The Lightheart Brothers

Advertisement in a 1924 Evening Sun

Emery Barnes Park in the Downtown South area, is a new park that has been developed over a number of years. To the north of the block there is a 1910 building which these days is called Brookland Court. It was built by two brothers, who are referred to in the architectural history books as ‘the Lightheart Brothers’, and in the 1920s it was known as The Lightheart Block. The brothers were builders who designed their own developments and previously had been owners of a factory on the site before they built the apartment building. Two other brothers are mentioned in passing as well. What hasn’t been noted until now is that there were in fact six different Lightheart brothers, all of whom ended up living in Vancouver and all of them involved in construction and development. None of the brothers are mentioned in any contemporary biographies of worthy citizens, despite their significant development activities.

In the 1881 Census 32 year old Joseph Lightheart was living in Nottawasaga, Simcoe in Ontario, (on Lake Huron); a farmer who had been born in Ontario into a family originally recorded as being of German origin (although family members had been born in Nottawasaga at least back to 1800, and most seem to be of Scottish decent). In 1861 he was living in a large family headed by William Lightheart who was a shingle weaver.

Joseph’s wife Alice, born in England, was also aged 32, their daughter Mary was 6, and sons William and Joseph were 5 and 3. There was another brother – a 2 year old also (confusingly) recorded as William, but also called James. Ten years later Joseph and Alice’s family has grown – (although their daughter, Mary, died in 1887). There were now six sons, and Joseph senior was recorded as a labourer. William #2 was missing, but another son, Thomas, was recorded.

Two others had been born and christened between George and Oliver; Alice and Robert, twins, who, like Mary, may not have survived. A final child, a daughter, Emma, was born in 1893.

Family history says William (known as Will) and Joseph arrived in 1898. Joseph worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the Crows Nest for two years – the railway offered free passage for two years work. The brothers had very little education; they were self taught. Their first job in Vancouver was stacking wood, then they worked as carpenters. Joseph briefly went to San Francisco, and fell in love with the architecture, and Will went to Alaska to check out the gold rush, but both returned to Vancouver.

1899 Lightheart family. [Pat Crawford]

In 1899 the family (without William and Joseph), sat for a studio portrait. This image shows Tom (Thomas), George, and Jack (Jacob) behind Alice and Joseph Lightheart, with Oliver and Emma in front.

William Lightheart, 1908 [Pat Crawford]

 The 1901 Census William and Joseph both lodged with James A Johnston and his family. 25 year old William was working as a builder and his 23 year old brother Joseph as a carpenter. They appear in the 1901 City Directory at 604 Hamilton Street, which presumably was their works yard. That same year T J Lightheart applied for a permit to build a house at 1111 Richards. In 1901 William built a house on Burrard Street and in 1902 he built a house for George Whatmore on 8th Avenue. He’s seen here in a studio portrait dated 1902. Joseph developed a a substantial house costing $2,200 in the same year on Burrard Street. They built the Sash & Door factory on Seymour Street because they couldn’t get supplies for the houses they were building in Vancouver.

The rest of the family were living in Winnipeg in 1901; in fact, the entire family were shown there, including Joseph and William. Joseph senior, and all the older children were listed as carpenters. The family name was recorded as Lighthart, but all the names and birthdates were recorded accurately. Clearly the family didn’t stay long, but it fits with the information in his death notice that George Lightheart arrived in the city in 1902.

Sash & Door Factory, 1904. [Pat Crawford]

This might explain why, in 1902, the entire family are missing from the directory records, but in 1903 there were six Lighthearts in town, five of them (George, Jacob, Captain Joseph, Thomas and William) all living at 1111 Richards Street, and Joseph R at 1262 Burrard. Captain Joseph was the brothers’ father. In 1904 the five brothers were listed living at 1111 Richards, the year in which Lightheart, W A and Bros were shown having a factory at the corner of Seymour and Helmcken.

Over the next few years they became increasingly ambitious in their projects. In 1904 they were builders (but not developers) of a number of houses, in 1905 Jacob developed two houses on 9th Avenue as a speculative development, and a year later teamed up with George to develop at least eight houses costing over $23,000 to develop. Comprehensive records are lost in this period, so these are just what can be gleaned from newspaper coverage. The same brothers, (George and Jacob) teamed up in 1907 to build four houses on Cardero between Nelson and Barclay. Remarkably all four houses, which each cost $4,000 to build, are still standing today. Thomas Lightheart was also building houses on Robson Street and on Comox Street.

954-78 Cardero Lightheart

Joseph Lightheart, 1908 [Pat Crawford]

In 1908 Joseph and William were living at 1262 Burrard, and the other three brothers George, Jacob and Thomas were living at 1111 Richards with Joseph senior. Oliver, the sixth brother, was now living with them. Joseph had his picture taken that year.

