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This page last updated April 10, 2011
© Michael Kluckner
The Wilson cottage, owned by the family of long-time Vancouver alderman Halford Wilson, and before him his father, Canon Wilson of St. Michael's Church, Vancouver, as it was in 2001
Written 2002: It faced the sea in the Gower Point area, and was probably built in the 1920s, in the sort of rustic Craftsman style that was popular for buildings such as the original Grouse Mountain Chalet and the fabulous old Wigwam Inn on Indian Arm. Bracketing and detailing such as balustrades consisted of peeled saplings, many naturally (or by steam?) curved to create a whimsical softness to the structure. It appeared the building is a frame structure with half-log facing.
The cottage is at Second Street and has 100 feet of frontage onto Ocean Beach Esplanade. It is for sale for $209,000, with the value of the "improvements" listed at $5100. In other words, the cottage is of little or no value and the place is being marketed as a building lot. This is unfortunate but perhaps understandable, as the cottage has only a cold-water tap, some rudimentary wiring, and a toilet in the basement. All around, especially higher up on the hillside, rustic cottages have been replaced by what can most politely be described as "West Vancouver houses." In other words, Great Big Houses. It eventually sold and, although it wasn't torn down, the new owners renovated it extensively, adding new aluminum-framed windows and board siding to the lower floor, and stripping away all the old brackets and balustrades.
Following an interview on the CBC radio program BC Almanac on March 7, 2002, I received a call from Doreen Armstrong, who gave me much of the information below. Thanks also to Bevlee Wilks and Dave McDonald for suggesting additions and changes to the material.
The Wilson cottage was built by Harry Chaster and moved onto this site from its original location behind the Chaster house at Ocean Beach Esplanade and Harry Road.There is said to be another one somewhere on Gower Point Road. A third house of half-log veneer, known as "Craigowan," faces the beach just east of Camp Road; it was extended once its owner, Mr. Beaton, retired and moved there year-round. All three houses may have been prefabricated and barged to Gower Point. Sally Thicke confirms that her grandfather, Harry Chaster, erected them. His father, James, owned about 300 acres that he subdivided and sold.
The Wilson cottage was acquired and moved after the original Wilson place, built of beach wood and cedar slabs, was torn down. Halford Wilson's father, Canon Wilson, was the minister of St. Michael's church at East Broadway and Prince Edward in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Every Sunday in the summer he conducted church services down on the beach, taking a little pump organ with him across the road from his house. The local Anglicans apparently brought their own chairs to the service. The corner of Second and Ocean Beach Esplanade was thus known as "Amen Corner."
The 5 acre block between Second Street and Camp Road was apparently owned by St. Michael's Church and operated as a church camp in the days before the denominations developed their own summer camps, like Camp Artaban or Camp Alexandra at Crescent Beach. The camp house still stands on Camp Road and has been owned since about 1935 by the Armstrong family. The camp house was originally a single room with bunkbeds set against the walls and a porch in front. It slept about 10. There were also Sunday school classes when the city children weren't frolicking in the open air.
When I began to get involved in Vancouver affairs in the early 1970s, Alderman Halford Wilson was one of the "dinosaurs" of the Non Partisan Association-dominated city council. He was among the group that voted in a block for projects like the Chinatown freeway and Third Crossing and the proposed Four Seasons Hotel complex at the entrance to Stanley Park during the mayoral terms of Tom Campbell from 1966-1972. The NPA's lockstep pro-development views caused the backlash that resulted in the election of the TEAM reform council headed by Mayor Art Phillips in 1972. Looking back through my writings over the years, I find Alderman Wilson in the late 1930s being among the most vocal of the anti-oriental civic politicians. In December, 1936, following increased tension between Japanese-Canadian and white fishermen (this in a period when Japan's invasion of Manchuria and its broad imperial objectives were raising eyebrows around the Pacific), Wilson proposed banning all Japanese women to stop the "peaceful penetration of our province."
Halford Wilson appears in the most famous novel of the Japanese-Canadian internment, Obasan by Joy Kogawa (Penguin, 1981, page 88). "Is this a Christian country? Do you know that Alderman Wilson, the man who says such damning things about us, has a father who is an Anglican clergyman?", the character "Aunt Emily" writes to a relative early in 1942.
