The Lightheart Brothers

There’s a new park in the Downtown South area, and to the north 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’. They were builders who designed their own developments and 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 at least 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 of the contemporary biographies of worthy citizens, or the Times Colonist newspaper, and there are no identified photographs in the archives, 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). His wife Alice, born in England, is also aged 32, their daughter Mary is 6, and sons William and Joseph are 5 and 3. There’s 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 Mary died in 1887). There are now six sons, and Joseph senior is recorded as a labourer. William #2 is missing, but another son, Thomas, is 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.

Only a few years after Emma’s birth William and Joseph had moved to Vancouver. In 1901 they both lodged with James A Johnston and his family, 25 year old William 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. In 1901 William built a house on Burrard Street and in 1902  he built a house for George Whatmore on 8th Avenue. Joseph built a house in the same year on Burrard Street for himself, and it was a substantial house too – it cost $2,200. (At least two other houses were built by Lighthearts with different initials in 1901 as well, although neither of them seem to be in the street directory or recorded in the census of that year – so they could just be errors by the clerk compiling the register).

In 1902 they mysteriously disappeared 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. It appears that Captain Joseph is the brothers’ father. In 1904 the five brothers were listed living at 1111 Richards, the year in which Lightheart, W A and Bros had a factory at the corner of Seymour and Helmcken. J V and G E Lightheart (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.

954-78 Cardero Lightheart

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

In 1909 there are some changes in where the family are living. Jacob was in partnership with George and 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. A mysterious Jacques Lightheart, capitalist, was listed living on Cardero Street, although there seem to be no other records of anyone with this name and he had disappeared again a year later.

By 1911 Emma had arrived in the city, and was living at 2941 Burns St (these days it’s called Prince Albert St) and George, Joseph Oliver and Thomas were living there as well. Jacob was at 1686 Barclay and William still 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. William and his wife Winnifred and children William and V. (no name listed) are at Burrard St with their English born domestic, Edith Ponsford. Jacob and his Scottish wife Christine, their son Jacob and two of her relatives, John and Isabella Mowatt are at the Barclay St address. No other Lighthearts were recorded by the census, and Joseph senior is missing from the street directories – although he may have been in hospital as he died in March 1912.

In 1912 Joseph R had moved to Alberta Street, and in 1913 Jacob was in real estate and living at 1086 Bute (a building 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 remains at Burrard Street. In 1927 Emma was a dressmaker, living at 2570 Spruce, Jacob was now listed as owner of Renfrew Lodge, built in 1925 at 2570 Hemlock Street, and Oliver was living on Cypress Street.

Renfrew Lodge, these days known as Hemlock Place

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. (So he was probably developer as well, although now there’s a registered architectal firm designing the building, Hodgson and Simmonds).

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. As this was built in 1927, it’s quite likely another Lightheart project. Oliver owned the Malborough Apartments, on Jervis Street, built in 1928 and lived in West Point Grey.

The city’s early Building Permits show that various combination of brothers built seven substantial apartment buildings (as well as many houses) during the city’s growth spurt from 1909 to 1913. The first to be built were the Seymour Street building that William and Joseph built at a cost of $120,000 in 1909 on the company factory site, and a more modest frame apartment built 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.

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

Clifton Apartments 1909 and Nicola Apartments 1910

A year later Thomas built another apartment building adjacent to the Nelson Street building on the remaining half lot on Nicola Street, and a much more substantial $250,000 building on Bute Street, called Strathmore Lodge which he partnered in developing with his brother Jacob.

The Royal Alexandra Apartments, these days called Strathmore Lodge

In 1912 William built another apartment building on Fir Street at a cost of $140,000. That no longer exists, as the Granville Bridge off-ramp sits on the site. A year later in 1913 another Bute Street lot was developed by Oliver with a $200,000 apartment building called The Berkeley.

The Lighthearts

(Mary born 1875, died 1887).

William Akitt, born 1876 married Winnifred Maud Vickers, died 19 December 1966 aged 91. Son Cecil born 1907, died 1971, daughter born 1916, died 1920.

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

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

Jacob Valdone, born 11 April 1881, married Christina Mowatt, died 9 Sept 1955 aged 74.

George Edward, born 10.Aug 1883, married Mable Cairns of PEI 1915   died 17 June 1930 aged 46.

(Alice and Robert, born 1886).

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

Emma, born 11 Jan 1893, married Grant Nicol Murchie, died 15 July 1962 aged 69.

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5 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.

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