Efforts underway to save West Vancouver's Navvy Jack House

·2 min read
The Navvy Jack House in West Vancouver, B.C., seen here in a 2020 photo, stands empty.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
The Navvy Jack House in West Vancouver, B.C., seen here in a 2020 photo, stands empty. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A group of citizens in West Vancouver are hoping to raise money to save the Navvy Jack House, believed to be the oldest building on the North Shore.

John "Navvy Jack" Thomas was a Welsh deserter from the Royal Navy who married Row-i-a, the granddaughter of Squamish Nation Chief Kiepalano.

According to the West Vancouver Historical Society, "their union was one of the first between the local Indigenous people and the incoming settler population, and their offspring continue to live in the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam lands of the Lower Mainland."

Thomas built the home sometime around 1873, according to the society, where he and Row-i-a raised four children.

Submitted by Evelyn Lamont
Submitted by Evelyn Lamont

The home was occupied until 2017, making it the oldest continuously occupied home in the Lower Mainland, according to the society.

In 2020, West Vancouver councillors voted to halt a previous proposal to tear down the Navvy Jack House.

Descendants of Thomas hope to restore the building, which is located in John Lawson Park. To them, it's a key part of local history, and a part of family history.

"As Indian people we always feel the presence of who belonged there so that would be icing on the cake if they could restore that," says Andrea Jacobs, Navvy Jack's great-granddaughter.

Jacobs says her grandmother died in the house.

"Her spirit is still there," she said.

The Navvy Jack House Citizens' Group says they hope to turn the building into a waterfront cafe.

The cost of restoration is estimated to be $2.6 million. The District of West Vancouver, which owns the house, has agreed to give $1 million and the group has until the spring of 2024 to raise the remaining $1.6 million.

Geoff Jobson of the Navvy Jack House Citizens' Group hopes to preserve the building and honour its legacy.

"It's the stories of the house and the people who lived in the house that have importance for us," he said.