Shaughnessy: When the neighbourhood was affordable

Shaughnessy Heights United Church members remember when the now-affluent neighbourhood was affordable for average families

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.

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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.

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 West 32nd Avenue home.

Pat McKenzie and her husband Murray bought a three-bedroom home on 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 secondary.

Back in the 1960s, Shaughnessy Heights United Church had about 100 Kindergarten-aged children in its Sunday school. 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. When prices started to skyrocket,  many of her friends 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.

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.”

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