually lived in Coquitlam. However, the research for 907 Walls Avenue uncovered the fact that Cora Munday lived in Coquitlam for many years with her husband John Alsbury. It goes to show that we never know what this type of research will reveal. Every property has a story to tell.
Eventually, 907 Walls Avenue was determined to have,
“significant heritage value for its historical ties to the initial subdivision patterns and settlement of Coquitlam, for representing the pivotal small-scale, mixed-farming economy that characterized rural Coquitlam during its first four decades, for its association with the Munday family, and for its aesthetic characteristics.”
(Source: Heritage Conservation Plan, Pattison Architecture, 2016)
The Alsbury/Munday House was finally ‘designated’ as a heritage property in 2016 through Bylaw No. 4728, 2016. The heritage home was relocated to the west side of the property and two additional homes were added to the east. The redevelopment of the property was completed in 2020 and the heritage house is now located at 903 Walls Avenue.
This exhibit provided an introduction to property research in Coquitlam, but it just scratched the surface. If you are interested in learning more about the records available at the City of Coquitlam Archives or if you are interested in researching the history of your property, please get in touch by emailing the City of Coquitlam Archives.