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Changing Landscape

June 13, 2010
Story for the South Granville Blog by Paula Foran

As I pulled up next to Hycroft in my humble Toyota Corolla to take photos of the new corner of 16th and Granville, my heart raced. I have gazed at this corner countless times—it is part of my physical and emotional landscape. Until last year when heartbreakingly it was sold, my family home was on 16th and Arbutus and my eight siblings and I attended VC and LFA. The vision of Hycroft still fills me with a whirl of memories of stories from my grandmother and mother. Today I discovered that the Hycroft forest gates, guardians of opulence and mystery, had been replaced by a gaping hole.  

My grandmother, Olive Ruth Macdonald (Foster) was born in Vancouver in 1907. Although her parents could be found from time to time in the society pages, their stature was nowhere near the world of Shaughnessy, especially in the roaring 20’s. One Sunday night, years ago, my mother (Louise) mentioned in front of my grandmother that she had received an invitation to a wedding. “It’s at Hycroft,” she said, looking at my grama out of the corner of her eye. She flinched and said “Lou, no, you can’t go there… can’t go there.” My mother said to me, “if she talks about Hycroft you better listen because she may never say it again.” My grama only told the story once. “When I was a little girl my father was chief of police of Vancouver.”

“He had to keep a terrible secret for years and he couldn’t stand it any longer and confided in me. I’m the only one who really knows who killed Janet Smith,” she whispered.

“It tortured him. He was an honest man, but the aristocracy ran the town and controlled the police and he was powerless under the pressure of silence.” I listened to her story and could hear the admiration and empathy she had for her father. Of course this story haunted her—it was in the Vancouver Sun every day for months in the late 20’s when a racially motivated trial was thrown out due to lack of evidence. Janet Smith’s body was found at a different residence, but many people, including my grandmother, believed that she was murdered at Hycroft.

She said it was haunted—she had been inside once—never again. She shook when she told the story. “Upstairs,” she said to my mum, “just don’t go upstairs, it’ll be fine I’m sure.”

You may want to know who killed Janet Smith. All these years later Scotland Yard is still trying to figure it out. I was sworn to secrecy by my grandmother. She did say that the author of the book got some details right but some wrong and of course the house boy was innocent. All other details she shared will remain part of the mystery. The truth is, like my mum and her mother, I believe in ghosts.

I have gone to a few events at Hycroft (never upstairs of course) and have fantasized about the parties in a Gatsby sort of way. O, the clothes I would have worn! My whole life, the south east corner of 16th and Granville has been a green lush tip of an aristocratic, gilded, iceberg. It’s gone now. You can actually see exposed an ornate heritage home, once shrouded by trees. The gates are open and more people are invited to share in the future story of Vancouver. My mother and grandmother are gone as well. I am well schooled on the difficulty and complexity of change. Stories are one thing that live on which is why I am sharing this one.

[Paula Foran lives in East Vancouver with her partner Chris Cove (a fellow born Vancouverite) and their two children Louise and Olive.]

Also see Editor’s Note here

Interested in finding out more about this neighbourhood?
Take an Historical Walking Tour of Shaughnessy

Pictured: Hycroft Manor, Vancouver (City of Vancouver Archives) and 16th & Granville, Vancouver (Paula Foran)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Paula Foran permalink
    June 13, 2010 1:39 pm

    This story is historical fiction. My grandmother really admired her father – an accomplished mountaineer, a decorated war hero and the chief of police. She was a great storyteller.

  2. June 15, 2010 12:48 pm

    Paula, thank you for writing this great post for us. Whether your great grandfather knew the ‘true story’ or whether the story has evolved over time – as many stories often do… there is nothing that can take away from the years of loyal service your great grandfather provided our city. I highly respect your desire to protect his integrity.

    Your emotional attachment to the corner of Granville and 16th speaks to many of our personal attachments to the South Granville neighbourhood. To see those trees missing from a corner put a lump in my throat too. I am being told that there will be lots of trees planted once the new project is complete. Hopefully they grow fast!

    I am hoping your post will inspire our residential community to share this blog with us. Your post has attracted lots of traffic to the site – so please… keep the stories coming.


  3. June 16, 2010 8:32 pm

    Nice job, Paub..!

  4. Ed Starkins permalink
    September 13, 2011 3:22 pm

    I got some things right and somethings wrong, did I? Oh well,..
    FYI: The book is being republished next month..
    I still think there is nothing to the rumor that poor Janet met her end at Hycroft.


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