Proposal for Navvy Jack Nature Centre


The District has an opportunity to honour a significant heritage asset by giving it new life as a nature centre to support education and awareness of our rich cultural heritage and natural environment. It could be a space to both honour the past and encourage stewardship of our natural assets for future generations.

Community Consultation

The District wants to know:

  • Does the community support the concept of a West Vancouver nature centre?
  • Does the community support locating a nature centre on the waterfront?
  • Does the community support restoring the heritage house known as Navvy Jack House for the nature centre, or building a new facility?
  • Does the community support using Community Amenity Contribution funds to create a nature centre?

Please keep reading for an explanation of this proposal and then take the survey to share your input.


Information Meetings

Learn more about this site and the proposal at an information meeting.

Note: The information meeting for Saturday, September 14 is cancelled due to rain and rescheduled to Saturday, September 21.

  • Tuesday, September 17, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., West Vancouver Memorial Library, lobby area, 1950 Marine Drive
  • Saturday, September 21, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., John Lawson Park
  • Tuesday, September 24, 4–6:30 p.m., West Vancouver Community Centre, Lalji Family Atrium, 2121 Marine Drive

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 Williams’s. 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.


The concept

The proposal for a nature centre was first submitted by West Vancouver’s community stewardship groups. They envisioned a centrally-located nature centre that would profile and highlight the natural riches of our community. Displays and information, supported by stewardship groups, would inspire visitors to take information away and explore the myriad of natural wonders in our community, including forests, parkland, shorelines, wetlands, streams and local wildlife.

Council approved the submission in 2014, subject to a sustainable business plan.


What is a nature centre?

It is a public space for programs and services that support education and promotion of the natural environment and our cultural heritage.

A West Vancouver nature centre would offer environmental and heritage programs and education. Programs and events will take place both inside the building and outside in the nearby park. The space would host:

  • indoor and outdoor environmentally-themed programs and events for children, youth, families
  • educational activities supporting the efforts of community environmental stewardship groups
  • heritage programs, activities and events
  • private functions, as a facility available to rent

Operating model

An advisory committee that includes representation from local stewardship groups, Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and other community stakeholders would help develop the nature centre’s programming. The annual operating cost is projected to be $110,000, and takes into account operating costs and revenue projections from programming and rentals.


Funding from Community Amenity Contributions (CACs)

If the community supports this project, funding would come from the District’s Community Amenity Contributions. These are funds that are provided to the District by a developer when Council grants development rights through re-zoning. A nature centre would be a new community amenity and therefore qualifies for this type of funding.

If you support proceeding with a nature centre, three options are presented for your consideration, with costs ranging from $1,300,000 to $2,314,000. The District currently has over $12 million in CACs.


Survey

Now that you've read the explanation of this proposal, please complete the survey below.

Deadline to complete the survey is Monday, September 30 at 4 p.m.


The District has an opportunity to honour a significant heritage asset by giving it new life as a nature centre to support education and awareness of our rich cultural heritage and natural environment. It could be a space to both honour the past and encourage stewardship of our natural assets for future generations.

Community Consultation

The District wants to know:

  • Does the community support the concept of a West Vancouver nature centre?
  • Does the community support locating a nature centre on the waterfront?
  • Does the community support restoring the heritage house known as Navvy Jack House for the nature centre, or building a new facility?
  • Does the community support using Community Amenity Contribution funds to create a nature centre?

Please keep reading for an explanation of this proposal and then take the survey to share your input.


Information Meetings

Learn more about this site and the proposal at an information meeting.

Note: The information meeting for Saturday, September 14 is cancelled due to rain and rescheduled to Saturday, September 21.

  • Tuesday, September 17, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., West Vancouver Memorial Library, lobby area, 1950 Marine Drive
  • Saturday, September 21, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., John Lawson Park
  • Tuesday, September 24, 4–6:30 p.m., West Vancouver Community Centre, Lalji Family Atrium, 2121 Marine Drive

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 Williams’s. 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.


The concept

The proposal for a nature centre was first submitted by West Vancouver’s community stewardship groups. They envisioned a centrally-located nature centre that would profile and highlight the natural riches of our community. Displays and information, supported by stewardship groups, would inspire visitors to take information away and explore the myriad of natural wonders in our community, including forests, parkland, shorelines, wetlands, streams and local wildlife.

Council approved the submission in 2014, subject to a sustainable business plan.


What is a nature centre?

It is a public space for programs and services that support education and promotion of the natural environment and our cultural heritage.

A West Vancouver nature centre would offer environmental and heritage programs and education. Programs and events will take place both inside the building and outside in the nearby park. The space would host:

  • indoor and outdoor environmentally-themed programs and events for children, youth, families
  • educational activities supporting the efforts of community environmental stewardship groups
  • heritage programs, activities and events
  • private functions, as a facility available to rent

Operating model

An advisory committee that includes representation from local stewardship groups, Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and other community stakeholders would help develop the nature centre’s programming. The annual operating cost is projected to be $110,000, and takes into account operating costs and revenue projections from programming and rentals.