Doubtless the man led a more rounded and useful life than the one sketched out above. A proper biographical sketch shall ensue. According to one story, Halford Wilson and his wife only rarely used this cottage, as the latter didn't like it. Any more stories?
"Bonniebrook Lodge," the fine old house nearby that is now an inn and restaurant, was built for Florence (Mrs. Harry) Chaster and her mother after her house "Trelawney" on the south side of the road burned down or was taken down. They let out rooms in the summer and also maintained a few rental cottages, one of which is the current Gower Point store (sketch below). The old store is the small, cement-finished building like a garage on the corner of Ocean Beach Esplanade and Harry Road, in front of the Harry and Florence Chaster house.
Photo in City of Vancouver Archives, Out.p.853, describing this building as the "original James Chaster house, 1912" This presumably is "Trelawney" – the site now of "Chaster House Park" on the waterfront across the road from Bonniebrook Lodge.
From Jolayne Chaster, 2010: Below are some photographs of Gower Point and some members of the Chaster family and visitors from family albums....
View along the Esplanade at Gower Point, 1920s
On the left: Ray and Jim Chaster; on the right: Kenneth Swallow and Terence Carson. Gower Point, 1938
Kaye, Elsie, Dorrie and Alice Chaster
Alice, Harry, & Dorrie (with hat) Chaster and Winnifred & Tom Babb. Summer 1911, Gibsons Landing, BC
Note from Jolayne Chaster, 2010: My great-grandparents once owned Bonniebrook Lodge. Uncle Harry and Auntie Flo were my father's aunt and uncle. I remember being at Uncle Harry's house as a youngster and also remember them. It was my uncle, Gerald Chaster, who arranged the property to be turned into a park. Unfortunately, my father and my uncle have passed on in 2007 and 2008. I also remember meeting my great-grandmother at Bonniebrook but the memory is fleeting. We used to go and stay in a cabin of sorts at the rear of property owned by Ken Swallow, also related. My two aunts, Alma Wilson and Ruth Chaster, have been involved in the history of the Chaster family.
This is a picture of my great-grandfather holding my father. My grandfather is standing behind. Three generations of Chaster. I am looking for other photos but in midst of building a house here in Powell River. My father gave the museum on Gibsons some information so they should have some history.
Jakobs, who has
just purchased the Bonniebrook Lodge, 2007:
Gower Point is just west of Gibsons, not far from the Langdale ferry terminal at the south end of the Sunshine Coast. Once quite isolated, the area now even has its own commuters to Vancouver jobs due to the reliability of the ferry service. As a child, I knew the area only because of Camp Elphinstone, the venerable YMCA establishment nearby. Gibsons Landing was still a sleepy little village when CBC TV made it and Molly's Reach, the cafe on the dock, the centrepiece of the TV series The Beachcombers in the 1970s. Now it seems big, rather spread out, and thoroughly paved, especially along the highway that connects Langdale Ferry Terminal with the "capital" of the Sunshine Coast, Sechelt, and eventually Powell River.
Gower Point is my favorite place along the entire Sunshine Coast due to its easy access to flat Bonniebrook Beach. Farther up the Sunshine Coast, the landscape is wilder and more rocky, with many of the houses set picturesquely on bluffs high above the shoreline, but little open landscape (the term "bluff property" perhaps referring to the realtor's spiel). I prefer the gentle beachfront along Gower Point Road and the surviving modest cottages, of which the Wilsons' was probably the best. As well, there is the excellent store (below), redolent of bare feet, suntan oil, Kik Cola, wet bathing suits and sweet summer romances. Well, perhaps I romanticize, but every beach community used to have a store like this where teenagers loitered out of sight of their parents. The one I habituated at Sandy Point on Shuswap Lake was not as pretty as this one but performed the same role.
Please send any information about the cottage and store, as well as any stories about deluxe Bonniebrook Lodge just down the road. Thanks to Kirsten Howes of Pebbles Realty Ltd. for the "real estate" details about the house.
One of the Chasters' old rental cabins, used as the Gower Point Store in the summer of 2001 but since then returned to use as a dwelling, a watercolour from 2002.