Description of Historic Place
The historic place comprises the house, gardens, and extensive grounds of the Nichol House at 1402 McRae Avenue in the Shaughnessy area of Vancouver.
The Nichol House is valued for its association with several families of significance in the economic and political history of Vancouver and British Columbia; for its architectural design, a composite of Tudor Revival and Arts and Crafts architectural styles; and for its notable grounds and gardens. It was built in 1912-13 for publisher and statesman Walter C. Nichol and his family. It illustrates the aesthetic tastes and the aspirations of a succession of wealthy and powerful families. Only three families owned the house between its construction in 1913 and its sale in 2005: the Nichol, Wilson, and Bentley families. The prominent location on The Crescent in the Shaughnessy area reinforces the historical association of the neighbourhood with wealth and power.
Walter C. Nichol, for whom the house was built, owned the Province newspaper from 1901 until 1923. Nichol succeeded financially and politically. He left Vancouver to serve as Lieutenant Governor of BC (1920-1926). When Nichol died in 1928, he left the largest estate of all Vancouver’s pre-1914 business leaders.
The decision of Walter and Quita Nichol to move from Fairview to Shaughnessy illustrates the success of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s new subdivision as the preferred address of the City’s elite. The choice of prominent architects Maclure and Fox and the Tudor Revival style represents the tastes of BC’s social elite. The talented Victoria-based architect Samuel Maclure had achieved fame designing Tudor Revival houses for the scions of Victoria society, for whom the association with English manorial life was particularly poignant. Maclure’s partnership with Vancouver-based Cecil Fox extended the style to Vancouver. The restrained Arts and Crafts manner of the Nichol House has sufficient Tudor references to make the ‘old English’ connection. This association is important as it continued to have meaning in Vancouver architecture for generations. The interior was a setting for entertainment, with its elegant spaces and finished with fine woods, tile fireplaces, leaded-glass windows, and brass fittings. Other features, such as the maid’s quarters in the attic and the ‘Chinaman’s suite’ in the basement, remind us of how large homes like this were staffed in the early twentieth century.
The estate also has value for its extensive and well-landscaped grounds. Nichol called the house ‘Miramar’ for its fine view of English Bay and the North Shore mountains. The house was sited at the edge of an escarpment to take best advantage of this view. The gardens were associated with, and perhaps designed by, celebrated English landscape architect Thomas Mawson. The formal rose garden facing The Crescent and the Rock Garden embankment below the house were particularly praised.
William. R. Wilson, who bought the property from Nichol in 1924, made his fortune in mining. He is best remembered for his role in founding the Premier Mine (Portland Canal); he was also President of the Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company. His estate sold the property in 1939 to the Bentley family, who retained it until 2005. Leopold and Antoinette Bentley, with their son Peter, came to Canada from Austria in 1938, fleeing Nazi persecution. ‘Poldi’ Bentley and his brother-in-law John Prentice entered the lumber business, eventually creating one of Canada’s largest lumber companies, Canadian Forest Products Ltd. (Canfor). The Bentleys were also noted as patrons of the arts.
The spaciousness of the house, its carefully crafted details, and the grounds have been valued by all its residents. Peter Bentley, O.C., who succeeded his father as head of Canfor, notes that few changes were made to the house during his family’s long tenure. The gardens have less integrity, with many of the earlier plant materials and beds altered or lost.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the Nichol House include:
- broad, compact massing, emphasized by the tall, hipped, shake roof with hipped dormers
- asymmetrical but balanced composition
- tall stone chimneys
- variety of local materials used for the exterior walls, including wood, shingles, and stone
- restrained Tudor Revival features, seen in the vertical ‘half-timbering’ detail
- porte-cochère on the south elevation, with its hipped roof and wood features, including posts and brackets
- projecting bays to the right and left of the south elevation
- two-storey verandah on the north elevation
- expanses of windows on the north elevation
- tradition of use as a single-family residence
- stone wall along the street frontages
- large entries to the main entrance (McRae Avenue) and driveway (The Crescent), and small entry (The Crescent), with their stone gateposts and iron gates
- formal garden on the south side of the house, with its parterres and remnant roses
- mature trees around the perimeter and on the north and south sides of the house, including deciduous and coniferous trees, fruit trees, and ornamentals
- terraced treatment of north grounds, including the rockery
- central stone stairs and path on the north grounds