Funding from Community Amenity Contributions (CACs)

If the community supports this project, funding would come from the District’s Community Amenity Contributions. These are funds that are provided to the District by a developer when Council grants development rights through re-zoning. A nature centre would be a new community amenity and therefore qualifies for this type of funding.

If you support proceeding with a nature centre, three options are presented for your consideration, with costs ranging from $1,300,000 to $2,314,000. The District currently has over $12 million in CACs.


Survey

Now that you've read the explanation of this proposal, please complete the survey below.

Deadline to complete the survey is Monday, September 30 at 4 p.m.

  • The story of John “Navvy Jack” Thomas

    about 1 month ago
    Arrival

    John Thomas was born in Wales near Cardiff. He came from a very well-off family, but when he was 18 years old he had a quarrel with his mother and he left for North America by hitching a ride on a British Navy vessel. He jumped ship when he arrived in Burrard Inlet. The association with the Navy gave him the nickname Navvy Jack.

    1860-1865

    Records show Jack involved in the Cariboo Gold Rush in the early 1860s as a freighter. He was about 30 years old when he was one of a group of five men who packed...

    Arrival

    John Thomas was born in Wales near Cardiff. He came from a very well-off family, but when he was 18 years old he had a quarrel with his mother and he left for North America by hitching a ride on a British Navy vessel. He jumped ship when he arrived in Burrard Inlet. The association with the Navy gave him the nickname Navvy Jack.

    1860-1865

    Records show Jack involved in the Cariboo Gold Rush in the early 1860s as a freighter. He was about 30 years old when he was one of a group of five men who packed a piano on their backs from Quesnel to Barkerville. The piano had been shipped from France, up the Fraser River to Hope by sternwheeler, to Quesnel by wagon, and carried on the backs of men the rest of the way to Mary Nathan’s saloon. The piano is still in Barkerville.

    West Vancouver businessman

    Navvy Jack arrived in West Vancouver around 1866. He ran an on-demand ferry service with a 30-foot sloop, running passengers and freight between Moodyville, Hastings and New Brighton. If there were only one or two passengers he would use a rowboat. His ferry service was displaced by a small steamer, which ran a regularly scheduled service and connected to the new daily stagecoach over Douglas Road.

    In 1867 he began hauling gravel from the mouth of the Capilano River to construction sites around the inlet. The sand and gravel mix he delivered is a major component in mixing concrete and is still called “Navvy Jack” in Vancouver’s building trade. He ran his gravel business from an office on the Vancouver waterfront and kept his sloop in Swy-Wee Lagoon. The lagoon was later known as Ambleside slough; in later years it was filled in to create the beach, but today’s duck pond is a remnant of the original slough.

    Navvy Jack House

    In 1872 John Thomas acquired the property where he would build his house in 1873. The property stretched from today’s Navvy Jack Point to 16th Street, from the waterfront inland to Haywood Avenue.
    Reports indicate Navvy Jack’s house was complete when Albert Finney arrived in May 1874 to lay the foundation for the Point Atkinson Lighthouse. The house was described as a “neat white house, almost elegant for its time”. It was built with clear old-growth fir and cedar. The exterior was finished with a distinctive moulded cedar siding and the full-width porch across the front had lathe-turned posts with Victorian gingerbread ornamentation on the arches.

    The house was the first permanent colonial residence in West Vancouver. Later, it would house the first post office, the first church service, and in it was conducted the first marriage ceremony.

    Marriage and family

    In the early 1870s Thomas married Row-i-a, granddaughter of old Chief Ki-ep-i-lano. They met when Row-i-a’s family was visiting from Musqueum Nation. Jack and Row-i-a had four children: Emma (1876), Christine (1878), Mary (1883) and Sampson (1888).

    Navvy Jack’s children were educated by a governess. Their mother Row-i-a died in 1888 and the governess took over their care.

    All of the Thomas children married and had children; Navvy Jack is an ancestor of many, many families in the Squamish, Musqueum and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

    The 1890s

    In 1891 the District of North Vancouver was created, and the municipality included the entire North Shore. The economic boom ended in 1892, followed by a financial crisis in 1893. 1893 also saw the first private subdivision when Navvy Jack sold the westerly 100 acres of his property to Edward Mahon, and another 20 acres to William Rhys-Jones. He kept 40 acres.

    Word came that there was wealth to be had in the Cariboo goldmines, and at some point in the 1890s he travelled to Barkerville. He never came back to West Vancouver.

    John Thomas died in Barkerville in 1897, likely of pneumonia. His gravestone still stands today.
    The children’s governess took them to their mother’s family and the house appears to have gone to auction for unpaid taxes.

    It was purchased by John Lawson in 1906.

    Source: Family records of Evelyn May Findlay Lamont, great, great granddaughter of John Thomas, through his daughter Mary’s line. Summarized by the District of West Vancouver 2019, with permission of Evelyn May Findlay Lamont.