Kitsilano: Open House

Dunbar wasn't the right fit for the Renshaw family when they moved from London, England to Vancouver.

"I hated it because it felt very sterile and suburban," Nikki Renshaw said. "We wanted to go to Kits because it just felt like London and we'd lived in Venice Beach in L.A. and it had that same vibe."

In 1998, she and her husband Chris and their one-year-old daughter Olivia moved into a home at 3209 West Fifth Ave. in Kitsilano.

"I needed to be somewhere where I could hear traffic and I felt like I was in a city," Renshaw said.

They bought an old house sorely in need of renovation so they could make it what they wanted.

Renshaw says the kitchen looked like a 1970s sauna when they moved in with orange wood panelling. It was what Renshaw preferred because she despises kitchens with fitted cupboards.

"I didn't care if it had sub-zero bloody fridges and marble counters," Renshaw said. "It was going to be in the dumpster."

Now the Renshaw's kitchen includes 1940s floral wallpaper, old Welsh dressers and a 100-year-old double sink from a farmhouse in England.

"People say they bring everything but the kitchen sink," Renshaw said. "We actually brought the kitchen sink."

Renshaw had a friend from Vancouver in London named Denise Parkinson who promised to provide introductions. Serendipitously, the Renshaws bought next door to Denise's family home, so Denise introduced Renshaw to Laura Finlayson, who'd grown up in Renshaw's home. Finlayson not only showed Renshaw where in the back yard she'd buried her dead cats but also introduced her to another former resident.

The Renshaws hired house historian James Johnstone to research their home. Now Renshaw is trying to track down everyone who's lived there because she wants to invite them to a 100th birthday party for the house before the end of the year.

Renshaws has heard house tales both sad and happy.

"Laura's grandmother died in the house after being hit by a tram on Fourth Avenue," Renshaw said. "But [Civil rights activist] Kay [Stockholder]'s daughter had got married in the back garden."

The Renshaws learned the first resident of the house died of cirrhosis of the liver.

"And then when we were fixing up the backyard we found this stash of booze bottles which must have been hers," Renshaw said.

Renshaw plans to stay at Fifth and Trutch. She worries a sale would see the old home that's on an oversized lot demolished.

"In England you just can't go and knock a house down," she said. "I find it so tragic that Kitsilano's really changed in the 15 years that we've lived there. Every house that goes on the market isn't saved. It's either turned into duplexes or it's knocked down completely."

For more information about the house, see Homefor100years.wordpress.com.

crossi@vancourier.com

twitter.com/Cheryl_Rossi
 

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