In 1909 there were some changes in where the family were living. Jacob was in partnership with George and shown living at 748 Bidwell, although George was still at 1111 Richards, as was Joseph senior, Thomas and Oliver. Joseph R was now at 1123 Richards, while William was still on Burrard Street. ‘Jacques’ Lightheart, capitalist, was listed living on Cardero Street, which we think might be a reference to Jacob, who was called Jack in the family.

Brookland Court, the most altered of the Lightheart Brothers buildings (including an added floor) and these days non-market housing

The first apartment to be built was the Seymour Street building that William and Joseph built at a cost of $120,000 in 1909 on the company factory site. There was a more modest frame apartment built that year by Thomas and Oliver Lightheart at a cost of $15,000 on Nelson Street these days called the Clifton Apartments. Jacob, probably with his brother George, built an apartment building on the corner of Bidwell and Barclay Streets that is no longer standing. The family sash and door business wasn’t abandoned, the factory was located in Marpole in south Vancouver.

Clifton Apartments 1909 and Nicola Apartments 1910

In 1910 Jacob was living at 1686 Bidwell, although he had built a $9,000 house in West Point Grey the year before. The rest of the family were in the same homes as the year before. By 1911 Emma had arrived in the city, and was living at 2941 Burns St (these days it’s called Prince Albert St) in a house built by George in 1910, and he was living there as well with Joseph, Oliver and Thomas. Jacob was at 1686 Barclay and William was still living on Burrard Street.

1911 was the census year – and how reliable the census data is can be see in the numbers of Lighthearts identified that year – (It’s not as many as we know were actually resident in the city). William and his wife Winnifred and children William and V. (no name was listed) were at Burrard St with their English born domestic, Edith Ponsford. Jacob and his Scottish wife Christina, their 2-year-old son (also Jacob) and two of her relatives, John and Isabella Mowatt were at the Barclay St address (along with an English family who were lodging; Alexander and Elizabeth Mustard and their son, also Alexander). No other Lighthearts were recorded by the census, and Joseph senior was also missing from the street directories – although he may have been in hospital as he died in March 1912.

In 1912, Thomas built another apartment building adjacent to the Nelson Street building on the remaining half lot on Nicola Street, and planned a much more substantial $250,000 building on Bute Street, called Strathmore Lodge which the permit says he partnered in developing with his brother Jacob. However, he died that year, and the press notice said that it was Oliver who had originally partnered with him, and following his death would be developing on his own. We don’t know if the permit, or the newspaper were wrong.

The Royal Alexandra Apartments, these days called Strathmore Lodge

In 1912 William proposed another apartment building on Fir Street at a cost of $140,000. (We think it was never developed, and the Granville Bridge off-ramp sits on the site.) A year later in 1913 another Bute Street lot was proposed by Oliver with a $200,000 apartment building, but the ambitious project was also dropped.

That year Joseph had moved to Alberta Street, and in 1913 Jacob was in real estate and living at 1086 Bute (Strathmore Lodge, that he had recently developed). From this point on a number of other people called Lightheart were living in the city making it more difficult to follow the family fortunes.

In 1921 Joseph’s widow Alice was still at Burns St, George was managing the Bute St building but living in Shaughnessy Heights, Jacob was living on Comox Street, Joseph on West 14th Avenue and Oliver on West 12th Avenue. William remained at Burrard Street.

The 1921 Census shows all five remaining brothers, and their families. William’s wife, Winifred Maud was from Manitoba and they had four children aged 14 to 8; Cecil, William, Frederick, and a daughter listed as Murfred. Joseph’s family were his wife, Jessie, born in the US, and a daughter, Marine, who was 3. Joseph was shown aged 62 (actually he was 43), and Jessie 38. Oliver was married to Margaret from PEI, and they had a one-year-old son, Lloyd, and a domestic servant, Louise Bestwick. George’s wife, Mabel was also from PEI, and they had two children, Margaret and Ralph, as well as sharing their home with Margaret Scott, an aunt, Winnifred Cairns, George’s sister-in-law and Hildem Johnson, their Swedish servant. Jacob’s wife, Christine, was Scottish, and they had two children, Jack and Clarence, and Christine’s brother, John Mowatt living with them. (There were still Lighthearts – presumably relatives – living in Nottawasaga in Ontario.)

In 1923 there were six apartment buildings proposed by the brothers, with three being built, two dropped, and one delayed. The Fairmont Apartments were built by Jacob and George on Spruce Street, Oliver built the Berkeley on his Bute Street lot, planned for a bigger building a decade earlier, and George developed Laurelhurst on Hemlock at 12th Avenue. Nearly a century later all three buildings are still standing.

