Heritage Register

611 Vancouver St (ex-25 Vancouver St)

Built c.1883
Heritage-Designated 2011

For: John & Mary Higgins

611 Vancouver


This early worker’s cottage is the essence of simplicity: A single-storey box form, with ridged and hipped roof, shed-roofed rear extension, and full-width hipped front porch.

The 1889 Bird’s Eye View of Victoria shows this house in place, at the intersection of Vancouver and Fairfield, then called Labouchère. The picture shows a full-width front porch, and the surviving porch may be partly original, defined by charming miniature scroll-sawn roof brackets, though the original raised floor, columns and porch brackets are missing. (The bird’s eye view shows four columns.)

The exterior is finished with wide drop-siding and corner-boards. The foundation is covered in vertical board-and-batten. An unusual recessed entryway has the original panelled door & transom. There’s a corbelled chimney on the back left side. Original double-hung sash windows with horns are seen on each side. There is a half-width shed-roofed extension at the rear. An early barrel-roofed garage has likely had the front modified for use as a shed.

The house closely matches its neighbour round the corner (1006 Fairfield), but many cottages were built in this style throughout Victoria in the late 19th Century.

This house is built on the north segment of Lot 1155, Block 36, Fairfield, and hence has long been bundled with the later corner store (1002 Fairfield/Labouchére, and 607 Vancouver), and its neighbour (1004 Fairfield/Labouchere) on the same lot, making some permit records confusing.


John Thomas (1843-1912) and Mary Ann (Wilby, 1854-1941) Higgins purchased the property in 1882 and the house was likely built soon after. John was born in Lynn, Norfolk, England and came to Canada in 1880. He was a widower when her married Mary Ann Wilby in Victoria in 1882. She was born in San Francisco, arriving in Canada in 1858. Their son John H. was born in 1882.

The Victoria City Directory shows John Higgins, nurseryman, living at #611 from 1884-1892, evidently with extensive greenhouses on the corner. In the 1886 Daily Colonist, Higgins advertises his services as “Florist and Ornamental Gardens” with greenhouses and gardens at Vancouver and Fairfield. Higgins adds in his advertisement, “Late Gardener to Sir M. B. Begbie.” [The pioneer judge owned 10 lots --the western 2/3rds of Block 36--, with substantial gardens: The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online says of Begbie: “At his comfortable house on Cook Street in Victoria, where he moved permanently in 1870, he had extensive gardens, with a croquet green and three excellent lawn tennis courts.” All of which must have required a staff of gardeners.]

In the 1892 directory, Higgins describes himself as a florist, at this address. But that year he moved to Cadboro Bay & Richmond, perhaps to expand his greenhouses. Son John also became a gardener. The Vancouver and Fairfield corner-store and adjacent house were likely built on the lot in 1893.


Over the next years, residents didn’t stay very long. In 1902 the house remained vacant for several years. A number of residents briefly occupied the house including George P. Giles, a warehouseman for R.P Rithet & Co and Adelbert Rainier, baggageman at the CP Rail wharf.

By 1912 the house was bought by Chew Gee (1868-1953) and Louise Victoria (Schmidt, 1872-1934) Die. Louise was born in Lausanne, Switzerland and arrived in Canada about 1906. Chew was born in Canton, China, arriving in British Columbia in 1888. He worked as a domestic servant at Ruhebuhne, 835 Pemberton Rd for the Hastings family. In 1901 his annual earnings were $330. In later years Chew was employed as a cook. Paul A. Reid was their son. Chew Die owned the house until his death in 1953. Both Chew and Louise were buried at the Chinese Cemetery.


• Fairfield History

• Fairfield Heritage Register

• This Old House, Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods,
Volume Four: Fairfield, Gonzales & Jubilee

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