Shaughnessy: Canuck Place house has dark history

One of the most recognizable structures in all of Shaughnessy is Canuck Place Children’s Hospice on Matthews Street.

The house was built in 1910, by retired lumber baron William Lamont Tait who dubbed the grand home Glen Brae and lined it with a wrought iron fence imported from Scotland. Today, the mansion is a home-away-from-home for children with terminal illnesses and their families.

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But prior to 1995, the former mansion had an interesting, if not dark history.

The final owner of the home, Elisabeth Wlosinski, willed Glen Brae to the city in 1991. After completing $5 million in renovations, the doors of Canuck Place opened in 1995.

When Tait built the opulent home, he included two large domes in the roof, which years later led locals to give the mansion the unfortunate nickname “Mae West House,” after the buxom American movie star popular in the 1930s.

According to the late historian Chuck Davis, Tait died in 1919 followed by his wife the next year, leaving the lavish mansion and grounds to fall into disrepair. It also left the home available for lease and as Davis writes in his book, The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver, in the fall of 1925, members of the Invisible Empire of the Kanadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan “paraded en masse up Granville Street to take up residence in their gorgeous new headquarters.”

Davis writes the KKK caught the attention of Vancouver media when members of the vigilante group dressed in their hooded robes and kidnapped a Chinese houseboy who worked in the house where Janet Smith was murdered. Smith was a 22-year-old Scottish nursemaid employed by the prominent Baker family, exporters of pharmaceuticals.

Coincidently, it’s suspected one of the Klan members charged with the kidnapping was John Alexander Paton, the Courier’s first publisher and editor. The kidnapping charges against Paton were later dropped. It’s said that at its height, the KKK’s membership in Vancouver reached 8,000.

Glen Brae sat empty for several years until it was rented out as a kindergarten school in 1929 for $75 a month. In 1980, the mansion became Glen Brae Private Hospital for elderly women and the elevator became a dumb waiter. Davis writes the owners at the time, Julia and Elisabeth Wlosinski, lived upstairs and turned the 15-metre ballroom into their living room, flanked by two bedrooms, each with 10 arched windows.

After Elisabeth Wlosinski willed the home to the city, it became an official heritage building. During former mayor Gordon Campbell’s administration, the home was donated for use as a hospice for children. Today it provides respite for family members, pain management support, end-of-life care and bereavement counselling to children and families from across the province.

Canuck Place chief executive officer Margaret McNeil describes the home as one of refuge and support for the children and their families from across B.C. who spend time there.

“We allow kids to be kids and that’s important for every child no matter how long they live,” said McNeil.

sthomas@vancourier.com

twitter.com/sthomas10

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