The first PNE prize home: V! true Hollywood story
“The only way I’ll ever be able to own a home is if I win one.” A sentiment shared by as many Vancouverites today as it was in 1934, when the PNE (then the Vancouver Exhibition) raffled off its first ever “Prize Home”. Leonard Frewin likely felt the same way when he purchased his “Ideal Bungalow” ticket for 10 cents on the very last day of the annual fair in 1934, only to discover later that he was the winner of the fully furnished prize home valued at $5000!
Already a great story, but according to a 2014 press release from the PNE it gets even better:
“The first PNE Dream Home (as it was then called) was won in 1934 by Leonard Frewin, a mechanic from Vancouver who was courting Emily Leitch. Emily’s father insisted that Leonard couldn’t properly provide for his daughter, so he did not support the match. As fate would have it, Leonard attended the 1934 PNE on the last day of the Fair, where he purchased a Dream Home ticket for twenty-five cents. He heard his name announced as the winner while listening to the radio that night, went to Emily’s house and proposed on the spot.
The Frewin family lived in the original Dream Home for over 60 years until both Emily ad Leonard passed away within months of each other in the 1990s and their children sold the home.”
This press release makes for a terrific PR story, but sadly it isn’t completely accurate. I was excited to learn that the first prize home was alive and well and living on Dundas Street, so I decided to do some research to find out more about the house and its first owner. That’s when I discovered some flaws in the heart-warming story of the winner of the first PNE Prize Home.
The first PNE Prize Home was indeed won by Leonard Frewin, but he wasn’t a mechanic, he worked as a delivery driver for Spencer’s (later Eaton’s) Department Store. Frewin was courting someone at the time, but her name was Ethel (not Emily) Rose Leitch. She was also employed at Spencer’s, as a saleswoman. (Perhaps they met at work?) Their marriage certificate says they were married on September 4, 1935 – one year after Frewin won the prize home. The “Romeo & Juliet” aspect of their engagement is hard to prove/dispute (perhaps this story was relayed in the newspapers of the time) so, we will have to let that part stand as is. [Besides, I don’t want to completely rain on this PNE parade!]
A thesis written in 2005 by Elizabeth MacKenzie, a UBC post-graduate architectural student, titled “The PNE Prize Home: Tradition and Change” provides some evidentiary insight to the story of the first PNE Prize Home. According to her research, tickets for “The Ideal Bungalow” home tour and draw were only a dime each and the Vancouver exhibition “hired nearly seven hundred advance ticket agents to work on consignment, including ten ‘pretty Bungalow Girls’ dressed in majorette costumes, to sell tickets for the ‘Model Bungalow’.” The Exhibition home prize scheme was the brainchild of L. C. Thomas of the Vancouver Lumber Company Ltd.
My own research on Leonard and Ethel Frewin shows that they only lived in the house for about a year. The first time the house at 2812 Dundas appears in the city directories is in 1935 under the name of John M. Richardson (Winifred) of Blowey & Richardson (Barristers & Solicitors). The following year’s directory shows that newlyweds Leonard and Ethel Frewin are finally residing in their prize home. However, according to the 1937 directory the Frewins have abandoned their dream home and have moved to East 51st. Following their departure there were a few different owners of the 1934 Prize Home until the early 1940s when Hubert and Laura Hofer set up home for the next 20 years or so. Hubert Hofer worked at Manitoba Hardware on Commercial Drive. The Hofers sold the house, before Laura Hofer’s tragic death in 1964, to Victor and Maxine Dalfo. As of 2017, Maxine Dalfo still lived at the original prize home on Dundas Street.
I was confused as to why the first listed resident in 1935 was a lawyer named Richardson? In MacKenzie’s paper she notes that in 1935 the Vancouver Exhibition Association Board received a claim from the legal firm of Blowey & Richardson that certain work had not been finished on the house and lot. [So, the story of the first prize home isn’t as rosy as it appears.] I did some biographical research on John M. Richardson and discovered that his wife’s maiden name was Frewin. Therefore it is very likely that Richardson was acting on behalf of his wife’s relative, Leonard Frewin, in that initial period after the prize home was moved by horse-drawn skid to the lot on Dundas, and before Leonard and Ethel move in after their marriage in September 1935.
Leonard Frewin died in 1977 at the age of 68 and Ethel Rose Frewin died in 1978 at the 67; they were both residents of Burnaby at the time of their deaths. So we can abandon the PNE Press Release’s “Hollywood Ending” to the story of the Frewin family and the history of the first PNE Prize Home. I wonder where that story originated? All I can suggest is for the PNE to give me a call if they ever need some historical research performed for future press releases.
The 1934 “prize home” was designed by architect Harold Cullerne (also the designer of the Hollywood Theatre) who was a strong proponent of well-designed, affordable housing for all. Furniture of “the utmost in smartness, utility, and economy” was provided for the 1934 bungalow by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Apparently, the annual exhibition’s “Prize Home” scheme wasn’t sustainable in the years after the first one in 1934, for the second one didn’t appear for another 18 years. I suppose the Great Depression and WW2 didn’t help the cause. After the annual fair made a quick name change from the Vancouver Exhibition to the Pacific National Exhibition, the PNE Prize Home raffle started up again in 1952 and has been going strong ever since – save for two years in the mid 1960s when the PNE raffled off a solid gold bar instead of a prize home.
So, if you want to own your own “Prize Home” you need to buy your ticket before the Fair ends September 3.