Glen Brae now known as Canuck Place
[Photo: Canuck Place Children's Hospice]
There are people who've lived in Vancouver all their
lives and never seen it, yet 2005 marks the 95th anniversary of
the dramatic double-domed Shaughnessy giant, the Tait Mansion.
A retired B.C. lumberman named William Lamont
Tait built the place, and critical reception to it was mixed
right from the start. There are some who think it's the ugliest
house in Vancouver, some who think it's beautifuland some,
like me, who simply stand looking at it, open-mouthed.
Tait had no doubts at allhe loved it. To set
it off properly from its more prosaic Shaughnessy neighbors, he
had an enormous wrought-iron fence imported from Scotland and placed
along the Matthews Avenue front of the mansion.
In 1973, Mrs. E.H. Daniel told Aileen
Campbell of The Province that, as a child, she'd lived
in the house next to Glen Brae and saw Tait often: He was
retired when he moved in. He was a great gardenervery proud
of his house and wrought-iron fence. He was a great man to say how
much things cost. There were rosettes in gold leaf on the fence.
It was brought from Scotland at a cost of $10,000. I remember as
a child being very impressed. That was a lot of money . . .
But that was just the fence. There were 18 rooms
in Glen Brae, one of them a ballroom that took up the entire third
floor. With a decent regard for the tender tootsies of their dancing
guests, the Taits had the ballroom floor underlaid with a thick
and flexible layer of seaweed. I walked around on that floor during
a visit many years ago and, even carpeted, could feel it give slightly
under my feet.
Tait's lavish tastes are evident throughout the
house. How much of its style comes from him and how much from its
architects, Parr and Fee, isn't recorded. One of the
mansion's six bathrooms has a huge stained-glass window of a sailing
scene. There is an attractive three-metre stained glass window in
the west wall showing a rural scene somewhere in Ontario.
Tait died in 1919, his wife died the next year and
the house began a slow decline. Dust gathered on the stained-glass
windows, the Italian crystal doorknobs, brass chandeliers, baked
and polished brick, a $16,000 embroidery of Victoria Fallsand
one of British Columbia's first elevators. (It had been installed
for the disabled Mrs. Tait, who had lost a leg.)
All of these amenities gave Glen Brae a richness
at odds with its fate in 1925: It became the Canadian headquarters
of the Ku Klux Klan.
In the fall of 1925, the Invisible Empire of the
Kanadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan paraded en masse up Granville
Street to take up residence in their gorgeous new headquarters.
They held an "informal reception" there on Oct. 30. They
paraded on the grounds in their white robes, one neighbor
recalled, carrying fiery crosses of red electric lights. We
saw them coming in their white hoods with the black eyeholes. It
left a very lasting impression.
KKK membership in Vancouver was said to be 8,000
at its peakthis is likely an exaggeration. At any rate, a
local bylaw was passed prohibiting mask-wearing and the number of
Klan members dwindled to about 200. The sheeted twits were out of
Glen Brae in less than a year, even though their rent was only $150
In 1929, a kindergarten was renting the place for
$75 a month. I have an old newspaper advertisement in my files showing
the house as a prize in a raffle, with tickets at $1 each!
Glen Brae next popped up in the news during the
1930s. In honor of a rising new star of the silver screen, people
began to call it The Mae West House. You can guess why.
In 1980 the mansion became the Glen Brae Private
Hospital, occupied by a number of elderly women. The elevator became
a dumbwaiter, used to bring the ladies' food from the kitchen. The
owners, Julian and Elisabeth Wlosinski, lived upstairs,
turned the 15-metre long ballroom into their living room, flanked
by two bedrooms, each of which boasted 10 arched windows.
Glen Braedesignated a Heritage Building some
years agois in fine shape. In 1991, before her death, Elisabeth
Wlosinski willed this awesome home to the City of Vancouver. In
November 1995 Canuck Place opened as North America's first free-standing
children's hospice. To this day, it remains the model for children's
hospices in North America providing hospice care free of charge
to children and their entire families. Today, it is regarded as
one of the leading childrens hospices in the world. See the
web site www.canuckplace.org.
It includes a short video explaining the hospice's function, showing
the kids it cares for, and includes a virtual tour.
Archive - People »
- Places »
- Events »
- Books, etc. »