The Berkeley

Laurelhurst [Pat Crawford]

Fairmont Apartments

In 1927 Emma was a dressmaker, living at 2570 Spruce (in a building developed and designed by George and Jacob in 1923) and Jacob was now listed as owner of Renfrew Lodge, built in 1925 at 2570 Hemlock Street. In 1923 he had designed a $50,000 building for the site – one of seven in the same neighbourhood that various Lightheart brothers had proposed to build that year. While several of the others were built, this site was delayed for an H H Simmonds design for a $90,000 building. Oliver was living on Cypress Street.

Renfrew Lodge, these days known as Hemlock Place

Oliver owned the Marlborough Apartments, on Jervis Street, built in 1928 and lived in West Point Grey

Marlborough Apartments 1928 [City of Vancouver Archives Bu N263]

By 1931 Alice had moved to Stanley Park Manor on Haro Street, built that year, where Cecil Lightheart (almost certainly William’s son) was manager and William was the owner and developer of the $200,000 building, although there was a registered architectural firm designing the building, Hodgson and Simmonds).

Stanley Park Manor

Both Cecil and William had homes in Shaughnessy, and Louise, George’s widow lived there too. Jacob was now listed as proprietor of the Cambridge Apartments, and was living on Bidwell Street, and Joseph owned and managed Vallejo Court, on West 10th Avenue but lived on West 14th Avenue. This was built in 1927, and had originally been submitted as a 1923 project by George Lightheart.

Vallejo Court

We’re not aware of any further projects developed by any of the family, although further permits may still come to light. It’s remarkable how many of the buildings developed by the brothers still stand today.

The Lighthearts: Children of Joseph Lightheart, born Orangeville, Dufferin, Ontario, 6 June 1848, died 7 March 1912, aged 63 and Alice Maud, born 24 June 1848, died November 1923.

(Mary Lightheart, born 1875, died 1887).

William Akitt Lightheart, born 29 October 1875, died 19 December 1966 aged 91. Married Winnifred Maud Vickers, (born 1881, died 1953).

A notice in The Province said “William Lightheart, owner of Boulder Island in Indian Arm, has died at the age of 91. A world traveller and apartment builder, who in his 80s made a habit of taking the first flight on new airplane runs, Lightheart last made headlines in August when the boulder his island was named for dis appeared. The 20-ton granite rock, which measured eight by 13 feet, was broken when the North Star Marine Salvage Co. tried to moor a barge to it. The rock toppled into the water and broke in two. Lightheart, owner of the island for more than 70 years once built a home there but it was destroyed by vandals. Since then he visited it regularly on Sunday outings.”

Joseph Robert Lightheart, born 6 Sept 1877, married Jessie Martell then later Annie Hendry of Alberta (born 1909), died 9 April 1971 aged 93.

Thomas James Lightheart, born Jan 1 1879, died April 1912 aged 33.

Jacob Valdone Lightheart, born 11 April 1881, died 9 September 1955 aged 75. Married Christina Mowatt, born 1881.

George Edward, born 10 Aug 1883, died 1930, aged 47. Married Mable Louise Cairns of PEI 1915, born 1889, died 1954.

(Alice and Robert Lightheart, born 1886).

Oliver Richard Lightheart, born 30 Aug 1888, married Margaret Macgregor of PEI, 20 March 1918, died N Van 20 Sept 1971 aged 83.

Emma Lightheart, born 27 Jan 1893, married Grant Nicol Murchie, died 15 July 1962 aged 69.

The buildings:

W A (William) Lightheart; Burrard Street – $1,500 frame dwelling.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; 1111 Richards Street – $1,400 frame dwelling.

J R (Joseph) Lightheart; Burrard Street – $2,200 frame dwelling.

(several projects where Lightheart brothers were builders, but not owner of the site).

J V (Jacob) Lightheart; 9th Ave – $3,400 2 dwelling houses.

J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; Comox St – $6,000 2 handsome frame dwellings.
J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; Pendrell St – $7,000 2 frame dwellings.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; Robson St – $3,000 frame dwelling.
J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; Pendrell St – $7,000 2 frame dwellings.
J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; Nelson St – $3,500 2 frame dwellings.

T J (Thomas) Lightheart; Robson St – $6,000 2 frame dwellings.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; Comox St – $3,500 frame dwelling.
J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; Nelson St – $8,000 2 frame dwellings.
J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; Nelson St – $16,000 4 frame dwellings.

T J (Thomas) Lightheart; Pendrell St – $7,000 frame dwelling.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; 13th Ave – $3,500 frame dwelling.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; Pendrell St – $2,500 frame dwelling.

