The story of John “Navvy Jack” Thomas

Who was Navvy Jack?

The house at 1768 Argyle Avenue was built by Navvy Jack. Navvy Jack’s real name was John Thomas, and he came from Wales in about 1860. He played a key role in British Columbia's pioneer history and bought the property on the West Vancouver waterfront to build a home for his new bride in approximately 1874. He was known for many "firsts", including operating the first by-request ferry service from Vancouver to Ambleside in 1866. His home was the location of the first post office, church service and wedding ceremony in West Vancouver. He ran a gravel business and a specific mix of sand and gravel is still named after him.

Navvy Jack is an ancestor to many Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam families. His house is historically significant for its age and its story, which includes being the first non-indigenous settlement and for the marriage of Jack to Rowia, a Musqueam Nation woman who was the grandaughter of "Old Chief" Kiapilano. Jack and Rowia raised four children here; Sampson, Christine, Mary and Emma. Christine married Chief Henry Jack of Squamish Nation: their daughter Amy, grand-daughter to Jack, married Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the renowned community leader, actor and writer. See below for more on the story of Navvy Jack Thomas.

Other residents of 1768 Argyle

In 1907 another pioneer, John Lawson, bought the house and he lived here until 1928. He planted a holly tree next to the house and named his home “Hollyburn”. (Holly for the tree, burn for the creek.) He added a small peaked dormer on the front and two brick chimneys. He is remembered at adjacent John Lawson Park. In 1921 the house was moved slightly on the site to make way for Argyle Avenue.

The property was also owned by Emma Macfarlane and then by the Hookham family. Leonard Hookham was a cabinetmaker and they lived in this house for 43 years. The Hookhams sold the property to Lloyd Williams in 1971. The District bought the house in 1990 with life tenancy to the Williamses. Lloyd passed away in 2017.

The house has been home to families for 143 years, and over that time it has undergone numerous renovations and some neglect. There is not much of the original house left—much of this building’s history is one of change.

The District is consulting the community of the future of this building. If restored, the project would recreate the 1909 version of the house, including the brick chimneys added by John Lawson.

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