Shaughnessy: an “affordable” place to buy a home and raise a family.
That statement might seem ludicrous, when applied to the Vancouver neighbourhood where the average asking price for a single family home is $5.6 million. But back in the 1950s and ’60s, it was true.
That’s the consensus of seniors who attend the monthly luncheon at Shaughnessy Heights United Church. Although several of the approximately 40 members of the group have downsized and moved to condos elsewhere in Greater Vancouver—including luncheon organizer Pat Mitchell, who’s called Tsawwassen home since 2004—a handful still live in the Shaughnessy houses they bought decades ago.
Wynnie Chou, originally from Nanaimo, and her husband Ying bought a house in Shaughnessy in the 1950s. Back then, Shaughnessy—at least, closer to Oak Street, where they purchased—was an “affordable” place to buy, and offered a short commute for her husband, a pediatrician at St. Paul’s Hospital. She thinks they paid about $17,000 for their home on West 32nd Avenue that she continues to live in today.
Pat McKenzie and her husband Murray bought a three-bedroom home at 5057 Marguerite Street for $25,000 in 1964 after returning from teaching in Hong Kong. They were looking for easy commutes to her husband’s job at UBC, and her job at Langara College.
“It was a super place to bring up kids,” said McKenzie, who now lives in Kerrisdale. Her three sons attended Point Grey High School.
Back in the 1960s, Shaughnessy Heights United Church had about 100 Kindergarten-aged children in its Sunday school, which McKenzie taught. She estimates there are perhaps 40 children, of all ages, in the entire church today.
Like many Vancouver churches faced with declining membership, Shaughnessy Heights balances the books by renting its facilities; Korean Trinity Presbyterian Church also operates from the building.
McKenzie said she sold her home in 1988 for $250,000. It was only afterwards that prices started to skyrocket. As a result, many of her friends have moved elsewhere on Vancouver’s West Side.
“You can’t afford to sit on a $5 million house when you’re retired,” said McKenzie.
Shaughnessy seniors instead are opting to pull their equity out, and downsize to condos.
“It really was after we left that houses started to be torn down and most of the big new ones built,” McKenzie said.
A Shaughnessy home was cheaper, in the 1960s, said McKenzie, than a similar home on the North Shore.
While Vancouverites—those who aren’t trying to sell their homes—cite the influx of well-heeled Asian immigrants as driving up housing prices, longtime Shaughnessy residents haven’t seen that much of a change to their neighbourhood.
Pat Hudson—who regards herself as more of a “Kerrisdale girl,” since that’s where she grew up—and her husband Don bought their home in the 4400-block of Angus Drive in 1969.
“The changes [in Shaughnessy] have been very interesting,” Hudson said. “We have a really multicultural street on our block, but it hasn’t really changed the complexion of our neighbourhood. [The Asian immigrants] have the same issues that we had when we were in our 30s... It’s schooling, it’s education, a comfortable neighbourhood, comfortable homes. None of that has changed; it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
One thing Hudson has observed, however, is that those who grew up in Shaughnessy as kids often can’t afford to buy homes in the neighbourhood today.
“From an economical point of view... young people, you don’t see them move into this neighbourhood,” Hudson observed. “How could they afford to be in the West Side? Even in a so-called real estate recession, they’re still far beyond [what they can afford].”
Hudson’s own two children bought homes in suburbs elsewhere in Greater Vancouver.
Wayne Chou, 57, was one of the few who grew up in Shaughnessy and returned there as an adult, buying a home six blocks away from his mother, Wynnie. He wanted his two children to grow up closer to their grandparents.
Even as a kid, he remembers distinctions between the various parts of Shaughnessy. “First Shaughnessy was where the very expensive homes were, where the families that were well to do lived,” he said. “Second Shaughnessy—we always knew that west of Granville was a nicer place to live than east of Granville.”
The kids made another distinction: houses with cement steps out front were “nicer” than houses with wooden steps. Wayne chuckles at this idea today.
The main change he noticed in Shaughnessy is that his own kids, now 18 and 20, didn’t play outdoors in the lanes and in neighbours’ yards, the way kids used to, back in the 1960s. “The new generation of Chinese [kids] pack themselves up and they go in cars [to visit friends]. There isn’t the community spirit that there used to be. That’s the Asian influence; their lifestyle is different. They gate their homes; they’re not as open out the front of the house as we were.”