W A (William) & J R (Joseph) Lightheart; 1102 Seymour St (Lightheart Block, now Brookland Court) – $120,000 apartment.
T J (Thomas) & O R (Oliver) Lightheart; 1460 Nelson St (Clifton Apartments) – $15,000 frame 3-storey apartment house.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; 1642-1648-1656-1662 Robson Street – $13,000 4 dwelling houses.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; 1141 Comox – $2,500 dwelling house
J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; 1670-1676 Alberni Street – $13,000 6 dwelling houses.
J V (Jacob) & E (?) Lightheart; 944-958 Bidwell Street (Cambridge Apartments) – $30,000 frame apartment (redeveloped 1991).

J V (Jacob) & T E (?) Lightheart; 1086 Bute (Strathmore Lodge) – $250,000 brick apartment building.
T J (Thomas) Lightheart; 1020 Nicola St (Nicola Apartments) – $25,000 brick apartment building.
G E (George) Lightheart; 2941 Burns St – $2,000 frame building.

J R (Joseph) Lightheart; 1835 W 14th Ave – $3,000 dwelling house.
W A (William) Lightheart; 2236 Fir St – $140,000 6-storey apartment building (unbuilt).

O R (Oliver) Lightheart; 1146 Pendrell – $1,000 dwelling.
O R (Oliver) Lightheart; 990 Bute St – $200,000 apartment building (unbuilt).

J V (Jacob) Lightheart; 1591 W29th Ave – $8,000 dwelling.
G E (George) Lightheart; 4850 Connaught Drive – $8,000 dwelling.

O R (Oliver) Lightheart; 1146 Pendrell – $1,000 dwelling.
O R (Oliver) Lightheart; 1343 W33rd Ave – $7,500 dwelling.

J V (Jacob) & G E (George) Lightheart; 2570 Spruce (Fairmont Apartments) – $40,000 apartment.
G E (George) Lightheart; 2671 Spruce – $50,000 apartment (unbuilt).
G E (George) Lightheart; 2830 Hemlock (Laurelhurst Apartments) – $50,000 apartment.
G E (George) Lightheart; 2670 Spruce – $50,000 apartment (unbuilt).
O R (Oliver) Lightheart; 970 Bute (Berkeley Apartments) – $45,000 3-storey brick apartment.

G E (George) Lightheart; 2570 Hemlock (Renfrew Lodge) – H H Simmonds architect – $90,000 apartment.

G E (George) Lightheart; 2571 Oak – $50,000 apartment (1923) – developed by J V (Jacob) Lightheart; 1009 W10th Avenue, (Vallejo Court).

O R (Oliver) Lightheart; 970 Bute (Marlborough Apartments) – $45,000 3-storey brick apartment.

W A (William) Lightheart; 1915 Haro, (Stanley Park Manor) – architects; Hodgson & Simmonds $200,000 apartment.


9 thoughts on “The Lightheart Brothers

    • I can relate to this as my grandfather was Jacob Valdone Lightheart and my grandmother was Christina. I new that the brothers had built the various apartments, my grandfather living at the Cambridge on Bidwell st. I played there as a child. It is great that someone has taken the time to record this important part of Vancouver”s history. Thank you.
      Valdone Douglas Lightheart

  1. It is nice to know my father’s history my grandfather was Jacob Lightheart I was born in Vancouver

  2. My grandfather was also one of WA Lightheart’s sons, his name was William Leslie Pierpont Lightheart, born January 8, 1909, died December 2, 1985. He’s buried in the Lightheart grave at Mountain View Cemetery.

  3. The information on the Lightheart Brothers mostly correct. I have been researching the Lightheart family for many years. I have traced them back to the 1700 in Albany New York. Danial Lightheart was an Empire Loyalist and given land in Canada by King George in 1877.

    The number of apartments that were built is incomplete. I would like to add the following.
    Fairmont Apartments corner of Spruce & 10th. JV and George.. water rights confirmed Dec 20, 1923.
    Marlbourgh, 1111 Jervis St.. Oliver. Water rights confirmed. July 4, 1928
    Laural Hurst, 2830 Hemlock JV and George Water rights confirmed Aug 22, 1924

    Joseph’s daughter born 1918 died 2012 was Vivian
    Williams daughter born 1913 died 1998 was Winnifred Alice

    I have photos of the Sash and Door factory. Also lots of early pictures of the Lightheart Brothers.

    • Hi. My name is Doug Lightheart. My father was Clarence Douglas Lightheart and my grandfather was Jacob Valdone Lightheart one of the bro’s. I have more.

    • Would love to see the photos of the sash and door factory as my grandfather worked there when he was young, he was another of WA’s sons. Sounds like you may be my father’s second cousin, he is Peter William Lightheart, grandson of William Akitt.

      My mother, Maeva Lightheart, is also working on the family history, would be awesome to combine the history’s you’ve each found.

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