The Vancouver Street House - The John Work Connection
By Pam Gaudio, June 2007 (Revised July 2008)
John and Josette Work of Hillside Farm. After 30 years as a fur trader and senior officer with the Hudson's Bay Company, Chief Factor Work was wealthy enough to purchase several large parcels of land around Fort Victoria in the 1850s. Their two-storey home and the later Vancouver Street house were on his 600-acre Hillside Farm which extended from Victoria harbour at Rock Bay to the present Graham Street.
(Image A-01823 & A-01826 Courtesy of BC Archives)
Several years ago I started research on a proposed biography of my three times great grandfather, John Work, a senior Hudson's Bay Company officer who bought large tracts of land around Victoria in the 1850s. One of the intriguing parts of the research was discovering locations of various homes of John and his descendants.
Among many interesting items I found at the B.C. Archives during my research was a newspaper article with a photograph of a house captioned: "This may be the original Work home, now on Vancouver Street - It is today sound and solid and while there is no proof it is the first Work home, descendants of this notable pioneer believe it is."
(James Nesbitt, "Old Homes & Families" series, The Colonist, 1948.)
Intrigued by the old article, I decided to find out more about the house described as "a roomy cottage, with high ceilings, a gracefully curved porch roof, floor boards four inches across, tiny fireplaces and large windows." Was this the original Work home built for the Work family at Hillside Farm?
A D.R. Harris Victoria map published in 1884 showed the Victoria City Boundary line and a cluster of eight buildings labeled "Hillside Farm" in the vicinity of Fourth Street (now Quadra) and Queens Avenue. When the map was published Kings Avenue ended at Fourth Street so I drew a line extending the road to where the buildings would have been located. This indicated the "Hillside Farm" buildings were in the vicinity of the Vancouver Street house. With this information I looked at B.C. directories and found that Mrs. J. Work lived at "Hillside" at King's Road beyond Fourth from 1892 to 1895. This location was also near the Vancouver Street house!
Click for larger images and more info
Receipts and invoices from Work estate probate papers help to establish dates
(Images of Documents Courtesy of BC Archives - Source from GR-1304, Microfilm reel B08885)
Next I reviewed John Work's will which showed that "Hillside plus 200 acres of Section Four in Victoria District including house, garden and farm building" were left to his wife Josette when he died in 1861. I also found several invoices and receipts for the Work estate in the probate records that supported my suspicion that the Vancouver Street house actually did belong to the Work family. But I was puzzled because the house pictured in the 1948 article didn't resemble archival photos identified as the original homestead at Hillside Farm.
The 1891 Victoria Census held further clues that eventually helped sort out my dilemma. It described Josette Work's residence as a wood building, one floor with eight rooms, which was clearly not the old two-storey homestead.
Then as I checked through a file of miscellaneous research notes I found an excerpt from Alexander Caulfield Anderson's manuscript, "History of the Northwest Coast," compiled for historian Hubert H. Bancroft in 1878. Here was the missing clue to the puzzle:
"A spacious log residence in which the [Work] family lived until a few years ago still stands in a good state of preservation and is the oldest structure of its kind on the Island of Vancouver. The family are justly proud of this old relic of a past year, and its preservation is in accordance with an expressed desire of the deceased gentleman. A modern dwelling has since his death been constructed on a site only a few yards distant from the old mansion."
All available documentation answers my initial questions: yes, this "modern dwelling" belonged to the Work family, and Josette, widow of John Work who was one of the major figures in early British Columbia history, lived in the Vancouver Street house until her death on Jan 30, 1896.
(This house still stands though minus its porch and outwardly much altered.)
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