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!

First “PNE Prize Home”on the exhibition grounds in 1934. Photo: CoV Archives CVA 180-0597

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.

“The Ideal Bungalow” promotional brochure cover from BC Archives, screenshot of image.

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 first PNE Prize Home at 2812 Dundas in 2018. The addition of vinyl siding and new windows have sadly altered the exterior of the house. Photo: C. Hagemoen

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.

CVA 180-2307
Crowds outside the 1953 PNE Prize Home. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 180-2307

So, if you want to own your own “Prize Home” you need to buy your ticket before the Fair ends September 3.






Vancouver Impressions

Film Screening – Vancouver Impressions (The early 1960s) – A programme of archival films produced by CBUT (CBC Vancouver) between 1961 and 1965.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the CBC’s (English Services) Mass Digitization Project and their plan to trash all the original analogue media (16mm film, tape, transcription disc, etc.) once digitized.  Their reasoning behind this plan is that they will no longer need the original artefact once it is digitized, so why pay for the storage of this material? In their minds digitization equals preservation – end of story.

This is the height of hubris – CBC [mis]management are so confident in their digitization process that they aren’t even going to consider that anything could ever go wrong in the future, so they do not need to keep the analogue original?  Nor, it seems, do they need to take into consideration that this “plan” is against all archival best practices for digitization. They don’t even appear to be willing to discuss the possibility of working with an outside archival repository to see if a mutually beneficial agreement could be made – like the recent agreement between PNG and the CoV Archives for the Sun & Province newspaper photographs.

CBUT Station ID photo featuring the lights of Granville Street. Photo: Alvin Armstrong.

Sadly, the destruction of original formats is only the tip of the iceberg in this story. The inside scoop is that the selection process is also flawed, namely that much archival material that won’t even make it to the digitization stage of the project. The CBC is only interested in digitizing (saleable) complete programs and not interested in program inserts, individual news items, stox footage, etc.  This means the loss of much of Metro Vancouver’s and the Province’s audio-visual history. Check out my CBUT (CBC Vancouver) posts from a few years ago to see what kind of history could be lost forever: 60th Anniversary of CBUT part 1; Part 2 –All That Jazz ; Part 3 –  1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games; and Part 4 – Drama from the left coast.

Continue reading “Vancouver Impressions”

Seeking Sarah Cassell

Sarah’s Cafe at 218 E. Georgia St in 1960. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC VAncouver Still Photo Collection.

In 2013, I wrote about this photo (above) that I found while working at the CBC Archives. It was one of a series of images shot by CBC Vancouver contract photographer, Franz Lindner, in 1960 as part of an assignment to illustrate a CBC Times (programming guide) feature for a radio documentary on drug addiction in Vancouver. At that time, I focused my research on figuring out where this photo was taken (218 East Georgia Street) and if the building still existed (it does).

Wallace building (built ca. 1906) home to the Liang You Book Store and Convenience store in March 2013 . Photo: C. Hagemoen

This first pass at research/inquiry satisfied me at the time and I put the story on hold for a few years. However it was consistently on the back of mind and I was always keeping my eye out for and collecting any piece of information I could find on Sarah and her café in my research travels. I wanted to know who Sarah Cassell was and how did she, and her café, fit into the (hi)story of Vancouver.  This historic area of the city (Hogan’s Alley/Strathcona/Chinatown) is full of tales of strong women who had their own businesses – Rosa Pryor, Viva Moore, Leona Risby, to name a few. Well here is the story of another one – Sarah Cassell. Continue reading “Seeking Sarah Cassell”

Master Chef and the 1978 Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee photos

Master Chef Cafe at 2400 E. Hastings Street  – 1978. What can I say about the shirtless guy in micro jean cut-offs?! (CoV Archives , CVA 786-83.19)

Oh man, how fantastic is this photograph?!  If you ever had the privilege of dining at Master Chef you would realize how special this image is. I had no idea that the restaurant I knew as a simple “old school” diner at one time sported a cool neon sign. This space is now home to “What’s Up? Hot Dog!”, but prior to that it was home to the best turkey club sandwich and home-cut fries that I’ve ever known. Continue reading “Master Chef and the 1978 Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee photos”

Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz

Several years ago I worked in the CBC Vancouver Media Archives on a film preservation project. The content introduced me to much of Vancouver’s moving image history as well as the artists and technicians who created that legacy. One of the most fascinating artists to catch my eye and ear was Eleanor Collins.

Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection
Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection

My fascination with this amazing woman all started with a single photograph (see above) from the CBC Vancouver Still Photograph Collection. I was mesmerized by her radiance. As a jazz fan, I had to find out more about this performer. Viewing some of her television work from the 50’s & 60’s, I was enthralled by her luminous appearance, her sultry sound, and her magnetic screen presence. But, there is so much more to this fascinating woman… Continue reading “Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz”

Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

I was a shy child. Consequently, I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a child that I first noticed the purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checker board grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen
Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post].

Continue reading “Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver”

Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band

The first time I saw this intriguingly odd photo on the City of Vancouver Archives website, I was inspired to know more about the photo and Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band.

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 - Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald
Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 – Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

The photo depicts Lesk and life sized effigies representing the leaders of the Axis and the Allies. The photograph, dated February 1942, is from a series of photographs taken for the Vancouver News-Herald newspaper by photographer Jack Lindsay. Continue reading “Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band”