- BC Games
Push to save historic Pitt Meadows house
Yvonne Willems views herself as the unofficial caretaker of one of Pitt Meadows first homes.
Nestled along the hillside of what is now known as Sheridan Hill, Willems is busy packing her belongings as she prepares to move out of the home of dairy farmer William Henry Menzies, built in 1910.
The Menzies house is more than a rental home to Willems. It’s a piece of Pitt Meadow’s history she feels needs to be preserved.
The 113-year-old home on McNeil Road is showing its age. For the past 27 years, Willems has lived on the property, doing the best she can to maintain the home. Willems says she has spent money out of her own pocket to fix the aging electrical and plumbing problems that have occurred over the years. An upgrade here and there has meant nothing to Willems.
According to the Pitt Meadows Museum and Archives, William and Mary Menzies first settled on the 100-plus acre property around 1900. They first lived in a log cabin on property before building their permanent home in 1910. It was strategically placed high enough to avoid the flood waters while leaving the lower lands for grazing cattle.
So a few dollars for Willems here and there to fix a faulty wire or a leaky pipe was simply the price of maintaining history.
But she now feels her work may be in vain.
The historic farm house was sold in May, and Willems is now faced with having to pack up and get out. Headed for the Sunshine Coast with her 82-year-old father Tony, Willems says the idea of having to move after more than a quarter century is stressful enough. But she fears the new owners intend to demolish the house the second they are off the property, levelling a piece of Pitt Meadow’s history.
Willems claims she came face to face with heavy equipment waiting to tear down the house on Aug. 1, presumably on the orders of the new property owner. She had to explain that she and her father were still living in the house and that she was not required to leave until Sept. 1.
“I’m not sure what would have happened had we been away on holidays,” says Willems. “We might have come home to find everything gone.”
The soon-to-be-ex-Pitt Meadows resident says she’s concerned the same situation will play out once they move.
The Menzies’ home was placed on the municipal register in 2006 by the city after a research consultant hired by Pitt Meadows identified the home as having historical significance. The home was put on the provincial register in 2009.
Any demolition of the home would require the new owners to go before Pitt Meadows council and ask for permission to remove the home for the registry.
But Willems is convinced the new owners will take the approach that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
“I’m sure they feel it’s cheaper to pay the fines than get the permits,” says Willems.
The property is registered to a numbered B.C. corporation and Chao Chen of Vancouver B.C. is listed as the director. Willems said she has contacted city officials to let them know of her concerns.
Kim Grout, director of operations and development services for Pitt Meadows, says she appreciates Willem’s concerns but can’t confirm that is the owner’s intentions.
“For all we know they’ve come to clear some of the bushes on the property,” says Grout.
The city has had no contact with the owners of the property and have not been given any indication the home will be levelled come Sept. 1.
She said if a request comes forward, council would have to decide what historical value the home has and if anything on the property be preserved before issuing any permits.
Willems’ concerns are purely conjecture at this point, notes Grout.
Leslie Norman, curator at the Pitt Meadows Museum and Archives says she’s also heard the whispers that the aging farm house is set for the wrecking ball.
“It’s a small community,” acknowledges Norman.
She said she’s hopeful the new owners will come to the city first before taking any action. Norman said she also sympathizes for Willems, someone who’s spent the past quarter century putting down roots on one of the region’s first farm houses.
“I understand life goes forward. Different owners want different things from their property,” says Norman.
However, the Pitt Meadows curator points out that just because a home is on a historical registry, it doesn’t mean it can’t be torn down and replaced. She stresses that there is a process in place, but the Menzies property wouldn’t be the first historical building in the region to be torn down. What Norman is hoping is that the new owners will go through the proper channels and the city can decide what’s best for the house.
If the house is beyond repair, Norman suggests the Pitt Museum and Archives can collect old photos and perhaps retain a portion of the home to keep on display.
“It can be a very expensive process to fix up such an old home, and you need a lot of will to want to do it,” says Norman.
Unfortunately for Willems, the will is there. She just feels there is no way she can stop the wreaking crew from coming in and wiping out 113 years of Pitt Meadows history.
“I hope something can be done. The city has been notified. There’s not much more I can do,” says Willems.